We’ve reached a point in the growing season when we are actually harvesting enough produce to make a meal or, at least, a significant contribution to a meal.  Currently, we can pick lettuce and basil every day, a cucumber or two most days, and a zucchini every few days.  Soon, there will be daily zucchini and probably more tomatoes than we can use in day (based on the number of green tomatoes that are ripening).

It has affected our shopping—at the farmers’ market or supermarket, we have no need to buy the summer staples that we get from our own garden—and our menu planning.  The core of our dinner diet is focused on dishes that include the vegetables we grow.

The abundance also subtly impacts our approach to harvesting.  When there is very little to choose from, we pick the ripest produce and eat it on the spot.  When there is a bit more available, we wait until there is enough ripe to make a salad (or whatever) and pick it just before preparing it.

Now that there is more ripe produce than we can eat in one sitting, we have the same inclination to wait until we need it to harvest it.  But this would not be the best approach.  Unlike wines, which improve with age, vegetables left on the vine will over-ripen.  With cucumbers and squash, for instance, this can mean the formation of large and chewy seeds; tomatoes can get mushy and string beans will shrivel and dry.

No, we need to harvest the veggies when they are ripe.  It seems like an obvious conclusion but I always feel a reluctance to put anything in the refrigerator.  After expending a lot of effort—physical and emotional—to nurture a radish, beet or cucumber to prime condition, I do not want to lose any of its freshness and flavor.

I shouldn’t hesitate, of course.  There is no shame in putting things in the fridge.  That’s what it is for, after all, and I don’t think twice about putting lesser produce (anything I didn’t grow, he said humbly) in there.  The veggies will do fine as long as we don’t leave them too long.  (I’m not including tomatoes which are best stored on the counter.)

The next challenge will be what to do with the stuff in the refrigerator after it has been there a few days.  Pickles, anyone?