As I’ve said before, I think that I was a squirrel in a previous life. All summer, I somewhat lackadaisically picked fresh vegetables from my garden or bought them at the farm stand. I got what I needed for the week and maybe a little extra to freeze. Now, with a chill in the air, I know the days of catch-as-catch-can are drawing near. The squirrels and I know this. We get a little panicky and start to hoard.
I blame this personality quirk on reading too many books. One that changed the way I think about food is Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal Vegetable Miracle.” After reading it, I found it hard to eat a banana without considering just how far it had to travel.
We are accustomed to being able to buy fresh produce all year round. Last year, I was in a supermarket and saw a nice-looking sleeve of garlic at a decent price. On closer examination, I saw that the garlic was from China. Chances are, your supermarket garlic is also from China, since China produces 75 percent of the world’s supply. I’m sure the farmers in China are excellent garlic growers, but that’s a long way for those little bulbs to travel. From then on, I made a point to stock up on local garlic. Every time I see some at a farm stand, I buy a few extra.
This past weekend, my husband and I went to our favorite farm stand, Black Walnut Farm in Cornwallville, NY. Farmer Todd Tremble started this organic farm 17 years ago and clearly loves what he does. His enthusiasm is infectious. Anyone who gets a twinkle in their eye when they talk about a patty pan squash recipe is my kind of person.
Todd was kind enough to walk us around his stand and show us some of the produce that keeps particularly well. I also consulted a book that my sister gave me, Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables.
There are many items that you can store without canning or freezing. If you plan to stock up, or “put food by,” pick unblemished fruits and vegetables. Don’t wash them, check them every couple of weeks and remove any that have signs of spoilage.
Winter squash, such as butternut, buttercup, acorn, Hubbard and spaghetti, are excellent keepers. Pick ones that are field cured and blemish free. The rinds should be hard. Pack them in a single layer. They should keep until March when stored at 50 to 55º F.
Smaller pie pumpkins should keep until February. Store them as you would winter squash. The larger ones should last until Thanksgiving unless, of course, you carve them for Halloween like I plan to do.
Ask your farmer for winter onions. They tend to be smaller, but are good keepers. Place the onions in a mesh bag, crate or container that allows air to circulate. Onions like a cool, moderately dry location. Our basement works well. They should keep for several months.
Hardneck garlic will keep until May, which is another good reason to buy local. Store garlic, like onions, or look for one of those beautiful braids of garlic and hang it on the back of your basement door.
Potatoes are another good vegetable to store. They need to be kept in a dark, cool place. Some people wrap the potatoes in newsprint to store, but you can also just keep them covered in a crate with good ventilation. Any light exposure will turn the potatoes slightly green and that is something you want to avoid. They should be good until April or May.
Parsnips, carrots and beets are best stored in a container layered with sand or damp sawdust. Parsnips and carrots should keep for most of the winter. Beets will keep for several months.
Other produce requires either canning or freezing. If you want to stock up on tomatoes, now is your chance. I saw big boxes of cooking tomatoes for $12 at Story Farms in Catskill. If canning sounds like too much work and you have some freezer space, wash the tomatoes, core them and chop or freeze them whole. They won’t work as slices for a burger, but they will work thawed and cooked in a sauce.
I grate extra zucchini and freeze it. I will welcome a warm loaf of zucchini bread in February. I also slice extra summer squash and freeze it. It’s easy to grab some and toss it into soups or a stir-fry.
My husband is in charge of roasting peppers. He likes to roast hot and mild ones. After they are cooled and peeled, he slices and freezes them. We usually freeze enough to last all winter. If you see organic bell peppers, snag some of them. Bell peppers are number three on the Environmental Working Group Dirty Dozen list of the most pesticide contaminated fruits and vegetables. I always try to buy those organic.
Stock up good and, come winter, you’ll be able to smugly walk through the supermarket and pass all the California carrots and Chinese garlic knowing that you have your own private stash of local goods.
Black Walnut Farm is located on East Stone Bridge Road in Cornwallville. Story Farms is at the junction of Routes 32 and 23A in Catskill. Both stands are open until Thanksgiving.