Selecting and Storing Fresh Vegetables
Vegetables are a powerhouse of healthy vitamins and minerals. However, many times people shy away from purchasing fresh vegetables as they can seem difficult to choose the best ones, and storing them can be a guessing game. However, fresh vegetables hold the most nutrients and, obviously, no additives. Some methods of freezing can leech nutrients from vegetables and canning almost always adds salt to the mix. The following are some tips for selecting and storing the tastiest, freshest vegetables.
First, when shopping for your produce be sure to focus on vegetables that are in season and, if possible, grown locally. In general, the best tasting produce will travel the shortest distance from the harvest to the store shelves. If you are so lucky as to have a farmer’s market or vegetable stand nearby, start there first. Next, look for crisp, brightly colored vegetables. They should be mostly blemish-free (although with organic produce, some blemishes are to be expected), and show no signs of decay and rot. Purchase only what you will consume in a week. While it is true that some vegetables do not keep even a week, most will.
Vegetables can vary greatly in the preferred storing method required to keep them at their freshest and tastiest. For example, some vegetables should never be refrigerated, while others should be kept cool and others yet prefer a temperature just above freezing. Do not chop vegetables until you intend to use them as exposure to air and light speed nutrient loss. Because it is not possible to set a refrigerator to different temperatures in different zones (although some models do have fruit and vegetable bins which will do this to some degree), you may find your porch or basement are also excellent places to keep your fresh vegetables. Before refrigerators and chest freezers, people used root cellars to keep their produce and home canned goods well-preserved.
Pumpkins, winter squash and tomatoes should only ever be stored at room temperature and refrigeration will damage the flavor in almost all cases. However, these will keep nicely on a cool porch, as long as there is not yet any frost.
Cucumbers, eggplant and peppers can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator for no more than three days for optimal flavor, but will last up to a week in a refrigerator. These vegetables will keep nicely on a cool porch, but should not be stored in a basement or root cellar.
Avocados should be refrigerated only once they are ripe and ripening can be speeded by storing avocados in a brown paper bag at room temperature. Artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, green beans, leafy vegetables, leeks, lima beans, mushrooms, peas, radishes, scallions, spinach, zucchini and any cut vegetables should only be stored in the refrigerator. Most vegetables stored in a refrigerator can be stored up to a week, but do keep a close eye on them as they may go bad more quickly. Finally, root vegetables should be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place such as an “onion keeper” or a root cellar. If your basement is fairly dry, this would be an ideal place for this last group of vegetables.