Like any diligent squirrel, I am getting food stored and ready for winter. Even if your kitchen garden is exhausted, you can buy things in bulk from your local yard now to save for the winter.
Each type of vegetable has its own requirements. Some like a cool room with high humidity. Others want it cool and dry. Then there are a few, like sweet potatoes, that require a warm place and suffer in the cold. Let’s see.
Storage is the easiest and cheapest way to store vegetables for a few months. Winter squash is well stored in a cool, dry place, such as under the bed in an extra, unheated bedroom. Draughty old farmhouses have plenty of good places to store them along with cardboard boxes of onions and garlic. I have kept a blue Hubbard squash (which has a very thick skin) for up to a year with no problems. But they will rot in an area with high humidity.
Potatoes, carrots, kohlrabi, rutabagas, celeriac or celery root, turnips and parsnips can be stored for several months at 35 to 50 degrees with high humidity. You can do this in an extra refrigerator, preferably in a drawer that holds the moisture in it. Or put them in zippered bags where you have punched a few breathing holes. You can put an inch of damp sand in a bucket and store carrots in the garage if it stays cold but not cool. Keep the lid on the bucket and check it from time to time. Rodents love carrots and potatoes, so you can not store them in an open container.
I built a “cold cellar” for storing potatoes in my cold cellar, which often has temperatures below freezing. I made a container of cement blocks, two layers high, and covered it with an insulated plywood lid. I weighed the lid to make sure mice could not sneak in. I put a heating mat in the bottom to use if the temperature approached the freezing point in the box.
A full size freezer is a good investment. Among other things, tomatoes, corn, broccoli, beans, peppers, kale and fruit are stored well in the freezer. I freeze them in freezer-grade zipper bags. You can suck the excess air out of the bag with a straw by closing the seal up to the straw, then quickly pulling it out and closing while still sucking on the straw.
Freezing is a well-established process for storing food. Some vegetables need to be blanched before freezing to keep them tasty. Blanching is a rapid immersion in boiling water. It kills the aging enzymes in your vegetables and keeps them fresh longer. If you know you want to eat your frozen stuff within three months, do not worry about it. I recommend blanching beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, corn, kale, peaches, squash and chard. I freeze apples, peppers and tomatoes down without blanching.
If you blanch, just do it for 60 seconds, which is often even before the water has boiled again. Use plenty of water in a large saucepan and not too many vegetables. Special pots for blanching are sold. They have an inner pot with holes that let you lift the vegetables quickly out of the water.
If you blanch vegetables for too long, they become mushy. Put the blanched vegetables in a sink with cold water, dry in a salad spinner and dab them with a tea towel. Afterwards and freeze.
I also dehydrate foods, especially tomatoes, peppers, apples and pears. You can buy a good dehydrator like the ones made by Nesco American Harvest for somewhere under $ 150. Or you can buy Cadillac of dryers and get an Excalibur for $ 300 or more. They use less energy and dry the food evenly without having to turn the trays.
Dehydration is great for peppers: I dry them until they are crispy, then grind them in my coffee bean grinder. That way I have a powder that I can add to soups or stews a little at a time and that is well distributed. And I dry cherry tomatoes cut in half; I use them in soups and stews. They offer a bite summer.
I also make tomato puree and freeze it in ice cube trays. I often do this with imperfect tomatoes: I cut out the bad parts and put the rest in a Cuisinart to blend them into a loose “soup”, which I then slowly boil down in a large enamelled cast iron pan. When I can literally stand a spoon up in the mix, it’s done. Having a supply of tomato puree is essential for cooking and I like that I do not have to open a can when I need a little.
If you have an apple tree, you have probably already made some apple puree this year. It freezes well and is always tasty. But have you made cider? You do not need to buy a cider press. I bring apples to my local orchard and ask them to squeeze and drain the juice. Be sure to tell your orchard that you are freezing it and to leave an empty space for expansion. They will charge a fee, but it’s worth it for the satisfaction of having your own cider in the winter.
Lastly, have you been thinking about making sauerkraut? Cabbage is easy to grow – or cheap to buy at your local farm stand. To learn the basics, just Google my name and “sauerkraut.”
One last piece of advice: Do not freeze or store vegetables or fruits that are not perfect. Freezing rotten food does not make it better! And you will not eat it later if you do not want to eat it now.
Henry Homeyer’s blog appears twice a week on gardening-guy.com. Write to him at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746. Please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you would like a reply by post. Or email email@example.com.