Pick & Store Summer Produce
I cannot believe it’s summer already. It felt like just days ago that I was putting up my Spring produce guide (over a month ago!). And now it’s like 1000 degrees outside and so humid you could cut the air with a knife. A sure sign summer has arrived. Luckily, Summer brings a lot more with it besides the oppressive heat and humidity…produce! It’s probably mother nature’s most productive season of the year – she’s such a busy lady. Berries, melons, tomatoes, corn, peaches, radishes, lettuce, onions, peppers, fresh herbs….you name it, you can find it during the Summer (OK maybe not butternut squash, but we’re over that for now, right?) So, if you’re anything like me and way over-buy at your farmer’s market or grocery store, it’s a good idea to figure out the best ways to store and pick out good produce. Otherwise you’ll be stuck with heaping mounds of goodies you can’t use or have to throw out. Here are my top favorite produce items and tips to keep them fresh at home:
- Tomatoes – OK here’s the deal with tomatoes. GOOD tomatoes are only available mid summer til the end of summer or beginning of fall. They should be somewhat firm to the touch without blemishes and should smell like a tomato. Sweet with an acidic background to it. And because they’re only around for a short time, it’s important that you store them correctly while you have them. NOT in the fridge. Not at all – never, ever, ever put a tomato in the fridge. It’s the cardinal sin of tomato buying. Don’t do it – they become mealy, soft and lose ALL their flavor. Don’t do it. Store on the counter out of the sunlight for 3-4 days. Try fresh tomatoes in this unique recipe!
- Eggplant – my younger self would never believe that one day I’d be buying eggplant on a weekly basis. It’s so good this time of year – its peak season being summer to early fall. Eggplant should feel heavy for their size – no matter what type you get. They also should be free of brown or mushy spots and have bright green tops. These guys love to be stored on your counter for about 3 days. Not a friend of the fridge either. Check out these recipes: Eggplant caponata, Eggplant confit pizza, Eggplant polpetti and Roasted Vegetable Lasagna.
- Figs – so I found that figs are technically a fall fruit. However, never in my life have I seen figs in the fall. No – they’re a summer fruit. Just more on the late side of summer, but summer none the less. Regardless of their season, figs should be somewhat firm to the touch without spots, cracks and have no spots that are leaking juice. Store your figs (if you can keep them around that long) for 3 days in the refrigerator. However, eat them at room temperature.
- Berries – blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, all berries – their seasons almost all peak around summer time. And across the board berries should be spot free, not mushed or squashed or leaking juice when you buy them. Do not wash any berries until right before serving/cooking. But lay them in a flat bowl or dish so they don’t squish each other. Place in the fridge for 2-3 days – but the sooner you use them, the better. Use fresh berries in this delicious breakfast recipe: Strawberry and Rhubarb Baked Oatmeal.
- Peaches, Nectarines & Other Stone Fruit – there is nothing better than a big fat juicy peach on a summer afternoon. These guys along with their stone fruit cousins (nectarines, plums, etc) peak during mid summer. All these fruit should be somewhat firm to the touch but give a little. Not rock hard. They should have no blemishes or soft spots (these will mold quickly) and smell intensely of sweet fruit. Store in a cool place for 3-4 days.
- Melon – I have always had trouble telling if a melon is ripe or not. So hard – especially when you can barely lift it up. All types of melon (watermelon, honey dew, cantaloupe, etc) will have a sweet scent on the end where the stem was. In addition, this same area should be slightly soft when ripe. Another good way to tell if it’s ripe is to shake the melon (only for those with seeds like honey dew or cantaloupe) and listen to see if you hear the seeds on the inside – if they are lose from the wall, it’s a ripe melon. All melons can be stored in the fridge for a few days or on the counter for about 2 days.
- Fresh Herbs – herbs are abundant this time of year. And you should take advantage of it! Store most herbs (except for rosemary, sage and basil) wrapped in a damp paper towel and put inside a plastic baggie. Keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. Basil can be kept in a tall glass with a little bit of water on the counter. Rosemary and sage do well in the fridge for a week, but don’t wrap them in a damp paper towel since these are woodier herbs. Use up your fresh herbs in these recipes: Mint & Spring Pea Pesto, Herb Walnut Alfredo Sauce, Creamy Herb Dressing, Herb Crusted Salmon, or Garlic and Herb Butter.
So many different types of produce to write on! I definitely didn’t get to list them all here, but I’m glad I got to hit on the most popular! If you have any questions on a particular fruit, veggie, herb or other produce let me know. I’d love to give you my tips. Also, check out the last How-To post for Spring produce.