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Tips on how to keep your fruits and vegetables fresh all season

Canning for the future is a great way to extend the taste of summer into dreary winter months. But still, enjoying fruits and vegetables fresh from the garden or farmers’ market as long as possible is just as rewarding.

Here are some tips we collected from area growers on how to keep foods fresh. Remember, when shopping at a farmers’ market, don’t hesitate to ask the grower for his or her advice; everyone has different tricks.

“The rule for most fresh produce is 10 days from time of harvest,” said Diane Green, who owns Greentree Naturals with her husband and sells organic produce at the Sandpoint Farmers Market.

She said she has found that most vegetables store best unwashed. “I think Mother Nature provides a natural protection for longevity of most produce.”

Using perforated plastic bags is logical, Green said, because produce continues to transpire – or breathe – after harvest. “If you don’t want to spend the money on the perforated bags, just use a fork to punch a few holes in a plastic bag; this works just fine,” she said.

Janice Thorson, who owns Glenrose Gardens with her husband and sells the organic produce at the Moran Prairie Farmers’ Market, tells her customers that she uses plastic bags that were designed for storing food on boats.

The green tinted Evert-Fresh Bags, which she buys at West Marine, keeps produce very fresh for days.

According to the West Marine Web site (www.westmarine.com), the bag, “absorbs and removes the ethylene gas released by most produce, dramatically reducing the rate of deterioration.”

Of course some items should be treated with special attention to keep them as fresh as possible.

“Treat Swiss chard like a bouquet,” Thorson said. Stand it upright with the ends in a glass of water and cover the leaves loosely with a plastic bag.

Asparagus also likes the upright treatment. Green uses a recycled can to hold the water and spears, but said if you can’t stand it up, wrap the ends in a moist paper towel and keep the asparagus in a plastic bag.

The same stand-up routine also works for fresh-cut herbs, said Jennifer Hall, small farm marketing program coordinator for the WSU Spokane County Extension Office.

But Barb Arnold, who grows and sells a wide variety of herbs and herb plants at the Kootenai County Farmers’ Market, said, “Although I have had a bit of trouble convincing people, cellophane bags will keep herbs, including basil, fresh in the crisper of your refrigerator for at least 10 days.”

Trim the tops off carrots and beets before storing in perforated bags Green suggested. But keep peppers whole until ready to use.

Some foods, such as storage potatoes and onions, like to be kept in cool, dark places such as a cellar or basement. Apples also store well under the same conditions (but not next to the potatoes and onions), said Eli Penberthy, nutrition educator for the Women, Infants and Children’s program.

Penberthy also said that when she buys large quantities of fruit, the pieces on the bottom always seem to get squished and moldy. “Because of this, I always transfer fruit to large colanders so it is exposed to air, which can either sit out or be put in the fridge.”

And, whatever you do, don’t put tomatoes in the refrigerator, Thorson said. Tomatoes turn mealy in the refrigerator. They’re best kept at room temperature and used quickly.

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