Monday, August 3, 2009

Storage tips

We had a request today for some tips on storage of farmers' market fruits and veggies (hi Mikell!). As our faithful readers may be aware by now, we generally buy our fruits and vegetables once a week, so storage over that timespan is a concern. We've picked up various strategies over time, though the easiest thing to do may be to pick up a copy of Elizabeth Schneider's "Vegetables: From Amaranth to Zucchini." Not only does it have beautiful food photography and great recipes for basically any vegetable you might encounter, no matter how weird, she also gives storage advice for each plant.

There are a few things to keep in mind about farmers' market produce. Everything you buy there will, undeniably, be much fresher than supermarket produce because it was probably just harvested the day before, and has not travelled 5,000 miles to reach you. On the other hand, many of the veggies that show up at greenmarkets are heirloom varietals. That generally means that they taste way better (and come in exciting colors) but have been bred for maximum flavor - not for how long they store or how well they hold up in shipping.

So the best way to approach storage is pretty much to learn what keeps and what doesn't through trial and error, and then plan meals accordingly. Some things will just always be best cooked the next day, whereas others can last a week or even months with no problem.

Sometimes we've been surprised by which veggies fall into which category. For instance, we have always had lots of trouble storing new potatoes, which seem like they should last a long time, but always turned green or went bad quickly. As it turns out, this is because potatoes for storage go through a curing process that hardens their skins and makes them last longer. New potatoes (ones freshly harvested in the current season) aren't meant to last very long. Eggplants are another example: their waxy skin might lead you to believe that they'd hold up well, but their flavor changes considerably within a few days, becoming bitter and flabby.

So here is our master list of produce storage advice:


Store in a brown paper bag, ideally in a cool, dry place out of the sunlight. New potatoes should be eaten within a few days, or at most a week; storage-type potatoes can last a long time - even months if they're at the right temperature. Don't leave any potatoes in plastic bags because it will make them sprout. DON'T STORE POTATOES NEAR ONIONS.

Don't put tomatoes into the fridge unless they're about to get too soft. We typically store them in a single layer on a tray.

Winter squashes:
These last weeks to months depending on the type. They can sit out decoratively. The one exception is if you buy a squash that has already been cut open - then it should be stored in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap.

Clearly these sit out. DON'T STORE ONIONS NEAR POTATOES. These two vegetables make each other go bad.

Non-berry fruits:
Apples, peaches and other stone fruits, pears, and other orchard fruits all should sit in a single layer on a tray outside of the fridge. As with tomatoes, if they start to go bad you can pop them in to preserve them - but it's best to eat them by then anyway.


A note for all of the below: everything lasts best if it is actually in a produce drawer, or "crisper." These control the humidity better, preventing things from drying out. They are also usually warmer than the very chilly top shelf of the fridge, which may freezer-burn any veggies you place there.

Leafy greens and herbs:
Greens range from very tricky to store to surprisingly hardy. Delicate greens like salad greens, arugula, beet greens, lamb's quarters and carrot-family herbs (parsley, cilantro, etc) should be wrapped in paper towels to wick away excess moisture, and then loosely enclosed in a plastic bag which has not been tied off. We often find it helps to pick through and remove any leaves that have gone bad before storing the rest.
Medium-hardiness greens include kale, mustard greens and chard. These can benefit from being wrapped in paper towel, but we tend not to since we will use them within the week. If you want to store longer, consider the above method.
The super-hardy greens are "dinosaur" (Tuscan) kale, collard greens, and the like. In good conditions, these can last up to a few weeks in the fridge just in a plastic bag.
A note on herbs: thyme and other tough mint-family herbs will last in plastic wrap (they seem to eventually dessicate rather than going bad). Basil, however, stores notoriously badly. Definitely use the paper towel method, try to dry them of any moisture before storing, and be realistic - they'll turn black and go mushy within a few days.

We pretty much try to cook these delicious veggies the day we buy them, or at latest the next day. Asparagus rapidly turns woody from the base up - apparently it's best eaten within hours of harvest! In the meantime, store in a plastic bag in the fridge.

Root vegetables:
These include carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips, radishes, etc. All of these generally last quite well, up to a few weeks if in good condition to start. (Carrots last basically forever.) Cut off any greens they came with before storing, and then tie them in a plastic bag. Edible greens can be stored as above and used later, if they're in good shape.

Summer squash and cucumbers:
In our experience, summer squashes store better than you might expect, probably because the ones from the greenmarket are so fresh. We've had no trouble keeping them for a week in a plastic bag; two weeks might be pushing it. Heirloom cucumbers won't store as well as the giant waxed ones in the supermarket, so try to use them within a week or two.

Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower (brassica):
These store quite well in a plastic bag. So far we haven't ever had one go bad on us.

Shelling or string beans:
We've had no trouble storing these at least a week in a plastic bag, though we haven't really attempted anything more.

Green onions, garlic scapes and other green alliums:
These will keep quite a long time in the fridge in a plastic bag. If scallions start to get mushy, you can peel off the outer mushy layers and wrap in paper towel as you would for delicate greens.

Sweet peppers and chilies:
We've never had trouble keeping these for a week or two.

It may look hardy, but corn should optimally be cooked within 24 hours of when you buy it. The sugars in it will turn to starch if it is stored for much longer, so its flavor is best right away.

Fruits - berries:
Cherries, blueberries, currants, raspberries, grapes, and other berries all should be stored in the fridge. They don't have to be in a produce drawer (they'd just get smushed) but keep them on a lower shelf. It's best to pick through and remove any bad or crushed berries before you store them. Another good approach, if you have the space, is to spread them in a single layer in a glass or plastic tray.


Supposedly, this can be stored briefly in a paper bag in a cool place, like potatoes. However, we've never attempted this, and anyway we try to eat it pretty quickly after purchase. Eggplant may appear to have held up well, but its bitterness increases with storage time. We generally keep it in the fridge in a plastic bag (definitely in a produce drawer) until we use it.

Brussels sprouts:
There are two main ways to store these guys: either leave on the stalk and place its base into a glass of water, and then use within a day or two; or take each sprout off the stalk and store in a tupperware lined with paper towels in the fridge for a few days. Either way, as with eggplant, it's really best to cook these as soon as possible.

To tell you the truth, we're not entirely sure what the melon protocol should be. Once they are cut, they should definitely be stored in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap, but in their intact form we're not really sure where they belong. If you find out, let us know. (We've been keeping them in the fridge.)

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