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How to Store and Keep Vegetables

BeOrganicallYou / Food  / How to Store and Keep Vegetables
How to Store Vegetables

How to Store and Keep Vegetables

Celery

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 2 weeks

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Refrigerate either standing in a jar with water or in a perforated or open plastic bag in the high-humidity drawer.

FREEZING: Celery loses its crispness when frozen but can be used for cooked dishes. Slice to the size you would cook with, blanch, immerse in ice water, drain until dry, and place in an airtight container to freeze.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Wilted celery can be revived by a 10- to 15-minute soak in ice water; serving celery on ice will also enhance its crispness.

Pitted or discolored surfaces are simply places where oxidation has occurred; they can still be eaten, or pare them away.

Celery leaves add great flavor to soups, stews, and stir-fries.

Celery bottoms can be planted.

 

Corn on the Cob

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: In the husk, 2 to 3 days; husked, 1 to 2 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Eat as soon as possible. (The sugars in sweet corn turn to starch rapidly.) Store in husks if possible in a warmer section (middle or upper shelf) of the refrigerator or, if husked, wrapped in damp cloths in an airtight container.

FREEZING: Remove husks. If freezing on the cob, blanch for 7 minutes; if freezing just the kernels, blanch on the cob for 4 minutes. Chill, drain, and either pack whole cobs into zip-top freezer bags or scrape kernels off the cobs and pack into airtight containers or freezer bags.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Corn cobs can add sweet flavor to soup stock.

Make tea or soup with the husks and silks.

Corn with dry, browned, or slightly slimy outer husks is often still good once the husks and silks are removed (but not if the corn itself has slime or mold).

 

Cucumber

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 1 week

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Because their ideal temperature is somewhere between room temperature and refrigeration, cucumbers can be stored in a cool place on the counter or wrapped in a damp cloth and placed in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Do not store near tomatoes, apples, avocados, or bananas. They are best if used within a few days, as more time at low temperatures can damage them.

FREEZING: Not recommended.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Peel or cut away any damaged flesh, and serve as usual.

Slightly overripe cucumbers can be bitter, but scooping out the seeds with a spoon before using helps minimize that bitterness.

Many times the skin of the cucumber is undesirable, but the inside flesh is perfectly fine. In this case, simply peel the cucumber.

Pickle, of course!

 

Garlic and Shallots

REFRIGERATE IT: Unpeeled, no; peeled, yes

AT FRESHEST: Unpeeled, a few weeks to several months (garlic will last a bit longer); peeled, up to several weeks

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Store unpeeled garlic and shallots in a cool, dark, and dry place in a well-ventilated container such as a basket or mesh bag. Do not store in plastic. To help prevent the heads from drying out, leave the papery skin on and break off cloves as needed. If peeled, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

FREEZING: Peel garlic or chop shallots and store in an airtight container. Both will lose crispness when thawed but will retain most of their flavor.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: In gardens, green garlic leaves can be used just like green onions. Similarly, if garlic grows a shoot while in storage, that can be eaten as well. Even garlic flowers are edible and have a mild flavor.

Blend garlic with basil or blanched kale stems and other ingredients to make a pesto, which can be frozen for up to 6 months.

 

Ginger

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 1 to 2 months

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Refrigerate, either unwrapped or in an airtight container, in a dark section of the refrigerator.

FREEZING: Freeze whole in an airtight container and cut off slices as needed. The texture will be slightly mushy, but the flavor is fine for adding to cooked dishes.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Grate fresh or frozen ginger into a mug of boiling water and enjoy as a healthful tea.

Ginger does not necessarily need to be peeled before using; if the ginger is young and the skin is very fine and clings to the root, you can skip peeling.

The rough and dry spots on ginger are not dangerous; simply cut them away (and use them in tea).

 

Green Beans, Snap Peas, and Fresh Peas

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 3 to 5 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Green beans and peas are fragile vegetables; they quickly degrade in quality, even at cold temperatures. Store unwashed peas and beans in the refrigerator in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer, but try to eat them as quickly as possible.

