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Prairie Fare: Try These 5 Questions About Storing Vegetables

An NDSU Extension specialist offers tips on storing fresh vegetables.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension

“Wow!” I said as I pulled a huge carrot out of the ground. “Now that’s a carrot!”

My daughter and I harvested our raised bed gardens the other day. The gardens are about 3 feet tall with ample room for vegetables to grow.

I appreciate not needing to bend or use a shovel.

Some of the carrots had grown to “show them on TV newscasts” proportions. That one carrot in particular could have fed a family of four.

We enjoyed roasted carrot chunks for dinner.

Compared with the gardens of my youth, my present garden is of hobby proportions. It provided fresh lettuce and green beans for the summer instead of several months.

Tomatoes were exceptional producers this year for many people. We will have enough canned and frozen tomatoes to last until next summer.

Canning, freezing and drying vegetables and fruits are all good options for enjoying produce for many months or longer. See https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food for more information about food preservation.

What are the best conditions for storing vegetables or fruits to enjoy fresh immediately and weeks or months after harvest? These recommendations are based on information from several universities.

Here’s a short quiz with some scenarios to test your knowledge about storing fresh produce in your home. Guidelines differ, so I chose the most common ones.

  1. You gleaned the last few tomatoes from the vines in your backyard. You know that tomatoes on frost-killed vines can be used fresh, in cooked dishes or frozen. Tomatoes from frost-damaged vines should not be canned due to changes in their acidity. Where should the fresh ripe tomatoes be stored for best quality?

a) In the refrigerator

b) In a warm spot near a sunny window

c) At room temperature not in the refrigerator

  1. You had a bumper crop of winter squash and you left a part of the stem on them when harvesting, as recommended. Curing is a form of drying that is important for long-term storage. How should butternut and Hubbard squash be “cured” prior to storage?

a) Cure squash in a warm, well-ventilated place

b) Cure squash in a cool, dry place

c) Cure squash in an oven at 200 degrees

  1. You harvested potatoes after the vines dried but before the soil froze. You had a large harvest. To prevent potatoes from becoming “green,” where should they be stored?

a) In a cool, well-lit place

b) In the refrigerator at 40 F or lower

c) In a cool, dark place

  1. You had a bumper crop of carrots. Where should the newly harvested carrots be stored?

a) In cool, dry conditions with 2 inches of their green tops

b) In cool, moist conditions with 1/2 inch of their tops

c) In cool, dry conditions with their tops trimmed to the crown of the carrot

  1. You dug your onions after the tops had fallen over and they began to dry. You left about an inch of the tops in place. Where should the newly harvested onions be stored if you want to maximize their storage life?

a) In a cool, dry place after curing for two weeks

b) In a cool, moist place after curing for two weeks

c) In a warm, dry place without curing

Here are the answers.

  1. c) Store fresh tomatoes at room temperature (or in a slightly cooler place) but not in the refrigerator. Their flavor declines in the refrigerator but they remain safe. Expect fresh tomatoes to retain their good quality about five days at room temperature.

    However, if you rinse and cut the tomatoes, be sure to place the cut tomatoes in the refrigerator. After cutting, any perishable food is safe for just two hours at room temperature, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


  1. a) Cure winter squash in a warm, well-ventilated place for about two weeks. Store cured squash in a cool, dry place. Squash will last six months or even longer if stored properly.


  1. c) Store potatoes away from light in cool, moist conditions with some ventilation. Exposure to light can cause potatoes to “regreen.” Before use, trim and discard the green areas on potatoes. Potatoes will become “sweeter” with cold storage, which can affect their flavor and color in cooked dishes.


  1. b) Store carrots in cool, moist conditions with their tops trimmed to 1/2 inch from the crown because carrot roots have a tendency to shrivel. When stored properly, carrots can last many months. Prewashed or cut produce such as “baby carrots” that you buy in a grocery store should be refrigerated.


  1. a) If you plan to use onions weeks or months from now, be sure to “cure” the onions for at least two weeks before storing. To “cure” onions, spread them in a single layer in a fairly warm place (75 F) preferably with exposure to air. After curing, store the onions in cool, dry conditions.

Before storing, “clean” fresh produce by removing excess soil. Remember that water speeds spoilage, so most sources do not recommend “washing” them. However, if you choose to rinse vegetables prior to storage, be sure to dry them well.

Here’s a delicious way to enjoy fresh carrots and rosemary as we wrap up fall. Carrots are excellent sources of beta-carotene, which our bodies use to produce vitamin A. Vitamin A helps promote healthy eyes and skin.

Parmesan Rosemary Carrot Fries

3 to 4 large carrots, peeled

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp. garlic powder

Leaves from 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Peel and cut the carrots lengthwise to resemble the shape of french fries. Mix olive oil, Parmesan, garlic powder, rosemary, salt and pepper in medium bowl. Add carrots and toss to coat. Place carrots on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until carrots become slightly crispy. Turn carrots over halfway through baking. 

Makes four servings. Each serving has 110 calories, 7 grams (g) fat, 3 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 290 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu

Editor: Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu


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