This is the last of a four-part series on grocery shopping, with a focus on produce.
When you come home from the grocery store or market, it’s tempting to put everything in the refrigerator and forget about it. But taking extra time to deal with the produce will help you get the most from your money and give you a jump start on cooking.
Washing produce: I wash most produce shortly after getting home. It will keep slightly longer if I don’t, but this way I don’t have to remind kids to wash things, I can cook right away, and I have less water dripping over the floor. And it saves time and water.
To wash produce, use water and a scrub brush. I soak sandy items like fresh greens, then rinse. Produce infested by snails or insects has tell-tale holes or trails. Cut around these, and keep an eye out for the critters.
Always examine fruit for soft spots, black spots, insect holes, snails, worms, and insects. If something is soft put it aside to eat or cook right away. Ideally, you’ll do this every couple of days. Make note of which produce needs to be used first, starting with the leftovers from your previous trip.
Tips for storing specific fruits and vegetables:
- Strawberries. Always make time to sort strawberries right away, as one soft one will ruin the rest. Take the soft ones to eat right away, and put the firmer strawberries in a plastic container for the next day. Cut off brown spots for the ripest ones and serve immediately, or as soon as possible. Or cook them into something else.
- Grapes. Scoop out the grapes that have fallen to the bottom, cut off brown, wash, and serve. These are the tastiest anyway. Store the rest in the refrigerator.
- Potatoes: Store them out of the refrigerator but away from sunlight. Green spots should be removed before eating as they are a sign of solanine, a mild poison. I keep potatoes in a well-aired drawer. If you must keep them out, cover with a cloth.
- Onions: Store outside the refrigerator away from the potatoes, as th e onions will cause potatoes to sprout.
- Tomatoes: should be left out of the refrigerator for best flavor, until an hour or two before eating. Place them in one layer on a cloth. Rotate from top to bottom every day or two, checking for soft spots. Soft ones should go in the refrigerator and can be used in cooking.
- Peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant: Wash and scrub if necessary. Store in the vegetable bin in the refrigerator. Once you start a pepper, removing the seeds and membrane will help the rest keep longer.
- Bananas and avocados can stay on the counter until they are ripe, then transferred to the refrigerator. Bananas freeze well, with or without the peel.
- Greens: These include celery, parsley, dill, kale, leafy lettuce, broccoli, etc. Soak sandy or buggy items in water for several minutes, adding a tablespoon of vinegar or salt will loosen bugs. Brush grooves with a scrub brush and examine cracks for dirt or insects. Use as soon as possible. To freeze herbs, shake off water after washing and place on a flat baking pan in the freezer. Transfer to a bag once frozen and use in cooking.
- Cabbage: Store in the refrigerator. Examine for bugs, especially the outer layers.
- Root vegetables including turnips, carrots, beets, etc: I wait to scrub or peel these when I’m ready to use them or the day before. In cool weather they don’t need refrigeration.
- Sweet potatoes don’t like the cold so keep them out in a basket or drawer.
- Onions and garlic: Store outside of the refrigerator so they won’t get bitter.
- Citrus fruits can stay out in mild weather. For the record, they get infested by insects on the peel so scrub them off if that bothers you.
- Apples: Best refrigerated, but can stay out in a pinch.
- Mushrooms: Mushrooms need to stay dry. To clean, wipe with a damp rag or paper towel. Cut off ends before using and store in the refrigerator.
- Melons: These often grow near manure so wash carefully. Refrigerate if ripe. Remove all seeds after opening.
- Watermelons: They can stay out while unopened, but refrigerate a couple of hours before serving. Use quickly once opened.
- Pitted fruits including peaches, apricots, plums, cherries and nectarines. Sort out ripe or blemished fruit, wash and store in the refrigerator once ripe.
- Pears: Same as pitted fruits.
Please share more tips in the comments.