Saturday, January 30, 2010

Do those Debbie Meyer Green Bags work?

I know, this has been a burning question for many of you. Do they work? They're so expensive. Is Debbie Meyer just a charlatan?

Well, here in my test kitchen, I have been using the bags for about a year and I will tell you what I have found.

The bags are absolutely terrific for considerably lengthening the life of citrus fruits, delicate leaf herbs, green vegetables like broccoli, and carrots.

Ever notice that within a few days of being left out on a countertop, your lemons or limes will turn brown, and putting them in the vegetable drawer of the fridge doesn't do much for them either? A Green Bag can keep them nice for 2-3 weeks.

Broccoli turning yellow or brown at the tips of the florets before you can get it used? In a Green Bag, I can make whole broccoli last 2-3 weeks.

Big pain: do you buy cilantro, dill, rosemary, mint or parsley to use in a dish, only to go back 3-4 days later and find it brown and slimy? In a Green Bag, I can make these last 2 weeks.

Oh, and for can actually keep tomatoes in them for quite a lengthy period, just on the countertop (don't refrigerate tomatoes, ever).

Bananas turning too quickly? They market the bags as the answer, but the problem is, most people need their bananas to ripen because they are shipped green to the store or gassed with ethylene to bring them to yellow when they aren't really ready inside yet. At any rate, I don't find them very useful for bananas, the skin tends to stay pretty but the inside continues to soften, in my experience.

Now, the commercials or the box would have you believe you can extend life to 30 days. Not my experience, Debbie. And honestly, I would feel a little weird using something that old. But for these aforementioned items, the bags do work well.

Two things you have to be diligent about: 1) moisture is the enemy of the bags and will cause them to fail. You must thoroughly dry whatever it is you're putting in the bags. I sometimes even go so far as to put a paper towel in the bag with whatever it is I'm storing, and I also check the bag for moisture regularly and dry it if it occurs; and 2) you don't seal these bags, as you might be inclined simply press all the air out and fold the top down over itself and lay it in the drawer or on the counter. Don't seal it with ties or a sealing device. The ethylene gas being produced by the food as it ages needs an escape, albeit a minor one.

Okay, so here are some things that the bags don't work well with, in my experience:
1) Basil. Basil is ridiculously tender, and if you buy bunched basil, it is usually dirty, so you have to wash it. It is then tough to dry, even with a salad spinner, and dry is the key. Don't waste your money if you're thinking you'll buy the basil for one night to make whatever dish, and then make pesto a week later when you have time. Your basil will have turned by then, just like it would in any bag. As any good Italian mama would tell you, "you gonna make your pesto immediately with whatever you not gonna use in your dish, and you gonna freeze it until you're ready for it." (By the way, if you want a tip on the best jarred pesto ever made, you'll find it at Oliviers and Co., but it ain't cheap. It is, however, the best pesto short of Mama Leoni making it fresh for you, and people will notice!)

2) Celery. The trick to lengthen the life of celery is to thoroughly dry it, cut off bottom and top, and roll it up in aluminum foil, sealing both ends very tightly. It will keep for several weeks this way. The bags can't keep it fresh this long.

3) Cut peppers (such as green peppers). While you will be able to keep whole peppers for about 7-10 days longer than you would normally be able to, cut peppers won't work. Slimy in no time, just like any other method of storage.

4) Cut vegetables. I would attribute this somewhat to the moisture issue, but the fact is, cut vegetables just have a limited shelf life, because they have been cut. You won't get the much additional life out of using the bags on them to justify it.

Now, about the expense: it depends on what items you use them for and your usage patterns of those items as to their worth. My bags have paid for themselves because I regularly use cilantro, thyme, rosemary, green or red peppers, dill, chives, mint and broccoli and so I don't have to pay for a new bunch every time I make a dish with any of these in it. I also reuse the bags, washing them with only a single drop of dishwashing liquid and rinsing them thoroughly, then drying them gently and letting them finish drying by standing them over an upright paper towel holder or a glass turned upside-down. You can reuse the bags up to 10 times each, so say the instructions, but I probably reused mine only five times before retiring them or getting them so slimy as to not want to reuse them.

So, there's the answer to the burning question you most assuredly wanted to know!