I’ve been on my cooking train lately, and by my many mistakes, I’ve figured out there’s an art to grocery shopping.
My mother’s family are generations of farmers, and I have to tell you they have some great tips and tricks that can only come from years of growing and picking your own fruit. Since I have the opposite of a green thumb, I’ve decided to outsource my advice – and frankly this has helped my own shopping too.
As the living crisis grows worse and fresh, healthy produce gets more and more expensive, it’s more important than ever to know how to shop well and get the best bang for your buck. And honestly, there’s nothing worse than coming home ready to make a guacamole only to find out your avocado is either hard as a rock or the consistency of my mother’s morning porridge.
Below are some of my favourite (and most expensive) fruits that can be a little tricky to figure out. Some other tips and tricks are:
- If your artichoke leaves squeak when you rub them together, it’s ready to eat.
- The heavier the pomegranate, the better. If it surprises you how heavy it is, you should buy it – it’ll be delicious.
- Figs should be tender, but not mushy. If they have a sour odour, they’re overripe. Don’t waste your dollarz.
- You’re welcome.
Image via Andy Warhol
This one is directly from my uncle: You can tell when a watermelon is ripe and juicy when you slap it and it sounds hollow. Sounds like a joke but it’s true. Also, if the little curly tail is green, then it was picked too early and won’t be ready – you want the little curly pigtail when it’s brown and dry. Done-zo.
Ah… The green fruit that occasionally costs as much as an arm, has a cult following, and is to blame why millennials can’t afford a house – yes Baby Boomers, that is indeed why the world is burning around us and our meagre salary can’t buy us a couch, let alone a home (with a garden). The secret to picking the perfect avocado lies in the feel – it should feel slightly spongy, but not too spongy. If you’re not sure, give it a shake. If you can feel the pip rattling around in there, it’s a sign the pip has pulled away from the pulp, which means it’s ready and ripe. If it’s too mushy, or the under the stem looks brown or mouldy, it’s too old and you should pass. Worst comes to worst and you buy an underripe avocado, put it in a paper bag next to some bananas. Bananas give off a gas that ripens fruit (so don’t keep them next to your other fruit in the fruit bowl!), so your avocado should be ready in a day or two. Still not great for your evening guacamole, sorry.
Peaches are one of my favourite fruits of the summer, and I look forward to them every year. Although the white peaches are sweeter, I am firmly a yellow peach gal and you can’t change my mind. When you’re at the supermarket or greengrocer, usually the bigger the peach the better. Obviously you want to look for unblemished, unbruised skins, but make sure you pick them up too – they could be hiding some bruises under the skin, which will make them rot almost as soon as you get home.
For rock melon it’s a little different to watermelon; don’t slap it, but the bottom end should give a little to pressure. If there are too many soft spots, it’s overripe and not for you. A sweet smell paired with a good amount of netting over the rind is what you’re looking for.
For strawbs you want the reddest colour possible. If there’s any white around the stem, the berries were not picked at peak ripeness and won’t be as sweet. Smell is also a factor; if you can smell them from 20cm away and it makes your mouth water, they’re probably going to be delicious. Same goes for the bruising – if they look a little too red and watery, they’re probably going to start rotting as soon as you get home. Pass.
I personally prefer golden kiwi, as I’m a golden kind of girl. For kiwis it’s all about the feel – I would know, I am one. Covered with hairy skin (also true, 26&Me told me I have an extremely high count of Neanderthal DNA), it’s hard to know what it’s going to look like on the inside (okay, metaphor over) but one way to tell if kiwis are ready to eat is to squeeze them a little. If the skin has a little give, it’s ready to eat. If it’s hard, it’s going to be like eating those sour candies as a kid that literally forced your cheeks to suck in, they were so sour. Yeah, definitely a golden kiwi girl.
Know your apple varieties. I personally like a crisp and crunchy apple, and I don’t mind if it’s slightly tart either – that’s why I choose varieties like Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Braeburn and Honeycrisp. If you like softer apples, try Macintosh or Golden Delicious. If in doubt – say it with me – talk to your greengrocer.
There’s nothing worse than spending half your paycheck on a juicy mango, to open it up to find it to be stringy-central. As someone who spent most of their childhood holidays in Australia, I am lucky enough to know what a real mango tastes like, and that has made me spoilt. I will no longer stand for tasteless, stringy mangoes. And neither should you. The perfect mango should be slightly soft (but not mushy!) and be large and round. Flat mangoes are more likely to be stringy, so avoid them. If you’re unsure, look out for the Palmer mango variety, they aren’t very fibrous and are likely to be juicy and delicious. Of course, if you’ve got a good greengrocer – talk to them! There’s no harm in asking for what you want, especially if you’re paying exotic fruit prices. One last tip: smell them at the stem. If it smells right, you’ll know.
Another exotic fruit that can be quite terrible if you don’t pick them right, but one of the delicious fruits on the planet if you do (apart from the tongue-dissolving qualities. Literally: pineapple contains an acid called bromelain which dissolves the protective coat of mucous in your mouth. Delicious). The best time for a pineapple is when they’re yellow from top to bottom. Green is too early, orange is overripe. If it smells sweet, you’ve got it. If it has a little give and is not rock hard, you better buy it. But the secret trick is: take a frond from just inside the outer rim. Does it break off at the root? It’s ready. Shh… don’t say I told you so…