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Protect Your Produce

Here's how to keep things fresh.

Vegetables in a refrigeratorGregor HalendaRealSimple.com

Avocados

  • Select: Pebbly-skinned Hass avocados are more flavorful than smooth-skinned Fuertes. Choose avocados that are firm but give slightly, then ripen them at home. Don't squeeze too hard. Instead, cup the avocado in your hand and feel it gently with your fingers.
  • Store: To ripen avocados, store them on a countertop at room temperature. Extend the life of a ripe one by putting it in the refrigerator, unbagged. After a few days, it will shrivel, which means it's time to make guacamole.
    Life Span*: 5 to 7 days.
  • Good to Know: Avocados can be frozen for up to 2 months for later use. Freeze them as a puree (with a few drops of lemon juice), rather than in slices.

Scallions

  • Select: Bypass yellow or brown scallions and those that are translucent or starting to curl on top. The roots should be clean and white, not dirty and brown.
  • Store: Store in the crisper, unwashed, in a plastic bag.
    Life Span: Up to 1 week.
  • Good to Know: Scallions that are a translucent green have probably been sitting in ice for too long. Don't buy them.

Bananas

  • Select: Choose bright, not dull, yellow bananas with some green near the stems.
  • Store: Keep them on a countertop, unbagged, to ripen at room temperature. Don't refrigerate an unripe banana―the cold causes the skin to turn brown and prevents the fruit from ripening properly.
    Life Span: 3 to 5 days.
  • Good to Know: Peel bananas from the bottom to avoid most of the stringy fibers. To make a healthy substitute for banana ice cream, slice a ripe banana into thin rounds, place them on a baking sheet, cover, and freeze. Bag the slices once they're frozen.

Raspberries

  • Select: Seek out firm, dry, plump berries. Avoid boxes with juice stains or those containing berries that are stuck together.
  • Store: Store raspberries, unwashed, in their plastic container. Or, if you have room in the refrigerator, spread them in a single layer in a covered shallow container.
    Life Span: 2 days.
  • Good to Know: Since raspberries are fragile, don't wash them by rinsing them under running water. Instead, fill a bowl with cold water and drop them in. For homemade sorbet, puree freshly washed raspberries, then freeze.

Lemons and Limes

  • Select: Both lemons and limes should have smooth skins with a little give, and they should feel heavy for their size. Large ones are best for zest.
  • Store: Keep them unbagged on the refrigerator door, but let them sit at room temperature for a few hours before using. If you use them often, store on a counter.
    Life Span: 10 days to 3 weeks refrigerated; up to 1 week at room temperature.
  • Good to Know: To squeeze out more juice, roll the fruit on the counter while pressing firmly with the palm of your hand, or microwave it for 10 to 20 seconds, then let it stand for about 2 minutes.

Grapes

  • Select: Select plump, smooth grapes with stems that are green and well connected to the fruit. Red grapes should be a rich red; white grapes should have a frosty green tone. Avoid bright green grapes unless you like a tart taste.
  • Store: Store in a resealable plastic bag in the back of the refrigerator. If you wash grapes before storing, they will spoil in about a week.
    Life Span: 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Good to Know: Frozen grapes make flavorful, festive ice cubes in summer drinks. Freeze washed and dried grapes in a resealable plastic bag for up to 3 months.

Tomatoes

  • Select: Look for a rich red skin that is smooth, firm, and blemish-free.
  • Store: Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature on a counter-top, stem-side up. Make sure they're out of direct sunlight, and never put them in the refrigerator, which will ruin the flavor and texture.
    Life Span: 2 to 5 days.
  • Good to Know: In-season yellow tomatoes taste and feel like red ones but are less acidic.

Lettuce

  • Select: Heads should be crisp and free of brown spots and slime.
  • Store: Wrap lettuce in damp paper towels and seal in a plastic bag. (The exception is mesclun, which should be stored in an unsealed plastic bag.) Put bagged lettuce in the crisper, which will keep it moist and cold.
    Life Span: 7 to 10 days.
  • Good to Know: Among commonly available lettuces, Romaine and red and green leaf lettuces have the highest levels of vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, and iron.

Blueberries

  • Select: Look for firm, plump berries that are covered with a bit of bloom―a white, dusty natural substance that protects blueberries and shows they're fresh. Pass up any berries in a container with juice stains―it's a sign they've been sitting around too long.
  • Store: Dry, unwashed blueberries can be kept in their plastic container or a resealable plastic bag. Keep them in the back of the refrigerator. Like all berries, blueberries are delicate, so the more you handle them, the faster they deteriorate.
    Life Span: 10 days.
  • Good to Know: Freeze some berries to enjoy when the season is over―they're especially tasty when thrown into fruit smoothies. Place dry, unwashed berries in a resealable plastic bag before freezing. Wash before using.

Bell Peppers

  • Select: Red and green peppers should be firm, smooth, and glossy. The skins should be bright and unwrinkled, and the stems should be green. Don't worry about shape, which doesn't affect flavor.
  • Store: Store, unwashed, in a resealable plastic bag in the crisper.
    Life Span: Up to 1 week.
  • Good to Know: Avoid getting bell peppers wet, especially in the stem area. They decay faster when exposed to moisture.

Pears

  • Select: Though varieties differ slightly, a ripe pear generally gives a little near the stem end but is firm everywhere else. A hard green spot on the bottom of a pear that's otherwise uniform in color is probably a diseased area that won't ripen any further.
  • Store: To ripen, store in a paper bag on a countertop at room temperature for 2 to 5 days. To preserve a ripe pear for 2 to 3 days, keep it in the refrigerator, unbagged.
    Life Span: 2 to 5 days.
  • Good to Know: The flesh of some pears turns brown when exposed to the air. To prevent this, sprinkle with lemon juice.

Carrots

  • Select: Choose bright orange carrots that are firm, with no cracks on the bodies. Try to buy carrots without greens, which can leach moisture and nutrients. If the greens are attached, they should look fresh.
  • Store: Remove any greens, then place the carrots in a resealable plastic bag in the crisper. If you want sticks for snacking, wash and slice the carrots, then stand the sticks in the refrigerator in a glass filled with 1/4 cup water.
    Life Span: 2 to 4 weeks.
  • Good to Know: Breathe life back into limp carrots by soaking them in ice water.

Strawberries

  • Select: Choose bright, evenly colored red berries that have a sheen and green, fresh-looking hulls. Avoid berries with white or green shoulders or with tips that are mushy.
  • Store: Store in the refrigerator, unwashed, in their plastic container. If the berries come in a cardboard carton, put them in a plastic bag before storing. Don't wash them or remove the hulls until you're ready to eat the berries.
    Life Span: 3 to 4 days.
  • Good to Know: Wash strawberries before you remove the hulls so they don't fill with water.

    *Life spans are measured from the day you bring the produce home.

 

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The flan can be baked up to 3 days in advance; refrigerate, loosely covered with plastic wrap. Unmold just before serving.