Summer is Here – A Buying and Preserving Guide for Fresh Produce

Thanks to Amanda at Simple Saving Savvy for this guest post,

Well, it isn’t “O-ficially” here until June 21 but we’ll pretend it is! To me summer not only means sleeping in (if you can call it that) and hanging out more with my kiddos, it also means a better selection of fresh fruits and vegetables at prices that don’t make me cringe.

I thought it’d be fun to share some helpful tips for picking the best produce along with some thoughts on how to preserve/store them for later use. When I use the word “preserve”, I am NOT talking about making jelly or jam or canning ANYTHING. If you’re looking for that kind of stuff, you’ll have to find another source for your info. I’m a pretty basic gal with no desire to do EVERYTHING myself. More power to those of you who do…I’m secretly envious of you.

For now, I will simply be addressing how to pick certain produce and what to do with it if you happen upon a great sale so you can buy more and utilize it fully.

Potatoes – When choosing a bag of potatoes, hold the bag to your nose and sniff. What do you smell? If you smell dirt, you’ve got a keeper. If you smell any other smell, there may be a rotten or almost rotten one in the bunch.

When potatoes are on sale (less than $0.40 lb.) and IF you have the freezer space, buy more and consider this idea:

My friend Lynn, self-taught home economics guru, says she bakes them in the oven at 300 degrees for about 2 hours. Then she lets them cool completely, chops them into 1/2 inch chunks and divides them between freezer bags and freezes them. They make a great addition to any meal by frying them up in a little butter, oil or even bacon drippings with onion and seasonings. I think they’d make a great addition and timesaver for casseroles too!

Bell Peppers – Choose one with a smooth, firm skin. If it’s shriveled, it’s close to over-ripe.

When I find a great sale on bell peppers, especially the yellow, red or orange varieties ($0.50 ea. or less), I bring them home, slice or chop them and freeze then in a ziploc freezer bag. They’re ready to throw in sauces, soups and casseroles.

Note: Most vegetables can be preserved with decent results. Just clean chop and simmer until just tender with a can of broth. Then divide and store in the freezer. You now have the base for vegetable soup, beef or chicken stew and many other dishes. A word of warning though, be careful NOT to overcook or your defrosted veggies will turn to mush!

Lettuce – When choosing a head of iceberg lettuce, squeeze it gently. If it’s hard and unyeilding, opt for another one that gives a little. It’ll be more flavorful and have a pleasing texture.

Cantaloupe or Honey Dew Melon – Choose one that is heavy and firm. When you smell the top, it should smell sweet but not sickly (which would mean it’s over-ripe).

Since I don’t have room in my fridge to store large melons, I buy mine with little or no smell (unless I’m serving it that day). Then I leave it on my counter for a couple of days to ripen to perfection. Just don’t forget about it because once they start ripening, the process goes quick!

I just figured this out recently, but you can FREEZE melons! The main think is making sure they’re not over-ripe. Start with a ripe but firm melon, cut into melon balls or remove the rind and cut into chunks. Flash freeze in a single layer and then transfer to a freezer container. Thaw for later use in fruit salad or eat while still slightly frozen for a delightful summer treat!

Peaches – For snacking, this could be a matter of preference. My husband like his peaches RIPE (soft and juicy) while I like mine just barely ripe (barely sweet and crisp). So basically you are testing for ripeness and lack of blemish. For baking, you want them to be ripe but not too mushy. Once a peach reaches a very ripe stage the texture of its flesh turns a bit grainy.

Lynn says that peaches with a perfect skin can be frozen whole! Just put in a plastic bag then when ready to use, blanch them in boiling water for about 30 seconds and the skins will slip right off. Let defrost, then use for baking.

I peel and slice mine, sprinkle with splenda and freeze. Once thawed, they make a great addition to fruit salads.

Stawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc. – You know what you’re looking for. Nice bold color with lack of blemishes or soft spots.

Rinse your berries and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet or other flat surface in the freezer for 1-2 hours. Transfer them to freezer bags and keep frozen. This will allow them to be divided easily for recipes like muffins and smoothies without having to defrost and use the whole bag. Another great idea from Lynn!

Tip: I know it’s off the subject of fresh produce, but while we’re here, the above idea works great for cookie dough as well! Next time you bake cookies, whip up an extra batch, freeze in spoonfuls as instructed above and place in freezer container or bag. Simple remove from freezer and back at 325 degrees until golden. OR if you’re like me…eat it straight from the freezer! YUM!

Bananas – Another matter of preference as far as snacking goes. I like mine green, my husband likes his just past green but not all yellow. You basically are checking for lack of blemishes. If you find these under $0.50 lb. buy extra.

Bananas are great because they can be frozen whole whether they are green, ripe or brown. Then they can be used in baking and smoothies. Thanks Lynn.
Grapes – Ever noticed how grapes have the appearance of being covered with a sort of translucent frost? This is not insecticide or any other intrusive substance. This actually attests to the freshness of the fruit. The correct term for this is “pruina”…thanks to A Well-Kept Home.

My friend Lynn loaned me this book to “soak in” for awhile and I am soaking up every bit of it I can before I overstay my welcome and have to return it.

Anyhow, I think that’s enough to soak our brains in for one day or they may very well turn to mush like overly blanched veggies.