Should you store your tomatoes in the refrigerator? Doesn’t one single second in the chiller kill texture and taste? The answer is a resounding “maybe.” One thing that is certain is that you have to store your tomatoes, fruits, and vegetables somewhere, and that the fridge can be too cold, while the countertop is usually too warm.
La Denise offers a range of fruit and veggie storage that keeps your produce cool, but without using any electricity. The system is based on methods that would be familiar to your grandparents, but with a design that evokes something more like Crate and Barrel.
There are three units, all fashioned from ceramic and walnut or maple. There’s a drawer to keep things cool and dark and a fruit bowl with a pool of water under a wooden rack–kind of like a dish drainer but designed to keep the fruit above hydrated. There’s also a tabletop root cellar, filled with sand and ready to keep your onions and leeks in tip-top condition. The materials are chosen to be both beautiful and useful. For instance, the ceramic keeps the sand cool, says Élyse Leclerc of Jarre, the designer behind La Denise. She also tells us that the woods were chosen because they are local to Quebec, where La Jarre is based.
Some vegetables don’t keep well in the fridge, and none of them benefit from being eaten while still cold. The La Denise range, which runs from $230-$400 per item, regulates humidity and temperature the same way it was done before the relatively recent invention of domestic refrigerators. Tomatoes and other ripe fruits can be kept on the wooden grill suspended above water to keep them cool. Potatoes sit in the drawer, and carrots, leeks, and scallions can be kept vertical, propped up on a bed of sand.
Does it really make a difference? Élyse says: “What we have noticed is that it lasts at least as long as in the fridge but the flavor and nutrients are higher when kept in La Denise.”
What does the science say? As ever with kitchen lore, you can find two opposing answers to each question. Keeping apples with your potatoes to keep them from sprouting (as Jarre suggests) is either a good idea (ethylene gas produced by the apples retards sprouting) or bad (ethylene promotes sprouting).
And those tomatoes? Serious Eats, which is just about as objective as things get when it comes to the kitchen, says that it makes little difference to a tomato’s flavor and texture whether you store it in the refrigerator or on the countertop. However, things last longer in the chiller, and the typical countertop is too warm (our grandparents didn’t have central heating after all). So, if you want to split the difference, try the La Denise. Or you could just make your own, from some terracotta pots and sand.