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May 8, 2009 06:16 AM

What do they know that I don't?

You're in the supermarket and some wizened old lady is inspecting some unrecognisable yams. After discarding two or three she selects one based on criteria outside your knowledge. I haven't the faintest idea how to tell a 'good' one. Mind you, I can pick out male Sicilian eggplants - less seeds.

But the one that burns me are the blue crabs. Hundreds of 'em, all looking very crabby. But the Chinese buyers are very selective - they only want certain ones. But what they are looking for: Old? Male? Pregnant, no algae, really wobbly eyes?

So what's the inside scoop? And do have a similar query to ask of other CHers?

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  1. Cantaloupes. When it's ripe it "sounds hollow when thumped," supposedly. WTF? Now I have to have a musical ear to buy a piece of fruit? Yes, it supposedly also "smells ripe"—but I rarely catch that either. At any rate I get it right about as often as I get it wrong.

    8 Replies
    1. re: tatamagouche

      i shake my melons. if i hear 'sloshing' that means the seeds have released from the flesh and the fruit is ripe-n-ready.

      1. re: tatamagouche

        I'm not sure about cantaloupes, but for honeydews, press on the spot where the stem was. If it gives, it's ripe. If it doesn't give, it will not be ripe. (No guarantee on sweetness, just ripeness.) It won't be super-soft, but you can definitely feel the difference. Works every time for me. This may work for cantaloupes, too. I just eat way more honeydew.

        1. re: lisavf

          And if the stem is still there, having a cracked "scab" around the stem means that it's ripe enough. Also, I smell the backside of the melon to check for ripeness. No smell == no good.

        2. re: tatamagouche

          I was at Whole Foods 2 days ago looking for a cantaloupe. I figured the pricy stuff at Whole Foods would be tastier than the stuff they have at my local Albertsons.

          None of them smelled sweet. None of them had any softness at the stem spot.

          I left without buying any. Been a LONG time since I've had a good cantaloupe. The last 2 I've tried to buy were pretty blah. :(

          1. re: huaqiao

            I agree that it's been hard to find a good cantaloupe lately, but at least Whole Foods (at least my local one) puts out samples to try. Last time I was there I took a taste, found it too hard and bland, and moved on to the pineapples, which are easier to choose as there are three reliable ripeness indicators: 1) golden as opposed to green, 2) smells pungent, 3) if you can easily pull out one of the small leaves in the center of the topknot, it's ripe.

            1. re: BobB

              jfood has the four-day rule this time of year. Pick a cantaloupe by the firmness and color, that's the bones. Then leave on the counter in the house for four days. Then cut. There is a perfect "10" group of pieces in the fridge as he writes.

              Pieapple is almost and easy one compared to cantaloupe. ive a soft tug on one of the fronds. It should pull out easily. Then smell the pineapple. This process has about a 95% success rate.

            2. re: huaqiao

              It's May--probably too early in the season...

            3. re: tatamagouche

              Cantaloupes are difficult because they don't show much of a surface web. A rule from growing melons is to check not only the stem end but the extent to which the natural pattern has risen. A youngish, unripe melon is smoother.

              But there is no way to tell reliably which of a bunch of ripe melons will taste best. It's luck of the draw.

            4. The only thing I do with crabs is pick an especially lively one. If he tries to pinch me, I figure he's fresh ;-). But how do you pick male eggplant? Is it innie or outie? Heavy or light? I never seem to be able to get a good one.

              Funny story: Some years back, I was in the grocery store to buy eggs. I kept picking up carton after carton, looking inside to find cracked or broken eggs in every one. This went on for some time. A few minutes into my search, a gentleman came up next to me and started doing the same thing. After a few cartons he asked "What exactly are we looking for?"

              10 Replies
              1. re: phofiend

                Crabs, lobsters, whatever, when picking them live, look for the ones that kick up a storm when handled. They're the healthiest. If it seems lethargic, it's almost dead.


                1. re: Davwud

                  And get the lobster very excited and agitated right before the sauna.

                2. re: phofiend

                  Ha! I had a similar experience with eggs. My husband (who ate out for 100% of his meals when I met him), watched me check eggs when we went grocery shopping for many months. I gently rock each egg to see if any are stuck/cracked at the bottom where it isn't visible. After a few months, he asked why I bothered to count the eggs every time--there were always twelve, after all!

                  It used to be pretty rare that I'd find a cracked egg. In the last couple years, it seems that I have to go through four or five cartons before I find one where an egg *hasn't* cracked.

                  1. re: modthyrth

                    Yep, my husband and I have learned to do that too. We've gotten so many cartons lately where an egg is cracked that now we check each egg first.

                    1. re: modthyrth

                      I rock each egg too. Sometimes they don't look cracked on the top, but there is a crack on the bottom and the leak makes the egg stick to the carton.

                      1. re: Sooeygun

                        Yup. Learned that one from my mom.

                      2. re: modthyrth

                        the way the vendors check the eggs is quick and safe: hold the carton open like a book, scan for cracks, (eggs are on the right side, say) close it, shift to left hand, open the right, and you'll be checking the underside, all at once. No need to shake each egg loose this way.

                      3. re: phofiend

                        Interestingly enough, you can tell the "sex" of an eggplant by lookign at the end where the stem released. If it's oblong, it's a female, has more seeds and could be more bitter. If it's round, then it's a male and has fewer seeds.

                        1. re: phofiend

                          Hi PF, why not after 3 or so tries with the eggs just make your own perfect dozen. Is this some kind of unwritten market code?

                          1. re: stevuchan

                            I used to do that, but stopped after once trying to swap out a cracked one for a good one, and having the bad one (and I mean REALLY BAD) break and spill it stinky contents all over me. It was summer. And I had a long drive home. With no air conditioning. I never went back to that store.

                        2. To answer your question about the blue crabs - Chinese buyers usually look for FEMALE crabs, for the roe.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: comestibles

                            And lively. One is usually looking for the liveliest crustaceans, too.

                            1. re: comestibles

                              After a little googling I found this:

                              However, the CBs seem to want to inspect the underneath. Is there some 'pregnancy indicator' there?

                              1. re: Paulustrious

                                No, they are checking the shape of the apron. They don't rely on the tip color of the claws. Obviously pregnant females should not have been fished out of the waters, and if discovered, should have been thrown back in.

                                1. re: Paulustrious

                                  Look at the pictures further down the page on that link - the apron is shaped differently in males vs. females. That's why they're looking at the underside.

                                  1. re: lisavf

                                    As I tell my daughter, if the apron is the Washington Monument it's male, shaped like the Capital it's female. That's how I was raised

                              2. If you speak the same language as the "expert," just ask. I had an older gentleman ask me about avocados not long ago.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: c oliver

                                  That could have been me. I wanted to know how to recognise a good Jamaican Avocado. They all seem rock-hard to me. I lived in Florida but do not remember seeing one.

                                  An aside:- avocados are one of the few fruits which does not ripen on the tree. It has to be picked first. Same as a banana.

                                2. I wonder what difference does it make in the taste whether you buy a lethargic (but still living) crab and a very lively one?