Greengrocer tip: buy fresh, tender fruits with good color

Greengrocer Joe Carcione has done almost as much for fresh fruits and vegetables as Julia Child has for French cooking. Joe is the friendly market man on television news programs who gives prices and buying tips on tomatoes or eggplant, zucchini, peaches, and plums.

His voice is gravelly. His manner is completely casual, but when he he talks about the curve and color of a deep purple eggplant, the beautiful blush on a fresh, ripe, peach, you know he is a man who loves his work. His authority and credibility come across.

Against a background of bushel baskets, stacks of fruit cartons, crates and vegetable bins, Joe could be in any fruit and produce market in the United States. Some people think he is right in their own cityor town, his approach is so casual and his data so pertinent.

One of the strongest campaigns of this food news man is to alert consumers to buy only completely ripened fruits and mature vegetables.

Here are some of Joe the Greengrocer's thoughts on certain fruits and vegetables.

"The main thing in fruit is maturity," he says. "If it's not ripe and ready it's not worth 5 cents."

"Don't buy strawberries with white shoulders. Buy berries that are red all over. If they're half white, and large, there will only be 4 or 5 in a box and you'll be throwing out one-third of your money.

"Bananas -- These are about the only fruit that can be picked green and will be sweet when eaten after taken from today's ripening rooms.

"Look for plump, bright yellow fruit with brown specks. Try the small bananas, too. They're sold by the pound and a small one is enough for small children.

"Don't buy cantaloupe when it's soft. It should have lots of rough netting and a creamy color to the skin under the netting. If skin under netting is green the melon is green. But if it is creamy color, even though it's hard all over, it's good.

"If iceberg lettuce is splitting and white, avoid it. When you buy lettuce don't look for a hard head. Look for green leaves and softness.

"If you buy a peach that has no peachy flavor, take it back. Years ago the blush on a peach meant maturity, but not now. Turn it over and look at the stem end. It should be amber-blond.

"Papaya, mangoes, pineapple should all have color. Pineapple should have from 40 to 50 percent gold color. It should be gold inside, too, not white. Up toward the leaves it will show green outside and white inside.

"A classic example of immature vegetables are green bell peppers. These peppers are harvested when they are immature and we have now become accustomed to eating them this way. But a green pepper turns a beautiful red when it's ripe.

"Whenever I see anything new, like spaghetti squash, I like to show it. Sometimes there's an objection if it isn't available in every market. But I think people like to know about new things.

"If the price is higher with these unusual things like kiwi fruit, I say to use them for a special occasion. Look for new things in your market and give them a try.

"I like to tell people about different kinds of sweet onions. People will pay $2 or $3 for Maui onions -- but these are the same Granex onions -- flat, squatty, creamy, yellowish -- grown in Vidalia, Ga. and in California. They are sweet, mild, and just grow better in some places than others."

If vegetable prices are high, the greengrocer lets you know when the price breaks. And when prices go down, he says, "If yours aren't lower, switch to another store, and for goodness sakes be careful what you do when you're shopping if you're trying to save money.

He wants to get older people eating more leafy greens, collard, turnips, and beet greens, and he wants to get all ages eating fresh, ripe wonderful food.

I first met Joe Carcione in San Francisco severla years ago when he was on radio in that area and writing a newspaper column.

Now that he is appearing nationally on television, he's seen on 48 TV news stations over the US, always in the news segments.

When it comes to actually taping his shows, he does a spot for every day in the year, five reports at once after getting the information from marketmen all over. He sifts out the news, then does it all extemporaneously.

Joe has a background in the produce business and is in it still, although not selling daily -- mostly exporting. He has an office in the wholesale market and is up and working every day at at 3 or 4:30 a.m. He also does two live TV shows a week, telling people what is happening to fruits and vegetables.

People write the Greengrocer for his mushroom recipes, for eggplant the way he has it home, his recipe for vegetable soup using different vegetable waters.

His book "The Greengrocer" (San Francisco: Chronicle books, $5.95) contains much of his practical advice about 46 vegetables and 36 different kinds of fruits with extra explanations of such questions as the meaning of "organically grown" and the definition of maturity.

"These are a few recipes and several suggestions of how to prepare the foods he talks about in the book. Here's one.

"Let me tell you how a good professional chooses his beans. Young fresh ones have a pliable, velvety feel, definitely not hard or tough.

"I have great respect for the ability of Chinese produce buyers. They just press their hands into the crates gently -- if the beans feel hard they keep on moving. They can tell fresh young beans without even looking at them.

"But you should buy with your eyes. Look for freshness, tenderness, and good color. All greens beans are perishable, but they can be stored for several days in the refrigerator.

Here's a Carcione special that I have named because it should be made at a time when all the vegetables are at their best." Springtime Vegetable Stew 1 cup tender fava beans 1 cup peas 1 cup or more small, tender artichokes 1 medium-sized spring onion 1 diced clove garlic 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil

Shell beans and peas, then trim artichokes until they're about the size of the marinated ones you see bottled. Slice in quarters from top to bottom. Place all vegetables in a saucepan with about 3/4-inch water.

Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and barely simmer 20 to 30 minutes.

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