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By Lindsey of Café Johnsonia.
Is your garden full of vegetables and fruit? This is what’s happening at my house: I can hardly keep up on my zucchini, my neighbors’ have generously shared the fruit from their trees, and we’ve been stopping by farm stands to support our local agriculture. Vegetables and fruit everywhere!
So let’s get down to business. Here is my not-at-all-comprehensive-but-very-helpful-guide to Properly Washing + Storing Fruits and Vegetables, to help you make the most of your summer produce.
Secret #1: Some vegetables and fruits should never be refrigerated.
TOMATOES will turn mealy and flavorless if refrigerated. Ick! Keep at room temperature to ripen and only store cut tomatoes in the fridge.
MELONS such as cantaloupe and honeydew will turn rubbery if kept in the fridge, though refrigerated watermelon does absolutely fine, before and after cutting. Before cutting melons (and other tough skinned produce like AVOCADOS, PINEAPPLE and SQUASH) wash with a little dish soap and a scrub brush, rinsing well, to prevent spreading any microbes lurking on the surface.
WINTER SQUASHES should be kept in a cool dark place instead of the fridge.
POTATOES should not be kept in the fridge either. The starches in the potatoes will turn to sugar and the potatoes will taste sweet.
Secret #2: Ripen these foods on the counter and then refrigerate: AVOCADOS, KIWI, STONE FRUITS (peaches, plums, nectarines, etc.) and use within a few days.
BANANAS should also be kept at room temperature. If refrigerated, peels will turn black, but it doesn’t really affect quality or taste. (Very ripe bananas can be frozen, un-peeled, until later. To use, simply peel the frozen bananas under warm water and add them to smoothies or mash for breads and other baked goods.)
As soon as you bring them home, check over BERRIES and pick out any that show signs of spoilage, because mold will quickly spread to other berries. They should be kept dry. Store them in a plastic clamshell container or paper bag in as few layers as possible. You can also store them on paper towels to absorb any excess moisture. Berries should never be rinsed until just before eating.
BEANS and PEAS should always be stored in the fridge after picking or buying, and used immediately.
Secret #3: Use perforated plastic bags to allow for some air circulation, while not letting produce dry out.
ONIONS should be stored away from other foods, particularly potatoes. Keep them in mesh bags in a cool, dark place and they will keep happily for months. You can also refrigerate onions, but be careful because the strong flavor might transfer to other foods. The exception to this is GREEN ONIONS, which should be stored in a plastic bag in a refrigerator crisper drawer.
The best way to store ASPARAGUS is to cut 1/4″ off the bottom of the stalks and store them upright in a little water.
Secret #4: Storing in water also works for fresh herbs, particularly parsley, cilantro, oregano, sage, marjoram, basil, rosemary, tarragon, mint, and chives.
For sturdy leafy greens like KALE, CHARD, and COLLARDS, rinse well, remove the tough stems and cut the leaves into ribbons. Store in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel to keep them fresh and ready to use in recipes during the next week.
Remove tops from root veggies like BEETS, TURNIPS, RADISHES, CARROTS, etc., and store separately in plastic bags with a damp paper towel to keep them from wilting. Use the tops within a few days. The roots will keep for much longer. Before cooking with un-peeled root veggies, use a sturdy brush to scrub the nooks and crannies.
Secret #5: Good news! You don’t always have to peel root vegetables. Especially if they’re from your own garden and you know they’re chemical-free. A good brush to remove the dirt is all you need.
SALAD GREENS should be refrigerated until ready to eat. When you buy them, keep them in the plastic tub they come in with a paper towel between the greens and the lid to absorb any excess moisture. If you buy them bagged, get them from a local farm, or pick them from your garden, wash greens in a big bowl of water with a little white vinegar added. Gently swish to remove dirt and bugs. Repeat until water is clear, and spin or gently pat dry. Store in plastic bags or tubs with a damp paper towel.
I do the same washing process for broccoli and cauliflower.
Secret #6: Head lettuce can tolerate more moisture to keep it crisp, so it doesn’t have to be super dry before going in the fridge. (Yay for timesavers!)
Never soak MUSHROOMS in water. If they are very dirty, give them a quick rinse. Otherwise, leave them be.
And there you have it. Clean fruits and vegetables, that won’t spoil minutes after you buy them. Enjoy the harvest!
P.S. — Want to live the good life? Find all the Secrets to Living Well posts here.
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