There’s so much to love about summer, not the least of which is the array of delicious produce that’s at peak freshness. To ensure those berries, melons, sweet corn, zucchini, tomatoes and other seasonal favorites stay fresh and flavorful as long as possible, read on to discover the best ways to care for and store your produce. Whether you eat it right away, freeze it, pickle it or turn it into jam, here’s how to make the most of summer’s fresh bounty.
How to store fresh fruit: Handle with care
Treat fruit with care from the moment you pick it up. The high water content of fruit makes it especially perishable in the heat, so if you can, make the grocery store your final stop before heading home. Follow these guidelines for storing popular summer fruits:
- Berries – Keep on a paper towel in a well-sealed container for up to three days. Do not wash berries until just before eating and wash only what you need.
- Grapes – Keep in perforated plastic bag in the fridge. If grapes didn’t come in a perforated plastic bag, simply poke holes into a conventional plastic storage bag. Wash before eating.
- Stone fruits (peaches, cherries, nectarines, etc.) – Ripen on the kitchen counter if necessary, then keep in the fridge in a plastic produce bag. Wash before eating.
- Melons – Let ripen on the counter if necessary, then refrigerate. Always wash the rind thoroughly before cutting into the melon. Cut what you need and keep the rest wrapped in plastic in the fridge.
During the ripening process, some fruits produce a gas, called ethylene, which causes other fruits to spoil more quickly. Keep high-ethylene fruits including apples, bananas, melons, peaches, plums and pears away from other fruits (and certain vegetables, too).
How to store vegetables: Keep them fresh and crisp
The trick to storing vegetables is knowing which belong in the fridge and which do not. Let’s break it down.
- Green beans – Store green, yellow or purple beans in a perforated plastic bag in the fridge for up to around five days. Brown spots on beans are a sign of age. Do not wash until ready to use.
- Cucumbers – Because they’re more than 95% water, cucumbers are prone to mold and drying out. Some experts suggest storing them in the crisper drawer, while others believe they’re best left on the counter. Either way, wash before using and once cut open, refrigerate leftovers.
- Sweet corn – Corn on the cob is best eaten as soon as possible, before it becomes starchy. If you won’t be eating it right away, simply place the ears directly in the fridge with the husks intact. If already husked, wrap the ears loosely in a plastic bag.
- Bell peppers – Wrap loosely in a plastic bag. Store in the crisper, where they should last a week or two. Do not wash until ready to use.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes should be stored on the counter and only put in the fridge if you’re worried they’re becoming overly ripe. Wash before using.
- Summer squash (zucchini and yellow) – Store in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. Keep the bag open or perforate it to let air circulate. Use within five days. Do not wash until ready to use.
How to freeze produce: Yes, you can freeze that too
Freezing fresh fruit and veggies is a great way to enjoy their fresh flavor long after summer has ended, and almost every item can be frozen. To freeze fruit, rinse it, dry it then arrange it in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the freezer until everything is frozen solid. You can store frozen fruit in freezer bags or freezer-friendly containers for up to 10 months.
Some fruits, including peaches and nectarines, benefit from the addition of an ascorbic acid/water solution before freezing to preserve color and discourage browning. You’ll also want to blanch these fruits in boiling water for 30–60 seconds, which loosens the skin for easier peeling. If freezing cherries, pit them first. Keep in mind that any fruit’s consistency will change somewhat when thawed.
To freeze vegetables, clean and prepare them as if you were going to cook them. To help retain color and flavor, boil them a minute or two, then immediately transfer the veggies to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Once cooled, pat the veggies dry, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Store them in freezer bags or containers. Again, texture may change when thawed.
Pickling and fermenting: The basics
Pickling and fermenting are food-preservation methods that have been used for centuries. Though the approaches are slow, the result is the satisfyingly sour flavor you associate with a pickle (which is made from a cucumber), or sauerkraut (which is fermented).
Pickling involves a hot acid solution – typically vinegar – in which the fruit or veggie is soaked. The hot pickling liquid kills any microorganisms that could cause contamination and promote spoilage. If you want to try your hand at pickling, start with refrigerator pickles, which require nothing but vinegar, spices, a clean jar and a little patience.
Fermentation covers the vegetables in a brine made from water and either salt, whey or a starter culture. Sugars and starches in the vegetables eventually convert into lactic acid, which kills undesirable bacteria and promotes the “good” bacteria that encourages gut health. To make your own traditional sauerkraut, just grab some cabbage, sea salt and herbs.
How to make jams and preserves
Ready to jam? Canning* fruit jams and preserves is another age-old method of storing and enjoying fruit year-round. Jam is typically runnier, with small chunks of fruit in it, while preserves have a firmer consistency and contain larger pieces of fruit. Both are both made with fruit and sugar in mostly equal amounts, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Try your hand at a delicious – and unbelievably easy – blueberry and rosemary jam.
No matter how you like to enjoy your fresh fruits and vegetables this guide will make sure they never go to waste!
*We recommend checking the National Center for Home Food Preservation for detailed instructions for safe canning.