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Keeping It Fresh

Herbs, greens, and similar items are sometimes a challenge to keep fresh at home. Here's a technique that works with most and keeps food fresh in the refrigerator for many days and even weeks. Really: This works.

Fresh (really fresh) herbs
We're illustrating this technique using fresh herbs but keep in mind that the technique works just as well using greens, lettuce, celery, green onion, radish, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and just about any vegetable. Fear not, this is simple!

Black and soggy

Many people throw their vegetables in  a plastic bag or leave it in the plastic bag-thing that came from the store. Maybe washed, maybe not, it goes in the fridge wrapped in plastic. 

This results in a very disgusting scenario very quickly... A biological experiment gone awry. Black soggy spots, gray spongy mold. We've all seen that (shudder).

Well we haven't seen it here at our place in years, now. Why? Because we treat our vegetables like the living plant they are. It's a simple concept and here's why plastic, except as we describe later, shouldn't come near your fruits and vegetables.

If you have indoor or outdoor plants, go right now and wrap them all tightly in plastic. Even in the cooler temperatures of fall or winter, what do you imagine is going to happen? Yep, you got it: Black soggy spots and gray, spongy mold. There is a reason for this.

Plastic touching the leaves, roots, stems, or stalks of plants results in condensation (moisture). That moisture has no where to go. It's sealed in a thin film between the plastic and your squash. 

That thin film of water has little or no oxygen. It's anaerobic and bad, bad beasties grow under anaerobic conditions. 

So the squash is under a thin layer of water in the dark without oxygen. What happens in moist, dark places in the absence of oxygen? Black soggy spots and gray, spongy mold. 

It happens every single time without fail within a few days. Why are we eating this stuff? Even if it isn't visible, it's growing. But, take heart, black soggy spots and gray, spongy mold are remarkably easy to avoid and here's how we do it.

Clean this thing

We recommend washing fruits and vegetables as soon as they come in the house with a vinegar and water solution. About 3 parts water to one part vinegar is fine. Vinegar is a great antibacterial so this step really helps. Here's a good article with detailed instructions along with all the reasons why this is a good idea. 

After they're washed, get rid of any excess moisture. Shake 'em out, towel 'em off, use your salad spinner, or let them air out on a clean towel for a few minutes. We don't want them too dry (more on that below) but we don't need soggy stuff going in the fridge either. 

It's a plant

Fresh picked vegetables are plants and plants don't like drying out. Refrigerators are very dry places. Vegetables dry out and become unappetizing, if not downright inedible, very quickly if left open on the shelf or in a drawer. So, don't do that. Let's treat our vegetables like the plants they are.

First, get them hydrated. Stalks separated from their roots and roots separated from their soil have lost their source of hydration. So, the first thing we do is give it back to them in a way that makes sense to the plant.

Hydrate your stalks!

Got stalks?

OK: Cut the stalk ends cleanly, even them up if needed. If it's celery, trim the root end just enough to expose fresh cells. For big greens like kale or Swiss chard, trim the stalks down a bit to fit upright on the shelf in your fridge.

Now wrap those fresh cut stalk ends with some paper towel, secure with a rubber band or some twine, and dip in cold water. If it's a hot day and you just got back from the store, dip in ice water. Ah, what a relief.

This is the way we sell our herbs and greens at farmer's markets. It's already wrapped and moist.

Got roots?

OK: For small, rooted vegetables like green onions, radishes and leeks, treat them in the same manner as the stalks (above). Leave the leaves on.

For beets, rutabaga, turnips, and the like, treat the same as broccoli or cauliflower (more on that below).

No roots; no stalks? 

Cauliflower, iceberg lettuce, broccoli, squash, peppers, and other fruit/vegetables don't need trimming, just washing and wrapping. We'll get to them. Hang on.

How does your garden grow?

In our garden plants grow with root-ends down, stems, stalks, and leaves pointing up. Stand up your wrapped stems in a container. Put your roots down. Let those stalks stand up tall. Treat your vegetables like the plants they are.

For stalks, stems, and smaller things with roots like green onions, as well as cilantro, parsley, and most herbs put just enough water in a glass or jar to keep the wrapping moist. A half-inch or so--even less--is fine. Stand them up.

We're still going to use some plastic here but before we do that the plant requires protection. We use either paper or cloth to create a barrier between the plant and the plastic.

The paper or cloth is both absorbent and permeable. That means water doesn't build up on the veg and air can circulate around it. That's good.

But we don't want too much air circulation or the vegetables dry out. That's where the plastic comes in. It's a barrier that helps create a favorable environment around the plant.

What kind of paper? The easiest thing to use is paper towel or newspaper. Tissue paper works as well.

We also recommend cheesecloth or "flour sack" towels. They're both light weight, very absorbent, and easy to obtain. The choice is yours--paper or cloth--and it works either way.

We prefer cloth because it's reusable. If you choose to use cloth, make certain it is 100% cotton or other natural fiber. This matters. Really.

Cover the stalky vegetable or herb loosely with paper or cloth. It's ready for the fridge now.

For squash, cauliflower, head lettuce, broccoli, swiss chard, spinach, or other similar produce, wrap it up, too. First in paper or cloth and then plastic. Refrigerate.

For big root vegetables like beets, carrots, rutabaga, and turnips, the drill is the same: Wrap them in paper or cloth, then plastic, and refrigerate.

Put it down, you're done.

Yep, it's just that simple. So simple you probably don't believe it works. Well, it does. It won't cost much to give it a try and could save considerable over the course of a year, so give it a shot. You'll see.



For herbs, try a "frog." They're intended for flower arrangements but work very well indeed for anything with a stalk.

We use this in our market display for fresh herbs and in our refrigerator as well. It will work for you.

Just wrap, add a little water, and cover as described above.
That's it. Nothing to it!

Herbs in a frog