Fresh produce is a must at every meal, and many of us pay a premium for organic, so it's a shame to ever let it go to waste. Here's a complete guide to making your fresh produce last, whether you have just a grocery bag or crates full of it. This guide will help you enjoy succulent stone fruits and rosy red tomatoes throughout the summer and beyond.
Short-Term Solutions: For moms who need to make a produce purchase last all week, because who knows when you'll get to the store next.
Beware of ethylene. It's not quite as ominous as it sounds. It's a natural-occurring gas given off in abundance by certain produce, potentially causing quick deterioration and discoloration of other greens. So keep ethylene producers (avocados, tomatoes, peaches, plums) away from fruits sensitive to the gas (lettuce, cucumbers, squash, watermelon).
Factor in humidity. Crisper drawers are in just about every fridge and for good reason. They control humidity, which is important because produce has a preference. Fruit likes low humidity and leafy vegetables like high. As a general rule, keep ethylene emitters that need refrigeration (apples and grapes) in the low drawer and those ethylene sensitive veggies in the high.
Refrain from refrigeration. Yes, refrigeration extends the shelf life of most produce, but for some, you are sacrificing taste and quality. Refrigerated tomatoes will lose flavor and become mealy. Uncut melons belong on the counter where they will best retain flavor and antioxidants. Ripen stone fruits at room temperature or they may never reach perfection.
Long-Term Solutions: For home gardeners (or farmer's market addicts), who have an abundance of summer produce they need to preserve.
Freeze it. If packaged correctly, fruits and vegetables can last between eight to 12 months in a freezer set at 0 degrees or below. Blanch vegetables before freezing for optimal flavor, appearance and nutritional value. For best results, spread produce out on a cookie sheet, freeze and then transfer to freezer bags or, use a vacuum sealer.
Can it. Home canning is cool again. Use the Ball Pectin Calculator to find the perfect recipe for making your very own jam or jelly. Canned tomato products require help to reach a safe acidity level. Some recipes will call for lemon juice but that can alter the flavor, so substitute every tablespoon of lemon juice with a ¼ teaspoon of citric acid.
Final tip: Now that you know how to extend the life of produce, you can shop in bulk. See if there is a wholesale produce market in your area and if they are open to the public. Team up with a fellow mom or neighbor, and split a crate or two.