I made a nice omelet for breakfast Sunday morning that had ( in addition to the regulars of eggs, cheese and onion) parsnips and kohlrabi saved from my garden.

The kohlrabi gave crunch, but not much flavor. The parsnips, however, were fabulous. They added zing — real garden flavor in January. I could have used carrots, beets, potatoes, celeriac or rutabagas, all of which I still have from my garden. I really like growing much of my own food — and saving it for use all winter is something I’ve worked hard on. It’s easy, and if you are studying those seed catalogs now, you might think about the veggies you can store well for winter eating.

SOME cold-storage prep work can make it easier to enjoy the fruits — and vegetables — of one’s summer labors throughout the winter months. Above, a blue Hubbard squash that was stored for 12 months. Below, the squash is being prepared to eat.

SOME cold-storage prep work can make it easier to enjoy the fruits — and vegetables — of one’s summer labors throughout the winter months. Above, a blue Hubbard squash that was stored for 12 months. Below, the squash is being prepared to eat.

Root crops like those mentioned above store well at 35 to 50 degrees, with high humidity — and a low rodent population. That’s right, mice and squirrels like root crops, so storing those veggies requires that you have a system. In past years I’ve stored root crops in 5-gallon pails in a cement-block “cold cellar” with an insulated plywood lid. The cold cellar was installed in a cold part of my basement and it kept my huge potato crop nicely. But mice can slip through the tiniest sliver of space, and sometimes did. So this year I’m trying something new.

 

 

Through the town listserve I obtained a free refrigerator, which I installed in my basement. It’s not new, but serviceable. I’m storing my root crops in it, and it is doing a fine job. No rodents to worry about, and it keeps the crops at a steady 35 degrees. Its only imperfection is that fridges are designed to maintain a lower humidity than my vegetables prefer.

Only the two vegetable drawers allow me to maintain high humidity, so for the rest I use plastic bins of veggies covered with moist towels. I also have a jute-lined wire bin that I use for carrots and parsnips. I layered them with moist sand last fall, which keeps the humidity right (available from Gardeners Supply www.gardeners.com). Of all my root crops, rutabagas seem to require the highest humidity, so I place those in the drawers of the fridge.

But not all veggies like cool, moist storage. Winter squash like low humidity and a temperature of about 50 degrees. I don’t have the perfect place for them, but if you have an unheated guest bedroom, that’s perfect. Onions and garlic like the same type of environment. Last year I stored a blue Hubbard squash for more than 12 months! It grows a leather-like skin which protects the interior nicely, and when I finally cracked it open around Thanksgiving the flesh was perfect.

Some years I find my Waltham butternut squashes store for six months or more without problems, and then some years they tend to rot. I imagine it has to do with the moisture level at harvest time. I’ve read that washing winter squash before storage and then dipping them in a 10 percent Clorox solution will minimize fungal rot, and I have done it, but cannot swear that it makes much of a difference.

The freezer is always great for storing veggies, so I am currently using two full-size freezers in the basement, and the big freezer section in my kitchen fridge. Each summer I fill gallon bags with whole tomatoes that I freeze for winter use in soups and stews. I suck out the air from the bag with a straw, which minimizes frost on the fruit — it’s almost as good as using one of those machines sold for the purpose, but much cheaper. I just zip the bag shut (up to the straw) and once the bag is clinging to the fruit, I slide out the straw and close the bag shut.

Here’s a list of what I am still eating from my garden, in addition to the veggies mentioned above: frozen broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, leeks, peppers, beans, zucchini, winter squash, parsley, pesto, corn and peaches bought for winter use, raspberries, black berries, blueberries, plums, elderberries and apples and cider. I have tomato sauce in jars and in the freezer, along with tomato paste in the freezer. Then I have dehydrated Sungold cherry tomatoes, apples, blueberries, hot peppers on the shelf of the pantry or in the fridge. And of course I have lots and lots of garlic (stored whole in a cool, dry location), and a variety of winter squashes including butternut, buttercup and delicata. But back to that blue Hubbard squash: There is something inherently daunting about a 20 pound squash. First there is cracking it open (I use a meat cleaver, but a saw or a wood splitter would work, too, I suppose). Then there is the question of what to do with all that squash — when I finally did process it, it yielded 25 cups of pure food.

I placed big chunks of squash in my 16-quart stock pot with an inch of water and steamed it. When the flesh was soft I scooped it out and used some for a soup and froze the rest in zipper bags for later soups. My favorite soup using winter squash (based on one I ate while a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa) also has peanut butter, hot peppers, fresh ginger, cumin and frozen tomatoes or tomato paste. I sometimes add black beans or kale for variety. It’s a good hearty winter soup that warms the body and soul.

It’s great to be eating out of the garden in January. For the complete recipe, and one for roasted spicy squash seeds, go to my website, www.Gardening-Guy.com. Bon appétit.

HENRY HOMEYER is the author of four gardening books. Contact him at P.O. Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746; or by e-mail at henry.[email protected]comcast.net.


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