According to the latest food pyramid, we are supposed to have half a dozen or so servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Many nutrition experts say you should eat even more than that. The problem is that fresh fruits and vegetables have really become quite expensive. I remember when an apple cost a nickel, and it wasn’t that long ago. These days an apple can cost seventy-five cents or more! It is hard to eat lots of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables when they cost a fortune!
If you are lucky, like me, you may have a couple of fairly old-fashioned markets in your community that will still sell “overripe” fruits and veggies for a pittance. Often there is little or nothing wrong with this produce. It just had to be moved aside to make room for a new delivery. One market near me has a one-dollar basket where I frequently find big bags of squash, eggplant, peaches, pears, apples, bananas and other fruits and vegetables.
I am a single gal, so it would be difficult for me to take advantage of these deals without some good methods of preservation. However, I never hesitate to load up on fresh fruits and veggies every time I see them available in this basket. Here are a few ideas that work well for me.
Bananas: A dollar bag of bananas is usually three or four pounds in an old-fashioned paper grocery sack. To make the most of these bananas, I separate them into several bunches when I get them home. I find that storing most fruits in rolled down paper sacks on a low, open shelf in my kitchen keeps them fresh longer. Turn fruit at least once a day to prevent it from getting pockets of trapped air and spoiling.
When your bananas get too soft to eat, pop them into a plastic bag in your freezer. When you are ready to make a smoothie or some banana bread, just take out the bananas you need, let them thaw, cut one end off with your kitchen shears, and squeeze the banana out as if it were in a tube. You can keep lots of bananas on hand for a long time in this way. (Note: Frozen pears might be usable in smoothies and baking, too, but I haven’t tried it.)
To “roll-down” a paper sack, it is a good idea to start with the kind of sack you can find in the frozen foods section of your grocery. These sacks that are intended to keep foods cold are extra strong. If you roll the top down to about halfway down the length of the sack, you will have a nice, open “bowl” to set your fruit in. This lets air circulate around the fruit. The paper absorbs any moisture that may collect. I keep all my fruits and veggies in this kind of sack (except for very soft, perishable fruits like berries and very ripe peaches and pears). Be sure to turn your fruit at least once a day to help it stay fresh. I use a rolled down sack over and over for a long period of time. Just toss it into your recycling bin if it becomes torn or soiled.
Zucchini, peppers, onions, and other veggies: Sometimes I can get a really huge bag of this sort of veggies (five or six pounds) for a dollar at my local market. I am not about to pass that up! If you are able to score a great deal like this, just be sure you have the time to take care of it as soon as you get it home. When you arrive home, put your veggies in a big colander and rinse them thoroughly with cold water. Lay them out on a clean dish towel to dry, or if you are in a hurry, hand dry them.
Once they are dry, use a paring knife to cut off any bad spots. Cut up the rest to have it ready for cooking, then pack the cut up veggies loosely in plastic bags for freezing. Don’t crowd them in the bags. When you put the bags in your freezer, lay them out so that the veggies inside are not packed together. If they are too close or packed too tightly, you will end up with a solid block of veggies, and you will be forced to cook them all at once. When they are completely frozen, you can knock the bag on a counter-top to break them apart a bit and them pack them in your freezer to save space. Then you can just use a handful or so at a time as you need them.
Berries and overripe fruit: I would not buy overripe berries. They are bound to be yucky, but when you do buy berries, save the plastic cartons they come in. You can use them to repackage and store your berries longer and to store overripe fruits like peaches, pears and tomatoes longer.
When you buy berries, as soon as you get home, rinse them in a colander and lay them out on a clean dish towel to dry . When they are dry, line two berry cartons with paper towels and lay the berries in the carton in single layers, separated by paper toweling. Moisture and dense packing cause berries to spoil in the refrigerator. By separating them and packing them loosely in absorbent material, you can keep them longer.
Berries stored in this way can stay very fresh in the refrigerator for about three days; whereas, if you just pop the carton into the fridge as-is when you get it home from the store, your berries will probably be spoiled the next day. Be sure to turn the cartons daily in your fridge to keep the berries from crushing each other and causing spoiling.
I often buy two or three pounds of overripe pears or peaches from one of my local markets. These can look quite yucky in the store; however, overripe fruits of this sort are really the very best! You can store these two ways. First, as soon as you get them home, rinse them thoroughly with cool water. The bruised spots will wash right off. Lay the fruit out on a clean dish towel to dry. I even put a fan on it to make sure it is thoroughly dry.
Once the fruit is dry, you can either wrap each piece of fruit in paper toweling and store them in a berry carton in your fridge or you can slice peaches and freeze them. (Pears do not freeze well for general use). If you are freezing peaches, you will need to lay the slices out on a non-stick cookie sheet (not touching each other) in your freezer and wait until they are thoroughly frozen, then place them in a plastic bag to store. You can also do this with apples or with berries. Of course, you don’t need to slice berries, just set them on a cookie sheet to freeze before packaging them. (If you don’t have a non-stick cookie sheet, you can use waxed paper to keep your berries and peaches from getting stuck.)
Fresh cherries can simply be rinsed, drained thoroughly, wrapped loosely in a dry towel and placed in a plastic bag in the fridge. They will keep like this for up to a week.
Lettuce is a vegetable that I will not buy from the dollar bin; however, it is a vegetable that spoils rapidly. Use these same methods to keep it longer. As soon as you get it home, cut it up, wash it, drain it thoroughly, and lay it out on a dish towel. Instead of allowing it to dry, lay another dish towel on top of it and roll it up. Put the whole thing in a plastic bag in your fridge. Lettuce kept like this will stay fresh for up to a week. You can just pull out a handful at a time as you need it.
Celery and carrots are seldom found in the dollar bin, and I don’t know that I would buy them from there if they were. Carrots and celery are inexpensive and easy to freeze using the method I have described. You can also keep carrots and celery a long time by washing and preparing them as snacking sticks and storing them in fresh water in your refrigerator. Just cut them up as if you were preparing them for a dip tray, then put them in a container of fresh water (with a little salt if you like). Change the water every day, and your carrot and celery sticks should stay nice and fresh for a week or so. This also works for veggies like jicama, turnips, and radishes.
These methods can be adapted for most fruits and veggies. Just remember that moisture and crowded packaging will cause your fruits and vegetables to spoil. By washing and drying them and repackaging them as soon as you get them home from the market, you can make the most of great deals on overripe and in-season items as well as preserving all of your fruits and veggies longer.