Good chefs know that the best ingredients lead to the most memorable meals. But when you’re in the grocery store, being surrounded by all those produce pyramids can be really intimidating. Here are some tips to help you, broken down by what sense does the heavy lifting: feels, smells, and looks.



From firmest to least firm, here are some handy notes on produce you feel to tell if it’s ripe.

Firmest is Best

  • Cucumbers: firm but no waxy cukes, please!
  • Eggplants: Firm, not mushy.
  • Garlic: Firm – if it’s hollow or soft or crunchy, then NO, no, and also, no. Also, don’t refrigerate your garlic. I once heard on a Little Lulu episode, “Don’t put bananas in ice box,” and that advice applies to these little guys too. They can stay for several months, just don’t refrigerate them! Same goes for tomatoes – don’t put them in your friedge! Keep in a bowl.
  • Squash: Firm but not hard & can stay a week.
  • Oranges: firm

Keep It Crispy!

  • Greens: Crisp leaves! Green leaves! And, much like your family – they can stay for a week. 🙂

Press & It’ll Spring Back!

  • Grapefruit: slightly springy when pressed. Avoid ones that have overly soft spots.
  • Kiwi: slight give when pressed

Soft Not Mushy

  • Apricots: soft but not squishy

These Ripen More When You Get Them Home, So You Can Buy Them Firmer

  • Plums: Slightly soft but beware – rock hard plums might have been harvested too soon & won’t ripen at all!
  • Tomatoes: a bit soft, but not mushy.



  • Peaches: Smell them! Don’t squeeze them! Also, eat these right away – they stay fresh only for a day or so.
  • Strawberries: they should smell fantastic & also, they should look bright red but not soggy. Don’t worry – you’ll know if they look soggy.


  • Raspberries: Plump & juicy, not soggy
  • Blueberries: Brightly colored, gorgeous, easy to tell
  • Corn: Double check you were there first!! No holes on those ears or a bug beat you to the punch!
  • Oranges: don’t worry about the color! Green & brown patches don’t matter.
  • Watermelon: You want two things: a smooth skin PLUS a well-defined yellow spot on one side. This spot means that the watermelon has been resting while ripening, and if it’s not there, it means it could have been harvested too soon.


There you are! Happy eating and remember: much like anything, practice makes perfect. So you will definitely be able to work your produce magic better the more you practice!