It’s happened to even the most organized of home cooks. You open the refrigerator to start dinner and notice a small, slightly wilted splash of color out of the corner of your eye. Perhaps it is a bag of farmer’s market peaches, just a day or two past their prime, or a zucchini that has started its long, slow, shriveled death.
If you happen to catch your fruits or vegetables just before they’re too ripe to eat, you have plenty of options that can help you bring it back to life. Stop (literally) throwing money in the garbage can, and try one of these eight creative ways to preserve your farmers’ market finds and supermarket steals before they end up in the compost pile.
For fruits and veggies stored on the counter, like avocados and tomatoes, cooler temperatures will keep them at their ripest until it’s time to make guacamole. You may have heard that cool temperatures can produce mealy temperatures and mild flavors, but science thoroughly disproves this old wives’ tale.
Even if you don’t have an impressive canning set up or even own a mason jar, you can turn those slightly droopy strawberries into a delicious homemade jam without much effort. Stash packets of pectin — or, if you’re really industrious and serious about combatting food waste, make your own — in your cabinets for moments like these. From there, all you’ll need is sugar, fruit, and a little time.
The temperatures are hot, but soup is a comforting meal any time of the year. Because you’ll be cooking those ears of corn that are starting to look sad at high temperatures and mingling them with other flavors, it won’t matter that they’re not at peak-crispness. You’ll want to trim away any parts of the produce that are mushy or dried out, but anything that still looks normal, or slightly softer than normal, is fair game.
Those bananas on your countertop might be totally brown, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t throw them in the freezer for use later in smoothies and batches of banana bread. To make your breakfast routine even easier, mix chopped fruits like strawberries, bananas, and pineapple with greens and other favorite smoothie fixings in freezer bags for simple and healthy breakfasts.
That inevitably-wilted head of lettuce or bundle of cilantro may look a little pitiful, but a quick dunk in an ice-water bath is all it probably needs to spring right back to life. Fill a large mixing bowl with ice and water, and dunk the lettuce or herbs in for 15-30 seconds, and lay out to dry on a kitchen towel before serving your newly-crisp greens.
If all else fails, a spin through the blender can turn soft tomatoes into fresh salsa and saggy peaches into jam or coulis. Peel any skin from your fruit or vegetables and throw it in the blender to create easy purees that can be used to add nutritional value and flavor to a variety of dishes. .Some parents even fool their kids into eating their vegetables by sneaking these purees into common kid-friendly foods.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. She is guilty of neglecting many, many avocados.