Summertime is harvest time for many Georgia backyard gardeners. But which of your newly grown morsels do you pop in the fridge, and which do you keep on the counter top?
University of Georgia foods and nutrition specialists say knowing which fruits and vegetables to refrigerate (and which not to) can make a big difference in taste and quality.
Chill Tomatoes Only to Extend Life
"Tomatoes should definitely not be refrigerated until they have ripened," said Elizabeth Andress, an Extension food safety specialist with the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
"You'll get much better flavor from your tomatoes if they aren't refrigerated," Andress said.
The exception is when you have too many ripe tomatoes, she said. Ripe tomatoes can be refrigerated to prolong their shelf life a bit.
"Remember, too, to use any tomatoes with splits or cracks in the skin first rather than store them," she said. "If you don't, these will begin to spoil fast and can harbor harmful bacteria."
Ripen First, Then Chill
Papayas, mangos and avocados should also be ripe before you refrigerate them. "For best flavor, eat them soon after they ripen," Andress said. "If you have to refrigerate them, place them individually in brown paper bags first."
The same rule applies to peaches. Allow them to ripen at room temperature before refrigerating.
Bananas also taste best when kept at room temperature. "If you've bought too many and you don't want them to spoil, you can refrigerate them and use them in cakes and breads," said Andress.
Keep 'Taters' in Dark
Store potatoes in a cool, dark place. "This is a lot easier to do in the northern states where houses have cellars," Andress said.
Exposure to cold can make the potato's starch turn to sugar. "You'll get a sweet taste instead of a potato taste," Andress said.
Keeping potatoes in the dark also prevents greening under the potato's skin. "This is one sign that the potato has gotten too much light," Andress said.
If your potato is green under the skin, she said, chances are it contains solanine. "Eaten in large quantities," she said, "solanine can make you sick."
Keep sweet potatoes in a cool, dark place, too. "You don't have to worry about the sugar content rising, since they're already sweet," she said. "But they taste better, and they're drier."
Don't Crowd the Onions
Don't refrigerate onions, either. "Onions need to be kept in a dry, cool, dark area and should be kept separately," Andress said. "When they're stored in close contact, molds and mildews can easily spread from one to another."
Vidalia and other sweet onions can also be stored for weeks to months at room temperature if they are kept dry, cool and separate.
Andress said using the legs of ladies' hosiery for storing onions. "Just drop an onion in the leg of the clean hosiery, tie a knot, drop another onion in, tie a knot and so forth until you have your onions neatly separated," she said. "Hang the string of onions in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area. Then when you're ready to use one, just cut below the knot, and the others remain neatly stored."
Winter squash, like acorn squash and pumpkins, are best kept at room temperatures. Cantaloupe and watermelon can also be kept at room temperature.
"Most people like their melons to be cold," Andress said. "But they don't have to be refrigerated until they're cut."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)