Last fall Mark and I invested in a share of a local CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture.)
We are going to do another one for the summer and I’m really excited about having fresh vegetables from local gardens — the second best option in my opinion to being able to grow them myself! I’ll discuss the CSA experience and the questions about local agriculture in another post, but today I want to discuss storing vegetables with you.
With the increase in cooking that has happened since Mark started his new exercise and workout regiment, we’ve had more vegetables moving through our kitchen. And nothing drives me more crazy than wasting food (…well, okay, I could think of a few other things… like dirty dishes. Ahem, Mark.)
A famous study at the University of Arizona showed that American families toss out an average of 470 pounds of food per year — about a half pound of fruits or veggies discarded per day, and about 14 percent of all the food brought home with them. That’s roughly $600 thrown down the garbage disposal. In total, Americans chuck about a fourth of all the produce we buy, or $43 billion worth of food every year. Why? Because it has gone bad. Wasting produce is, well, a waste for our wallets, bad for our environment, and with a growing world population and growing numbers of hungry people, just not cool.
It’s easy to get more out of the veggies we buy though if you just store them right.
Here are some tips:
Keep produce whole until ready to consume.
As soon as you start pulling fruits and veggies apart, you’ve broken cells and microorganisms start to grow. If you only need half an avocado, for instance, cover the other half in foil, store it in the fridge, and make a plan of when you will use it within the next day.
Do not store fruits and vegetables together.
Fruits that give off high levels of ethylene (the ripening agent) can prematurely ripen and spoil close-by vegetables. (Think of “one bad apple.”) Best to store fruits in one bin and veggies in another or your greens will wilt, yellow, or rot in just a couple of days.
Know where to store: counter vs. refrigerator.
Avocados, tomatoes, mangoes, melons, zucchini and pears will continue to ripen if left sitting out on a countertop, while items like bell peppers, grapes, all citrus, and berries will only deteriorate and should be refrigerated.
Once counter items are fully ripe though, either consume immediately or put them in the fridge to get another few days out of them.
Bananas in particular ripen very quickly, and will also speed the ripening of any nearby fruits.
Apples can go either place, but I refrigerate mine. I find they don’t lose that much taste and they definitely last much, much longer – like, months.
Don’t pre-wash most things.
Most fruits and vegetables don’t appreciate the extra moisture from washing them as soon as you get home. The convenience for you comes at a price. Just wait until you are ready to consume and then wash the items.
Buy and consume fastest to slowest.
You can totally get all your fruits and veggies for the week in one trip to the store if you do simple things like buying your greens last at the store so that they don’t warm up too much during the trip, visiting the farmers market early in the morning so your produce isn’t in the sun for too long, and consuming more perishable items first, like berries and tomatoes.
If you aren’t consuming fast enough, improvise. Make a fruit pie or a potful of soup, or cook up some tomato sauce and throw these things in the freezer. You could even calendar it in to check in and cook these things up midweek. Nearly all fruits and veggies can be stored in the freezer in airtight containers or freezer bags. Bananas should be peeled before storing.
Generally, foods that spoil the quickest include: artichokes, asparagus, avocados, bananas, basil, broccoli, berries (blueberries last longer), mushrooms, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant. And things with thicker skins tend to last longer: think oranges, grapefruit, watermelons. Tomatoes are a toss-up depending on where they come from. Straight out of the garden? Good for a week. Bought from the store? May go mushy in three days.
Things that last forever (slight exaggeration): Apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, garlic, onions, potatoes, squash.
Vegetable storage: specifics.
Before storing, remove ties and rubber bands. Make sure the bag you store the veggies in has some holes punctured to allow for good air flow – nothing is worse than storing veggies in an airtight bag because you are basically cutting off their breathing! The idea is to let the veggies breathe, but just in a lower temperature so that they don’t ripen too quickly. Pack vegetables loosely in the refrigerator. The closer they are, the quicker they will rot.
Leafy greens (including lettuce) – if not pre-washed – can be washed before storing by soaking them in a sink full of water, but make sure to dry thoroughly before storing. They shouldn’t be stored wet, but moisture is important. Storing them with a damp cloth helps them from drying out. Kale and chard would do well with the stems in a cup of water.
Asparagus and green onions should be stored in the refrigerator with a moist paper towel around the stems or can be stood up in a glass of cold water with a damp paper towel wrapped around them to keep them crisp.
Onions, potatoes, garlic, squash, sweet potatoes should be stored kept in a cool, dry place with a lot of ventilation, (e.g. don’t stack them on top of each other.) Why not store taters in the fridge you ask? The starch turns to sugar at cold temperatures. Sweet potatoes are the delicate ones of this bunch – they’ll only last a week.
Broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumber‐ place in a container in the fridge with a damp paper towel or wrap in a damp towel before placing in the fridge.
Herb storage: specifics.
Herbs are the best and the worst! I loooove adding fresh herbs to dishes throughout the week, but if not stored properly, they can go bad so quickly, which can be really frustrating.
We’ve gotten into a really good routine of immediately “repackaging” our herbs for storage as soon as we get home from the store. It’s super easy once you get into a routine. Most herbs do well by cutting off the ends a bit and storing them in a glass of water (like a bunch of flowers) and then covering the top with a plastic bag. Poke some holes in it.
You can also store washed and dried herbs in a plastic bag along with a paper towel, which will absorb extra moisture and make the environment more humid.
It’s finnicky and fabulous: my favorite herb, basil, is the oddball out. It doesn’t like the cold, and it doesn’t like being wet. Store it in an airtight container or jar, loosely packed, and with a small damp piece of paper towel inside. Store on the counter.
Fruit storage: specifics.
Most of this has already been covered in the information above.
Fun tip about pineapples: the sugar in a pineapple is concentrated at its base, so you can store them upside down for a day or two at room temperature or in the fridge to allow the sweetness to spread throughout the fruit.
Stack berries in the fridge in a single layer if possible.
Pomegranates will keep up to a month stored on a cool counter. (Which is great, because pomegranates are awesome.)
So there you have it. Hope some of this info helps.
A final note: If you don’t want to use all this plastic, experiment with paper bags.
Do you have any best practices/tips of your own to share? I’d love to hear them!