Weekly trips to a local farmer’s market or the local market that showcases ‘local organic corn’ or ‘local berries’ is the best source to get fresh produce and are a good start to organizing a menu. Proteins are pretty constant; produce is best bought seasonally, best for price and the best for flavor.
Do your produce shopping with what is in season in mind. What is in season will be in abundance at the farmer’s market and well advertised. If all the supermarket flyers are showing the same item at a featured price that will most likely be the item that is ‘in season’. If you live where snow is what is ‘in season’ for the winter, there are foods grown in green houses, both in dirt and hydroponically grown produce is being sold everywhere all the time. This still qualifies as locally grown and can be organic is some cases.
Aside from being eaten the same day they’re picked from your garden or a farm stand, there are other ways to take full advantage of seasonal foods. Real organic foods begin to decay as soon as it’s picked and have about a 3-day-shelf-life before it begins to show that decay.
How to store and care for organic produce and techniques to make it last
First and foremost, organic produce is best washed just before being cooked, not cleaned and stored. To keep refrigerated: line the bottom of your produce drawers with paper towels to absorb any excess moisture. Moisture increases decay and mold. Moisture in the food? Good! Moisture outside of the food? Not good. ‘Green containers’ that claim to keep fresh produce longer really do work; they can add a week onto the shelf life of raw and cooked foods.
Cooking organic produce within the first 3 days it’s brought home works best.
Steam it, take all that isn't going to be eaten immediately out of the steamer before it’s fully cooked and store it to be easily eaten later. Once it’s initially steamed it is quickly sautéed, sauced, baked or fried later on in the week. Steaming stops decay, kills all bacteria, retains bright color, nutrition, and can even be lightly cooked and retain crispness.
Clean fresh produce just before cooking
Clean leafy greens in a colander submerged in a sink of cold water. Dip and swirl the greens and replace the water until the water running off them is clear. Usually about three sink-fulls of water. This applies to kale, Swiss char, and other large leaf lettuce and baby greens.
Sprouts should be kept in a container that allows air to circulate. If you buy them from a local sprout bloomer and they’re in a plastic bag, knot the top of the bag but puncture a few holes to allow the sprouts to breath. No cleaning or cooking necessary, these are great nutritional value raw. Sprinkle micro greens on top of a salad. Sprouted beans can be added to salads or cooked in stock or water and garbanzo bean sprouts make amazing hummus.
Tight cabbage leaves don’t need to be cleaned before they’re cooked, Napa cabbage will have dirt near the base, cut the base off and the head is ready to be cooked.
Squash and root vegetables are best kept in a cool dry place, not in the refrigerator. Yellow vegetables should be washed with a vegetable brush. Most root vegetables can be peeled with a spoon once they’re steamed or boiled (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips). Butternut squash can be peeled before being cooked or frozen and zucchini and summer squash have edible skins.
Tough skins may be a deterrent to some cooks, no need to be intimidated. Use a cleaver and lean into it, the squash or mellon should split opened, if not some slamming it on a solid surface to release the clever does the trick. Tough squash skins can be kept on when baking and the flesh is easily scooped out.
Broccoli and cauliflower should be stored in the refrigerator as bought. When ready to cook or eaten raw remove the core then continue to trim the stems to separate the flowerets and run them under cold water to clean. If steaming, immediately dip them into an ice bath when done and they will remain crisp and the color will stay bright.
Berries are best if sprinkled with water running off your fingers in a single layer in a colander or sieve. Pat dry with a paper towel by gently rolling the berries between two layers of paper towels. Store in a single layer on a plate with paper towels. If you want to store them in the little green plastic basket they come in, line it with a paper towel and put a layer of paper towel between the layers of dried berries. This will add days to your berries.
Keep shell beans in their shell in the bottom of your refrigerator until you’re ready to cook them.
Best Kept at Room Temperature, with air circulation around them (basket or woven container):
Apples, pears and other autumn fruits are best kept at room temperature.
Citrus fruit is best at room temperature, once opened saved wrapped in the refrigerator.
Potatoes should be kept in a cool dry and dark place.
Onions should be kept outside the refrigerator, but if you put them in the freezer for about 10 minutes before you cut them you won’t cry.
Avocados and tomatoes are also best kept outside the refrigerator until they are ripe, you will gain a few days once they are ripe keeping them chilled. These fruits are supporting a seed system and will continue to ripen when left out, once ripe the flesh of the fruit is supporting the seeds growth into a plant or tree chilling will retard that process.
Stone fruit is best kept outside the refrigerator until ripe. This includes peaches, plumbs, apricots, mangos etc.
Bananas are best stored suspended on a hanger, the skin will turn an unappealing black in the refrigerator. They can be frozen with the skin removed and used for baking or turned into a smoothie or ice cream with a blender or food processor.
There is a trick to freezing fresh produce!
For long-term storage: steam large batches of produce and freeze it in serving sized containers or plastic bags for use when you don’t have time for a full-blown prep or when they’re out of season. Partially cook vegetables, toss immediately into an ice bath to shock in the color and stop the cooking. Pat the vegetables dry and freeze in individual servings in plastic bags or with parchment paper between layers for serving portions in a solid container
If you’re freezing smaller items, like broccoli flowerets or berries, lay a sealed baggie on a flat surface in the freezer, being aware that if you’re putting it on a grid type shelf the produce will freeze between the slats and be impossible to take off of the shelf. Yep, did that once. Thought I wouldn't be eating those strawberries until a power outage. Had to put hot water in a container on top of it to thaw it enough to get it untangled!
The best benefit in buying at a local farmer’s market is that the seller is an expert and can not only tell you how to store the item but someone in the crowd will know how to cook it in a way you haven’t tried before once you start the discussion. It’s the social interaction, the support of your local community, the smaller footprint your food is creating, and the fresher products that all make you feel better when you eat local grown.