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By Cheryl Fenton
| May 28, 2019
Once outdoor temperatures warm, and the sun starts shining more than hiding, fresh fruits and vegetables pop up by the bushel. It’s easy to get excited when you finally see all that fresh goodness you’ve been missing all winter. Soon your basket at the local farmer’s market is brimming.
However, there’s one problem with those overzealous shopping sprees: keeping all that produce fresh until your next trip.
To help, we tapped a few New England farmers for their best tips on getting the most mileage out of your favorite seasonal produce.
According to The United States Department of Agriculture’s SNAP Education Connection, this time of year translates to tons of parsley, kale, green salad mixes, melons, tomatoes, Swiss chard, beets, radishes, turnips, cabbage, asparagus, and all sorts of berries.
In order to keep these seasonal treats at their freshest: “Plan out what you’re going to eat in the near future,” says Cameron Hardy from Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis, N.H., one of the state’s largest wholesale growers and sellers of fruits and vegetables, many of which are pick-your-own. “It’s best to go from field to freezer, so [produce] needed in the future should go right into the freezer.”
To fridge, or not to fridge
Because warm temperatures can mean produce ripens quicker, refrigerating certain types of fruits and veggies is the go-to practice. With high-tech appliances, like Fisher & Paykel Column fridges, you can make sure your produce zone is set to the optimal temperature for fruits and veggies, separate from the temperatures you chose for your fresh fish and sauvignon blanc zones.
“All Column appliances have ActiveSmart™ refrigeration systems, which have sensors and software to detect both the kitchen environment, as well as the number of door openings that go on,” says Shane Rehm, the vice president of product at Fisher & Paykel. “So if you go away on holiday or simply overnight, it detects that the product is not being used and readjusts optimization.”
Then there are the warm-weather crops that don’t appreciate being refrigerated at all, besides perhaps in “pantry mode,” between 52°F and 56°F.
“If it has its natural wrapping, leave it out,” advises Michael Smolak, owner of Smolak Farms, a fruit and vegetable farm in North Andover, Mass. Think tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, and garlic. “As far as which like the cooler temps of your ice box, I tend to think green means cold, so refrigerate all leafy greens and lettuces, green beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, celery, and so on.”
When it comes to fruits, that depends on you: Do you like them chilled or room temperature?
“Fruits can be left out on the counter depending on ripeness. Some folks prefer to eat fruit at room temperature, while some prefer them cold. It’s really a preference,” says Tony Casieri from Wilson Farm, with locations in Lexington, Mass., and Litchfield, N.H. “By refrigerating a ripe fruit you slow down the speed at which it continues to ripen, allowing you to have fresher fruit longer.”
Keep items unwashed and unchopped as long as possible
Washing before eating is a no-brainer, but prepping produce can actually speed up degradation and make it go bad more quickly. Wait on the washing, peeling, and cutting of your fruits and vegetables until right before you plan to use them.
But there’s one exception, according to Smolak. “My personal favorite way to stretch the life of leafy greens is to rinse them in cold water, shake off any excess moisture, and wrap them in a dry paper towel before placing in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer,” he says. When treated in this fashion, greens like spinach, kale, mesclun mix, and lettuce can be stored for up to five days before taking a turn.
Cool berries ASAP
With “pick-your-own” berry farms busy in the late spring and early summer months, it’s possible your weekend plans might include filling baskets with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. According to the experts at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Me.—which cultivates 300 acres of crops, fruits, and vegetables—berries will keep in the refrigerator for about a week if you store them uncovered in a shallow container immediately after picking. When ready to use, wash them quickly in cold water.
It’s true what they say about one bad apple
All it takes is a single berry to turn for the whole batch to go bad. If you spot a moldy berry, cherry, or veggie in a batch, toss it quickly to keep the rest fresh. The same goes for spots on squash and potatoes. Simply cut one inch around the entire area to remove the spot and salvage the goods.
Invest in vegetable storage bags
Perforated plastic bags boost humidity, giving veggies the air they need to breathe and stay fresh in the fridge. Make some yourself by pricking pin holes in the plastic produce bags, aiming for about 20 pin-sized holes in a gallon-sized bag. One vegetable that does especially well bagged is peas.
“The flavor of fresh peas is hard to beat, so it’s best to eat them the moment they’re picked,” says Pineland’s Ariel Provencal, but points out that “they’ll store in the fridge for about a week, if you don’t mind the flavor weakening a bit.” Wilson Farm’s Casieri recommends storing peas “unwashed and unshelled in a perforated bag to allow air to circulate around them.”
Continue where nature left off
Asparagus is a spring-time treat that shoots straight out of the ground as it grows on the farm. To keep it feeling right at home in your fridge, Casieri suggests standing asparagus up in a glass or jar with about an inch or two of water, making sure all the ends are sitting and soaking. Loosely cover the sprouts and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Store produce for the future in the freezer
If you’re running out of recipes, you can also preserve produce by washing, chopping, and storing it all in the freezer in single portion baggies or tupperware. This can mean quick add-ins for smoothies, sauces, soups, and casseroles.
“If you prune parsley from the stems, you could freeze it and add it to hot dishes during cooking,” says Smolak. He also suggests chopping spring greens, freezing them, and then blending them into smoothies when you need them for added nutrients.
According to Hardy, berries should be frozen by placing them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once completely frozen, transfer them to heavy duty freezer bags or prepared containers to store in the freezer and use within six months.
“With attention and TLC you should be able to get close to a couple weeks out of each produce item in your refrigerator,” Smolak says, or even longer in the freezer.
Learn more about how ActiveSmart™ technology can keep your favorite foods fresher for longer:
To bring bold new Fisher & Paykel appliances into your kitchen, visit a certified independent retailer near you using the locator map below. A variety of integrated column fridges, to fit in seamlessly with your kitchen’s design, are now available. Learn more at fisherpaykel.com.
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