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PICKING AND STORING YOUR PRODUCE, AN ALPHABETICAL GUIDE (N – Z)

Okra: They should be a little bendy in your hand but not completely soft. Early fall is the ideal time for okra. Refrigerate them unwashed for two to three days or freeze for months.

Onions: Whether yellow, white, or red, onion skins should be shiny and tight. And remember when cutting them: sharp knife = fewer tears. Store them in a dry, cool place and they’ll last you a while. You can buy them year-round, but they tend to be lighter in the spring/summer and denser in the fall/winter. Keep them in a cool, dry, ventilated spot (but not the fridge) for two to three weeks.

Peppers (bell): Go for brightly colored peppers (red, yellow, orange, and green) that are a little bigger than your hand. They should feel firm to the touch with a little bit of gloss to them. They’re best in the late summer months but available year-round. Keep them unwashed in a plastic bag in your fridge’s veggie drawer. Reds and yellows will last four to five days; greens can go about a week.

Potatoes: It’s okay if potatoes have little spots here and there (like eyes), but they shouldn’t have areas of “sunburn.” Sweet potatoes and yams should have a uniform color. Don’t buy them too big, or they could be more watery and less tasty. There are many varieties to choose from, but round red potatoes are great for boiling and roasting, and russets are ideal for baked and mashed recipes. You can find them year-round, but potatoes are best from late summer through the fall. Keep them in a dark, dry place (the refrigerator is too cold!), and they’ll keep for several months. If you get little sprouts on them, cut them away before cooking and eating.

Radishes: Choose the ones that are about ¾ to one inch in diameter, with a plump look and a nice ruby color. Great for raw dipping. Radishes are available year-round but peak in springtime. Cut off the greens and store the roots (the red part) in the crisper drawer for up to a week.

Snow peas/sugar snap peas: These are fun to eat because you can eat both the shell and the little peas inside. They’re in season during the spring and fall. If you refrigerate them in a baggie with a moist paper towel in it, they’ll stay fresh for up to five days.

Squash: So many ways to squash! Remember that spaghetti squash is stringy (duh), butternut is creamy (a lot like sweet potatoes), buttercup is dry and crumbly, and acorn is dense and fibrous, which is ideal for soups, stews, and casseroles. Plus, squash looks cute on your countertop. Summer squashes are available in the summer and winter squashes in the… you guessed it, winter! They’ll stay fresh in a dry, cool place for months.

Stone fruits (cherries, nectarines, peaches, and plums): They’re called “stone fruits” for the pit in the middle. They should have nice, smooth, clear surfaces. And if they’re rock-hard, they’re not ripe! May through September is their season, but the peak is July/August. Stone fruits will last for three to four days at room temperature and five to six in the fridge (if they’re already ripe).

Strawberries: Usually the smaller the tastier! They should have a nice jewel red color and will smell really delicious when they’re at perfect ripeness. Rinse them well just before eating—they only last for a day or two with the stems cut off. (Same for blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries—they’ll last longer if you wait to wash them.) Strawberries are in season from late spring through the summer.

Tomatoes: When they’re bright red, they’re really ripe. Look for smooth, shiny skin. But don’t be afraid to try some “interesting”-looking tomatoes at the farmers’ market or to pop some cherry tomatoes in your shopping bag. Summertime is ideal tomato time, from June to September. There’s some debate about whether you should store tomatoes in the refrigerator, but if they’re ripe when you buy them, they’ll be fine in the fridge for about four days. If you’re not going to use them right away, tomatoes can still have a little pink tone to them and will continue to ripen a bit if kept on the counter or in sunlight (not in the fridge).

Watermelon: Give your melon a slap; it should have a slightly hollow sound when it’s ripe. Special watermelon exception to the rule: It doesn’t need to have a perfect skin to have a delicious taste—it gets rolled around a lot in transit from the watermelon patch to your place. Watermelon is available year-round but at its prime in August, which is why you might think of it as a summer fruit. Store your uncut melon in a cool, dry place for up to a week; once you cut it up, it will only stay crisp in the fridge for three to four days.

 

A – C produce guide

E – M produce guide

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