Monday, July 6, 2009

trial and error

i can't possibly overstate how much of a difference it has made in my kitchen life to know the correct ways to store produce. not only does it save me from wasting money on produce gone bad, but also, the freshness factor is seriously upped when you store it right. i know for me, when i take the time to buy organic and/or local produce, it makes me feel especially good to know how to handle it when i get it home. it should taste and smell as good as it can, and having it look pretty is nice too :)

in my kitchen, i have this chart hanging on the refrigerator. when i get home from shopping, i put everything away accordingly. when i was doing my research on produce storage, i came across a lot of variation on how each fruit and vegetable is best stored. that's just the kind of thing that troubles me - what is the right answer??? i guess it's sort of a matter of trial and error, like many things in the kitchen, and usually, i find that my own experience yields the "right answer," and it's often a combination of a few different concepts i've heard or read about.

for example, this chart says that peppers should be stored on the countertop, but can be stored in the refrigerator for 1-3 days before immediate use. i find that peppers that are cold, fresh and crisp straight out of the refrigerator are always my preference and last over a week in the refrigerator, while even a day on the countertop makes their skin pucker before i can use them. so i refrigerate them, and that's that. there are so many variables - the fruit or vegetable and its unique characteristics, time of year, air quality, temperature, age at purchase, and so many other things that contribute to their freshness at the time of consumption. i like having a chart to work from, because at least gives me a starting point for my own experimentation, and like anything, you learn as you go.

one very important thing to know is that apples should be kept far away (or at least in a separate bowl) from any other fruits or vegetables, as apples emit a natural ethylene gas that speeds up the ripening of other fruits and vegetables. to that end, some sources actually suggest using an apple for every several pieces of other produce to accelerate ripening, though i find i'd like to slow down the ripening, if anything. some say pears and bananas have the same ripening effect, while others don't mention pears or bananas at all. maddening, isn't it? again, trial and error. (note about countertop storage - i have found that the woven bambu baskets i use are the best - ventilated, colorful and made from natural, renewable materials).

as far as herbs, i find they're best kept in the refrigerator upright in a glass with about an inch or so of water in the bottom (like a vase, as above). what's particularly nice about this mode of storage is that each time you open the refrigerator, you get the scent of fresh herbs and a very green, healthy looking display. to keep them fresh, i treat them like cut flowers...every two days or so, i trim a little of the stems and change the water. some sources recommend loosely wrapping a damp paper towel around a bunch of herbs and inserting them into an unzipped ziploc bag. i suppose i might try this if i wasn't planning on using the herbs within a couple days.

i guess storing produce is like a lot of other things - advice is abundant and free, but only you know what works best for you, and it often takes several tries to figure it out. and one apple can spoil the whole barrel.

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