FREEZING: Blanch, immerse in ice water, drain until dry, and then place in an airtight container.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: If the pods are too tough to eat (this can happen when beans are over mature and bulging from the pods), peas can still be shelled and eaten or refrigerated in an airtight container and used within 2 days.

You can let the shelled peas dry out and save their seeds for planting in your garden.

Although often the ends of the beans are cut off before cooking, they need not be—remove only the stem end and enjoy the rest of the bean.

Salvage less-than-ideal green beans by removing any that are soft to the touch or slimy. Wash the remainder in cold water.

Briefly cooking older green beans can enhance their flavor.

 

Green Onions

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 1 to 2 weeks

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Store in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator.

FREEZING: Wash, dry, chop (if desired), and seal in zip-top freezer bags. Will lose crispness but retain flavor.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Soak root ends in cold water for an hour to revive wilting green onions.

Browning or dried outer layers can often be peeled away, revealing a fresh green onion that is still fine to eat.

Grow new green onions from the sliced-off roots.

 

Greens, hearty

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 3 to 5 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Remove twist ties and store loosely, with a damp cloth, in an airtight container in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator.

FREEZING: Blanch, immerse in ice water, drain, dry, and then place in an airtight container.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Soak wilted greens in a bowl of ice water for 5 to 10 minutes to revive crispness.

Kale stems can be blanched and made into a pesto. They can also be prepared right along with the leaves.

Chard stems make a great substitute for celery, particularly in cooked preparations.

 

Greens, salad

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 7 days; head lettuces, such as iceberg, keep longer than leaf lettuces

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Store with a damp cloth in an airtight container in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Alternatively, place in a cup with water on the counter, as you would cut flowers. Cover bitter lettuces, such as endive, as they increase in bitterness when exposed to light.

FREEZING: Not recommended.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Heads of lettuce that appear rotten can be salvaged by removing several outer leaves and cutting away any bruised parts.

Packaged lettuce with a few bad pieces can be saved by removing those pieces and then soaking the rest in ice water for 5 to 10 minutes.

Wilted greens can be soaked in ice water 5 to 10 minutes to perk them up. Yes, lettuce can be cooked! Even older or wilted leaves and packaged mixes.

If the outside leaves of a bitter lettuce are too bitter, remove them and try the inner leaves, as exposure to light can increase bitterness.

 

Herbs, basil

REFRIGERATE IT: No

AT FRESHEST: Up to 1 week

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Trim stem ends and stick the bunch in a tall glass of water, as you would cut flowers. Loosely cover with a plastic bag and keep on the counter, changing the water daily. It can also be stored in the refrigerator by wrapping in cloth and then placing in an airtight container on the top shelf. However, the cold is likely to brown the leaves quickly.

FREEZING: Chop and cover with olive oil or blend with olive oil in a food processor or blender. Freeze in an ice-cube tray, transferring to an airtight container or zip-top freezer bag when frozen. Basil leaves can be frozen on baking sheets and then transferred, but they may blacken. Basil can also be used to make pesto and then frozen.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: If wilted, trim stems, then soak in ice water for 15 minutes. Both stems and flowers are edible.

 

 

Herbs other than Basil

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 1 week, depending on the herb (heartier herbs such as rosemary and thyme last longer)

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Store loosely wrapped in a cloth in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator.

FREEZING: For heartier herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano, pack into ice-cube trays, filling them two-thirds full, then top the compartments with olive oil or melted butter; cover lightly and freeze, then transfer the cubes to an airtight container.

To freeze without oil, wash, drain, and pat dry with a cloth. Wrap a few sprigs or leaves in freezer wrap and put in an airtight container. The flavor of many herbs is well preserved by freezing (more so than by drying for many), but they may become discolored and limp.

Herbs can be dried in the microwave—a process that, in fact, preserves their flavor better than using ovens or dehydrators. Remove stems, place herbs between two paper towels, and microwave on High (full power) for 1 minute. If not completely dry, continue to cook and check in 20-second intervals. Stop early if you smell burning.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Place fresh herbs in a jar of olive oil and store in the refrigerator for a flavored oil (bring to room temperature before using within 4 days).

Strong rosemary stems can be used as skewers for kebabs.

