I find that if you prep fresh food (keeping in mind the specific ways in which you like to eat it) as soon as you get it in your kitchen, you’ll be less likely to let it spoil. I prefer to pick or purchase just what I’ll need for a couple of days and keep it in a beautiful wooden basket on the counter until I use it. I also love to see a vase of fresh herbs on the countertop, and few things make me happier than a terra cotta jar filled to the brim with fresh heads of garlic.
But sometimes — say, when you’ve just received a giant boxful of goodness from your CSA (community supported agriculture) program — you’ve got no choice but to refrigerate the food or you’ll lose it. To this end, I wash berries in water with just a bit of vinegar (a life-extension tip gleaned from the fabulous publication Cook’s Illustrated) before popping them into the fridge. I rinse lettuce and other greens immediately in cold water and spin them dry before storing them in the spinner or a cloth bag. I like to keep celery, carrots and radishes around at all times, so I chop them up and store them in water, which keeps them crisp for a surprisingly long time. Asparagus does well if its thicker ends sit in cold water, too.
My other go-to food saving strategies include roasting beets and tomatoes, and then storing them in a little olive oil in the fridge; dunking sliced hot peppers and cucumbers into a jar of vinegar to store in the fridge; and turning excess basil and parsley into pesto and gremolata, a condiment made with lemon zest and garlic. And of course, if an opened bottle of wine is starting to go off, I cook with it!
More Clever Ideas!
- Nini Negash (pictured here) tricks food into not spoiling by planning meals in order of what needs to be used up first for her family in Lawrence, Kan.
- Mike Lieberman, an urban gardener in Los Angeles, triples the life of scallions by storing them in a jar of water on the counter. The green onions keep growing as he snips the tips for fresh eating.
- Kathy Morash (Wallace River, Nova Scotia) swears by those stay-fresh bags you may have seen on late-night TV ads.
- Linda Ray of Canterbury, N.H., grows sprouts so she’ll have frequent crops of fresh food.
- Melissa Dorado harvests greens early in the morning from her garden in Johnson City, Tenn. This way, the greens won’t have a chance to wilt.
- The best advice you’ll get from Megan Lightell and Drake Mitchell is to grow your own food! If they don’t get around to eating all of it themselves, they pass it along to their animals and compost piles in Nashville, Tenn., and Franklin, Ind., respectively.
- MOTHER EARTH NEWS Assistant Editor Heidi Hunt keeps apples out in plain sight, which helps them get eaten sooner. And if they get too soft, why, golly, she just cooks them!
- Brian Hendrix of St. Helena, Calif., stores sage in salt so it’ll be nice and crisp when it’s time to make sage-brown butter sauce again. Yum! He also cures fresh onions by hanging them in a cool, dark place in a panty hose “bag.” This dries the outer layer before the onions go into storage.
- John Brown keeps food fresh by using a root cellar and even a cold water spring on his property in Muskegon, Mich. What a lucky duck!
- Ruth Rowan (Auburn, Ala.) keeps kale, collards and Swiss chard in a glass of water (after trimming the ends) with a loose plastic bag over the top.
- When Holly Best Parker’s salad greens begin to wilt in North Little Rock, Ark., she scolds herself for not eating enough greens! Then, she soaks the greens in ice water to crisp them up before fixing a salad. She says this works wonders on peppers, too.
- Jane Griffiths rubs summer and winter squash with oil and stores them in her pantry in Johannesburg, South Africa, where they’ll last for several months.
- To keep air out a little better, Carol Nauman stores sour cream tubs upside down in her fridge in Overland Park, Kan. She also rubs butter on the cut parts of hard cheeses to prevent them from drying out.
- Lisa Fagan pulls up whole tomato plants and stores them upside-down in her basement in Celeryville, Ohio, so she can pick fresh tomatoes long after the season has ended.
- Brennan Gage of Austin, Texas, buys smaller pieces of water-containing produce because these generally have more flavor and last longer.
- Missy Teel of Forth Worth, Texas, keeps apples away from other foods to prevent spoiling, as apples give off ripening ethylene gas.
- Cheryl Long, Editor-in-Chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, encourages everyone to buy locally. She’s confident you’ll find that local produce lasts way longer than supermarket fare that has to travel long distances.