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Lobster, California grapes top shopping list

The scorching days of August call for cool, juicy melons and ice-cold grapes, which will be plentiful in coming weeks.

Seafood departments will be promoting Florida lobster. The season opens Friday, which could mean that the succulent crustaceans will arrive in some stores as early as Saturday.

Last month's heat and drought will have little effect on August's supply of produce, said Michael Marks, marketing director for J.C. Produce Inc., a California distributor.

"The drought is pretty isolated. It is not nationwide, and it is in an area that doesn't supply a whole lot of produce for the nation.

"Probably the greatest aspect of the heat is it causes a great lack of demand for produce. People are more concerned about staying cool rather than going to the grocery for tomatoes and lettuce."

When they do go, Marks said, they may find that higher transportation costs, the result of this summer's rising gasoline prices, have been tacked on to the fruits and vegetables they hope to buy.

In any event, now is a good time to take advantage of several California grape varieties whose season opens this month. Among them is red globe, a large, red, seeded grape developed at the University of California in 1980 and a favorite of shoppers in many parts of the world.

"It is a very popular grape overseas, particularly in the Asian markets, but what we have seen in recent years is that it is increasingly popular in the United States," said Jim Howard, communications director for the California Table Grape Commission.

"This is the grape that Martha Stewart cut, scooped out and filled with goat cheese for a wonderful hors d'oeuvres that has become very popular," he said.

To the relief of growers, this year's harvest has been good, Howard said.

"Last year's was down because of El Nino. It was a tough year for the growers, both in terms of the quality of the grapes and the volume," he said.

"We are projecting 76-million 21-pound boxes of fresh grapes coming out of California this year, which is a good year. And also the quality is very good."

Produce

During August shop for apricots, avocados, beans, berries, cabbage, cantaloupes, honeydews, cherries, corn, cucumbers, grapes, mangoes, nectarines, plantains, okra, peaches, pears, peppers, plums, summer squash, tomatoes and watermelons.

New this month: There will be green seedless grapes from California, such as sugraone and Thompson. The reds include flame and ruby seedless, as well as the seeded red globe. August begins the season for one of the blue-black seedless varieties.

Peak of season: Watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydews and other types of melons.

Shopping tips: Experiment with the many new types of melons, Marks said. Melons with a netlike exterior pattern are members of the musk family and are at their best when there's a strong aroma. Except for honeydews, don't expect melons to ripen after you get them home.

"They'll get soft, but they will not sweeten," Marks said.

When shopping for grapes, the secret is to look for berries with green, pliable stems to be sure you are buying fresh grapes, Howard said. Grapes keep best when stored in the refrigerator, but they are particularly refreshing when frozen.

Seafood

Florida lobsters, caught in waters off the Keys, are cherished for the prized meat that is nestled in the tail section.

Still, some people prefer to buy the entire crustacean. Whole lobsters on ice will bring about $5.99 a pound; live lobsters fished out of tanks, about $7.99, said Gib Migliano of Save on Seafood.

He estimates that fresh lobster tails will cost about $14.99 a pound.

Thinking of traveling to the Keys to catch your own? You'll end up paying an estimated $30 a pound for your lobsters by the time the cost of the fishing excursion is totaled, Migliano said.

This month also is the time to shop for fresh flounder from Florida's east coast, Migliano said. Expect to pay about $6.99 a pound for fillets.

Swordfish and tuna are good buys, as well.

"We're catching a lot," Migliano said, "and prices are going through the basement."

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