 

Onions

REFRIGERATE IT: No

AT FRESHEST: Whole, several months; cut, 7 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Store whole onions in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated place. Do not store in plastic. Remove onions with mold or other signs of dampness immediately so others aren’t affected. Storing in hanging sacks is a great idea, as it encourages ventilation. Do not store near potatoes; onions will cause the potatoes to sprout. Partially used onions should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, with the peel left on if possible.

FREEZING: Remove the skins and root. Chop and freeze raw. Don’t blanch. Plan to use in cooked dishes when thawed.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Onions sprouting green tops are still safe to eat; simply remove the green sprouts and peel as usual. Use the green sprout as you would a green onion.

If there are layers of onion that are bruised or rotten, peel them away until you get down to a fresh layer.

The sliced-off (and cleaned) ends of an onion can be saved and used for soup stock or can be put into a pot of cooking beans for added flavor.

Onion peels can be used to make a dye for Easter eggs or even fabric. You’ll get a gold color from yellow onions and a purplish brown color from red onions.

The sliced-off root end of an onion can be planted.

 

Peppers

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: Whole, 5 to 7 days; cut, 3 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Store in a breathable bag in the low-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Store cut peppers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

FREEZING: Wash and core peppers, chop and lay out on a baking sheet to freeze, then transfer to an airtight container. Can also be blanched. Or roast peppers and then flatten them and pack into zip-top freezer bags. Best used for cooked dishes, as crispness can be lost when thawed.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Drying (hot peppers)—If you have a lot, string them up together and hang in a well-ventilated place in the sun as long as the evenings don’t get cool enough to cause dew. Alternatively, use a dehydrator or place in the oven at 120ºF/50ºC for several hours until fully dry.

Green peppers last a lot longer than red peppers, which are fully ripe when picked. All peppers start out green on the plant, then change to red or yellow, purple, etc.

 

Potatoes

REFRIGERATE IT: No

AT FRESHEST: New potatoes, 2 to 3 days; mature potatoes, 2 to 3 weeks; a few months in a root cellar environment

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Store away from sunlight in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated place, in a bag with ventilation—mesh, paper, burlap, or perforated plastic.

FREEZING: Not recommended. If you must, you can cook, mash, add 1 Tbsp white vinegar, and place in an airtight container.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Greening potatoes should be peeled deeply or discarded, as the green can indicate natural toxins that are not destroyed by cooking; sprouts should be cut out before using potatoes.

Bruised or damaged potatoes can be salvaged by peeling away outer layers and removing rotting pieces with a paring knife.

Potato cooking water can be used to add flavor to yeast breads.

If you’ve over salted a soup, cut a boiling potato into slices and add to the pot. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes and remove the potato; it will have absorbed some of the salt.

 

Radishes

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: Radishes, 1 to 2 weeks; radish greens, 2 to 3 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Separate green tops from radishes (otherwise the greens will draw out moisture). Store radishes in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator, and store the greens as you would other dark greens.

FREEZING: Not recommended.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Radish greens are edible and can be eaten in salad or cooked.

Peeling radishes is not necessary, but can give them a less peppery taste.

 

Squash, summer

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 5 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Store in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Wrap cut ends with damp cloth. Handle carefully, as bruising can reduce vitamin content.

FREEZING: Wash, chop, blanch, immerse in ice water, drain, dry, and then place in an airtight container. Or shred raw zucchini and place in an airtight container.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Peel or cut away any damaged flesh, and serve as usual.

Slightly overripe squash are best served cooked. Grate overgrown squash or squash that has started to go soft for use in baked goods such as muffins and breads. Note that the grated squash can be frozen.

Summer squash can be substituted for pickles in some pickling recipes.

 

Squash, winter

REFRIGERATE IT: No

AT FRESHEST: At 55ºF/13ºC—Acorn, 1 month; pumpkin and butternut, 2 to 3 months; Hubbard, 3 to 6 months. Life may be somewhat shorter if stored on the counter at room temperature

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Store unwrapped in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated place (they keep best at around 55ºF/13ºC).

