Hey guys, Amy here. I don’t know where you are but let me tell you, here in Montreal IT IS SUMMER!!! And with all this hot weather comes the most beautiful produce of the season. All the peaches and tomatoes and greens are at their best, and farmer’s markets are bursting at the ripe, ripe seams. We, of course, have our gorgeous totes to casually swan around with at the market (read: actually a hectic sweaty mess) but are we going to put all this beautiful, local, organic produce in plastic bags??
Ewww. So ugly. So wasteful. I already have an avalanche of plastic bags I keep saving in a closet somewhere (for what I truly have no idea). Enter zero-waste reusable produce bags! You can batch sew a bunch, throw a few in the bottom of your shopping tote, and then use and wash them as needed. No more need for plastic bags!
PRODUCE STORAGE TIPS
Keeping produce fresh for as long as possible is a balancing act. Different foods require different levels of air, humidity, temperature etc. While these bags are perfect for bringing home fruits and veggies from the market or grocery store, they may not be ideal for long-term storage in the fridge, depending on what is being stored in them. There is a great guide to zero waste produce storage here, but for your reference, I’ll just give you a few pointers to keep those perishables fresh for as long as possible.
- Foods that can be stored in our reusable storage bags in the fridge crisper drawer: potatoes, onions, apples, pears, stone fruit, grapes, citrus, peppers, cucumbers, beans and zucchini.
- Mushrooms should be kept in paper bags, or use our tutorial to make cotton muslin bags to keep them dry.
- Fragile greens like lettuce and spinach need to be kept damp in an airtight container. The common advice is in a sealed ziploc with a paper towel after being washed, but since we’re aiming for zero waste, you can also try wrapping them in a dish towel and storing them in a bowl or sealed glass container.
- Leafy herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, and mint keep fresh longest when stored standing upright in water. Trim them so they fit in a large mason jar and seal with a lid. Basil should also be stored in water, but will keep longer if left at room temperature. Hardier herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage and chives keep best wrapped in a damp towel and kept in an airtight container. If you want to read more about this. Serious Eats has a fabulous guide to storing herbs here.
- Unripe peach, plums, pears (is this a Joanna Newsom song?), kiwis, apricots, avocados, melons and bananas should be kept on the counter until they are ripe. Put them in the fridge once they ripen. To avoid fruit flies, I keep these sorts of fruits and veggies in a big bowl with a dish towel on top.
- Don’t insult your tomatoes by putting them in the fridge. Counter only, always.
- Some fruits produce a gas called ethylene which hastens the ripening process (the above fruits, plus most stone fruits and tomatoes). These fruits should be kept separate from ethylene sensitive items like apple, potatoes, carrots, watermelon and lettuce. Read the complete list of these fruits and veggies here.
- When in doubt, place in an open container in the fridge with a damp towel on top.
FABRIC OPTIONS FOR REUSABLE PRODUCE BAGS
We wanted to try a variety of fabrics for this tutorial. We knew it needed to be light (since it is often weighed along with your produce), washable, strong yet flexible, transparent (so you know what’s inside), and of course food safe! We decided to try two different fabrics in the end, an upcycled polyester curtain sheer, and a fine mesh tulle. My feeling is that nylon or polyester will be the most durable and stain resistant, although they are not biodegradable (which is why upcycling thrift store curtains is a great solution). Some of the most common produce bags you can buy are made from lightweight cotton muslin, so stash busting your cotton stash is a great idea; just keep in mind that you won’t be able to see the product inside.
For the drawstring you can use any sort of ribbon or cord; I found a lightweight, slippy nylon that worked perfectly.
These pictures are a bit tricky to see because our fabric is so sheer but thankfully this method is pretty simple and shouldn’t be too confusing. In fact, these are so simple to sew I would recommend batch sewing and making a variety of sizes all at the same time. Our bags are essentially a rectangle folded over and then sewn along the sides. To cut your fabric, you’ll want a piece that is twice the length of the final bag, plus a bit extra for seam allowances. In our case we cut 14″ wide x 30″ long rectangles; these are a good size and will fit a couple heads of lettuce or a few pints of berries or tomatoes. If your fabric has any stretch, make sure the stretch goes across the bag’s width.
Once the rectangles are cut, fold them in half and mark one of the open sides about 1.5″ down with a pin or washable marking tool.
Starting at the pin or marking, serge or zig zag down the side at 3/8″ seam allowance (you want to leave that top 1.5″ free). Serge or zig zag the opposite side all the way along the side. If you are serging, use a blunt embroidery needle and weave your tails back into the side seams to ensure they don’t unravel.
Fold the edge of the top opening 1/2″ toward the wrong side and press.
We are going to be creating a channel for the drawstring. To prevent the raw edges of the casing from unraveling, press the loose side seams towards the wrong side at 3/8″ and sew in place with a straight stitch.
If you are using something more fray-prone like our curtain sheers, sew a U-shape down one side and up the other to secure.
Now fold the top opening down again at 3/4″ and press. Pin in place.
Sew the channel closed with a straight stitch along the bottom of the fold, making sure you are catching both layers (So easy! It’s totally see-through!) Back stitch thoroughly at both ends since the thread will move very easily through something loosely woven like tulle.
Double the cord and lay it on the top of your bag to measure how much you need, leaving the tails hanging over the edge by about two inches.
Stick a safety pin in the end of the cord and feed it through the casing in the top.
Tie a little overhand knot in your cord while the bag is at its stretchiest. And that’s it!
Oh yeah! Turn it inside out! Or not! It’s the summer, whatever man. Now get thee to a farmer’s market and feel really smug about how green and eco-friendly you are. Everyone loves that guy.
How about you? Have you made or bought re-usable produce bags? Any suggestions for keeping produce at peak freshness with these green alternatives?