Thursday, April 11, 2013

Making Your Fruits and Veggies Happy

We've recently starting participating in Bountiful Baskets and as a result I've had to do some quick research on the best way to store fresh produce.

First of all let me say that so far I'm very happy with Bountiful Baskets. The fruits and vegetables are extremely fresh and delicious and I've estimated that we're getting about $20-$25 worth of produce for $15. I've not yet ventured out and tried some of the other things they offer but I will. If it's available in your area I recommend you give them a try.

Since we have a small family of 3, I end up with a lot more fresh produce than we can consume before it starts to go bad. I began to research the best way to store various items and discovered that everyone thinks their way is the best way. And it might be the best way...for them. So basically, you might have to try a couple of different methods to see which one you have the best luck with. I'll tell you what works for me.

I panicked a little when I saw the 2 large bunches of leaf lettuce in last week's basket. We like salad but I doubted we'd be able to choke down 2 whole heads before they went to the dark side.

My Google research showed that although several different methods were mentioned, the majority of people had the best luck with one method and it will work on any kind of lettuce you have.

You start with the freshest lettuce you can find. If your lettuce is already wilty, it won't really come back to life. Then you separate the lettuce leaves and toss out the icky ones. After that you wash them thoroughly and dry them. That's the trick. The lettuce leaves must be dry before you put them in the fridge. You can use a salad spinner if you have one or do like me and lay them out on towels and dab at them till they dry.

Then you lay out a long strip of paper towels, lay your leaves on the towels like I did in the picture, then start at one end and roll up the paper towel, leaves and all. It's like making a jelly roll with a paper towel and lettuce leaves instead of a cake. I know...cruel analogy.

Then you pop your lettuce doobie into a large Ziploc bag, squeeze the air out, zip it up and toss it in the fridge. Rumor has it your lettuce could last up to 2 weeks. I might believe it since the lettuce in the picture above is already 5 days old and is still as fresh and crisp as it was when I first got it.

Next I dealt with the 4 pounds of bananas we got in our basket. They were just the way we like them, not too green but no brown spots yet. I knew it could be just a matter of minutes before the brown spots appeared then none of us would eat them.

I asked my Facebook friends (who are all geniuses and know everything about everything...I love them) for banana recipes or suggestions. Several people recommended freezing them and gave me some tips on how to do that. Again, everyone has their own method and I tried a couple of different ones. I read somewhere that if you freeze the banana with the peel still on it won't turn brown as badly and they will last several months longer in your freezer.

I haven't yet tried any of the peel-on frozen bananas but I feel confident they will work just fine. Of course they will be used only for cooking and smoothies since freezing changes their texture.

My basket had a bunch of fresh celery and fortunately I already knew what to do with it since I'd tried this method before and it works great. You wash the celery and trim the ends then I go ahead and cut it into snack sized sticks since that's most likely the way we'll eat it.

Dry the celery off...again this is the key to keeping it fresh. Then wrap it with foil that is lined with a dry paper towel. You can also wrap it in a paper towel and put it in a Ziploc but the foil works better for me. Using this storage method I've had celery stay fresh for 2 weeks. It also works with broccoli.

Some people suggest putting your celery in a bowl of water in the fridge to keep it fresh. I've never done that just because it takes up extra fridge space but that's another method you can try.

I was very excited about the bag full of baby yellow bell peppers in my basket! I freeze and use bell peppers all the time so I knew what to do with them. I washed and seeded them, chopped them into chunks, then spread the chunks out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and popped it in the freezer.

After they froze I transferred the chunks to a Ziploc baggie where they will stay good for months. I use this same method for onions. If you flash freeze them in a single layer before putting them in the baggie, they won't stick together which makes them much easier to use. Otherwise you end up with a brick of onion chunks and you have a chisel off a piece just to use them.

