Sunday, August 9, 2009

Produce Care

Besides the fantastic vegetables and fruits that I get on a weekly basis, another great thing about being a CSA member has been the newsletters I get from Pennypack Farm and North Star Orchard. Each newsletter always contains well written information about the struggles and rewards of farming, suggestions for cooking the weekly harvest, and other valuable news and information.

Today's newsletter from North Star Orchard contains this great article on storing and caring for fruits and vegetables once you bring them home...

Many folks don’t give much thought to what they do to store produce. If they were taught to put it in the fridge, they do. If they were taught it should go in the fruit bowl, they do. But sometimes what we’re taught and/or what we habitually do with produce we bring home is not the optimal thing to do in order to keep it fresh and tasting its best. So how do you know what to do?

There is actually a bit of science behind this. I know I just probably lost some of you already, but please try to bear with me. A vegetable or fruit is a living thing. As such, it respires (takes in oxygen) and respires (gives off carbon dioxide and heat), even after it is picked. Additionally, produce gives off moisture (transpiration). For most produce, refrigeration slows all of those things down, which will keep it fresher and tasting better for a longer period of time.

Slowing transpiration (loss of water from the produce) is what using ‘crisper’ drawer or plastic bags/containers are all about. If you think about it, produce is made up of a lot of water. When produce starts to lose that water, it becomes limp or wilted or floppy. Some produce has thick skin, like apples, squash, and citrus; those items lose water at a slower rate than more delicate items like lettuces, various greens, and even carrots. Left loose in the fridge (and sometimes even in the crisper drawer), those items get floppy in no time at all. Keeping delicates wrapped or packaged tightly will ensure their freshness for a long time. Fresh lettuces and greens should easily keep for a week or more if you store them in a tight plastic bag (pushing out all the air).

Of course, there are other things to consider, such as chilling injury, which can destroy flavor …but only in certain items. As most folks know, if you chill a tomato down to the temperature most refrigerators run at, the flavor is gone…kaput! This is just another in a long series of reasons why grocery store tomatoes don’t taste like anything. Other produce items which are sensitive to chilling injury include peaches, eggplant, and basil. That isn’t to say you can’t refrigerate them…but you must do so with caution (except for tomatoes, that is….just say no!).

So how is one to know? Well, if you don’t know, ask! Your tastebuds and wallet will be glad for it. In general, you should:

Never refrigerate: tomatoes, dry onions, garlic, bananas, or potatoes (and you don’t need to refrigerate ‘winter’ squash such as acorn, delicate, buttercup, etc., although you can if you really want to.)

Refrigerate briefly (i.e. remove and use within 2 or 3 days if possible): cucumbers, eggplant, melons

Refrigerate: most everything else (AND keep them tightly wrapped or packaged up so you don’t lose moisture!), including apples, Asian pears, citrus, beets, greens and lettuces, carrots, etc.

SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT STONE FRUITS (peaches, plums, and nectarines): In general, let them sit out for a few days until soft. Then, either eat them, cut them up and freeze them (with a bit of ascorbic acid to prevent browning) or put them in the fridge. You can store firm peaches and plums in the fridge for a little while and then bring them out to soften up, but the longer they are in the fridge (like if you forget about them for 2 weeks in a dark corner), the more likely it is they’ll be mushy and flavorless when you soften them up.

And that ‘paper bag’ thing? Skip it! The notion of using a paper bag to ripen things up started as a way to try to get those grocery store peaches and apples to soften up and taste like something. But in general, if you’re getting those items fresh from a local farmer, rather than from California, Argentina, or China, those peaches and tomatoes should be ripe enough to soften up just fine in a day or two or three just sitting out there all by their lonesome. No paper bag needed! They’ll be prettier to look at in the process, and you’re less likely to forget about them (only to come return to a sticky mass of goo in that paper bag on the counter. Ick).

North Star Orchards


Stephanie said...

The peaches sold here (imported from Australia) are usually not ripe. The taste is not as juicy, sweet and ripe as those sold in local supermarkets in Australia itself. They are expensive too. But, I can apply this article on the caring for fruit and vege for our local produce. Have a wonderful Monday! TQ for this informative post.

Fern said...

Good to know! I'm always at a loss as to how/when to eat my peaches for the best flavor. It's pretty sad to have your own tree, work hard at giving it what it wants, and then not even know how to eat the stinkin' fruit!