So, you wanna eat local. Most likely, your food came over the weekend when most farmer's markets operate, CSA boxes show up and Pollanesque Peapoders like Irv and Shelly's Fresh Picks make their deliveries. For most budding locavores, this will be your only shot at locally grown food for the week. Make it last. Last year, my friend Farmer Vicki of Genesis Grower's let me re-publish her insight into storing fresh vegetables. It's been my most popular post. I've expanded that post for this year--note, this post deals with storing the fruits and vegetables of the general farmer's market season; I will cover winter storage in another post later on this year.
First Things First
The goal is to make your store of food last until at least your next food arrives, to ensure that you have local food to eat all week. To do this, you need a food plan, an eating plan. It's not so much as laying out your menus for the week, but taking heed of which of your foods you need to eat first. Eat first the foods that will not last. Put better, eat the foods that need to be eaten first. These are foods that lose quality soon after harvest, and the quicker you can get them from ground to table, the happier you palate will be.
- Peas in all forms, but especially shelling or English peas
- Fava or broad beans
- True "new potatoes", recognized by their peeling skins
Will you eat all your food this week? For one thing, let's hope your local-ism extends beyond the farm fresh season; for another thing, many CSA boxes are meant to give more produce than you can eat during the week, with the idea that you will store. I'm not gonna make a treatise now on food preservation. In the short term, remember that freezing is generally easy. Fruits can be frozen with no processing; vegetables need a short blanch before freezing. Also, coincidentally or not, the foods that need to be eaten then fastest are also the foods that freeze the best.
The Burden of Local
Get it and forget it is not the mantra of the localvore. Stuff must be done to a lot of local food after its purchase to ensure its vigor for the week. DO remove all leafy tops from root vegetables: carrots, radishes, turnips, beets, kohlrabi; DO NOT wash other fruits and vegetables if possible. Dirtier food will generally stay better. If you cannot produce your meals Rachael Ray style, you will at least be rewarded with better tasting food.
In or Out
Most but not all of your local food will go in your fridge. Do not refrigerator the following foods
- Keeper onions a/k/a dry onions - Before storage, make sure that the onions are dry. Often in CSA boxes, the onions get wet inter-mingling with the other produce. If I find damp onions, I keep them on some old newspaper for a bit. Store these in as a cool and dry a spot as you can.
- All potatoes except true new potatoes - Like onions, make sure the potatoes are dry before storage. Potatoes stay best in the dark as well as the cool.
- Peaches and their variants such as nectarines*
- Winter squash
- Tomatoes !!
Berries including strawberries and cherries stay best in the refrigerator but taste best if served at room temperature.
Do refrigerate the following foods:
- Spring onions, scallions, knob onions and the like
- Sweet onions/summer onions - These are onions characterized by a flimsy and moist skin; these types of onions are often also sold with their stems attached.
- New potatoes
- Green garlic and other fresh garlics
Battle Your Fridge
Cold storage makes it possible for your food to last all week. Cold storage can also ruin your supply of local food. Here's a couple of tips to best use your fridge.
- Bag your food - Little local food comes pre-bagged, and the smart market shopper refuses any bags from their vendors. Still, just because you got the food that way, does not mean you have to keep it that way. If you can put the food in your refrigerator's designated vegetable bins, it will generally be safe. For foods not in the bins, in my experience, the harshness of the refrigerator can be mitigated by keeping your food in bags or containers. For many items like root vegetables, the bags can be sealed to provide a bit of necessary moisture.
- Hydrate your food - Space permitting, some foods benefit from being kept in water (standing in water, not submerged). These include asparagus, watercress and all herbs.
- Know your cold zones. In most refrigerators, the top shelf will be the coldest, and the coldest part of the top shelf will be the back corner. Only put foods up there that can withstand the chill, maybe even some frost.
Eat Well, Eat Local
My parting thought is that regardless of how well you tend for you food, the great thing about local food is that it will last much longer than conventional food. My family's experience is that produce will stay viable and taste great for much longer than predicted in your typical cook book or produce guide. This is obviously, because food is arriving at the Bungalow so much sooner than it would arrive at most people's houses.