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NEWS | May 19, 2014

Commissaries offer tips for selecting quality produce

By DeCA Public Affairs

Warm weather offers shoppers a vast assortment of colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables, and the commissary has a few tips to help pick some of the more popular spring-summer produce items.

"It's been a plentiful year for many items ranging from asparagus to strawberries, so now's a good time to highlight what to look for when selecting them, said Bridget Bennett, the Defense Commissary Agency's produce category manager.

· Asparagus: Look for smooth skin, bright green color, compact heads and freshly cut ends. Look for asparagus that is as green (or purple or white in the case of purple or white varieties) as possible to up your chances of biting into tender spears.

· Cherries: Sweet cherries, including the popular Bing and Rainer varieties, are available from May to August. Sour cherries have a much shorter season and can be found for a week or two in the middle of June in warmer areas and as late as July and August in the colder regions. If possible, taste the cherries before you buy them. Sweetness varies farm to farm and week to week. Always look for shiny, plump cherries with fresh, green stems and dark coloring for the variety.

· Grapefruit: Grapefruit is at its best in late winter through early summer. As with all citrus, choose fruits that are heavy for their size.

· New potatoes: New potatoes are freshly harvested young or small potatoes. They have paper-thin skins and lots of moisture inside, and they tend to be sweeter than older potatoes. New potatoes are pure perfection in potato salad or simply boiled with a bit of butter and a few chopped herbs. Look for new potatoes in the spring and early summer.

· Peas: Fresh green peas - straight off the vine and right out of the pod - are a fabulous feature of spring and early summer eating.

· Radishes: Radishes are available year round, but in temperate climates their natural season is spring and summer - that is when they are at their sweetest and best.

Strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in spring and early summer. Perfectly ripe strawberries are best eaten out of hand, but they also make great additions to salads and plenty of desserts. Choose brightly colored, dry, firm, shiny, plump berries that still have fresh-looking green caps attached. Avoid soft, dull-looking or shriveled berries. Since strawberries do not ripen after being picked, avoid berries that are partly white or otherwise unripe. It may seem obvious to say, but strawberries should smell like strawberries. Take a whiff before you buy.

"Knowing what to look for when shopping for produce is very important, especially for people who may be interested in trying something for the first time," said Bennett. "Our produce associates are always glad to answer any questions customers may have about how to choose."