Sunday, September 2, 2012

Potatoes, Root Cellaring and Other Oddities

I've been taking steps backwards in time.  Not because I particularly want to, but because I've learned too much about our foods and where things come from.  Here in Montana, you get to see first hand how it is done right--and unfortunately, you learn about factory farming and producing.

I understand that to feed a lot of people cheaply, you have to use methods and crops that yield the largest amounts.  I get that.  But it doesn't mean I should eat that way.  When food recalls affect 20 states or more, you have to wonder about single points of failure.  Yes, small farms can and do have problems, but the problems are localized and are small in comparison to the mass recalls we've seen lately.

Vexing Spuds

One thing that has vexed me has been how to store certain vegetables and fruits.  Inevitably, I buy lots of yummy blue potatoes, Yukon golds, red potatoes, and Yukon gold fingerlings, only to bemoan the lack of refrigerator space.  Or I would put them in the utility room only to find them sprouting like some bad B-grade horror movie.

Looking up freezing and other storage options netted me nothing.  The reason was clear: potatoes didn't store in the freezer well and most books said that since potatoes were available year round, there wasn't any need for storage.

Gee, thanks.

Dummies to the Rescue

So, when I got the book, Canning and Preserving All-in-One For Dummies, for review, it gave me an out.  You see, one of the parts is rootcellaring, which, oddly enough, doesn't need a root cellar to accomplish.  The whole idea is to put away vegetables in relatively cold storage so that you can use them through the winter.  Our grandparents and great-grandparents knew how to do this.  But because we live in the modern world, a lot of things have been, well, if not lost, then seriously misplaced.

Rooting the Potatoes

One thing that I discovered is that you can get free buckets from Wal-mart's bakery department.  (They have tons of tubs that they get icing and other foodstuffs in).  These tubs make great buckets for storing animal feed, hauling water, and also, not surprisingly, rootcellaring.

Rootcellaring potatoes is relatively easy.  Potatoes go dormant when they are in total darkness.  So, to make potatoes go to sleep, you need a completely dark place to put them.  I took one 5 gallon tub and lined it with a thick towel.  I then carefully placed the potatoes in the towel until the tub was full and wrapped them up.  Then, I wet a paper towel and set it on top of the towel.  I covered the tub with the lid and put in the utility room that has a wall dug into the ground.  (It's the coldest spot in out house).

The second tub, I wrapped the potatoes, and then took my too many carrots, removed the tops, and laid them gently on top of the towel-wrapped potatoes.  Then, I laid a kitchen towel on top of the carrots, wet a paper towel and laid it on top of that.  Then I put the lid on and put it next to the other tub.

The book said to keep them at 32-40F -- really?  Also a humidity level of 80-90%.  It can get pretty chilly in the room there, but not likely to hit 40F at the moment, and certainly not 32F.  In the winter, it'll get to 40-45F.  Humidity is difficult.  Our current humidity levels are in the teens at the moment, hence the wet towels.

Care and Feeding of Root Crops

Evidently, you can't just put your root stash there and forget about it for months at a time.  You have to check on it, rearrange the vegetables, and probably talk to it.  One of the more amusing recommendations is to create a straw root cellar, or bury the vegetables in plastic containers in the ground.

Obviously the authors don't live in Montana.  I'd ask them if they thought with two types of bears (black and grizzly), too many rodents to name, and several other critters, that they would still think that was a good idea.  My thought is probably not.  I'll take my chance in my utility room.

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