Making Produce Last

Tips for keeping those farmers’ market goodies fresh in your kitchen

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Now that you’ve scored some of the season’s freshest goodies, you will want to keep them as long as possible. When it comes to storage, fruits and vegetables play by their own rules. Did you know that tomatoes and watermelons are best kept on a countertop until cut? Or that placing a paper towel under the container will draw out moisture and keep berries fresher, longer?

Four Freshness Tips
Here are four tips on how to keep produce at its peak in your kitchen.

Tip 1: Fruits and vegetables should be stored separately. Some fruits emit an elevated level of ethylene, a gas that speeds up the ripening process).

Tip 2: Remove spoiled berries from the container. You know the old saying, “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”? It’s true when it comes to berries. Pick out the ones that seem to be rotting away in order to keep the others fresh.

Tip 3: Set your refrigerator temperature to 40 degrees or colder for proper food storage. Anything higher will spoil your food faster. Use the fruits and vegetables drawer for storage. There’s a reason why it exists.

Tip 4: If you use bags to store produce, ventilate them by poking holes. Or use a mesh bag for storage. Produce needs to breathe.

Organic vs Chemically Preserved
What’s the big deal about organic produce? Fruit that you get at the store is sprayed with chemicals to keep bugs and fungus at bay. Great for preservation; not so much for consumption.

Some pesticides have harmful effects on the human body and have been linked to certain cancers and nerve and immune-system damage among other health issues. Ward 8 Farmers’ Market, founded in 1998 by Congress Heights residents, is a great spot to get some of the best naturally grown tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, greens, apples, pears, and plums, to name a few.

Most of the produce comes fresh from the Licking Creek Bend Farm, a certified naturally grown farm in Pennsylvania. It hosts cooking demonstrations to show visitors creative ways to use the vegetables in everyday cooking.

Nathan Harrington, director of the Ward 8 Farmer’s Market, suggests that when it comes to organic versus chemically treated produce, consumers should choose natural. “It’s important for people to understand that organic or naturally grown produce is grown for flavor and nutrition rather than to look beautiful or have a long shelf life. The fruits and vegetables that we sell are best eaten within a few days. A lot of them are delicious when eaten raw. You can also chop up vegetables to put in a soup or stir fry or a salad.”

Produce Plus Program
Ready to go shopping? Here’s a great way to save a few dollars at the farmers’ markets. DC residents who receive SNAP, Medicaid, WIC, TANF, SSI Disability, Medicare QMB, or Senior Grocery Plus are eligible for the Produce Plus program. Qualified customers can get $10 per farmers’ market visit, up to two times per week, to spend on fresh fruits, vegetables, and cut herbs. Customers must pick up Produce Plus checks at one of the distributing farmers’ markets and can visit more than 50 farmers’ markets across the District to use the checks.

This program is a great way to stretch budgets and buy fresh produce. For a list of participating markets, visit the DC Hunger Solutions page, www.dchunger.org. For more information about the Produce Plus program, email DC Greens at produceplus@dcgreens.org or call the Produce Plus hotline at 202-888-4834.

Red & Yellow Bell Peppers and Kale Stir-Fry
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 medium red and 1 medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Kosher or sea salt to taste
Fresh-cracked black pepper to taste

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and then stir in the onions. Cook for about two minutes or until the onions are soft.
  2. Add the garlic and bell peppers; stirring occasionally, cook for three to five minutes or until the peppers are softened.
  3. Add the kale and stir in the Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, and smoked paprika. Cook for two to three minutes or until the kale is softened. Season with salt and pepper.

 

Candace Y.A. Montague is the health reporter for Capital Community News.