The Locavore in Winter, Part 3: Non-Freezer Food
Not So Cold Storage & Pickles, But Not The Ones You’re Expecting
When last we left our story of trying to remain a locavore during the winter in the frozen midwest, we had finished discussing the frozen local food we fill our freezer with during the warmer, more productive months. Now it’s time to look at the food we accumulate using more traditional, old-fashioned methods.
We live in an old house, over 100 years old, with a partially finished basement. That partially unfinished nature leaves us places to store things over the winter, though it’s definitely not as cold storage as it would have been without a furnace. Still, it’s a place to store things that hold up, such as apples, winter squash and potatoes. And we do, with mixed results.
What We Store & Where It Comes From
Well, I just said what we generally store down there: winter squash, potatoes and apples. As you might suspect, the winter squash stores the best, and we put it down there more for space than temperature reasons. We get squash from various places: farmer’s markets, Broad Branch Farm when they have them, and usually wherever we go to get pumpkins and/or apples.
Which brings us conveniently to apples. While we’d love to pick our own organic apples, we haven’t found anyplace to do that.
If you know someplace in central Illinois where we can pick our own organic apples, please let me know in the comments.
We generally pick our apples at Christ Orchard. Not organic, but we like the place, and it’s not Tanner’s, where we went once and didn’t like. Love their apple cider doughnuts though. Christ Orchard also has pick your own pumpkins and a huge variety of winter squash in addition to other vegetables. In fact, this year we were late enough that the squash were on sale and you could pick your own turnips for free from a large turnip field. We’re still working our way through those turnips, which keep fairly well in the vegetable drawer of the fridge.
One nice thing about Christ’s website is it lists their apple varieties by approximate ripeness date and quality of keeping. We’ve found Cameo work well for keeping.
So that covers apples & squash, what about potatoes? We grow our own potatoes and have had success. But we love potatoes, and more are always better, right? So this year when Garden Spot offered 30 pound boxes of organic potatoes we bought one.
Turns out 30 pounds is a lot of potatoes, even for us. And did I mention that our cold storage isn’t that cold? Yeah, so our potatoes have sprouted, but they’re still good, and if some become seed potatoes for us for next year, so be it.
What Works, and What Works Not So Much
As I mentioned, the winter squash is not problem. The apples, however, are another issue. We have tried several suggested methods for keeping our apples fresh, without complete success. Did I mention our cold storage isn’t that cold? I think that’s our biggest problem. We can keep them for awhile, a month or two, but they do start to get soft and wrinkly. Flavor’s still good, but we also tend to lose a few.
You know that saying “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”? It’s true.
We carefully cull the apples when we bring them home, and try and keep only the best, unmarked ones for basement storage. Then we wrap them in newspaper and put them in a box, preferably in a single layer, though we’ve been known to stack, especially to save space. We’ve already covered potatoes, similar to apples, though complete losses are more rare.
Other Things We Do and What We’ll Probably Do in the Future
Previous posts have discussed what we do with some of our other fruits & vegetables that involve freezing: freezer jam; making tomato sauce, paste, salsa, etc.; freezing whole fresh fruits & veggies; and blanching & freezing vegetables such as corn, beans & others. But we have taken baby steps into more traditional preservation methods. Well, one baby step.
We make pickled beans, otherwise known as dilly beans. And they’re fabulous (no matter what the boy says). This is the recipe we use, though we use about half the salt, leave out the red pepper flakes, and have been known to use coriander seeds or dried dill when fresh is not available. Easy and delicious, and a good way to use those beans that hide from you and get big and fat. (We tend to grow a lot of our own beans, and do supplement sometimes from Garden Spot.) More reasonable sized beans are still better, and it’s very satisfying to have some crisp, delicious green (or often yellow in our case) beans in the middle of winter.
So far, that’s the only thing we preserve in more traditional ways, because we don’t yet have a pressure cooker, which we’ll need for pickling or preserving other vegetables. I’ve suspected for years that that’s in our future, and I still think so, probably sooner rather than later, maybe next year?
I think that’s it for this series, aside from the summary post I’m working on of foods, sources & methods for over-wintering.
What do you do to keep eating local year round? Let me know in the comments.