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February brims with produce and seafood

The shopping is mostly good this month in produce and seafood departments. For one thing, recent cold weather spared the state's crops. For another, red snapper season is here, and pompano, cobia, kingfish and mackerel from local waters should be plentiful.

That the state's produce generally escaped damage is a relief, said Bob Blankenship of the Florida Department of Agriculture.

"We had a little scare with the freeze, (but) everything was protected either by covering or using overhead sprinklers to coat them with ice," Blankenship said. "Up until now, we've had good growing weather. . . . That's very unusual, come to think of it."

At Brooks Tropicals in Homestead, where the growing season is ending, there was no damage, said Yvette Ramos, the firm's marketing coordinator. During the next few months, she said, many of the tropical fruits and vegetables Brooks Tropicals ships to supermarkets nationwide will come from overseas. In February, shoppers should look for mangoes from countries such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Ecuador and Brazil. Papayas will come from Belize.

Carambola and limes, however, will be harvested right here in Florida. Also coming from Florida will be the usual range of winter fruits and vegetables, and shoppers can expect an abundance of tomatoes and cucumbers, Blankenship said.

"We are way over-supplied with tomatoes, more than the market can bear. And there is a better than normal supply of cucumbers. We certainly have more than we have had in the past few years."

Produce

Look for broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cherimoyas, squash, bell peppers, eggplant, strawberries, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, uglifruit, beans, carrots, sweet corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes and spinach.

Shopping tips: Uglifruit is a citrus fruit that comes from Jamaica. This typically sweet fruit gets its name from its loose-fitting skin.

Seafood

The season for red snapper, which lasts three months, opened this week in the gulf. Because quotas limit fishermen to a daily catch of 2,000 pounds of fish per boat, the fish will be fresh, said Gib Migliano of Save On Seafood in St. Petersburg. The boats will return to shore with their catch each day, he said.

Whole snapper will be available for about $3.99 a pound, and fillets will cost around $7.99 a pound.

Red and black grouper may be scarce and expensive this month. Because of over-fishing, government regulatory bodies are proposing a ban on catching red and black grouper between Feb. 15 and March 15, Migliano said.

"What the boats are going to do is ship for deep-water grouper, but that's limited," he said, adding that the catch from those waters will be yellow-edge grouper and brown grouper.

Plenty of other fresh fish will be for sale in February. Look for whole mackerel, which will sell for about $1.99 a pound whole and $3.59 for fillets. Whole kingfish will run about $2.99, steaks, $3.59. Whole pompano will cost around $4.99 a pound.

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