So you have a vegetable garden, but when it comes time to harvest, your vegetables are downright dirty. Vegetables from the market always look clean and pristine and the transition to dealing with fresh garden produce just takes some getting used to. In the beginning the bugs and the dirt may be a challenge, but now I’ve come to consider them a sign of truly organic, natural food. Yet no one wants to eat a salad that is gritty with sand.
So here are some tips on how to properly get your homegrown harvest of produce nice and clean and ready for the plate:
root vegetables: A good scrub brush is essential for cleaning root vegetables. Stiff bristles are necessary to get soil out of nooks and crannies. Try to wash off the biggest chunks of dirt while you are outside. When you bring the roots inside, place them in a big bowl or pot filled with water. Scrub each vegetable thoroughly under the water. If the water gets really dirty, pour it out and fill the bowl again with clean water for more scrubbing. Once you have scrubbed all of the roots they are ready for a simple rinse and are ready to be cooked or sliced up for a salad.
leafy greens: Leafy greens can be some of the hardest things to clean. Soil and bugs can hide deep inside a head of lettuce or cling tenaciously to leaves. If you are harvesting the whole plant, such as a head of lettuce or cabbage, cut off the roots and bottom of the plant with your pruners and discard them – hopefully in the compost pile. For other greens, you may simply pull or cut off individual leaves.
If you have a clean sink appropriate for washing produce, put in a stopper and fill the sink with water. You can also wash your greens in a large bowl or pot filled with water. Add a few tablespoons of plain white vinegar to help remove any residues and get things crisp and clean. I’m pretty sure white vinegar is the most versatile and useful liquid there is after water (sorry coffee, I love you, but I can’t clean the house with you). While you don’t have to use the vinegar, I think it helps so I recommend it.
The important thing is that there is a lot of room to move the leaves around in the water because you need to agitate! Swish leaves around in the water. Spread the leaves out in the water and then swish them around some more. Lift them out of the water and then dunk them several times. This action helps knock off soil particles and bugs. After this, drain out the water and fill up the sink or bowl again. Dunk, swish and agitate your greens around. If things are really dirty you may need to repeat with clean water again. If the water is clean and no more dirt is coming off, you are ready to dry. Salad spinners are really useful in getting water off of leaves. If you don’t have a salad spinner you can put the greens in a colander and shake them out over the sink, then pat dry between two kitchen towels.
fruits: Tomatoes, squash and peppers are all botanical fruits and require similar treatment to other fruits. Now, if I’m in the garden and there happen to be ripe tomatoes or peaches, I may just wipe them off on my shirt and eat them right there. A peach enjoyed straight off the tree is one of the best things in the world.
That is part of the beauty of homegrown produce. I know exactly what goes into -or on my- plants. But in general, it is a good idea to wash your fruits. For an individual fruit, you can rinse it under running water while rubbing the surface of the fruit to dislodge dirt and residues from the skin. For a larger quantity of fruits, place them in a sink or bowl filled with water. Use a clean sponge or cloth to wipe off the surfaces of each fruit whiIe it is submerged under water.
If you know you have sprayed the fruits recently (even a natural or organically acceptable spray such as seaweed, it isn’t necessarily something you want to eat), expend a little more effort in washing the fruit. Again, I recommend white vinegar to help remove residues. Half a cup of white vinegar in a quart of water will be sufficient. A lot of dirt particles can stick to the surface of fruits, so it is important to wipe them off. Be gentle with soft fruits as they can bruise easily. Wash fruits only right before you are ready to use them.