Maybe they shouldn't be.
Most people know by now that tomatoes don't benefit from refrigeration, it only makes them soft and sort of woolly. But did you know that lots of other veggies are better off and better tasting without time in the fridge?
Many of us, including myself, have used the fridge as the default location for anything coming inside from our gardens or the farmers market. But a bumper harvest may leave us short on cold storage space and looking for alternatives. And the alternative may actually be an improvement.
Now I do remember my relatives cooling their watermelons in a burlap sack attached to a rope, lowered into a fast-flowing creek. For those of us without that kind of running water, surely the solution is simpler.
We all know that before the icebox (I'm old enough that my parents still called our Frigidaire by that name when I was a child) and the fridge, people "put up" the harvest through different means like pickling, drying, curing, fermenting and cellaring.
And now all those processes are undergoing a rebirth as foodies rediscover their tasty virtues. When I ordered from a selection of "put ups" at a trendy Atlanta eatery this summer, I couldn't help but wonder, what would our grandmothers think?
But back to the subject at hand. I was used to storing my veggie harvest in our beer fridge in the garage, however it stayed with our old house and the temp rental has only one fridge, and with all the new craft beers, I was being edged out. Then I happened to hear somewhere that cucumbers shouldn't be stored in the fridge.
Hmm, I was intrigued. I always hated how they went limp after just a few days in the fridge. So I decided to try the pantry. It was cool and dark and roomy. I was amazed, and I don't use that word lightly (I rant a lot about the overuse of the word "amazing" any chance I get), to see how long they lasted without any evidence of drying out or rotting. They stayed firm and fresh for over a week, sometimes even longer.
I decided what was good for the cucumbers might be good for the peppers and eggplants, and sure enough, that works too. I even piled some sweet corn there for just a couple of days. There's something satisfying about doing without major appliances whenever we can and this is one of those times.
Turns out the University of Minnesota's Extension has a whole page with a nifty chart devoted to this issue of vegetable and fruit storage. It explains the differences between "cool and dry", "cold and dry" and "cold and moist" conditions needed for produce storage. Here's the link.
And with that knowledge I'm getting more excited about that small wine cellar we decided to add to the house we're building. I'm not much of a drinker but I'm thinking it can double as a root cellar. Not too glamorous but my, how useful!