While we most often celebrate the abundance of products that are summer, there are also a lot of fall and winter fruits and vegetables to love. When favorites in hot weather, such as peaches, tomatoes and corn, are on their way out, we are greeted with a colorful selection of pears, apples, winter squash and greens, plus the citrus fruit that fills many gift baskets.
Aside from being delicious and versatile, autumn fruits and vegetables have at least one more thing in mind: In general, they last longer than their counterparts in spring and summer. This assumes that you store them properly. “People just forget they have these things,” says Cindy Tong, professor and extension after harvest-gardener at the University of Minnesota. “Do not let it go to waste.”
Here are tips to take care of some of the specific types of products you get in cooler weather.
Winter squash. It feels best in a cool, dark and dry place that allows for plenty of air circulation. Tong recommends a kitchen cabinet or basement as long as it is not close to the heater. In the fridge, squash will start to puddle from the cold, so store it there only when it is cut. Properly stored, squash can be stored for at least a month or two, with thinner skin types, such as acorns that do not last as long as thicker ones, such as Hubbard. As Abra Berens points out in “Ruffage,” acorn and delicacy squash are actually summer pumpkins that are cured like winter pumpkins, which is why they do not have the same extended shelf life.
Apples and pears. Apples can go directly into the refrigerator, ideally crispier drawer with the opening open or a low humidity to fruit, where they keep for four to six weeks. If you plan to eat them within a week, Tong says, the dish is okay, but much longer than that, and the fruit becomes floury and tasteless. Apples produce ethylene, which can trigger ripening and eventually rot in some other products, which is why it is often recommended to keep them separate from many other fruits and vegetables. (If you’re trying to speed up the ripening of your bananas or avocados, however, go for it.) In the refrigerator, however, ethylene production is minimal, Tong says, so do not stress too much about placing them in isolation. Pears, with the exception of Asian varieties, generally ripen best from the tree, so you typically need to ripen them on the counter. When they gently press around the neck, put them in the fridge for up to a few weeks. Emily Zaas of Maryland’s Black Rock Orchard told me that if you’re trying to shift your pear ripening, you can place unripe fruit in the refrigerator and then take it out again to ripen at room temperature when you’re ready.
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Tough green. Cool and moist, but not wet, is the best environment for greens like kale, collard and chard. Store them in a plastic bag, wrapped in a damp paper towel, if you like, in the fridge drawer that has higher humidity (without openings or with the openings closed). You can achieve a similar effect with a more environmentally friendly alternative, such as Vejibags. As Kristen Hartke explained here, it’s “organic cotton bags that you moisten a little and then fill with products to store in the crispier drawers in the fridge; just moisten the bag again every time it starts to dry out and the green goods inside stay fresh for weeks. ” Just keep in mind that too much moisture can contribute to rot. Otherwise, you can expect hardy vegetables to stay in the fridge for about two weeks, although it is always best to use them sooner rather than later. Hartke says that you can extend the life of the product, especially green, by slipping in a sheet of FreshPaper, which has spices and plant extracts that inhibit bacterial and fungal growth. Berens says you can also put them in a vase of water on the counter. If you have strong greens from roots such as beets or turnips, they can be stored as other hardy vegetables.
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Other brassicas. Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts need a cool, moist environment, but packing them in an airtight bag or container can promote mold growth. Store them in a partially open, loose or perforated plastic bag or something more breathable, such as a grocery bag or a Vejibag, also in the high humidity drawer. If you would rather have your products loose, a FreshPaper sheet in the rubbish bin can help the item last longer (ie root vegetables, below). The recommended storage times vary greatly, from a few days to a few weeks. The University of New Hampshire Extension says that Brussels sprouts left on the stems will last longer than loose. The stems can be soaked in water, from which you break off sprouts as you need them. The taste of Brussels sprouts becomes stronger the longer they are stored.
Root vegetables. They “store for a long time,” Tong says. Make sure they live up to it by separating vegetables attached to roots like beets, carrots and turnips as soon as you bring them home, leaving about 1/2 inch on the vegetables. (By letting the entire top sit, you suck moisture out of the vegetables.) To prevent moisture loss, refrigerate beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips and rutabagas in plastic bags in the damp crisper drawer or in a Vejibag or similar product. They last at least two weeks that way.
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Potatoes. Keeping them in a dark place will help prevent them from turning green. Aim for a cool, well-ventilated room, such as a basement, basement or closet. In the refrigerator, the moist air can promote the conversion of starch to sugar, which is often not desirable for texture, taste, or color (i.e., fried potatoes become very dark). Tong, however, tends to override the advice, especially when it comes to potatoes she grows, because she does not mind a sweeter taste (in soups it does not really matter to her) and likes that the refrigerator prevents germination. Outside the refrigerator, you should stave off germination by separating potatoes from such ethylene producers as apples and onions. Depending on the conditions, potatoes in the pantry will last from a few weeks to two months. As for sweet potatoes, my colleague Aaron Hutcherson notes that they are best stored in a cool, dark place around 50 degrees, where they stay for three to six months. Not many of us have that kind of area, so store at room temperature in a dark room and use within a week or two. (Sweet potatoes in the refrigerator can dry out and develop an unpleasant taste.)
Citrus. It generally does well in the refrigerator. Oranges and grapefruit can be left loose or in a breathable bag, such as mesh, to allow air circulation, although storage in the high-humidity drawer is helpful in preventing moisture loss. Expect them to last a month or two. As Cook’s Illustrated found, lemons can also stand loose in the fridge, even if they start to lose moisture after about a week. A plastic bag with a zipper (recycle recycling recycling!) Kept them intact for a month. Limes last a week or two. For shorter storage, no more than a week at room temperature for citrus is okay, especially in the case of limes, which tend to dislike cooler temperatures that much, Tong says. Then the fruit begins to harden. Her strategy to ensure that lemons and limes are not wasted is to peel and juice them and then store these components in the freezer until needed.