We eat a lot of fresh produce in this house. Right this very minute I have six peaches, seven apples, ten bananas, and a bag of easy-peel mandarins. I’ve got six regular oranges, two heads of lettuce, a cucumber, zucchini, squash, two pounds of carrots, a head of cabbage, a bag of Brussels sprouts, two red peppers, a ten-pound bag of red potatoes, a bag of fresh green beans, and some beets. And in two days we will probably be out of fruit and getting close on veggies.
Now, I do have specific meals planned for all those veggies (including vegetable soup), but we almost always have a lot of produce to store for days at a time because getting produce into the mouths of my kids is important to me and it’s where I prefer to spend the bulk of our grocery budget.
Yes, you absolutely can preserve these foods with one of the long term food preservation methods like freezing, canning, cooking, pickling, or even dehydrating. But most of the time, you just want to keep it around to use for a few days, weeks, or (dare I even say it) months. Let’s talk about the best places to keep your produce for short term use.
In the old days, people had root cellars underneath their house. This cool and dark spot helped keep all kinds of root vegetables from rotting during the winter months. If you have a cool pantry, or even better a dark, dry basement, you can store things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, and fresh garlic for several weeks if not months. Apples will also store nicely in a dark and cool spot, as will cabbages.
But here’s the thing. Most of us do not have access to “cool pantries,” “dark, dry basements,” or “root cellars.” When you are considering whether to put your produce on the counter, in the fridge, or in the cabinet use this list as a guide.
Vegetables and Fruits to Store in the Fridge
- Leafy vegetables (lettuce, chard, kale, beet greens)
- Bell Peppers
- Hot Peppers
- Summer Squash (yellow or green)
- Brussels Sprouts
- Green Beans
- Green Onions
Bring your leafy vegetables home, wash them, and dry them completely. Wrap them in a paper towel and store them in a plastic bag in the fridge.
Vegetables and Fruits to Store in Open Air
These fruits (yes, tomatoes and avocados are technically fruits) tend to become mealy when they are stored at too low of a temperature. Keep them on the counter instead.
What you store next to each other also makes a big difference, especially in a close space. Remember the old trick of sticking an apple or banana in a brown paper bag with some unripe fruit? The same thing happens if you keep all your fruit tightly packed into a bowl on the counter. Most fruit and things like tomatoes do better spread out on the kitchen counter or window sill. I keep a couple of pie plates to set fruit on and frankly, it gets eaten so fast I rarely have to worry about it spoiling but I do avoid stacking it tightly.
One thing I didn’t realize is that you should never store your onions and potatoes together. While they both benefit from dry, cool, and dark spaces with plenty of air flow, the onions give off a gas that makes potatoes sprout and rot much faster than if they are stored away from onions. In lieu of a root cellar, I keep my onions and potatoes in a basket on the kitchen counter, and I usually take them out of the bag to improve air flow.
By paying attention to what produce likes to be stored where, you can not only extend how long it will keep without any major efforts to preserve the food, it also preserves the flavor. And that’s really the point, isn’t it? To keep food fresh, flavorful, and packed with nutrients until you’re ready to cook with it and eat it.