by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I've read that families, on average, throw out one-third of the food they buy. That's like going grocery shopping with $100, and just tossing $30 into the wind before you enter the store! Most of what is thrown out is because of poor planning or improper storage of produce and leftovers; things go bad before we can eat them. Besides being a waste of your money, it's also a waste of the resources needed to grow, package, and transport that food.
I grow quite a bit of our fresh produce. Stretching the fresh-eating time for various produce is sort of a hobby for me - I like experimenting (which is why I still have a couple of eggplants and a zucchini, grown last summer, in January). Plus, I have to admit - I'm a bit lazy when it comes to putting up food. I like it when I find ways to preserve food that doesn't involve heating up the kitchen with boiling water in the heat of summer, or fill up the little freezer compartment of our refrigerator. So I'm always interested when I read about low-energy storage methods, or hear a bit of folklore about bygone ways of keeping foods fresh.
A thrift-store find was my key for finding the best way to keep fresh greens like lettuce and spinach. Whenever I'm in a thrift store, I gravitate to the linens department. I have a special weakness for old hand-embroidered cotton tea towels and pillowcases, linen napkins and tablecloths. Years ago, I found a strange little x-shaped piece of cotton lawn, its scalloped edge finished with buttonhole stitch. The decorative embroidery gave me a clue as to its intended use. "Lettuce," it said, and I realized it was just the right size and shape to wrap up a head of lettuce.
I'd always seen lettuce and other greens in the stores sold wrapped in plastic. So I'd always thought that was the way to store greens in the refrigerator, even though it didn't work very well. Parts left of whole heads would turn brown and wilt, cut greens would get slimy. My embroidered lettuce wrapper is way too pretty to use in the refrigerator. Pressed with a bit of spray starch, I use it in my kitchen as a decorative cover for my little coffee maker. But it did give me the idea for a better way to store fresh greens.
I started experimenting using some old ripped or stained, but clean, cotton tea towels. Greens wrapped in cloth alone, and stored in the veggie crisper drawer of my refrigerator, still wilted. But greens wrapped in a thin towel and then in plastic, kept nicely.
So now, that's what I do. Fresh-cut greens, right out of my garden in the summer, keep best. Besides obviously being fresher than anything from the store, I think organically grown produce, in general, keeps better (I'm not going to try growing things laden with chemicals to test this hypothesis, however). But this method works quite well with wintertime purchased greens too.
A couple of years ago, I bought an 8-pack of green plastic produce storage bags. I've reused those same bags hundreds of times. I take care not to puncture them, closing them only by twisting or tucking the open end underneath, hand-wash and air-dry after each use. I like the convenience of having salad and sandwich greens ready to use throughout the week. So, in summer, I'll cut a big bunch of greens, wash them in a sink filled with cold water, and country-spin them dry (which means scooping the clean, wet greens out of the sink, loading them into a wire basket, and then taking that outside to "spin" the water off by windmilling it up and around overhead; stop, fluff the greens mashed into the bottom of the basket by the centrifugal force, and then give it another vigorous go-round with the other arm). Wrapped in a clean tea towel (be forewarned, the towels can suffer some green staining on occasion - best to keep some just for veggies, others reserved for drying dishes or decoration), then in a bag and refrigerated, the greens stay crisp and green, and are easy to take out as needed. In winter, I store greens purchased during my monthly grocery shopping trip the same way.
Want to stop wasting food and money? This website has recipes and more tips to make the most of the food you buy.