Around The Table – September 12, 2019

GUIDE TO SELECTING AND STORING PRODUCE
We’ve all been there, opening the fridge to find your fruits and vegetables have spoiled is not only frustrating, it’s like tossing your food budget into the compost pile. Learning how to select and store fresh produce will help you increase shelf life, so you can enjoy them longer.
 
There are no real secret tips when selecting fresh produce. Peel back the corn husk, pick the yellowest lemon, and with a satiny yellow skin and a rosy blush, it looks like the perfect peach, but how will they taste once you get them home? Choosing fresh and flavorful produce can sometimes be your greatest challenge in the supermarket. But, maybe we can help.
 
SELECTING GUIDELINES
Sure, everyone has tips and tricks for picking the right melon or apple, but there are few general guidelines to follow to ensure you get the freshest produce possible.
 
FOLLOW THE SEASONS
Probably one of the most important tips for finding great-tasting produce is to buy in season, when possible. Here’s a guide to when certain fruits and veggies are at their peak:
  • Summer – apricots, blueberries, cherries, eggplant, fresh herbs, green beans, hot peppers, melon, okra, peaches, plums, sweet corn, sweet peppers, tomatoes, zucchini
  • Fall – apples, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, grapes, kale, pears, persimmons, pumpkins, winter squash, yams
  • Winter – beets, cabbage, carrots, citrus fruits, daikon radishes, onions, rutabagas, turnips, winter squash
  • Spring – asparagus, blackberries, green onions, leeks, lettuces, new potatoes, peas, red radishes, rhubarb, spinach, strawberries, watercress

KNOW YOUR VENDOR

With modern farming, processing and delivery, many vendors can put produce out for sale within a day or two after it’s picked. Ask the produce manager or vendor for delivery days or when the food was harvested so you can get to your favorite produce before quality declines. We all have our favorite trusted stores, so there’s nothing wrong with getting to know the people who work there. Ask them produce questions after all they are trained to help! 

BE A PRODUCE SNOB

If it doesn’t look and smell great, don’t buy it. Use your senses. Contrary to some consumer practices, thumping or shaking a melon does not indicate ripeness. Instead, feel or touch a product. In general, produce that’s too soft is too ripe; if it’s too hard, it’s not ripe enough. Try the sniff test, too. With certain fruits, like peaches and melons, a strong scent means they’re ripening nicely. Don’t just take produce because it’s there. Take the time to find the BEST available produce.

BUY ONLY WHAT YOU NEED

This one is simple. When we cook, we generally prepare more than we need. The best guideline we can provide is to buy in smaller amounts. You’ll have less to cook with, but also less waste. Avoid sales for the sake of the sale. This way you’re not cooking with tired produce, or tossing out the expired.

USE IT UP

After you’ve become close acquaintances with your produce manager or vendor, you’ve touched and sniffed all the produce at the supermarket, don’t forget to cook what you bought. Eat the fresh produce when it’s fresh!

WASHING & DRYING

Okay, it’s time to eat, finally. Even if the produce seems clean, always wash under it cool running water and shake dry – especially the herbs! Always spin – rinse lettuces. Even if the package claims to be tripled rinsed, it can’t hurt to rinse again. 

STORING TIPS

You bring home fresh fruits and vegetables, stash them in the refrigerator and then wonder what happened to make them shrivel, rot or go limp a few days later. Much of the time, the culprit is the way you’re storing them.
 
There are few things I hold in higher regard than how to care and properly store produce. At work, the chefs and cooks know I’m adamant about proper storage. To me it’s the key to great taste and quality – and it protects costs.
 
  • Protect produce from the cold – use paper towels to line the plastic disposable food containers after rinsing and wrap loosely to protect foods from the refrigerator temperature. Use the produce drawers, they sometimes have humidity controls
  • Fruits & Vegetables don’t play well together and should be stored in different locations
  • Don’t clean produce until you’re ready to use it. Washing fruits or vegetables before storing them make them more likely to spoil

COLLETON RIVER PRODUCE

At Colleton we have strict purchasing specifications and when it comes time to chose the produce, we abide by every guideline. We touch, smell, squeeze, weigh, check the skin & leaves and examine the color of every single piece of produce that comes in the door.
 
In fact, produce is hand selected for Colleton River. We work with prodigious local vendors who know our preferences. We also visit the warehouse to inspect the quality of the produce. All in all, we know that choosing the right produce is important. 
 
Keep it fresh, take care and enjoy!
-Chef Robert

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