Let's say you need to buy fruits and vegetables that stay fresh for a long time. More than days: weeks, months, even. What fresh produce is the best choice, what lasts the longest? Whether you are social distancing or just buying in bulk at intervals, here are some tips to help you choose wisely.
Produce That Lasts the Longest Out of the Fridge
Cellars or basements are ideal, but for most of us the bottom of a closet or an out-of-the-way space near the floor works. Use baskets, boxes, or storage containers for organization. First, stock this area with vegetables in the onion family: Versatile onions, shallots, and garlic last for months. Whatever you do, do not store onions in plastic bags as trapped humidity will cause them to spoil or sprout. For ultra-long storage, keep them in a loosely-closed box or basket in a dark place.
Potatoes are another long-lasting staple Store your spuds in the dark to prevent them from turning green (and poisonous). Remove them from plastic packaging (which encourages higher humidity and spoiling) and pile them in a bin or a covered basket. Like potatoes, sweet potatoes should be kept dry and dark. Remove any plastic, and stack them in a box or bin. Similarly, whole and uncut, hard-skinned winter squash and pumpkins last for months.
Hard avocados ripen best in a dark place at room temperature, but to stagger ripening, keep only one avocado out at a time and chill the rest in the refrigerator until needed. Bananas are another long-lasting option—though they'll only make it for about a week on your counter, they can then go into the freezer. Once ripe, peel and freeze your bananas, then store them in bags in the freezer to be used for banana bread or smoothies.
Produce That Lasts Longest in the Fridge
To make the most of fridge space use individual transparent stackable containers with lids or zip lock bags for organization. Most produce should only be washed when you are ready to use it. In terms of fruit, you'll get a lot of bang for your buck with the citrus family. While large citrus such as oranges and grapefruit keep well for a couple of weeks at room temperature, they last much longer when chilled. Keep smaller limes or lemons in an open container in your crisper drawer—they will keep fresh for over a month. Indestructible apples are the stalwarts of long storage. Keep them in the crisper drawer or a large container and they will last a couple of months.
In the vegetable family, root veggies will keep longest. If you remove any stems and tops from beets and turnips, both will last for months. (Don't throw the beet tops out, they are a delicious cooked green.) Store the roots in the crisper drawer, individually wrapped or in a closed container. They are a powerfully nutritious raw ingredient in salads. You might think you have no space for a rutabaga, but this monster root vegetable is worth keeping on hand if you’re tired of potatoes. A rutabaga will last months if kept cold, moist, and well wrapped. You can also used them shaved thin in a salad.
Buy bagged carrots (and leave them in the bag) rather than those with tops. If they have tops, remove them before storing the carrots. Carrots will last a month or more if kept well covered or wrapped. Like carrots, parsnips will last over a month, cold and covered. Like other root vegetables they are also an excellent and overlooked raw ingredient. Celery root is another long-lasting option to keep on and, and it plays equally well in salads and bakes. Trim the leaves of a celery root before storing. It will last weeks if well wrapped.
Bagged or well wrapped, peppery little radishes keep for weeks. Be sure to remove their tops (and cook those like spinach) before storing. Keep celery in its plastic packaging, or wrap well before chilling. It will last about three weeks. Enjoy the hearts and pale stems raw and save the tougher stalks for soup. Wrapped and chilled, adaptable Brussels sprouts will last for a couple of weeks. Eat them raw, roasted, or steamed. You can also go larger and stock up on cabbage. Tight heads of red or green cabbage last weeks to a month if well wrapped; remove the looser, outer leaves to make them more compact. Braise for slow comfort dishes, or shred raw to add variety to slaws and salads.
Love a green salad but don't want to worry about going to the store? It's time to get familiar with Belgian endive: While most leafy salad vegetables are very perishable these healthy chicories (they're packed with potassium) will last for two weeks if well wrapped and chilled. Similarly, compact heads of crunchy red radicchio will last about three weeks if kept in a sealed bag. And it's not just for salads—you can cook it, too. And if you're not buying it already, consider grabbing some fennel during your next shopping trip. To save storage space, trim any bulky leaves from fennel (and use in soup or broth) and keep the fat white bulbs well wrapped. They will last a couple of weeks.
Last but not least are the the bulky crucifers: cauliflower and broccoli. The former will last up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Remove its outer leaves before storing, but don't discard the tough core—it is a deliciously crisp raw snack. Wrapped tightly, broccoli will last just over week when chilled in the refrigerator.