This topic of storing food, preserving it and making it last is not a new one. Simply ask your grandparents – unless they were city dwellers, they would know EXACTLY how to make things last.
We are now in a bit of a funny situation – the food is there and available, but frankly most people don’t really want to go out into the crowd to buy groceries. So maybe instead of shopping frequently it’s easier (and cheaper) to just store our food in a way that lets it last longer?
Here are some of the key things I do.
Root vegetables store the best if they think it’s winter. That means, dark and cold places.
Most people tend to store these in the bottom of the pantry which is a good place. My parents keep theirs, including potatoes, carrots, parsnips and turnips in a cold basement. I don’t have a cold storage so I keep mine in the veg drawer in the fridge. BUT I usually keep them inside the bag they came in (usually non-transparent plastic bag with small holes). I do that simply because I have a frost-free fridge freezer which sucks moisture out of the produce.
I also find that while carrots and parsnips in particular do well being kept in a fabric bag, they rot away in a plastic one.
For garlic and onions the same rule applies – keep them somewhere cold and dark. If that’s not an option, your next best place is a basket inside a cupboard, away from moisture – they do just fine in the daylight but too much moisture in a high temperature will make them sprout quicker.
Greens can be a little frustrating – I cannot tell you just how often I used to have to discard slimy spinach or yellowed chard. As with root vegetables, I tend to keep these in the fridge. I pre-wash them all, leave them to air dry and then I put them back into the bag they came in with a paper towel. I reuse the same paper towel for 3-4 weeks in a row too. I find that this extends their life by good 3-4 days which for perishables is great.
If I can’t salvage them, in particular for cabbage I am always happy to make my own pickle – either in form of sauerkraut, kimchi or something less descript.
Citrus is simple, as well as any other thick-skinned fruit such as bananas, pumpkins and all kinds of squash – sit them on the counter in a bowl, and let it be. Most citrus fruit, unless grown in your own garden are waxed, as are apples, which allows them to stay fresh for a while. So whether it’s a lemon, orange or a grapefruit, let it be.
The same goes for any large stone fruit like plums, peaches, apricots and nectarines for me because the ones you can buy in the UK are typically the ‘ripen at home’ kind. However, if I stumble upon ripe ones, they get to go into the fridge too.
Apples also do better in the fridge. Honestly speaking I don’t keep them in the fridge because we go through them quickly and I just don’t love very cold fruit. So they sit on the counter alongside the citrus. However, if I have loads (this happens frequently in Autumn), I tend to store them either in the fridge or outside cupboard which is not temperature controlled – we get chilly autumns in the UK.
Berries, cucumbers, aubergines, kumquats, courgettes and all other soft(ish) fruits in my home get to spend their lives in the fridge unless I plan to eat them within 1-2 days of purchase. Not necessarily in the crisper drawers, but definitely towards the bottom part of the fridge, where it’s a little less cold and crispy. In particular for berries I tend to use a similar trick to what I do with the greens – I’ll wash them carefully (very carefully, they bruise easily), let them dry completely and then transfer them to a sealable container with a paper towel on the bottom. They seem to stay fresh the longest that way.
Tomatoes get a special mention in my life – I eat MANY of them and I judge the storage by the level of ripeness. My preference is to keep them out on the counter with harder skin fruit but if they are really ripe, I’ll put them in the fridge into one of the drawers to stop them going over the edge of deliciously sweet to mush. If I missed it and they’re mush, they’ll become tomato sauce – unless they are literally growing mold, they will get eaten.
Pickling & canning
As briefly mentioned, I pickle things. This includes cabbages of many kinds, carrots, garden cucumbers, garlic, pumpkin, squash, lemons and even certain types of mushrooms. Most of the pickles I do are salt pickles which take a couple of weeks to develop flavour and need to be stored somewhere cool. I am not a huge fan of the vinegar pickles, but they’re great for preserving peppers, courgettes and other fruit which lends itself to being a little on the savoury side. These also work great for the larger kinds of beans in a pod if that’s something you enjoy.
Going along with pickling, canning is a fantastic way to preserve food especially if you happen to have your own food garden or an orchard and produce more than you can eat in a season. I grew up on a farm and canning was a big part of life. From making jams and fruit concentrates throughout the summer and early autumn to making savoury letchos, beetroot and horseradish preserves. Canning is not something I do often anymore given that I simply don’t have my own garden and am not into buying fruit and veg in bulk just for that purpose. However, I will honestly say that having the experience and ability to make my own preserves has made me very particular about preserves I opt to purchase in store now.
Your freezer is your friend.
Something about to go off? Freeze it, whatever it might be. Want the nutrition but don’t have the space to store specific vegetables? Buy it frozen. Unable to eat a whole head of cauliflower in a day? Chop it up, freeze what you can’t eat or better yet, but a bag of frozen florets instead (it’s cheaper than fresh too). Freezers are now so widely spread that they have taken over the previous generation’s methods of canning and pickling and I love it. But there are some things which you can do to make sure the food you freeze preserves well:
- follow manufacturer’s guidelines (freezers often come with indication of what food should go into which space – pay attention to these)
- package your food well – whether you’re using traditional or frost-free freezer, the food will last better if you package it up in freezer-safe containers and bags. This not only extends the time you can keep food in the freezer but also prevents frost burn
- freeze any fresh food in the form you would want to eat it – for example, cut up vegetables to the size you’ll use it in, diced, julienne’d or in any other way
Lastly, my very favourite way to make things last – buy what you need and not more, if you can. This advice applies to ‘normal’ times though and frankly if you’d rather buy more and avoid going into shops twice a week, I’m with you. Hopefully this blog post helps you to extend that time and avoid food waste which might otherwise have happened.
Leave your tips in the comments and stay safe out there!