There’s nothing better than fresh produce on a hot summer’s day. The best fruits and vegetables are also the most plentiful during the summer, and the two go together like it is clearly part of some master plan. What would a barbecue be without fresh corn on the cob or a cut up watermelon for dessert?
But while produce is always in demand this time of year, refrigerating it can be tricky. Picnics and beachside barbecues are on the menu, and neither of those situations come with built-in refrigerators.
The coolers you bring along will likely be filled with beverages, or the meat and dairy products that absolutely must be kept cold until they are cooked. Produce won’t necessarily go bad out of the fridge, but it doesn’t always stay crisp. Here are five tips for keeping produce fresh without refrigeration.
First of all, always separate your fruits and vegetables. Although you might be bringing them to the same event, they should never hang out together. The vast majority of fruit and many vegetables release ethylene gas as they age. That gas will coat whatever else is around, making other items spoil faster.
It’s even more problematic when you’ve got leafy greens on hand. The ethylene gas will actually change the flavor of those greens, spoiling your enjoyment of them even before they go bad. So even on short trips try to keep everything in separate bags to insure maximum freshness.
As long as your produce hasn’t been out of the fridge for too long you can actually revitalize them before use. Say you’ve packed a brunch of fresh fruit and veggies to bring to a picnic, but after an hour and a half in the hot car they’re looking decidedly unhappy.
Just give them a nice soaking in a bowl full of cold water. Let them sit in water as cold as you can get for a couple of minutes. Then pull them out and dry them off. They should be much happier when you’re ready to dig in.
You might also want to focus on produce that doesn’t need to be refrigerated at all. One of the most delicious tiny bites you can make for a barbecue is a caprese salad. That’s a mix of tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
Other than the cheese you don’t need to refrigerate any of those ingredients. Tomato and basil always do best outside of the fridge, and will quickly lose texture, shrivel up and become tasteless if left in the fridge. Sweet potatoes, onions, melons and garlic should all be left at room temperature as well.
You can also lengthen the life of a lot of produce by keeping it out of sunlight. Citrus fruits are especially susceptible to sun damage. If you can find a dark, fairly cool spot to keep your tangerines, oranges, limes and lemons they’ll last as much as a week without a problem. So if you’re headed out for the day, roll them up in a brown bag kept in a cooler. They should be perfectly fine by the time you reach your destination.
Although this last one is so common sense the professionals at Fahrenheit Inc would probably just roll their eyes, plan your meals out so you only buy what you need. Almost all fresh produce will sag after an extended amount of time outside of the refrigerator, and some delicate fruits and vegetables won’t last but a day away from cool temperatures.
You can’t reverse this process, and to truly enjoy fresh produce you want to eat it in the shortest possible time since the harvest. Buy from local farms so you know you’ve got time to spare, and design your meals to take advantage of the resources you have on hand.