Whether it’s corn, cabbage, peaches, or parsley, for best taste and texture you should get locally-grown produce onto your plate soon after you buy it. But when you can’t chow down immediately, handle it properly. First rule of thumb, says food writer Marilou Suszko, author of The Locavore’s Kitchen: Don’t wash it until you’re ready to use it. If you’re trying to keep fruits and vegetables from spoiling, “Water’s your biggest enemy,” says Suszko, who writes about seasonal produce for the Ohio Farm Bureau. And as tempting as that farm stand is, don’t load up with more than you can use in a few days. “Buy things as you plan to eat them,” she says. “That means lots of little trips to the farm market.”
The first major haul of the season’s apples are coming in later this month, and it pains Hilda Beiersdorfer, owner of Beiersdorfer Orchard in southeast Indiana, when customers say they store apples in the basement. “No!” she protests. “They’ll start to shrink!” To keep apples moist and crisp, refrigerate them in a perforated plastic bag. That bowl of Winesaps on the credenza? Don’t do it. Room temperature apples get soft.
Like a host of other veg (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, cabbage), beans do best in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer, unwashed, in a perforated plastic bag.
Discard wilted leaves of delicate greens (lettuce, spinach, etc.) and store in a Ziploc bag (i.e. airtight, not perforated) until ready to use. You can wash before storing, but be sure to dry thoroughly (that’s why God made salad spinners) and tuck in a paper towel when you bag them.
Make a nosegay of the sprigs and stick the stems into a glass of water in the refrigerator. Covered loosely with a plastic bag, they’ll be fresh for days. Exception: basil turns black in cold air. Leave it (stems in water) on your counter at room temp.
Store melons, uncut, at room temperature until they’re ripe. Leftovers should be refrigerated and eaten within a day or two—after that, the quality suffers. And remember the Listeria outbreak a few summers ago? Scrub that rind before you cut into it.
The sugar in corn on the cob starts to turn from sweet to starchy the moment it leaves the stalk. Hurry home (do not leave it in your hot car while you shop!) and stack the ears—husks on and uncovered—in the refrigerator. You can get away with this for a couple days. But what kind of soulless zombie would wait that long to eat sweet corn?
“Peaches are delicate and highly perishable,” says Suszko. Treat them like the treasures they are and consume them as soon as they’re ripe. Don’t wash until you’re ready to use, and if you do refrigerate ripe peaches, allow them to come back to room temperature for best flavor.
Do. Not. Refrigerate. Chilling leaves tomatoes tasteless. Leftover cut tomatoes must be refrigerated, of course. But it’s summer: There should not be any leftover tomatoes.
Moist, juicy berries are prone to mold. But they can also shrivel and dry out in arid, chilled air. Jane Stokes, the matriarch of Stokes Berry Farm in Wilmington, suggests this technique: “Spread the unwashed fruit in a shallow pan in the refrigerator, then cover the pan with Handiwrap, but don’t seal it. That lets the air circulate.” If you haven’t got the space/patience for that, at least pick through the pint and remove spoiled and squashed fruit before you store it.