Last week at the downtown farmers market, I looked around and realized it’s finally, actually, really summer. The evidence was everywhere, overflowing off of table cloths and baskets in a rainbow smorgasbord of nature’s bounty. It’s all so beautiful and at the peak of deliciousness that during this time of year I’ll often come home laden with goodies too tempting to resist, only to discover that my eyes were bigger than my stomach (who knew that was possible?). If this is you, too, here are a few tricks for keeping delicate seasonal produce fresh and preserving it to enjoy long after the summer days have passed.
Treat basil like cut flowers. “You should never put basil in the fridge,” says Happy Boy Farms co-market manager Donka Hardy. “It’s too cold, and it will cause the leaves to blacken.” Instead, Hardy says to keep them in a vase or glass of water on your counter and out of direct sunlight. Cut the ends off every day or so to keep them fresh even longer. “I’ve kept basil like this fresh for so long, it actually sprouts roots,” says Hardy. Plus, the herbal bouquet will freshen the air in your kitchen.
Peel tomatoes and stone fruit in boiling water. Tomato skins and peach fuzz get in the way of epic summer soups, pasta sauce and desserts, so quickly peel them first. Cut a small “X” in the butt of the fruit, opposite the stem end, and drop them into a pot of boiling water. Within a few seconds, you should see the skin along the “x” start to peel away from the flesh. Pull it out with tongs. When it’s cool enough to handle, you can easily slough the skin off with your hands.
If you can’t eat it, freeze it. If canning seems too complicated, freezing tomatoes works just as well. Once tomatoes are peeled, you can freeze them in freezer bags for up to a year for fresh, vibrant soups and sauces throughout the winter. “Freezing is way easier than canning, if you have the space,” says Hardy. However, “Unlike canning, frozen vegetables don’t last indefinitely, so you should use them within a year.”
Wash berries right before you eat them. Living in the same county as the Strawberry Capital of the World means we can enjoy luscious red berries almost all year, but there’s no comparison to the bursting flavor of a ripe strawberry in the height of summer. Heather Griffith of Live Earth Farm recommends that you don’t wash strawberries—or any berry—until right before you eat it. Any water left on their delicate skin will make them go bad faster. And another thing—you know how summer berries have that warm, soft texture? Berries kept in the fridge will firm up, so Griffith recommends keeping them on the counter if you can eat them within a day or two, and only chilling them if you need to preserve them for longer. If you still can’t make it through the flat of fruit you bought the week before, freeze them on a cookie sheet in a single layer before bagging them. This will prevent them from becoming a huge frozen blob.
Be nice to your figs. The buxom bodies of perfectly ripe figs can easily bruise if left in those green plastic baskets. Last summer, I learned the trick to preventing this—store them in a cardboard egg carton. As a bonus, you’ll freak out your roommates when they go to make breakfast.
HAVE A BEER, HONEY
New Bohemia Brewing Co., known to locals as NuBo, is releasing a new line of beers made with local honey called the Bee Project. A quest to reduce the brewery’s carbon footprint led owner Dan Satterthwaite and his brewing team in search of high-quality local fermentable sugars. Natural honey, full of flavor and aroma, was the answer. Their first release, the Cherry Bomb Imperial Honey Stout, was brewed with sun-ripened Brooks, Coral and Chelan cherries hand-picked in Brentwood, California, and local unfiltered honey from Jeff Wall’s Family Farm. The result is a “devastatingly complex stout,” with “strong, earthy flavors of malt and cherries covered in bittersweet chocolate,” according to Satterthwaite. NuBo will celebrate this special release on Thursday, June 22 at their Pleasure Point brewery.
1030 41st Ave., Santa Cruz. nubobrew.com.