You can taste (and smell!) the difference when fresh fruits and vegetables are picked during their peak season – just try a strawberry in the summer and compare it to one in the winter. They’re bright red, sweet and juicy in the summer, and just not the same in the winter.
We spoke with our friends at Melissa’s Produce, a specialty produce distributor and experts in everything fruits and veggies, for tips on shopping seasonally, what to look for in the grocery store or farmer’s market in April, and how to use all parts of your produce in unexpected ways.
What to Look for When Shopping Seasonally
Melissa’s says the most important characteristic to take note of when shopping for fresh produce is fragrance: if it doesn’t have a strong smell, it’s not ready to eat, and if it has a foul smell, there’s a good chance it’s over-ripened or moldy.
While you’re taking a whiff, also check how the produce feels. If it’s rock-hard, you know you’ll have to wait a few days for it to ripen. Fruit, such as peaches and pears, should give a little to pressure, so wait an extra day or two before eating them. Produce should also feel heavy for its size – this means it’s full of juices and hasn’t started to dehydrate.
April Produce in Season:
Red Muscato Grapes
Potatoes (Dutch Yellow, Russian Banana, Ruby Crescent, Purple Peruvian, Ruby Gold)
Greens: Swiss Chard, Spinach
How to Use All Parts of Your Produce
Take advantage of fresh produce and cut back on waste by finding ways to use the scraps. We’re talking about the leaves, cores, and stalks that usually end up in the trash or compost bin. Here are a few ideas for using your produce scraps.
Good Tip: Before using the tops of root vegetables, make sure they’re thoroughly washed. Place them in a deep bowl of water and swish them around. Let them float to the top, and the dirt should sink to the bottom. Spin dry and store them in the refrigerator until ready for use.
One of our favorite ways to use whole fruits and vegetables is in smoothies. They’re great for making ahead of time and taking on-the-go. (We like using our Hydro Flask tumblers since the smoothies stay cold and don’t get melty for hours.) Adding vegetable scraps like carrot and beet tops gives you that daily dose of greens, and will add some flavor to whatever else you blend.
Lately, we’ve been into starting our mornings with a green grapefruit juice. It packs in swiss chard (use the stems!) + spinach + grapefruit + pear + ginger.
Homemade stocks and soups are another great way to squeeze out the flavors of produce scraps. Store the green part of leeks and scallions, the core of your cauliflower or cabbage, the stem on broccoli and the green tops of carrots in the freezer. Then cook them down in water for a few hours (we suggest using around 3 cups of vegetable scraps to 8 cups of water) and you have a vegetable stock that didn’t come from a box.
Pickling produce scraps such as swiss chard stems and watermelon rinds adds new flavor to your scraps and gives them another life. Use the pickled chard stems or watermelon rind on a cheese board and add them to sandwiches for texture.
Instead of tossing out your broccoli or cauliflower stalks, we like spiralizing them. Broccoli stems can be used in slaws or stir fry, or a whole head of cauliflower can be spiralized as “rice”. (Bonus: Keep those cauliflower and broccoli leaves to stir into a dish at the end and let them wilt just like spinach or kale.)
Looking for more spring inspiration? From recipes to cooking projects, we have a few ideas for how to enjoy springtime.