By Larry Levine –

There’s an old saying that you’ll learn more by keeping your mouth shut and your ears open. Turns out keeping your eyes open works pretty well, too, as I learned when we returned from a recent vacation.

While away, I emailed our house sitter and told her there was some celery and lettuce in the refrigerator that she might as well throw away if she wasn’t going to use it; by the time we got back it would have gone bad.

When we returned, I found the celery and the lettuce in the crisper compartment in perfect condition. She had wrapped them in paper towels and put them in plastic bags. I don’t know how many heads of celery and lettuce went into the trash over the decades because I didn’t know this trick.

Same thing holds true for many fresh herbs. They always come in bunches too large for use in a single recipe. You wind up either drying them or tossing them.

I was getting ready to do an article on this subject for Table Talk, when I received an email with the latest edition of the Kaiser Permantente Partners in Wellness newsletter. One of the featured articles is titled Keeping Your Food Fresh. Of course I opened the article and scanned it.

APPLES AND PEARSStore for a few weeks in a cool spot on the counter or shelf. For longer storage, place apples in the fridge in a cardboard box.

I didn’t know about that cardboard box business. And since I prefer my fruit at room temperature, this would be easy if I can keep our cats from nibbling on the stuff left on the counter. One of them already has served notice that we can’t leave tomatoes or avocados sitting unprotected.

 MELONS – Store uncut melon in a cool, dry spot. Don’t leave melons where the sun will hit them. Once cut, store in the fridge.

 I kind of knew this one. Either that or I just did what came naturally. For me this one is out of season. I only buy domestic or Mexican melons. The Central American and South American ones aren’t to my taste.

CARROTS, CUCUMBER, BROCCOLI – Store these in the fridge, keeping them moist by wrapping them in a damp towel.

 Aha. The lesson learned from the house sitter works for these too. I never buy more broccoli than I need for one meal. But I stopped buying carrots by the bunch because they would quickly get soft and wilty. I always have left over cucumber.  

SPINACH – Keep as cold as possible; store loosely in an open container in the fridge’s crisper.

That’s different than the recommendation for lettuce and handy to know. Otherwise I would have treated it the same as lettuce.

TOMATOES – Never refrigerate tomatoes. Instead, keep them on the counter for up to two weeks.

This is a tough one because of the aforementioned cat. One day she ate most of a very nice, very expensive momotaro tomato imported from Japan. In my personal experience, tomatoes will keep in the refrigerator, but the flavor will suffer. There’s no substitute for growing your own and they aren’t difficult, just seasonal. And most of the tomatoes you get in the super market have little or no flavor to start with. So find a vendor you can trust at a farmers market somewhere, buy enough tomatoes for the week and keep them away from the cat.

At the bottom of the relatively short list of produce on the Kaiser site, there was a link to the Berkeley Farmers Market Ecology Center. There I found three pages of tips for dozens of different fruits and veggies. I asked permission and they said I could pass on their link to you. It’s  There is much to be learned here, even for those of us who spend substantial portions of our lives in super markets and kitchens. Another lesson in keeping your eyes open.

Share this: