http://www.countrysidemag.com/issues/89 ... nolds.html
By Gail Reynolds
It's a given: Tomato sauce, tomato juice, dried tomatoes and even frozen ones are great extenders of the summer season's bounty. Ditto for modern ways you can store other vegetables and fruits and prolong their usage well after the garden has gone to frost.
But, in early to mid-winter, haven't you ever craved the fresh product-non-altered and naturally fresh and ripe?
In the dead of winter, just one last ripe sliceable juicy red tomato (instead of the canned variety), for example, would be nice, wouldn't it?
And a fresh head of cabbage now and again (instead of sauerkraut)...or a crunchy ripe apple (instead of apple sauce)-around say, Thanksgiving, for instance-would elicit very welcome and tasteful memories of last summer's garden or orchard harvest.
Preserving some of your harvest in this manner can be accomplished-if you're willing to give a turn-of-the-century food storage method a try.
What we're talking about here is underground or above-ground cool, covered dry storage of your harvest-the same method our forefathers employed to "keep-over" and extend the season's bounty "in its natural state"-long before the advent of electricity and the invention, dream or concept of today's most modernized storage methods became a viable choice or option.
When it comes to storage of your late summer and fall harvest, in some instances this "old way" may just possibly work well for some of the Countryside readership-given their circumstances-and for all readers as far as prolonged enjoyment of some produce or fruits in their natural state, well beyond frost and even into the dead of winter.
We've attempted holding over some of the very last of the season's bounty this way and it works.
Here's how we go about it. You may want to give it a try.
During the heat and peak of the season and toward its end, we at Timberlakes, always and ritualistically convert our weekly fruit, veggie and herb overages into usable, self-sustaining off-season after-harvest goods, by canning, freezing, and dehydrating them.
But somewhere in late September or throughout October-whenever the threat of a our Ozarks' first autumn dangerous frost or freeze is on the agenda, we change gears and put up the last-of-the-last in cool, dry, covered storage.
What to store
Vegetables ideal for this type of storage (which, for the sake of brevity, we'll term "underground storage" although the method does not necessarily have to involve a storage spot that's truly "under" the ground) are root crops (beets, carrots, rutabaga, turnips), cabbage, sweet peppers, potatoes and sweet potatoes, pumpkins and winter squash and tomatoes (particularly the green ones).
When it comes to fruits, we've found apples and pears work well and we've had some luck with peaches (but not a lot).
Where to store
Most likely, the term "underground storage" is derived from a time when pretty much everyone had a root cellar-which was at least partially underground.
However, nowadays, you can copy the method above ground, as long as the area is dark and cool and in some cases (with certain fruits or veggies) has a level of high humidity.
The storage ideally should be kept between 35-40ºF. What you really aim for is a point near (but just above) 32ºF.
However, unless you have a separate room thermostatically equipped to keep the temperature "just there" and never to actually go down to the freezing point-the 35-40 degree range should do just fine.
Some viable options can be a barn, a well-house, an above-ground "box" constructed with square hale bales; a trash barrel sunk at least partially below ground level; an above-ground mound; a pit; or some combination thereof.
Root cellar: If you are fortunate enough to still have a root cellar, by all means, use it (this is the purpose for which most likely it was originally constructed).
Here at Timberlakes, we are not that fortunate.
Barn: Frankly, we just put most of our storage-keep in a portion of the barn where it's dark; bank straw bales around and below, and close the doors and window shutters accordingly to keep out drafts that might permit the temperature to go to or below the freezing mark OR to keep out heat that might create an area warm enough to spoil the bounty.
We simply hang a thermometer in the storage area and check the weather outside, fairly much going by the seat of our pants on this one-yet, it works out fairly well.
I can't say we always get a 100 percent success rate doing it this way, but there's usually enough useable fresh stuff in mid-winter to make us happy campers and that's our sole goal.
Also-and this is only my opinion-some of the kick out of storing veggies and fruits this way is the nostalgia of it all. And if you have to go "high tech" to go back to the old ways, you might be missing the point altogether.
Well-house: Another area we use for this type of storage is our well-house, which is insulated and maintains a pretty steady cool temperature and is, of course, always dark. The well house is particular great for fruit and vegetable varieties that require a high humidity storing environment.
In any event, you'll want your storage area to be dark, so cover the windows with some opaque material, or cover up your storage bins or crates with a page or two of newspaper to keep the light out.
Basement: The basements in many modern homes are often too warm (well above 40ºF) to handle this type of over-winter storage; however, if you're lucky enough to reside in an old farmhouse with an unfinished (earth floor) basement or crawl space underneath-check the temperatures there as this could be a perfect spot!
Trash cans: If you have heavy farm equipment that can dredge a ditch deep enough to sink in a couple of trash cans (don't buy the tallest ones-several shallow ones work better), this method works very well.
You'll stack your harvest, covered with hay or wrapped in newspaper, in the can; then sink the can into the ditch, covering it with hay or wood at ground level.
Mounds: While some say you can create a mound of straw or hay and store your stuff, plain, in the bottom portion-we have found that the mound works best if you first place your harvest, stacked and wrapped in containers-at ground level and then build the mound over it.
Perhaps we're lazy, but digging into the mound for the plain stuff in the cold weather is too much of a hassle, and often times our warm winter days in the Ozarks causes the mound to heat up just enough to spoil the harvest...and after all that digging, it's a major disappointment.
The greatest problems we have encountered with the mound method in general, is that while you are trying to cover the products in storage, you must allow for some type of minimal air circulation-and you're in a total mess if you get a flooding rain.
Pit storage: Jim's father used this method often and the report is that it was successful. Once again, you'll want to dig a ditch or hole. Line the bottom with straw (or other materials, such as newspaper, sand, or sawdust) and then stack your vegetables upward in layers topped with a covering materials, such as straw.
For this type of storage, it is best to use a container that allows for some type of air flow.
The old woven bushel baskets and old crates work very well, if you can still get your hands on some.
If not, try using some of the plastic laundry baskets, or the stackable plastic crates often found in dollar and discount stores. Cardboard boxes with air holes punched through are okay in a pinch.
Line the bottom of whatever container you select to use with your layering material. We always use straw because it's readily available, but as mentioned above-sand, sawdust, or newspaper work just fine.
Then, set down a single layer of the product (either wrapped, if called for) or side-by-side plain; and top that single row with another layer of protective covering. Many of the root crops (carrots, beets, turnips etc) can be safely stacked in multiple layers.
With more tender and pliable juicy produce, such as green tomatoes, you'll want to keep your layers at a minimum of two deep.
For this type of storage, it is essential that only un-bruised, perfect produce be used.
The old adage "one bad apple can spoil the bunch" definitely applies in this instance, so take care when selecting products for this storage procedure.
As a rule (unless otherwise specified such as in pumpkins) we "wipe" but do not wash any fruit or vegetable before storing it in this manner. Residue moisture, we have found, on even one item in a storage box or bin can quickly spoil the entire unit.
We prefer to store all of products separately-cabbages in one bin; carrots in another; tomatoes in a separate bin, etc.
Root crops: Harvest carrots, turnips, beets and other root crops for this type of storage when late fall evening temperatures go down to about 30 degrees. These should be stored un-washed and do not need to be separately wrapped as you lay down your single row layers. Each layer, however, should be separated with a protective covering material, such as straw. Humidity levels here should be in the 90% range.
Onions: After pulling, leave onions on the ground for 2-3 days; then place in crates (with no covering) in an open shed airy shed for 4-6 weeks. At this point remove the tops and store in bins or string bags in an area which keeps a fairly steady temperature range of 35-40 degrees. Onions enjoy a 60-75 percent humidity environment.
Potatoes: These can be stored in the dark for about 4 months in practically any storage spot; however, to keep them from sprouting and to enjoy a longer keep period, store them in that same 35-40 degree location. Note: because the lower temperatures have a tendency to convert the starch of potatoes into sugar, the product will gradually sweeten-so you will want to keep tabs on the product and experiment with these.
Tomatoes: Harvest these just before the threat of the first killing frost and separate out the completely green tomatoes from those that have some red color to them.
While some authorities recommend just placing the tomatoes in two layers on trays or open boxes in a 55-70ºF environment; we do it somewhat differently here.
The tomatoes that are showing some red are simply placed on windowsills where they will naturally ripen within a few days from the sunlight and warmth.
The green tomatoes are individually wrapped with sheets of newspaper and then placed in bins side-by-side in only two layers. The bins are protected on all sides and the top & bottom with bales of straw and gradually ripen at about two months and thereafter.
Pumpkins: After picking, we wash out pumpkins and squash in a water bath doused with a low concentration of bleach. When they are completely dry (they can cure outdoors for a week or so-as long as the temperatures are not close to the freezing point) coat them with a protective sealant such as vegetable oil. Place the pumpkins side-by-side (but not touching) on shelves or in crates or bins; store them in a dry place; and they should keep well for several months.
Cabbage: After picking, remove the loose outer leaves of the cabbage as well as its roots and stem. Wrap each cabbage head individually with newspaper and store in boxes or bins at temperatures just above the freezing level and no higher than 40 degrees.
Apples: We follow the same rules as tomatoes for our apples. Apples however, do the very best in a high-humidity situation.
Pears: Pears should be harvested "just under" ripe and dark green. Store first as you would tomatoes or apples (wrapped); and then keep checking because you'll want to pull them out of the colder storage and in to room temperature while they are still somewhat green and hard. They should ripen to full maturity indoors with no problems.
Peaches: Authorities on the subject say that peaches can be stored up to two weeks in a cool storage area. As I mentioned, we have been unlucky on this endeavor, but it's probably worth some experimentation.
As with any form of storage, you'll want to keep tabs on the progress. Some items may ripen more rapidly than you had anticipated because of variance in temperature and humidity. And, unfortunately, some will spoil-most likely because of an imperfection gone unnoticed at harvest, or again because of temperature fluctuations.
Watch the progress of each given storage unit fairly frequently. Pull and discard the spoiled ones. Pluck up the ripe stuff and enjoy.