Summer Vegetables have a Shelf Life - What is it?
People who choose a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables experience a great deal of health benefits. The most favorable benefits like lower blood pressure, reduced risk of illnesses such as heart disease, strokes and some cancers, and settling blood sugar levels to keep the appetite in check come from consuming at least 4 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables a day. The best sources of these beneficial nutrients are dark leafy greens, cooked tomatoes, and any fruits and vegetables that are yellow, orange, or red in color. Many summer fruits and vegetables are among these bests and should be served fresh or properly prepared for extended storage in canning, freezing or pickling.
Tips and Methods for Storing and Keeping Summer Vegetables Fresh
With the exception of Mushrooms, classified as fungi, most vegetables fall into the following categories: Succulents; Roots, Tubers, & Bulbs; Fruits & Flowers; & Legumes. The best time to harvest Summer Vegetables is mid June until late October or early November. The following vegetable harvesting and preparation methods provide optimum nutrition in freshly served vegetables and assures the freshness and nutrition of vegetables that have been canned, pickled, or frozen.
Summer Succulents - Arugula, Collards, Kohlrabi, and Swiss chard are leafy green vegetables that provide the richest nutrients of any other known vegetables. The most nutritious of these vegetables are the greenest.
- Arugula is a salad green, or it can be sautéed as a side dish or as a seasoning in sauces, soups, or pasta dishes. Use Arugula within 2 days of purchase or harvest. To refresh Arugula or prepare for storage rinse it thoroughly in a sink full of cold water and completely dry the leaves on dishtowels. Layer the leaves with paper towels in a plastic bag after drying to complete preparation for use or storage.
- Collards can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator lightly wrapped in paper towels inside a perforated plastic bag that allows even air circulation.
- Kohlrabi stays freshest for 2 to 4 weeks in the cold moist storage of the crisper. Wash and drain Kohlrabi to remove excess moisture and store in plastic bags, loose, directly in the crisper.
- Swiss chard is best when eaten fresh but will last over a week when stored in the crisper. Swiss chard will last 7 to 10 days when stored in a plastic bag in the crisper to maintain the humidity surround the vegetable.
Summer Roots, Tubers, & Bulbs - Roots, Tubers, & Bulbs are the hardiest vegetables for extended storage and can keep fresh for months under the proper storage conditions. Beets, Garlic, Onions, Potatoes and Shallots are likely the most commonly consumed vegetables worldwide. These vegetables are high in starch, but are usually cooked along with the main dish, served with other vegetables in the vegetable course, and used as seasonings often all in the same meal.
- Beets will keep for several months in a plastic bag or loose in the crisper.
- Garlic stores best in cool, dry, storage methods. A mesh bag or basket that allows Garlic to breathe will extend the shelf life of Garlic to 5 to 7 months.
- Onions should be stored alone and away from other vegetables to prevent their odor and flavor from leeching onto the other vegetables. Storing onions in an open weave mesh basket or bag that allows for air circulation in a cool dry place will ensure a shelf life up to 8 months in storage.
- Potatoes will keep from 2 to 9 months when stored in a cool dark place that allows for ventilation and should not be stored in the refrigerator.
- Shallots will keep in a cool dry place for several months or can be chopped and frozen for storage.
Summer Fruits & Flowers - Flowering and Fruiting vegetables: Avocados, Cucumber, Egg Plant, Okra, Peppers, Summer Squash, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, and Zucchini are low in calories and high in carbohydrates while they provide plenty of protein and fiber, along with Vitamin C, Folic Acid, and Potassium.
- Avocados begin to ripen after removal from the tree and ripen at room temperature for about a week after harvesting before it is ready to serve. Avocados are ready to eat within a week of harvesting.
- Cucumber will keep if refrigerated moderately cold for 7 to 10 days. Colder temperatures cause cucumbers to become soft, translucent, and inedible.
- Eggplant is a good pickling vegetable. Fresh eggplant will last for a week to 10 days in the refrigerator before bitterness sets in.
- Store fresh okra in a paper bag or wrapped in a paper towel inside a perforated plastic bag for up to 2-3 days. Slice tops and ends before cooking.
