Maximize the Summer Harvest like a Pro
I blinked and July was over. Ordinarily, I would be disappointed at the swift pace of this unseasonably warm Washington summer, but we’re right in the middle of the best part of the year for fresh fruits and vegetables and it’s hard to complain about that. Across the Pacific Northwest, down the California coast and even up into the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in Alaska, local produce from our partner farmers is arriving at Full Circle distribution centers just as fast as we can get it off the trucks.
With so much variety and quantity comes a pretty unique and wonderful dilemma: getting the most mileage out of the best that this season has to offer.
To maximize the summer harvest like a pro, consider a three-pronged approach:
- Utilize what you can from the tastiest and most perishable items as they arrive.
- Minimize waste.
- Prepare your favorites for long-term storage.
Celebrate the Taste of Summer
It’s undeniable that fresh produce tastes best when it’s, well, fresh. But it’s easy to get stuck in a rut preparing the same items and the same dishes over and over again. Here’s how to get the most out of your fruits and vegetables:
1) Let the pros do the work for you.
Explore the Good Food Life and other online resources to see how local chefs and other culinarians are integrating seasonal produce into their meals. The ingenuity will surprise you and open your mind to amazing new flavor combinations that you’ve probably never even considered.
2) Show the imperfect produce some love.
Many fruits and vegetables are thrown away every day because of less-than-ideal size, shape or color. But for the most part, these items are all perfectly good to eat and delicious. Plus, buying these items from Full Circle or at a farmers market helps support local farms.
3) Don’t over-purchase.
Buy just what you need. Beware of bulk discounts, since fresh produce has a limited shelf life, and pick up fresh produce toward the end of shopping trips.
4) Store produce properly.
Store perishable produce in a clean refrigerator set to 40°F or below. Remember, if produce is sold refrigerated, it generally should be refrigerated at home to maintain quality. When a fruit or vegetable becomes properly ripened at room temperature, you can refrigerate it. Cold temperatures can contribute to flavor and moisture loss in some cases.
1) Consider juicing.
Literally squeeze out every last drop of summer by putting all of those produce scraps to good use. Residential juicers are more affordable than ever
2) Compost to minimize your impact.
If you garden, there’s no real reason for food scraps to end up in the trash. Many items can be appropriately composted, including: paper, cardboard and fiberboard scraps, dust bunnies, hair, pet food, cupcake cups, yard trimmings and much more. Live in a small apartment? Lots of cities—including Seattle and Portland—offer curbside compost pickup, where greenwaste is taken to a central processing facility and turned into new soil for public parks. A little research can help determine what’s available in your neighborhood.
3) Dedicate one night per week to “use-it-up” meals.
Like I mentioned earlier, some combinations don’t make sense until you eat them and find out how amazing they are. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Our merchandising manager recommends Clean-out-your-fridge Burritos: chop and saute onions, peppers, greens, summer squash, even radishes and mix in any leftover grains like rice or quinoa and wrap in a tortilla. Boom. Dinner.
Winter is Coming
Some produce has a short life span once ripened. Use short-lived fruits like apricots, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries and vegetables like herbs, sprouts, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, leafy greens, lima beans, mushrooms, peas and summer squash within a couple of days of purchase. To enjoy you less perishable items longer—like apples, blueberries, grapes and pears and vegetables like beets without top greens, artichokes, cabbage, carrots without top greens, celery, garlic, leeks, onions, parsnips, potatoes and winter squash—jar, can or freeze them.
1) Freeze for longterm storage.
Fresh frozen produce items can be just as good—if not better, because after all, it’s the middle of winter—as fresh off the vine. Plus, it’s super easy! Spread slices of fruit or fresh berries on a sheet pan, freeze and pack in freezer bags.
2) Stock the pantry.
Prospect of canning many jars of jam overwhelming? Just make one or two and keep them refrigerated. Freezer jam is also great if you have space.
3) Get into a pickle.
Produce that you don’t can or freeze can be pickled. Quick pickle recipes work for almost anything—from chard stems to sliced summer squash.
4) Save thyme.
Dry fresh herbs or make herb salts that can be much more flavorful than the dried herbs available commercially.
Now You’re a Pro
The bottom line is that a little bit of effort now can help you enjoy the best fruits and vegetables all year long. Share your flavor-saving techniques in the comments!