Whether you grow your own garden or buy from the store the value of the food in our kitchen is something to care about. In this How To we will cover some of the ways to care for your produce to extend its usefulness in your home.
One thing that most of us forget about once our produce is harvested is that it is a living thing and the environment will break it down and cause it to go bad in a short time. If you were to harvest some flowers the first thing you might do is clean them up and then place them in a vase of water. Much of our produce can benefit from the same type of care.
No matter what you purchase at the store or harvest the first thing you want to do is wash it gently with water. You should not use soaps on your produce as they can cause you health problems overtime and soaps are not normally food safe. However there are some that are.
After you wash everything you want to sort it for freshness. Some of your produce will need to be eaten right away and others will last much longer. This is true for all of the produce you have whether it is strawberries, potatoes, carrots, apples or others. Find the items that are ready to eat and separate them from the ones that can be stored a bit longer. Washing removes dirt and bacteria that was on the produce during growing or transportation to your home. All dirt has bacteria in it so you should remove it to extend the life of your freshly harvested produce.
While sorting for freshness you also want to remove any items that might be bad. The saying goes one bad apple can ruin the bunch is true and if you have a bag of apples and one of them is bad the entire bag will go bad much faster than if you removed that one bad one. The reason for this is the spread of bacteria and this is another reason that you must wash all of your produce when you first bring it home.
Now that you have clean vegetables and fruits which you have sorted for freshness or ripeness then you can do a few other things before you store it in your refrigerator. I have found that items like celery will last longer if you remove the leaves and other produce is the same. Sorting, Washing and then Preparing the produce is important. Remove any outside leaves from your lettuce or cabbage that might be damaged and use them first.
Keeping Your Produce Fresh In The Refrigerator
Once your produce is in your refrigerator it is important to continue to care for it. If you find lettuce is wilting and going bad then you can peal it down and use the internal parts before it goes bad. However if the lettuce gets a gel like substance on it you should simply discard the entire head and save yourself the problem. Many vegetables produce that gel like mixture of bacteria and cell breakdown when they are going bad. Zucchini and Cucumbers are well known for this and they will often go bad overnight without your notice.
One thing you can do to extend the produce good time is to wash them while they are in your refrigerator. It doesn’t take that long and some items like grapes will rejuvenate if you soak them in some water. I would suggest that you use a filtered water from your faucet filter vs plain tap water that could effect the taste of the grapes. Grapes are mostly water and farmers just before harvest often water their grapes or even flood their fields to produce a fuller grape that will sell better. Soaking lettuce in a bowl full of water for 20 minutes before you prepare your salad will make it much fresher and crisp.
Each item of produce has its own features and how you should care for them but the main priority once they are in our kitchen is to not forget them. If you had lettuce growing in your garden you wouldn’t go a week without watering it and expect it to be in good condition. After you harvest it you can still introduce water into the cell structure by rinsing it under your faucet.. letting it sit wet for a few minutes and then removing most of the water before you return it to the refrigerator.
Finally those items that you can freeze or can and pickle should be prepared early on after your purchase. If the farmers market sells you a basket of apples you can core and chop up some of them for freezing, can some of them in jars as apple butter or dehydrate some of them for snacks while you watch TV.
And remember if you have things like apples or pears its a really good idea to pull them out of the back of your refrigerator where they are in long term storage and put them on your counter to ripen before you eat them. Yes thats right when you are eating an apple out of season this is how they are stored for up to a year. We do get some foods from other parts of the world but the Pacific Northwest Farmers do store apples and pears in cold but not freezing storage all year so you can too for at least a few weeks.