Look for apples that are firm, brightly colored, and free of bruises. The skin should be clean and shiny; a dull finish indicates the fruit may be past its prime. Refrigerate apples up to two weeks. (At room temperature, they ripen too quickly and become mealy. Watch this video on how to store apples.) The fruit is delicious raw, of course. Apples are also good baked in pies, roasted, and sautéed.
Choose broccoli with firm, tight dark green florets. The stalks should be slightly lighter in color. Yellowing broccoli is old and will taste overly strong; a whitish stalk will be tough and woody. Refrigerate broccoli in a plastic bag up to five days. Separate the head into florets to encourage even cooking. Peel and slice the stems and cook them along with the florets. Broccoli is best roasted, sautéed, steamed, or blanched.
Look for firm, small compact heads that are bright green and free of blemishes. Avoid those that feel puffy or light for their size. Refrigerate Brussels sprouts in a plastic bag up to five days. They are delicious roasted, sautéed, or blanched. Tender young sprouts can be thinly sliced and served raw in slaws.
Pick a squash that is rock solid and heavy for its size. Its skin should be matte; a shiny finish is a sign that the squash wasn’t ripe when it was picked. Store butternut squash in a cool, dry place (not in the refrigerator) up to a month. If you don’t use the whole squash, wrap a cut uncooked piece in plastic and refrigerate it up to two days. To prepare squash for cooking, peel with a y-shaped peeler, halve lengthwise with a serrated knife, scoop out the seeds, and cut as desired. Roasting butternut squash renders it sweet and tender. It can also be sautéed or boiled and mashed.
Choose cauliflower with compact, creamy white florets and bright green leaves. Old cauliflower has a yellowish tinge and tiny black mold spots. Refrigerate cauliflower in a plastic bag up to five days. Before cooking, remove the core and separate the cauliflower into florets. Cauliflower can be blanched, steamed, or roasted. Served raw, it is a lively addition to a platter of crudités.
Look for grapes that are plump, unblemished, and firmly attached to a flexible stem. Ripe white and green grapes should have a yellowish cast; red and purple ones should have no green. Refrigerate grapes in a ventilated plastic bag up to one week. (They will shrivel, and even start to ferment, at room temperature.) Many grapes are treated with insecticide, so they should be washed thoroughly just before serving.
Select fresh mushrooms that are firm and evenly colored. They should have a smooth, dry (not dried) skin and the caps should be closed tightly around the stems. Remove mushrooms from any plastic wrap or packaging and refrigerate them in a paper bag up to three days. Shiitake and cremini varieties can last a week or more. Wipe mushrooms with a damp paper towel just before using.
Pears ripen off the tree, so most of the fruit you’ll find at the market will need a few days to soften at home. Common varieties include: Anjou, which is egg-shaped with a green, rose-tinged green, or red skin; Bosc, which has a slender neck and a brown skin (dig in early―Boscs are flavorful even before fully ripe); and Bartlett, which has a red skin or a green skin that yellows as it ripens. Let pears ripen at room temperature. When they’re ready to eat, the flesh on the neck of the fruit will give a little when pressed. Refrigerate ripe pears for up to five days.
Choose firm, smooth potatoes with few eyes. Avoid those with green patches―a sign of prolonged exposure to light. The discolored spots taste bitter and are toxic if eaten in large quantities. Remove potatoes from any plastic packaging before storing them in a well-ventilated, cool, dark place for up to two weeks. Peeled potatoes turn brown when exposed to air, so prepare them just before use.
Look for small to medium sweet potatoes. (Large ones can be tough.) Their skins should be smooth and evenly colored. Remove sweet potatoes from any plastic packaging before storing them in a well-ventilated, cool, dark place up to two weeks.