This year, my husband and I bought into a whole CSA share, which gives us a lot of veggies to deal with every week. It kind of reminds me of when we used to make our weekly visits to the farmers market when you had to wait for Saturday – you come home excited about all the gorgeous produce, and then you quickly realize you have to make space for everything in the fridge. It’s easy to just stuff everything in wherever you find some spare space, but I’ve learned that storing produce properly can make sure your produce lasts longer than if you just chuck it in the fridge.
This is especially crucial with CSA boxes, because when you share an entire box between two people, you’ll definitely have have more veggies than you can eat on your own in one week. We tend to eat the more delicate produce as soon as we can,and save the hardier veggies for later – but even delicate produce like berries needs to be stored properly if you want it to last a few days. I’ve learned that veggies generally like a pretty humid environment, which is why most fridges come with a crisper shelf on the bottom of the fridge – things last a bit longer in those shelves because they’re not as dry as open shelves. If you don’t have enough room for everything in there, a plastic bag can often duplicate this kind of environment, just by keeping some moisture around the veggies.
It’s taken a few years to get our ‘CSA veggie storage routine’ down pat – but here’s how it looks these days.
Tender berries – Fresh strawberries and raspberries are always best to eat within a day of purchasing at room temperature. However, if you know you’re not going to be able to finish them quickly, you can place them (unwashed!) in a clean mason jar with a tight lid, and store them in the fridge for almost a week. I tried this, and it really works! Our CSA provided us with a quart of strawberries for three weeks in a row, and when we initially just placed the box of berries in the fridge, they tended to shrivel up a bit and darken after a day in the fridge. When I tried the mason jar trick, our berries still had perfect texture almost a week later. It worked really well with raspberries too.
Tender greens like lettuce or spinach – I find that these last a little longer if I start them off with a cold water bath in the sink, followed by a whirl in my salad spinner, and then kept in a bag in the fridge. They’re often a bit wilted after I get home, and the cold water perks them up quite a bit. The plastic bag simply keeps the lettuce from drying out again – but don’t leave it in the bag too long! Plastic bags are also perfect breeding grounds for rotting greens, so make sure you eat these within a week or two! Otherwise you’ll have a nice clean bag of lettuce slime.
Fresh herbs – I used to stick the ends in a glass of water and keep them in the fridge, but I find I have better luck when I store them like I store lettuce – washed, and stored in the veggie crisper in a plastic bags. If the herbs have their roots, I sometimes wrap these up in a damp paper towel before I put them in a bag. They don’t last much longer than when you put them in a glass of water, but I find the leaves don’t get quite as shriveled when they’re stored this way. They’ll still get slimy within a week or two, so it’s still a good idea to eat them up quickly!
Hardy greens like swiss chard or kale – Other folks may have better suggestions for these, but I tend to just throw them in the crisper. Swiss chard will be just fine for 4 or 5 days, and kale can go even longer. Although if you’re not planning on eating your kale right away, you can also just freeze it, or even better – make some kale chips so you have a snack while you’re putting everything else away!
Zucchini – Generally stay pretty fresh in the crisper for a little over a week. Sometimes I save my zukes over a couple of weeks, and then I can make pickles. It’s hard not to eat them up, though – these lovely little baby zukes taste so good fried up with garlic and tomatoes!
Tomatoes – These NEVER get put in the fridge. Seriously, if you’re refrigerating your fresh, organic tomatoes, you’re doing a real disservice to the marvelous flavour and texture of the best part of summer. Keep them in a bowl on the counter, and they’ll be fine for a week or even longer, depending on their ripeness level.
Green Beans – We’ve been getting these in small plastic bags; I generally leave them in the bag and store in the fridge where they’re good for at least 5 days. When I’ve left them go a little longer, I usually only have one or two beans with soft spots, which are easy to cut away.
Green Peppers, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Eggplant – I don’t find that these sturdy ‘whole’ vegetables need a lot of extra care in the fridge. I usually just put these in the crisper without washing or putting them in a bag, and they often last well over a week.
Onions and Leeks – If I have room in my fridge, I often just trim onion greens and leek tops just enough so I can fit them in the crisper. If I have a big batch of onions with greens, I’ll cut them off closer to the onion itself, and store the greens separately. Young onions are really juicy, and I usually store them in the fridge but if you don’t have a lot of space, you can also cure them onions and then store them in your pantry. To cure onions for storage, cut off the greens, and then lay the onions out on a cookie sheet and let them sit at room temperature for a week or so until the outer edges get that papery, onion-skin look. Once they’re dry, you can put them in a bowl or pail or bag for longer storage at room temperature. If you skip the curing stage and just leave them in a bag in your pantry, it’s pretty likely that they’ll start to rot sooner than you’d like.
Hardy root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, beets and turnips (early crop) – I find that young root vegetables last for weeks if I keep them in a plastic bag in the crisper of my fridge. I cut the ends off and compost them, or in the case of beet greens, I store them like swiss chard or lettuce. If I plan on eating the beets within a few days, I’ll throw them with their greens still attached in the crisper, but if you plan on storing your beets longer term (maybe to make a batch of pickled beets down the road!) you’ll need to remove the greens and store them separately. (The greens will last longer if you cut them off and store them like lettuce.) Of course, you can also cure your young root veggies and then store them in your pantry or root cellar to save on fridge space. Just make sure you let them dry out on a flat surface like a cookie sheet before you bag them up again to store in your pantry, or you’ll likely be left with some rotten roots and tubers.
Stone Fruit – The season for stone fruit like plums and peaches is right around the corner, so I thought I’d add these here. I prefer my stone fruit at room temperature,and often store them with my tomatoes in a big bowl. If your fruit is very ripe or overripe, you can keep it in the fridge to make them last a little longer. Of course, fruit flies can sometimes congregate around the bowl, but that’s a conversation for another post!
Does anybody else have tips on how to successfully store fresh produce? Leave your tips in the comments below!