Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hoarding Potatoes for the Winter

As the end of last summer was drawing near, I began to worry about how we would continue to eat locally grown vegetables through the winter. We'd been eating local vegetables all summer because we'd purchased a CSA share from a local farm.

By the way, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. This website describes it as "a way for the food buying public to create a relationship with a farm and to receive a weekly basket of produce."

Basically, at the beginning of the summer, you sign up by giving a check to the farm. Then you pick up veggies on a regular basis, usually every week. I'll write more about our first CSA experience another time, today's entry is about the fact that it was over...

So what to do. Were we going to be eating California vegetables all winter? I guess California isn't too far away, but it still takes a lot of gas to transport food even that far.

I said to my husband, I wish I could just get a whole load of fall root vegetables to last for a few months. Maybe I could take a few boxes to the last farmer's market in November and just buy a ton of stuff. Hmmm, that would be hard to fit in the Mini.

Then one day, completely by accident, I found it. The Abbondanza Keeper Share! This farm offered a CSA for fall, where you get a ton of vegetables specifically meant for storage over the winter. This sounded PERFECT. Now, what was I going to do with all of those vegetables...

My husband was skeptical. "$325 is a lot of money. I hope you know where you're going to put all of them. Are you sure they're not just going to rot?"

"Don't worry, I've figured it all out." I hadn't.

See, there were a few problems. First and foremost, when I buy potatoes and onions, they only last a few weeks. Aren't they supposed to last longer? After a little research, I found out that potatoes and onions can't be stored next to each other or the gases they emit cause the other to spoil. What? That's like saying you shouldn't put salt and pepper next to each other on the table. Well that's a problem because I only have one pantry. And if I'm going to have a lot of them, how will I separate them?

I did some more research. Apparently the very best way to store your root vegetables (turnips, potatoes, carrots, etc) is in your root cellar. Well, that's sort of implied by the name. What a dummy I am.

My husband had the extremely useful tip that they used to store them in a big mound of sand in their shed when they were kids. Also not very helpful, especially since the low temperature in our imaginary shed will be well below freezing over the winter, not a problem in Ireland.

Ok, so the real objective was that I needed to store potatoes and onions separately, in complete darkness, in a well ventilated, moist environment, at between 45-50 degrees.

We do have a crawl space. Sounds perfect, almost like a ... a root cellar. Except that the crawl space may as well be a graveyard filled with zombies as far as I'm concerned. Our crawl space scares the pants off me - no way am I going to pop on down there for two medium potatoes.

I had another idea - I just needed to ok it with my husband.

"Hey, you know what is kind of handy about having electric baseboard heat?"

"What?"

"We don't heat every room in the house. In fact I bet the guest bedroom stays pretty cool most of the time."

Pause...

"You are NOT putting potatoes in the guest bedroom."

Man, how did he figure that out so fast?

In the end, I decided to go for the fall CSA and to rearrange my kitchen to store everything appropriately. Here is what I did:


  • Potatoes went in a big terracotta pot, grouped in small batches wrapped in newspaper. The pot kept things ventilated but still dark. The terracotta pot went in the cupboard next to the cat flap, which I guessed would be the coldest one. The newspaper made it extra dark and kept any rotten potatoes from touching each other

  • Onions went into another cabinet, wrapped in newspaper in another terracotta pot, along with garlic and shallots.

  • Winter squash went into the same cabinet as the onions.

  • Carrots, turnips, beets, celeriac, celery and cabbage went into the fridge, with good success.

Apples - I also signed up for a keeper fruit share, which was basically a big box of Jonagold apples, delicious. I was running out of cabinets and getting quite worried at this point about gas cross contamination (apples vs. potatoes or apples vs. onions and squash - what to do, what to do), so I decided just to keep the apples in a cardboard box, each apple wrapped in newspaper, next to the cat flap. This proved to be a tantalizing source of entertainment for my 18 month old son - we had a lot of bruised apples because he doesn't quite understand yet that not all spherical objects are balls. But they stayed good for quite a while.


I'd say it worked out pretty well. The last veggie pickup was in mid-December and here we are at the end of January. We still have a few potatoes, onions and carrots, and a lot of winter squash.


Here were the casualties



  • 3 rotten potatoes out of probably 40 pounds total

  • 1 rotten pumpkin and 2 rotten butternut squash, out of about 20-25 squash total

  • 4 rotten apples out of 15 pounds. After 2 months of storage, they were getting pretty soft, so I made applesauce.

  • 2 rotten onions, out of about 20

  • 4 heads of celery out of 5. Geez what in god's name am I going to do with 5 heads of celery? I'm pretty open minded about trying new recipes, but CELERY? I'd rather eat cream of cardboard soup than experiment with a celery recipe

Still going strong



  • Acorn squash

  • Cabbage - we got burnt out on cabbage for about a month, went back to use it tonight and it's still fine.

So, sadly, we're almost out... I think I'm going to have a final blowout this weekend with a roast chicken, the last of the potatoes, turnips, carrots and beets and make a final pumpkin pie for the season.


Then I guess it's acorn squash soup, cabbage salad and California vegetables until May!


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Emmy Lou said...
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