FREEZING: Cook until soft, remove rind, and mash. Allow to cool, then place in an airtight container and freeze.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: The skins of most winter squash, including butternut and acorn squash, are edible when cooked.

The seeds of winter squash are also edible and can be toasted just as you would pumpkin seeds.

The skins can be used to make an edible container for other dishes—fill with desired filling, then bake and serve.

Make squash “chips” in the oven. Slice very thin using a mandoline or peeler, toss with olive oil and salt, and bake at 400ºF/200ºC until the chips are curling but not browned, 20 to 35 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes—they will crisp the way cookies do after coming out of oven.

 

Sweet Potatoes

REFRIGERATE IT: No

AT FRESHEST: 1 to 2 weeks if stored at room temperature, 1 month or longer in a root cellar environment

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Store in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated place—ideally a root cellar with temperatures of 55º to 60ºF/13º to 15ºC. Avoid potatoes with holes or cuts in the skin; this leads to decay that can affect the whole sweet potato.

FREEZING: Cook until almost tender, and let cool. Peel and cut in halves or slices, or mash. Dip in a solution of ½ cup/120 ml lemon juice to 1 qt/1 L water to prevent browning, or if mashing, add 2 Tbsp lemon juice per 1 qt/200 g of sweet potatoes. Place in container with ½-in/12-mm headspace and freeze. Baked sweet potatoes can also be frozen slightly undercooked and wrapped in foil, then put in a container, with final cooking completed when ready to eat.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Sweet potato skins are edible.

 

Tomatoes

REFRIGERATE IT: No, unless cut

AT FRESHEST: Whole, ripe, up to 3 days at room temperature; cut or nearing overripe, 2 to 3 days in refrigerator

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Store fresh tomatoes on the counter away from direct sunlight, with the stem end up. Storing them on their sides will cause bruising. Refrigeration can cause loss of sweetness and texture but is an option to add a few days of life if nearing overripe; cut tomatoes should be refrigerated. If refrigerating, store in their original container or in a breathable bag in the low-humidity drawer. Let come to room temperature before eating for best flavor.

FREEZING: Freeze raw or cooked in zip-top freezer bags. Frozen whole tomatoes won’t have a great texture once you defrost them, but you can easily turn them into sauce or salsa or soup, where they are mashed up anyway. You can leave the skin on whole tomatoes, because it will come off under cold running water during defrosting. You can also freeze tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, and any tomato products, such as salsa.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: To ripen green tomatoes, put them in a brown paper bag with a piece of ripe fruit to initiate the ripening process.

Cracked tomatoes can still be eaten. Just cut out and discard the cracked parts and enjoy the rest.

 

 Turnips

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes, unless there is a root cellar

AT FRESHEST: 2 weeks in refrigerator, 2 months in a root cellar environment

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Separate from their green tops (otherwise the greens will draw out moisture). Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator, unless a root cellar is an option. Store the greens as you would hearty greens in the refrigerator.

FREEZING: Wash, peel and chop, blanch, cool, and pack in an airtight container.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Turnip greens are edible.

Turnips do not need to be peeled before eating.

Turnips can be pickled.

 

Artichokes

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 1 week

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Slice a small bit off the end of the stem and sprinkle just that end with water. Then store in an airtight container in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Cooked artichokes should be cooled completely and then stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

FREEZING: Trim tops, rub cut surfaces with lemon to prevent browning, and boil until “al dente” in water flavored with lemon juice. Thoroughly drain upside down. Place upside down on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer to an airtight container. Artichokes can also be blanched, with lemon juice in the water, but it can be difficult to make sure the core of large artichokes is blanched without cooking the outsides completely. Do not freeze raw.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Outside leaves may be bronzed due to frost. This discoloration is cosmetic only and does not affect the edibility.

Dried whole artichokes are often used in dried floral arrangements.

  

Asparagus

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 3 to 5 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Either put bundled stalks upright in a bowl or dish with 1 in/2.5 cm of water and place on a refrigerator shelf (best) or wrap the cut ends in a moist paper towel and put in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Asparagus toughens quickly when not chilled, so be sure to refrigerate it as quickly as possible.