- Sweet Peppers are great for pickling and will last up to 7 days in the Refrigerator. Hot peppers that are dried and stored properly will keep their hot flavor for several years.
- Handle Summer Squash carefully during harvesting and before storing because bruised fruit will not keep. Squash will keep for a week in the refrigerator. Do not wash or brush the skin of Summer Squash before preparing to serve.
- Corn will last from 4 to 8 days in the refrigerator. Use Sweet Corn as soon as possible after harvesting because it quickly loses sugar content causing the kernels to become starchy.
- Tomatoes can be stored from 2 to 4 weeks in the refrigerator, but are better when stored at room temperature to allow continued ripening.
- Handle Zucchini carefully to prevent bruising. It will keep up to a week in the refrigerator. Do not wash or brush the skin until serving.
Summer Legumes - Green Beans, Fresh Shelled Beans, and Sugar and Snap peas are inexpensive sources of protein and good complex carbohydrates that are low in calories and fat and high in fiber.
- Dry Beans or peas will keep fresh for up to 2 years if properly stored. Store dried beans and peas in a cool, dry area in an airtight container.
- Green or Snap Beans will keep over a week in the refrigerator if unshelled. Blanch and freeze shelled beans for up to 3 months.
- Green Peas will keep fresh for use for up to 6 months. After shelling and blanching, layer peas on a tray for a 30 minute freeze. Transfer frozen peas to freezer bags and seal them to keep for 6 months.
Freezing Summer Vegetables is a simple process that preserves more nutrients and a fresher taste than canning or drying vegetables for storage. Preparing vegetables for freezing involves blanching. Blanching is a technique used to keep vegetables crisp and tender by scalding them in a quick boil and submergence in an ice bath for cooling. Blanching time is crucial and reliant on the classifications of the vegetables being prepared for freezing. Blanching time can be as short as 1 ½ minutes for Onions or other Root Vegetables and up to 5 minutes for potatoes. Package blanched vegetables in freezer bags or containers and freeze thoroughly for storage. Reheat frozen vegetables for preparation and serving.
Preserving Summer Vegetables by Canning helps with storage because storing the vegetables does not require special refrigeration or temperatures and keeps vegetables fresh for long-term storage. Before canning vegetables, sterilize canning jars in the oven for 30 minutes at 250+ degrees. Wash the canning lids and hold them in a simmering pan of water without boiling them. Follow canning recipes and instructions for canning and preserving specific vegetables and vegetable types. Spoon vegetables ready for canning into hot jars from the oven. Wipe the mouth of the jar clean and use a fork to place the lid on the jar without touching completely screw on the band until tight. The canned vegetables and jars are ready for the boiling water bath process to complete cooking and seal the jars for long-term storage. Properly canned vegetables will keep for 2+ years.
Pickling Summer Vegetables to preserve them is one of the oldest known ways to preserve and store food and liquids. Pickling prevents the deterioration of vegetables with a fermenting process that penetrates them with vinegar, brine, or oil. Sterilize utensils and canning jars by boiling them for at least five minutes and allowing them to dry on a towel while preparing vegetables for pickling. Follow pickling recipes exactly to attain the necessary acidity to complete the process. Once the pickling process is complete, seal the jars with a pressure canner or water bath and leave undisturbed for 24 hours. Pickled vegetables keep best in cool dark places and refrigeration once opened.
The best way to make sure vegetables are always fresh is to purchase only enough vegetables for a week. No matter if preparing vegetables to serve fresh or for storage with freezing, canning, or pickling always shop for vegetables that are in season and grown locally. Fresh produce should be blemish free and show no signs of decay or rot. The best methods for extending the shelf life, freezing, canning or pickling vegetables depends on the vegetable and what is required to keep in freshest and tastiest. Some good rules to follow: Leafy green vegetables are best stored in plastic bags the help maintain the humidity of the vegetables; Fruiting and flowering vegetables can be stored at room temperature but keep longer when stored in the refrigerator; and root vegetables are best kept separate in cool, dark, well-ventilated containers.