Vegetables are at their best when they are picked in their prime. However, once a vegetable has been harvested, it must be properly stored to maintain the optimal taste and texture. Fresh foods stored in an area that is too warm or too cool will perish; too much moisture encourages rot, while too little can lead to dehydration. Although the ideal conditions vary slightly from one vegetable to the next, in general, produce should be stored in a cool, mildly damp place to preserve freshness and flavor.
Sort the vegetables into basic groups. Tender, thin-skinned vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumber, summer squash, and peppers form the warm-storage set. Edible bulbs, such as onions and garlic, and thick-skinned vegetables, such as pumpkin or winter squash form the "cool and dry" group. All other vegetables, with the exception of leafy greens, should be categorized as members of the "cold and wet" collection.
Place warm-storage vegetables in perforated plastic food storage bags using only one type of vegetable per bag. Then set them in a dark, cool corner of the kitchen. Cover each bag with a damp cloth to increase the humidity at the storage site.
Set cold and dry vegetables in the crisper drawers of the refrigerator, or in cool sections of a basement. An abundant harvest can be preserved by placing the items in plastic storage containers or cardboard boxes, and covering layers of produce with clean straw or wood shavings. These materials insulate the vegetables while absorbing excess moisture.
Fill perforated plastic bags with cold-and-wet vegetables, then pour damp sand over the produce. Tie the bags shut and store them in the refrigerator. The sand helps to create a moist storage environment which keeps the produce from drying out. Store large quantities of vegetables in the root cellar, if possible; this this type of storage area tends to be naturally cold and damp.
Wash leafy greens by holding them under a stream of tepid, running water. Give them a brisk shake to remove any excess fluid, then pat dry with a paper towel. Store the washed greens in the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag.
- With the exception of leafy greens, do not wash vegetables prior to storing them. The unnecessary handling and excess moisture can encourage the development of bacteria. Instead, wash them just before use.
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