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How to Store Fresh Vegetables to Keep Them Fresher for Longer
How to Store Fresh Vegetables at Home
Storing crops in their natural state in a cool, protected environment is the next best thing to picking produce fresh from the garden. It's nature's way of lending a hand to extend an autumn harvest from the garden or allotment. Some crops are hardy enough to remain undisturbed in the ground or be clamped outside but others need to be stored in boxes or hung up in a dry, cool place, such as your pantry, to keep. Some vegetables need to be cured before they are stored.
The Do's of Successful Storing of Crops in Your Home
Many crops that mature in autumn can be left as they are and picked fresh if hardy, or stored inside in cool conditions, to provide vegetables to eat all winter long. Choose maincrop varieties for storing.
For successful storing, harvest crops at their best and pick them at the right time. Grade the harvest and select the best produce only as damaged crops spread disease.
Handle produce carefully. Any bruising leads to rot in storage.
Correct storage temperatures and humidity levels are critical; avoid extreme temperatures and damp. If the conditions are less than ideal, use sooner rather than later.
Check storage regularly and remove any vegetable showing signs of disease immediately.
When to Harvest and How to Store your Vegetables
In mild areas, maincrop potatoes are suitable for storing outside in a clamp but in areas where frosts are common potatoes need to be stored inside in sacks or boxes. Harvest when fully mature in early autumn.
Harvest maincrop beetroots well before the first frosts in autumn and store in boxes through winder. Use the tops like spinach and the baby shoots for winter salads.
Harvest maincrop carrots when mature in early autumn. Stored in boxes, they will last throughout winter into spring.
Once matured in autumn, leave in the ground and dig up as required when the ground is not too hard or frosty. The hardiest varieties last this way until spring. Otherwise store in vegetable bins in the pantry.
Leave in the ground from autumn onwards and pick as needed from the base of the stem up. Late varieties last until spring. Otherwise store in vegetable bin in the pantry.
Parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes
Both need to be left in the ground and dug up carefully as needed. Both vegetables keep well until spring. If you cannot leave them in the ground, store in your pantry in vegetable bins.
Tomatoes ripen indoors once picked. Harvest unripened tomatoes on the vine, cutting them off the plant in bunches, in early autumn before the weather turns cold, and bring indoors to ripen. Store in single layers on window ledges, trays, or decorative dishes indoors. They ripen gradually and, once red, will keep for up to 1 month. Tomatoes dislike the cold, so don't store them in the fridge. Check regularly and remove any that turn mouldy or soft.
Like tomatoes, peppers ripen indoors once picked, and gradually turn yellow, orange or red, depending on the variety. The deeper the colour, the better and richer the flavor. When picking peppers, cut undamaged peppers from the plant, leaving a little of the stalk. Store in the same way as tomatoes and don't forget to check regularly for signs of mould; if you find any, cut away all of it and use the rest of the pepper immediately. Peppers will keep for about a month after harvest.
As chillies will keep growing and ripening on the plant, bring the whole plant inside and keep it in a warm, light spot. Otherwise store in the same way as peppers and tomatoes.
Squashes are the only vegetable to become denser, sweeter and more flavourful with age. The secret is in hardening the skin (called 'curing'). Use only winter squashes, but not the softer-skinned varieties, for long storage. Harvest squashes in autumn, but leave to ripen outside in the sun until their skins are fully hardened then store on shelves. They should keep until late spring.
Curing and Storing Your Homegrown Vegetables
Harvesting and Curing Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic are ready to harvest in July and August when the bulbs are swollen and the leaves have yellowed and collapsed. Pull them up when the weather is fine, leave to cure, or dry, for 2 weeks in a warm, dry place, or outside in suitable weather on a dry path or on pallets or upturned boxes, turning them to expose all sides to the sun. They are ready to plait and store when the skins are papery and the stems have shriveled.
Onion and garlic plaits
Choose garlic and onion bulbs in prime condition. Cut off the roots at the base of each bulb. Remove the outer, dirty skins but leave the stems attached to the bulb.
Take 3 onion or garlic bulbs and plait them as you would hair, that is lay them on top of one another at angles so that the bulbs nestle as closely together as possible.
Take another 3 bulbs and place them directly on top of the first bulbs to form the same pattern. The 6 stems should make 3 separate strands. Take the strands on either side in each hand and cross them over the central strand.
Continue to plait the stems, adding 3 new bulbs every time until you have a plait long enough to hang with string or rope on a hook. If kept cool, onions last 6 months and garlic 4 months.
Harvest and cure shallots in the same way as onions and garlic. Store in nets or shallow boxes somewhere cool and airy. Once dried, store them in a basket or vegetable rack in the kitchen until needed. Harvest crops in July and August and cure first before storing. One of the easiest crops to hang up and store inside. If kept cool, will last 6-9 months.
Cure squashes by leaving them to ripen on the plant for as long as possible. Turn them over every so often so their skin hardens evenly. Once the skin feels hard and the vegetable sounds hollow if tapped, cut off the squash, leaving 10 -15cm (4-6in) of stem to protect against rotting. Leave to dry outside or in a well-ventilated cold area such as a greenhouse or conservatory, for 10 days. Turn regularly to expose all sides of the skin to the sun, and bring inside if it rains or turns really cold. Once indoors, a garage or shed will do as a storage room, or even a cool corner of the kitchen. Store the squashes singly on a raised shelf or hung up in a net bag where air can circulate. Check regularly for signs of deterioration and dispose of immediately if mould found.
Once cut, 'Acorn' squashes will store for 2 months, 'Butternut' for 2-3 months, 'Turk's Turban' for 3 months or more and 'Hubbard' for up to 6 months.
Did you know?
Potatoes can be stored in tea chests or cardboard boxes with covers on top to exclude the light. These covers are essential or the potatoes will turn green and the green parts are toxic and must be cut away. Alternatively, store potatoes in strong paper sacks that are folded or tied loosely at the top. Store the potatoes in a cool dark place. As they age, they will develop sprouts, which must be cut away before eating.
Learn how to preserve food at home
How to freeze fresh blueberries properly
A great way to preserve the flavour and nutritional content of fresh blueberries is to freeze it. Freezing breaks down the cell wall of fruit so when thawed whole fruit can feel squashy and soft but the flavour will be preserved very well. You'll enjoy the fresh taste and know that frozen fruit retains almost all of it nutrition. It is a great alternative to buying fresh so why not give it a try at home?
How do you freeze fresh blueberries?
It's very easy and just about anyone can do it at home. All you need is fresh blueberries and castor sugar to sprinkle.
The following recipe makes 450g of frozen blueberries, takes 5 minutes to prepare and frozen fruit will keep between 6 -12 months.
- 450 g ripe whole blueberries
- a small amount of castor sugar enough to sprinkle liberally
- Discard any blueberries that are over-rive or damaged. Lay them in a single layer on baking trays. Sprinkle liberally with caster sugar and put the trays in the freezer.
- As soon as the fruit is frozen which will take about an hour, scrape it from the trays and put it into portion-sized freezer bags.
- Label and date the freezer bags and return the berries to the freezer until you need them.
Freezing fruit purees
You can also freeze fresh fruit purees which will also keep well and retain fresh, delicious flavour.
Very juicy fruits such as peaches, raspberries, and strawberries can be pureed uncooked in a food processor with a little sugar and lemon juice and then frozen in freezer pots. Uncooked purees will keep frozen for about 6 months and you can use them with ice cream or yogurt to add a little bit of fresh fruity flavour to your staple deserts.