Whether you are hoping to stock up on a bounty of homegrown produce, make your farmers’ market purchase last longer, or just take advantage of that sale on blueberries at your grocery store, you need to know the best and safest way to store everything at home.
Here are tips from two Hudson Valley professionals — Joseph Gilbert, the owner of The Berry Farm in Chatham, and Alexia Baker, master gardener and greenhouse manager at the farm.
The Berry Farm is known in the Hudson Valley for their pesticide-free, no-spray blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and more. “With such thin skins, they are delicate and bruise easily,” says Gilbert.
“And pesticides can penetrate through that thin skin,” adds Baker.
Don’t bother washing if they are unsprayed and you’ve picked them yourself (wash if you’re unsure). Leave the green tops on strawberries if you plan to use them while they are fresh, but remove the caps if you plan on freezing them.
Strawberries can keep in the refrigerator for about a week. Like any fruit, berries will not keep as long if you cut them up.
Too many to eat? Spread them out on a cookie sheet and flash-freeze for a smoothie or winter pie later in the year.
Tomatoes should be picked when they are ripe or at the breaker stage when they just start to blush. Store fresh tomatoes on your counter, not on a sunny windowsill. Once sliced, put the leftovers in the refrigerator. If a frost is coming and you need to pick them a little on the green side, place them in a brown bag with apples to ripen faster.
“The naturally producing ethylene gas from the ripening apples will ripen the tomatoes. Those apples can even shorten the vase life of cut flowers if stored near,” says Baker.
If you’re up to your eyeballs in tomatoes this season, use your harvest later for sauce and soups. To freeze, cut in quarters and pack in a freezer bag. Make sure to peel them first.
Always pick peaches that are a bit unripe. Apply a little pressure to test for some give.
“Even if they feel firm, they will continue to ripen and will taste delicious very soon,” says Baker.
Enjoy them at room temperature for the best taste, but if you aren’t ready to eat them in the next day or two, refrigerate them in your crisper.
Cut up and freeze extras for a winter pie. No sugar needed!
Basil is very sensitive. Recut basil stems when you bring a bunch home and put them in a glass of water on your counter.
“Basil is an herb that doesn’t like the cold,” says Gilbert. “The leaves will darken if you refrigerate them. Just look at where they are stored in the farm store.”
If you have an abundance, make a simple oil and basil pesto and pour in an ice cube tray to use later.
Other herbs, like sage and thyme, can be refrigerated for a short time in a plastic bag. Clip the end of the bag to let a little air in, but not too much. If you see condensation forming wipe it away to prolong their life.
“You can even put a paper towel in the bag to absorb moisture,” says Baker. Store cilantro and parsley with stems in water on your counter or in a cooler.
“Don’t wash your salad greens before storing them if you have grown them yourself or bought them at a local farmers’ market,” says Gilbert. Greens don’t last long after washing. Pick and eat. It’s always a good idea to ask your farmer if their greens have been sprayed with pesticides.
According to Gilbert and Baker, summer squashes, peppers, and eggplant don’t keep well but can last a couple days in a refrigerator. Best to leave them on your counter to eat fresh. Flash-freeze squash and eggplant, and they won’t become mushy. Peppers, also, can be flash-frozen after they are cut up. Use them later in eggs.
Store apples, carrots, and celery in paper bags in the refrigerator. If carrots and celery get limp from losing water, cut the ends off and place them in water to rehydrate. Gilbert adds an extra tip: “Cortland and ‘salad’ apples don’t brown as much as other varieties, so they are great for lunch bags.”
Potatoes love cool, dark, dry spots, like the soil they were in. Throw them out if they turn green or peel. Most potatoes that you buy in a grocery store have been soaked in an inhibitor so they do not sprout eyes. If you have a potato that does begin to sprout, it is an indication that it is fresh from the farm and hasn’t been treated. Just cut off the sprouting eyes and cook the spud using your favorite recipe.
We all love fresh Hudson Valley summer corn. “It freezes well if you cut the kernels off the cob,” says Gilbert. Blanch first for longer storage. You can also freeze grilled corn (cut off the cob) for a smoky taste in the cold months.