Staving Off The Inevitable Rot

TJMurphy_copper pot and zucchini
T.J. Murphy

Summer is one of the best months for food, because all my favorite vegetables are in season along with those magical fruits that only come ripe for six seconds on the second Tuesday in June (hi cherries!). Downside is, summer produce tends to have delicate skin and flesh, which leads to speedy rotting and wasted potential due to interesting but incovenient science.

I have no idea where I picked this up, probably some combination of Hints from Heloise, basic science, personal experience and dumb luck. I’ve tried green bags and veggie washes, but washing with water and wrapping with towels works just as well. On one hand, it takes longer upfront, but on the other, makes your produce last for weeks. People I’ve told never seem to know about it, so here you go, world:

How To Make Summer Produce Last a Lot Longer In Your Fridge

For zucchini, cucumber, asparagus and similar delicate veg: wash using cool water and by gently rubbing the flesh until it no longer feels (overly) waxy or gritty. Use towel to pat dry, then wrap in a hand towel or paper towel. You can store them directly on the shelf this way. I have no fancy crisper drawers with temp control, just normal drawers, so I rewrap them in their plastic produce bag. Doesn’t seem to effect them negatively, although purists may disagree.

Strawberries and other inferior berries: This works for all berries, but I hate berries, except for strawberries (which aren’t berries). Dump your strawberries into the biggest bowl you own, add water until they’re covered by a good inch. Depending on the amount of water, add a glug or two of white vinegar, I’d say a glug per pint. Swish your hands around the fruit to agitate the water and get all the schmutz out. Let them sit for a few minutes, but no more than ten. I’ve found if they sit in the vinegar too long, the skins will dry out.

Dump the vinegar solution, then rinse well. I lay all the strawberries out on a towel and let them airdry, but you could gently dry them with your hands, too. Line a large plastic container (or the pints they came home in) with a hand towel or paper towels, then add the fruit. Sure you can just dump them in, but it’s also fun to tetris the pints back together and see how many will fit.

Bonus info on Broccoli, cabbage, etc: Hardier veg that aren’t as suseptible to rot deserve love too, even if their deterioration isn’t as noticable.

  • I line one of my produce drawers with a towel and dump the broccoli right in after washing under cool running water. We eat a lot of broc, so it’s a good use of space and, again, you can tetris things in so a lot will fit. The stalks seem to get less wobbly this way.
  • Cabbages are particularly simple: they can sit for months without rotting and, even if the top leaves turn brown or shrivel, peel away a few layers and they’re good as new.
  • A note on brussels sprouts: they stink. Eat them as quickly as possible after purchasing fresh because, after a few days in the fridge, they are perfectly edible but really smell like farts. Definitely worthwhile, because brussels are super tasty when cooked right, just know ahead of time what to expect. You can mostly avoid the sulpher stank by buying whole stalks.

Final thoughts: Just recently I did my thing with some strawberries and, while laying the fruit out to dry after the final rinse, a teeny yellow mite thing dashed across my counter from under one of the bigger fruits. That sucker survived a soak in vinegar water for 5 minutes plus two vigorous rinsings! I do not want extra proten with my fruit, thank you nature. People: wash thy produce well.