What To Do With Imperfect Produce

by heather

7787946I have a confession to make.

One of my biggest weaknesses, when it comes to being frugal and environmentally conscious, is using up every last thing I buy at the grocery store. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown out lettuce (that’s gotten too soggy), celery (that’s gotten too wilty) or carrots (that have dried out to resemble whitish fingers).

I loathe wasting food, and money. But this is an area that I just haven’t mastered yet. Yes I make weekly menus, and I do a fair job of sticking too them. Often, however, because of our schedules or my unwillingness to be in the house when it’s nice out, the menu gets derailed.

Thankfully my vermicompost bin is helping with some of this waste. But I still need to get better at using this produce.

So, all this is why I decided to write a post on what to do with imperfect produce. My fridge is often full of imperfect produce, and I have a hunch you might be in the same boat, at least sometimes! I needed some ideas to stop this spiral and as usual,  a blog post is born!

Idea #1: Make Soup

Wilted celery can flavor a soup just as much as its brand-new, crispy counterpart. And, so will carrots and potatoes. I actually have all three, in various stages of wilti-ness, sitting in my kitchen right now. Which means soup’s on tonight!

Idea #2: Dry It

If you’re lucky enough to own a food dehydrator, then popping those brown bananas and shrinking strawberries in there is a great way to give them a new life. Dehydrating food is a great way to extend its shelf-life. The personal finance blog Wisebread has a great article on extending the life of your food. Their favorites for dehydration? Chili peppers and apple rings. Yum!

Idea #3: Revive Your Wilting Lettuce and Herbs

I had no idea you could revive wilting lettuce until I started writing this article. But apparent, you can.

I found a very interesting thread on Chowhound with instructions on how to do this.

1. Pull apart the lettuce leaves and soak them in ice water for 15-30 minutes. The lettuce will begin to absorb the water through the stem ends.

2. After 15-30 minutes, once the leaves are crisp again, pull them out of the water, dry them thoroughly, and put them back in the fridge.

Further down in the thread a produce manager at a grocery store wrote in and said he does this nightly for his produce. It should work with any leafy vegetable, including herbs like cilantro and basil. Simply trim the ends, and then stick them in cold water for a spell.

Tips:

Here are some awesome tips I found online for keeping our food fresher for longer…

  • Many fruits and vegetables shouldn’t be stored together. The reason is because they put off ethylene gas, which will make surrounding produce rot. The list of vegetables producing ethylene gas (and those that are damaged by ethylene gas) is long. You can see a list of both here.
  • To keep your fruits and veggies fresh, don’t damage them in any way (like de-stemming strawberries or cutting up mangoes days in advance). The moment you begin to tear apart fruits and vegetables, micro-organisms can get in and start the decomposition process. Keep them whole until you’re ready to use them.
  • Don’t store potatoes and onions together, ever (I didn’t know this one either…right now mine are in the very same bin, on my fridge!). Apparently both will rot much faster when they’re stored together.
  • According to FitSugar, cold will actually damage some veggies and cause them to rot faster. Produce like tomatoes, oranges, and squash.
  • You can keep bananas around for longer by letting them ripen on the counter top and then putting them in the fridge. The outside skin may still turn brown or spotty, but the inside will stay fresh for much longer.
  • Divine Caroline, blogger over at The Weather Channel, says that storing produce in plastic bags, or any kind of “sealed” container (like a styrofoam tray with plastic wrap) is a bad idea. Food needs to breathe.
  • The crisper drawer in your fridge is a great place for vegetables. The reason it’s designed to be humid, and veggies love the humidity. If you can, set the humidity level here at 95%, and store lettuce, herbs and celery in here.

Last Word…

I learned so much when doing research for this post! I really think that these tips will help me stop wasting so much food. It’s obvious that I was doing a ton of things wrong when it came to storing what I brought home, and perhaps that’s most of the trouble.

Do you have any tips for storing food, or for using up food that’s on its way out? If so, I’d love to hear them!

{ 7 comments }

Katherine April 5, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Soup is always a great idea. There are also lots of veggies you can pre-chop and freeze in smaller portions (peppers are a favorite at our house – we stock up when they’re on sale, then chop them and freeze them in little containers). Then you just pull them out and dump them in whatever you’re cooking.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper April 7, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I wrote a post about storing produce at the Green Phone Booth recently. My best tips are to attire your celery and carrots in a jar of water and to wrap greens in a damp towel.

Blair April 7, 2010 at 4:05 pm

I’ve used those green bags for produce and they have some for cheese and bread and they work freakily well. They aren’t much of an investment and especially for homemade baked goods they are irreplaceable.

Anthony April 10, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Make the trinity with old produce!! Just toss some not-so-pretty produce into a food processor and you make amazing trinity, it tastes the same with old produce that it does with perfect looking veggies! So far I’ve made made French Trinity (using onions, celery and carrots that had seen better days) and it came out wicked awesome, plus if you have lots of imperfect produce and made extra trinity, just toss it in a container and freeze it. Spanish sofrito (tomato, garlic and onion) works equally well too!

Rachel April 12, 2010 at 7:39 pm

I just discovered your blog, and I’m really loving it! I often freeze a portion of my produce if I don’t think I’ll be able to eat it all. This is especially nice for things like veggies that are one sale. It’s very easy to freeze things at home (way easier than canning) and you can refreezing things at least once (depends on the food really).

Thanks for all the awesome info!

school grants April 19, 2010 at 7:10 pm

found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

medical assistant February 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I was watch TV the other day, when I came across on special program about food wastage which talks about how much food goes to waste every day and on the contrary there are SO many people go to bed hungry. We really should do much better in our food storage efficiency or should be economical about our groceries.

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