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By Mollie Thomas, (TNS)

Now that most of us are thawing from a very cold winter, it’s time to get excited about longer days, blooming trees, and, of course, spring produce.

The season offers some of the most flavorful and nutritious fruits and veggies around — we’re talking pops of red and pink, and greens for days. But how do you know if you’re making the best picks at the farmers market or supermarket? Erin Scott, award-winning food blogger and author of Yummy Supper, gave us some of her top tips for spotting the freshest of the fresh in these early market months.
Asparagus: “When I think of spring produce, I first think of asparagus,” Scott said. Those versatile stalks can be prepared a number of ways: roasted, blanched, grilled, you name it. With asparagus, size doesn’t matter — it’s completely up to your preferences. I prefer the thinner stalks — they taste a little less stringy to me — but Scott loves the thick ones, too: “They’re so juicy.” No matter your diameter of choice, stalks should be firm and snap-able, and Scott said the blooms at the tips should also be tight and closed. She recommends avoiding asparagus that looks dried out — bonus points to markets that store their asparagus in water.
Strawberries and Rhubarb: Likes peas and carrots, strawberries and rhubarb go together wonderfully. Scott calls this delicious duo the “sneak attack pre-summer fruit” — your first taste of sweet, juicy produce before peaches, plums and other traditional summer fruits start showing up in the aisles. Color is most important here. Look for firm fruit and the deepest red with strawberries, and you should be in for a sweet treat. If you’re unsure which berries to buy, ask to taste. “I love that about the farmer’ market,” Scott said — the chance to talk to the farmers, and also to ask about where the fruit was grown and under what conditions. Most vendors will be happy to let you do a taste test. As for rhubarb, both red and green are good choices, and Scott recommends a firmer stalk — you shouldn’t be able to bend rhubarb.
Nettles: This lesser-known green is one of Scott’s favorites — she grows them in her backyard. Nettles have soft fuzz on their skins that will sting to the touch, so be careful when you pick them up. The stinging goes away once you cook them down, so no worries about eating eggs with a side of sore throat. Nettles have a long history of medicinal properties — from soothing joint and muscle pain, to helping with insect bites. Look for vibrant leafy greens — nothing wilted or droopy.
Artichokes: Scott doesn’t discriminate on size with artichokes. She likes them all. To make sure you’re getting a fresh, tasty artichoke, Scott said to “look at the stem — if it looks healthy, that’s a good sign. You want perky and firm.” And this hearty veggie has earned its nickname, the “amazing artichoke.” Studies show that the fiber-rich pick can help with chronic digestive issues such as IBS, flatulence, and irritable stomach. Plus, they’re packed with antioxidants, making them great weapons against cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.
Peas: This tiny tender green vegetable packs a vitamin-filled punch. Vitamins A, B-1, B-6, C, and K are all abundant in this little spring pick. Plus they’re a good source of fiber. To make sure you’re getting the best of the best, Scott said “vibrant color and firm crisp texture is what you’re looking for.” Avoid brown spots and, again, if in doubt, ask to taste. Scott said to go for peas that taste sweet and crisp, not mealy. She recommends pairing them with asparagus — a spring romance if we’ve ever heard of one.

Photo: Sharon Mollerus via Flickr

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