Fresh produce is one of the cornerstones of healthy diet, and each season brings its own cornucopia of fruit and vegetables into supermarket aisles, farmers’ markets and, of course, backyard gardens. But how do you make the best of your garden harvest (or even supermarket harvest) to extend its shelf life?
There are many methods of food preservation such as canning, drying and pickling, but in this post I’m going to talk specifically about fresh produce – that is, vegetables stored for a limited time period in their natural state.
Fresh peppers. It's wise to plant as much as you can reasonably use.
Don’t buy (or plant) more than you can reasonably use. When buying fresh produce, make a realistic estimate of how much of it you can use or preserve in a reasonable amount of time. My husband finds eggplants irresistible, so I’ll often find myself with ten eggplants taking up an entire refrigerator shelf, and thus I’m trying to think of new and creative ways to use up these big glossy vegetables before they aren’t so glossy anymore. When vegetables turn into something resembling a Petri dish before you have had time to use them, it probably means shopping (or planting) habits need to be re-examined.
Tomatoes. Tomatoes don't react well to cold. They should be stored at room temperature until completely ripe and afterwards up to one week in the refrigerator. Remove stems before placing tomatoes in refrigeration. To prolong the tomato's shelf life, store in plastic bag with large holes for good air circulation, and put a paper towel (or small kitchen towel) next to the tomatoes to absorb excess moisture. Personally, I prefer a plastic box lined with a towel, for compact storage.
Note: slightly wilted, wrinkled tomatoes may not be very good for salads, but are perfectly fine in sauces, stews, soups, etc.
Bell peppers. Peppers are more cold-tolerant than tomatoes. A firm pepper in good condition can be stored in the refrigerator up to ten days. The nylon bag and paper towel idea can be used in this case too.
Cucumbers. In many refrigerators the temperature is too low for cucumbers; on the other hand, they can't be stored outside the refrigerator, because they tend to wrinkle and shrivel up very quickly. The best compromise appears to be, again, storing them in a plastic bag with a paper towel. Always remove the residue of the flower attached to the cucumbers, because rot usually begins to spread from there.
Eggplants. Like cucumbers, don't react well to cold, but can't be stored outside of the refrigerator for a long time either, so it's better not to stock on them. Personally I only refrigerate them during the summer months. It is recommended to buy light eggplants with firm, shiny skin. Heavy eggplants tend to have many seeds, which add a bitter taste.
Lettuce. Lettuce, like other leafy vegetables, needs to be stored in very cold temperatures close to freezing point. In your average refrigerator, it will survive in decent condition for approximately a week. To prevent wilting and allow air circulation, it's best to store lettuce in a plastic bag with tiny holes.
It's important to remember that the upper shelves of a refrigerator are slightly colder than the lower shelves — it's particularly true for older refrigerators (such as ours). Therefore, if storage at room temperature isn't practical, we store cold-sensitive veggies on the lower shelves.
Parsley. We love fresh parsley in soups, stews, meatballs and various other dishes; however, I only use a bit each time. As a result, whenever there’s a fresh bunch of parsley, about half of it gets used at once, and the other half slowly wilts, until it looks very sorry indeed and finally goes out to the chickens. I solve it by shredding the parsley in a food processor, pressing it into an ice cube tray and freezing it. This way I have handy small portions of fresh parsley to use in cooking. The same method can of course be applied to any herbs such as cilantro, basil, thyme, mint, etc.
This post was based on content from my book, The Practical Homemaker’s Companion.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook, find her as SmallFlocksMom on Earthineer, and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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