Google taught me a strawberry storage method that I am very excited about! Strawberries are easy to freeze but like bananas they're never quite the same. My Bountiful Basket included just one container which I felt was hardly worth the effort to freeze and preferred to keep them in the fridge to snack on.

When kept in their original plastic box strawberries will usually only last maybe 3 days in my fridge before they start to get mushy or grow beards. Then I heard that if you keep them in glass jars they will last longer. I'm not sure how much longer but the ones in the picture above are already 5 days old and are still firm and fresh and most importantly...not hairy.

All you have to do is take the strawberries out of their original container and pop them into glass jars with a good lid. Of course make sure they're dry and it's best to not wash them first. I had to use 2 jars since I discovered that my big empty pickle jar still smelled like pickles which I later fixed.

There is a trick for mushrooms that I forgot to take a picture of. Like the strawberries you don't want to wash them ahead of time. Just take them out of their container and put them in a paper bag. Fold the top of the bag over and put it on a shelf in the fridge. Do NOT put the bag in your veggie crisper since it's too humid in there and mushrooms like it dry. Like everything else my shrooms are 5 days old and still look brand new!

I keep citrus fruits and tomatoes at room temperature since that seems to make them happiest. Apples, depending on the variety, can last for several weeks in the fridge. I think of potatoes as the divas of the produce world. They prefer to be kept at 40-50 degrees which is warmer than my fridge and colder than my house. I don't have a cellar so there's really no place for me to store them where they'll be truly happy. The best I can do for them is to keep them in their own drawer in the fridge. Just remember one thing: taters are loners. Don't store any other fruits or veggies with them. They create some kind of gas or something that will make other stuff spoil faster.

This morning instead of my usual cup of flavored creamer with a dollop of coffee, I made myself a smoothie instead. I'm hoping that will make my thighs forget about the slice of pizza and 4 cupcakes I ate yesterday. I used a container of Chobani yogurt, a banana that I had sliced and frozen, 3 of my 5-day old delicious fresh strawberries, and a splash of milk. It was delightful. It made enough for 2 glasses of that size so I put the rest in a baggie and tossed it in the freezer to see how it would fare. Tomorrow I will put it back into the Ninja and see what happens.

So there you have it. Everything I know about making your fresh produce last longer cuz I get really irritated when I have to toss something out because it went bad before I got around to using it. And that happens a lot. I now feel the need to eat a lime which I do regularly so storage isn't an issue since they don't hang around long enough. Just doing my part in the battle against scurvy.


Elsa said...

Great tip for the lettuce and especially the strawberries! We eat them every day on our cereal (along with blueberries)and have been keeping them in their original containers, where they steadily start to shrivel, day by day. So thanks for the tip, now I'm off to give my strawberries longer life! :)

FeedYourSoulArt said...

Great tips (for newbies) LOL I had to say that because I'm not at all envious of your luscious, juicy, picture perfect produce. Our produce here in Michigan is costly and usually leaves a lot to be desired. We typically can play indoor catch with the store bought 'maters right up until mid-may if were lucky!
I think that apples are also loner's,
they produce a "gas" that accelerates ripening in other fruits.
Okay, Okay, I admit to not knowing the strawberry technique!
As always I enjoyed your post and look forward to your next, Kat

Anonymous said...

Hi Shannon, good tips and great photos! I did a similar produce delivery service until it was winter and mostly root veggies. I did not know what to do with whole beets and turnips.

Ewerhof said...

Great tip with the strawberries!
Regarding salad that begin to droop, use them in your food! You can actually cook salad, myself, I love soup with iceberg lettuce. :)

ChristineMM said...

Peel the banana.
Wrap in Saran Wrap.
Eat like that. Almost as good as ice cream.

jcorona said...

I am a true believer in those green bags...Debbie Meyer is the name, I think. They are miracle workers. I have a stash of them and use them again and again. I put my produce in them the minute I bring it home. I have a lot of those little metal clips (kind of bent wire in assorted colors) and I just clip at the top and into the fridge the produce goes. No affiliation.