Monday, November 10, 2008

Produce Shopping

Although my food's probably still too salty, one thing I have tried to do over the years is to make as much food as possible from basic ingredients. What this means is, in practical terms, is frequent trips to the fruit and vegetable store. I usually do a large-ish produce shop once a week. Sometimes I have to fill in later that week, and sometimes I can even skip a week if things aren't busy around here.

In our neighborhood, there are a few independent fruit stores, as well as kosher supermarkets and chain supermarkets that carry produce. In general, I try to shop for produce in the independents, because I like the prices and freshness there, and I do sort of like that 'earthy' fruit store feel. That earthiness is precisely the reason that some people choose not to shop in these places. To me, it's not grungy as much as it's close to the source of where all of these things actually grow.

There's one giant fruit superstore a few minutes away. People generally find it disgusting. I don't mind it much, and used to shop there from time to time. The kids like the lobster tank, and the prices and variety there are very good. They carry more interesting, ethnically-diverse produce than anyone in town. The sanitary level does leave a good deal to be desired. I once found a clementine crate full of kittens in the first shopping cart I wheeled out. Yikes. Also, the grocery prices there are not very good, so it definitely necessitates a trip to another store.

The chain supermarkets display clean, shiny produce, but the prices are high, and it doesn't seem like the turnover rate is all that good. The apples look so waxy-perfect - to me, that's not what I expect from fruit and veg.

The kosher supermarkets are also good for veg and fruit in a pinch, like when you're shopping for Shabbos, and only need a couple of produce items. In general, the prices (aside from occasional hit-or-miss store specials) are rather high there, too.

One of the independent stores carries very nice produce. A bonus is that it's one of the many stores on Main Street where I get to practice my Hebrew (and invariably get asked by someone if I'm French). Another bonus is nostalgia - it's named after a town that neighbors the town where I was born. This store is very popular in the neighborhood - I know quite a few people who "only go there." It is on the small side, and I'd say that it's one of those places where people seem to hate me for having a stroller.

Never one to conform, I've lately been loving a Bukharian-owned fruit store a few blocks further south. It gives me a chance to practice my other erstwhile language - Russian (just kidding - I totally don't have the nerve to speak Russian in public yet!)

It seems like their prices are the best around, and groceries there are a decent buy. I'm talking about a bunch of asparagus for 99 cents - where I see the same quantity in other places for 2.99/lb or more! (Although it's not always available) I used to buy the giant 10 lb. bag of onions for 2.99, but I find that there are always a few in there that aren't going to hold on for more than a couple of days. When I know there's a Yom Tov coming up, or that I'm making onion soup, I'll still buy the big onion bag, and sort it out right away.

The staples are always around, and for the rest, I try to go in there with the attitude that I'll see what looks good, and devise the veg portion of my menu around it. Beets and cabbage? Okay, we'll have borscht. Butternut squash looks nice and is 59 cents a pound? Sounds like a good side dish or soup.

Do you prioritize prices or a more pleasant shopping experience in your produce (or any) shopping? I enjoy shopping in pleasant places, so I promise not to judge you if it's the latter. For groceries, I've mostly given up on the places that are a few cents cheaper on some items, but treat customers disrespectfully and are difficult to shop in.

The part about produce shopping that is a big drag (even with a car) is the shlepping. I hate wasting weekend time in overcrowded food stores, so I shop almost exclusively with Little Rag (and sometimes Andy), and just get the stuff home without RaggedyDad. The system I use has been described here before. I love my fruit store - now if only they delivered!


Diana said...

I like to buy most stuff at the regular grocery store, and buy kosher specialty items (like cheese) on an as needed basis. And I buy my meat in Baltimore.

Erachet said...

I don't like grocery stores because they're always freezing. Especially in the produce section. This is also why I dislike making salads.

Btw, in Gourmet Glatt on Central Avenue, it thunders (and lightnings, I think) on the vegetables whenever the misty machines start raining on them. It's rather odd.

Shira Salamone said...

This is my favorite story about food shopping.

Ariella said...

I also shop at various stores to pick up produce, that I do have to replenish more than once a week. When I'm in your neighborhood, I sometimes pick up some things there, as some of the little store have good prices on fruit. Unfortunately, my local fruit store doesn't offer any real bargains; in fact, sometimes Brach's or Gourmet Glatt will have better prices and better quality on produce. But the regular supermarkets are generally quite high except for their particular sales.
Erachet, I have often heard the machine, too. It really does sound like a storm. Other stores have similar machines, but none make the same thundering noise.

RaggedyMom said...

Diana - What's a kosher specialty item? Just kidding.

Erachet - Grocery stores are very cold here - you're right. That machine sounds crazy.

Shira - What a great story!

Ariella - When I see the advertised specials for GG and Brachs advertised in the paper, they look great. The produce thing is a pain - maybe there's a cheaper place in a neighboring area? Because we are extremely un-brand-loyal, I try to stock up on the sale stuff, as these sales seem to work on some sort of rotation.