Ask three different people how to keep fruits and veggies fresh when you can’t use them right away and you’re likely to get five different answers. Everybody has their own methods for managing produce, and – truth be told – some of us get downright defensive when other folks suggest that their way might be better.
When I was little, I used to marvel that my grandma spent so much time prepping her produce right after she brought it home from the store. She made a whole long ritual of it. She carefully leafed her greens and trimmed off bad spots, carrot tops and whatever else she wouldn’t be using. Then she washed everything thoroughly and patted it dry with paper towels. Finally, she put it in Tupperware and popped it the fridge, where it would keep crisply for a week or more. For radishes, celery sticks and baby carrots, she floated them in a container of water – something I still do.
My grandma had a system that worked for her, and I’m pretty sure she would have scoffed at the notion that it should have been done differently. But in all fairness, that’s because she knew what she was doing. If you wash and store things properly in the first place, wiltage, spoilage and mold are a lot less likely to happen. Here are a few important rules of thumb:
• Washing produce first before putting it away not only gets rid of dirt (and pesticides on non-organic foods), it gives the items a well-hydrated start for their life in the fridge.
• When you store veggies in the crisper, poke holes in the plastic bag if they are in one. It allows moisture to escape and it slows spoilage.
• Store fruit separately from vegetables, especially apples, which release a chemical called ethylene that promotes spoilage.
• Onions and potatoes should both be kept in a cool, dry place, but never together. Potatoes draw moisture from onions and will lead to Mr. Potato Head science experiments surprisingly quickly.
• There are two schools of thought for bunches of herbs and leafy greens. Some folks swear they keep best in a glass of water in the fridge, with or without a plastic bag over the top. The other standby method is to dampen a paper towel, wrap the herbs or greens and put them in a Ziploc in the crisper. Either method works well; it just depends on what you prefer (or more probably what your grandmother did!). Note: If you are avoiding plastic bags in the kitchen, you can use a damp flour-sack kitchen towel to wrap your produce instead.
• If something has been around for a while and you know you still won’t be getting to it soon, do some grooming every couple days. Trim off bad spots and spoiling green tops, snip stem bottoms, change the water or replace the damp paper (or cloth) towel.
• For fruit, consider freezing if you think it will spoil before being used. Berries, cherries, mangoes, stone fruits and even bananas all do just fine in the freezer, especially if their destiny is a morning smoothie. Just make sure to trim, de-pit and peel everything as you like it first.
Using everything without having a bunch of stuff go wilty is one of the main challenges of having a weekly delivery box, and it’s inevitable that despite our best efforts sometimes the greens will look like they are on death’s door and those forgotten rainbow carrots will turn rubbery. What to do?
Two words: ice water.
It is truly astonishing the way that even badly wilted veggies can be revived by soaking them in a bowl of ice water for a couple hours, or even overnight. It rehydrates the plant cells and perks things right back up. It works on lettuces, kale and other greens, carrots, beets, cucumbers, radishes, herbs, green onions – you name it. A cold plunge won’t resuscitate things that are too far gone, of course, but it works more often than not and it’s a great way to help cut back on fresh produce waste.
Hmmm….I wonder if my grandma knew that trick?