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Around the Home: How to keep your Vidalia onions fresh and sweet
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Spring is one of my favorite times of year because Vidalia onions are available. My husband jokes with me that the only dishes I prepare without onions are desserts.

Vidalia onions are harvested from late April through mid-June. Now is the time to find the best prices in the state of Georgia. Onions are a fat-free, low in calories and a good source of vitamin C.

The Vidalia onion story took root in 1931 in Toombs County, when a farmer named Moses Coleman discovered the onions he had planted weren't hot, as he had expected, but sweet. He sold those onions for $3.50 per 50-pound bag, a big price in those Great Depression days. Other farmers followed suit, and soon their farms were producing the sweet, mild onions.

In the 1940s, because Vidalia was at the juncture of some of south Georgia's most widely traveled highways, a farmers' market there was a thriving tourist business. Word began to spread about Vidalia onions. Consumers then gave the onions their famous name. "Vidalia onions" began appearing on grocery store shelves.

In 1986, Georgia passed legislation giving Vidalia onions legal status and defining the 20-county production area. The Vidalia onion was named Georgia's official state vegetable in 1990.

Home storage: The water content in Vidalia onions is much higher than in regular storage onions. This characteristic contributes to Vidalias' sweet taste, but it also shortens their shelf life and makes them more susceptible to bruising.

To keep them at their sweet best, Vidalias must be handled and stored with care by the grower, the retailer and you, the consumer. The key to preserving Vidalias is to keep them cool and dry.

n One of our favorite places to store Vidalias is the veggie bin in the refrigerator. Wrap each bulb individually in paper towels, which will help absorb moisture, and place them in the crisper with the vents closed. A few will naturally go bad, but many will keep for months. Buy a big bag at the end of the season and you should have Vidalias through the holidays.

n In the legs of clean, sheer pantyhose; believe it or not this is a great way to store sweet onions. Tie a knot in between each Vidalia and simply cut above the knot when you want to use one! Be sure to hang in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area.

n On elevated racks or screens, not touching, and in a cool, dry place.

n Don't store with potatoes, which make the onions go bad quicker.

How to preserve sweet onions for cooking:

n Vidalias can be dried: Chop evenly and spread on a cookie sheet, then bake using the lowest temperature setting. Remove when thoroughly dry but not brown. Store at room temperature in airtight containers.

n Vidalias can be chopped and frozen: Chop evenly and spread on a cookie sheet, then place in the freezer. When completely frozen, remove and seal in freezer containers or bags. Remove the amount you want as needed.

n Or these flavorful, sweet onions can be frozen whole: Peel, wash and core jumbo Vidalias. Once frozen, the Vidalias can be removed like ice cubes.

Whole frozen Vidalias can be baked, but note that freezing changes the onion's texture, so frozen onions should be used for cooking only.

Sources: The Vidalia Onion Committee and The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.