I do a lot of my grocery shopping at a tropical-island-themed grocery store, known for their Two Buck Chuck, tiny aisles and parking lots that appear to be designed by three-year-olds. I think they have great prices and quality for a bunch of their products like cheese, bread, dairy, nuts and don’t get me started on the modestly priced wine (I cannot confirm or deny that Two Buck Chuck is a pantry staple for my house). However, they have inconsistent or lackluster produce, and some of it must be purchased in bulk. But if I don’t want one crappy avocado, I definitely don’t want four. So this situation drove me to a local produce stand, which is conveniently only a couple hundred feet from that grocery store.
This stand has fantastic produce and great prices. But even more important, the staff at West Seattle Produce Company knows what they are doing. They completely won me over one day when I showed up right after they closed. The manager opened the door, let me in, and as I ran around, grabbing a handful of things, asked if he could get me anything. “Would you mind grabbing me an avocado?” I asked, to which he replied, “When are you going to eat it?”
This implied that he knew his avocados well enough to tell exactly when they would be perfectly ripe. I said I was eating it tonight; he looked at the bin for about one second, then picked one up and handed it to me. No big deal, right? I got home, made dinner and opened the MOST PERFECTLY RIPE AVOCADO IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!
It was then that I realized picking avocados does not have to be a gamble. This guy has the answer! And I bet he had other answers too …
My produce guru, the manager of my neighborhood produce stand, is called Robby and he was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me to share some tips on picking the best produce.
On picking the perfect avocado
“Push near the top by the stem. If it feels right at the top, it doesn’t matter if the rest of it feels hard. Avocados, and all stone fruit, ripen from the inside out and the top is where you can tell if it is ripe. If you grab an avocado and the bottom feels squishy, it is either ready to be eaten immediately or already gone. Also, you don’t need to pull of the stem. That doesn’t really tell you anything about how ripe it is. There is always a pile of stems underneath the avocados from people pulling them off to see if they are ripe.”
Our recipe suggestion for perfectly ripe avocados: Dungeness Crab and Avocado Dip
On picking the best citrus
“Pick up two lemons that are the same size, and buy the heavier one. When citrus is ripe, the juices develop and sugars develop and they become heavier. It may be a subtle difference, but get the heavier one. Also, don’t refrigerate your citrus. You’ll notice it is never refrigerated when you buy it. Leave it on your counter because it is better at room temperature.”
Our must-have citrus tool: Microplane Soft-Handle Zester Grater
On washing mushrooms
“I personally do not. I get why people do, because of what they grow on. But I keep a brush in my kitchen and use it for my produce. Mushrooms absorb water and I don’t care for the way it changes how they cook.”
Our best brush for fungi: Bürstenhaus Redecker Mushroom Brush
“Always buy the ‘gold’ labeled pineapple. Every distributor has their own names for their pineapple varieties, but they all use gold in the title for their best pineapple. Also, pulling the leaves from the top will not tell you if it is ripe.” [Editor’s note: But here’s how you can tell.]
“About 20 minutes before you serve pineapple, cut off the top and turn it upside down. The juices settle at the bottom, and turning it upside down before you serve it allows the juices to redistribute throughout the whole fruit.”
The best thing since sliced
bread pineapple: OXO Stainless Steel Pineapple Slicer
“Use the crisper drawers in your refrigerator. They are designed to keep your produce fresh.”
A genius storage solution: OXO Greensaver Produce Keeper
On his favorite produce
“I love it all! We have so much great stuff to choose from in this part of the world. I do get really excited when the Yakima asparagus comes in. We get some great stuff year round from California, but there is something special about Yakima asparagus.”
The pro’s choice for steaming asparagus: All-Clad Asparagus Steamer
Thanks again, Robby and the West Seattle Produce Company! And to all of you, may your avocados be perfect from this day forward.
Do you have any tips on picking the best produce? Do you have a favorite type of produce you love and can’t wait to be in season? For me, the first day Rainier cherries show up at West Seattle Produce Company is one of my favorite days of the year.
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