In my experience, this time of year has a way of testing (and overcoming) the capacity of even large refrigerators. Opening the door, out comes a bottle of mustard and a head of lettuce, and a slippery little pouch of baby carrotsand where exactly were you planning on putting that container of freshly made cranberry sauce that you balance in one hand while you stuff and shuffle to make space with the other hand? Oh, and there’s that block of cheddar you looked all over for earlier, crammed in the back, next to the pickles, under the hummus, sort of behind the cocktail sauce and sandwich meat, of course.
Using your crisper drawer as your starting point, you can alleviate some of the clutter, freeing up valuable fridge space for cream cheese loaf and leftover roast beast.
The Crisper: What Belongs There and What Doesn't
While it is not necessary (and often not advantageous) to keep all fruits and vegetables in crisper drawers, because crispers are enclosedfostering a more humid environment than the rest of the fridgethey are particularly well-suited for keeping delicate and wilt-prone produce like leafy greens, herbs, berries, and ripe avocados. Hardier stuff like apples, squashes, root vegetables, citrus, peppers, beans, onions, and many crucifers (e.g., cauliflower and brussels sprouts) don’t require the TLC of the crisper or even the low temperature of the refrigerator for storage. And, once you purge your crisper of all of these and anything else that doesn’t belong, chances are you’ll have plenty of room for all of your delicate produce.
Consider the Garage, Basement, or Porch
As for all of the remaining homeless and hardy five-a-days, just about any place around the home that’s out of direct sunlight with an ambient temperature of less than about 60°F (and preferably above 35°F) is fair game. This time of year, those conditions abound in garages, basements, enclosed porches, even bathrooms that happen to have no heatingnot that I would know anything about that. Once you’ve found a good place, you just need a little storage know-how. Drier and firmer vegetables (e.g., winter squashes, onions, many root vegetables, potatoes) keep best in ventilated baskets, crates or bags that allow a little air circulation. Whereas carrots, fresh beans, and cruciferous vegetables, which require some humidity to keep firm and crisp, are best kept in plastic storage containers with loosely fitted lids or in slightly ventilated plastic bags.
Put Your Camping Coolers to Off-Season Use
If you find yourself in the absence of appropriate indoor spaces, camping coolers also make for good temporary outdoor produce cellars in a pinch. In general, pack your cooler as full as you can in order to give it greater thermal stability, and make sure that it is kept in full shade at all times. In moderate climates, where temperatures mostly stay between 35° and 70°F, just a cooler filled with produce should fair well enough. In cold, snowy places, where temperatures stay below freezing for long periods, help prevent your vegetables from freezing by lining the cooler with old blankets, towels or foam egg crates before filling it, and pack snowif there is anyaround the cooler for added insulation. In warmer climes, packing a cooler during the evening with already-cool vegetables, and maybe throwing in an ice pack or two, will help to keep things fresh until you need them, and keep your fridge free for more nog.
About the author: Amanda Clarke is a recovering restaurant pastry chef with a background in architecture. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes, tests, and develops recipes and works on freelance food-styling gigs between walkings and feedings of her two dogs and husband. | Photograph of house and cooler from iStockPhoto.com