FREEZING: Blanch, immerse in ice water, dry, place separated on a baking sheet to freeze, then transfer spears to an airtight container.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: To remove the tough parts of asparagus spears, bend them until the stiff portion snaps off.

To use the woody ends that are removed, peel them and slice into small rings to use in cooking or as part of a soup.

If spears have started to wilt, soak them in cold water before cooking, and they should perk up a bit. You can also try adding 2 to 3 Tbsp sugar to the soaking water to restore the sugars it has lost.

 

Beets

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: Beets, 7 to 10 days; greens, 1 to 2 days OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Store in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Separate green tops from the beets, leaving 1 in/2.5 cm inch of stem on the beet (otherwise the greens will draw moisture away from the beet). The green tops can be stored separately in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer and used like chard.

FREEZING: Wash, trim off tops, cook fully (25 to 50 minutes, depending on size), cool in ice water, rub away peel, dry, slice or cube or purée, and seal into zip-top freezer bags. If beets seem over mature, freezing can magnify woodiness and is not recommended.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Beets are the main ingredient in borscht, a popular Eastern European soup.

Beet peels and shriveled beets can be used for making natural dyes—rub your hands with salt to remove any staining.

Beets can be used to make lip stain and blush.

  

Broccoli

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 5 to 7 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Refrigerate in the original wrapping or a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer.

FREEZING: Wash, separate into smaller florets, blanch, immerse in ice water, and drain until dry. Lay florets out separately on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer to an airtight container.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Eat the stalks! You can grate them and make a slaw, use in a stir-fry, or just chop and cook them like the broccoli tops. Depending on use, it helps to peel off the tough outer skin.

To revive slightly limp broccoli, apply ice directly to the bunches or plunge into an ice-water bath, drain, and place in refrigerator.

 

Brussels Sprouts

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 10 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Store loose Brussels sprouts in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Brussels sprouts on the stalk will last longer than those off the stalk—wrap the bottom of the stalk with a moist paper towel and then plastic wrap and keep it in the refrigerator, space permitting, or in a cold place.

FREEZING: Wash, trim any yellowing outer leaves, blanch, immerse in ice water, drain until dry, and pack into an airtight container.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Peel away the yellowing outer layers of sprouts; often there is still a significant and beautiful sprout inside. Brussels sprout stalks tend to be too tough and woody to eat (though the thinner end may be tender enough). They can be used in soup stock.

  

Carrots

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: Carrots, 2 weeks, a few months in a root cellar environment; carrot tops, 2 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Store in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer or submerged in water on a shelf of the refrigerator. Store cut carrots in water in the refrigerator. Separate green leafy tops, if present, from the roots, leaving 1 in/2.5 cm of stem on the carrots (otherwise, the tops will draw moisture away from the carrots). The green tops can be stored in a breathable bag in the high-humidity drawer and used like fresh herbs to add color and flavor to dishes.

FREEZING: Remove tops, wash, blanch, cool, chop or purée, and pack into an airtight container. Raw carrots can also be shredded and frozen in zip-top freezer bags and used for baking.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Carrots do not need to be peeled, just washed carefully; however, peeling does remove some bitterness.

Bruised, browning, or damaged carrots can be salvaged by peeling away the external layers and removing the damaged pieces with a paring knife.

The whitish coloring that appears on cut carrots is simply dehydration.

Revive limp carrots by placing them in an ice bath in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Limp carrots can be used in soups and stews and stocks. Carrot tops are great additions to soups and stews, or even floral arrangements.

 

Mushrooms

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: Up to 1 week, depending on type

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Mushrooms should be used as quickly as possible after purchase. Do not wash until ready to use. Store in original packaging or in a paper bag on the lower shelf in the refrigerator. For very delicate mushrooms, lay them in a single layer on a tray and cover with a damp cloth. Don’t store mushrooms next to anything strong smelling, as they tend to absorb odors (one of the reasons to use them quickly).

FREEZING: Steam or sauté and then pack into airtight containers. Do not pack raw.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Stems of most common mushrooms can be eaten.

Marinate mushrooms that are on the older side in an oil, vinegar, and herb mixture of your choice.

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