We promised the kids we would go to the aquarium in SLC today, on condition that they helped in the yard first. By mid-day we were all smeared with green stains from the tomato plants we pulled out, and dirty. I looked like I’d been living in the garden for a few weeks without a shower. My mother and father in law stopped by to visit as we were finishing. I was hurrying around so I could get cleaned up before we left, and my father in law asked if I didn’t want to take life a little slower sometime. I said I did, but not today! I know that’s a choice, but in the fall my yard doesn’t really give me a choice. Because I garden year round, when I clean a bed out, I replant it with something new. I do get a little reprieve around February when I spend my time reading books about gardening instead. I think I have a problem!
I am teaching a class this weekend about food preservation. That is what my entire fall has been consumed with, storing away food for the winter. Last year I was so excited to finally have a root cellar – I had been begging for one for years. We filled it full of squash, pumpkins, apples, beets, potatoes and onions. I had a bumper crop of tomatoes and hated to let all of the green ones freeze, so I picked a bunch and put them in the root cellar to ripen. We left for a week for Thanksgiving, and when we got back I noticed some of the tomatoes had gone bad in the bottom of the bins. I knew I needed to get them out, but didn’t have time for a week or so. By the time I got them out they were very moldy.
Mold, oh no!
What I didn’t realize is that the damp, cool conditions in a root cellar are prime breeding grounds for mold. The mold spread, and spread quickly. Within a month I had lost all of the squash and pumpkins, and soon after, the apples. We ended up taking almost everything out of the cellar and waiting for the next year to use it again. It was a very sad day.
I’m always sad when I lose food because of my mistakes, but am so grateful my family won’t starve because of it. I learn every time, and will do better next year. In fact, today I spent some time spraying the insides of my cellar with a natural mold killer. I won’t make that mistake again!
Don’t be afraid
When I talk to people about storing food, this issue comes up a lot – they are afraid to even start for fear they will mess up. Well, as my experience shows, if you don’t mess up now and then, you don’t learn the valuable lessons you need. So here’s a primer on food storage, the old fashioned way, and simple ways to implement in these ideas.
You never know when things may change in your life, and you will be so grateful to have 50 pounds of potatoes in the garage if you need them. By the way, you don’t need a root cellar to do this – I’ll share ways everyone can “lay up stores” for the winter.
Food Preservation Tips:
Techniques for storing food:
- Cold Storage- this is an area that stays cool, but above freezing. This may be an unheated basement or an insulated garage. Even a garbage can placed in a window well and surrounded by leaves will work.
- Drying- You can use an electric dehydrator, your oven or just hang food or put it on a screen to dry.
- Freezing- This is quick and easy, but will depend on your freezer space.
- Fermenting- This is a bit mysterious, but I will share some simple recipes below. This uses no electricity to preserve the foods, and is healthy for your gut.
- Water bath/Steam canning- This is the most well known method to preserve food. I still do a lot of this.
- Pressure canning- This is needed for non-acid foods like beans, beets and meat.
- Harvest Extension- This is winter gardening – covering your beds with plastic or planting in a greenhouse. That’s a whole blog post on its own!
What you can store and where to get it:
Because it’s late in the season, I will concentrate on things you can still acquire and easily preserve.
- Potatoes – You know how much I love ksl.com. This is a great source of potatoes. But my favorite source is a store called Alpine Food Storage. Look them up here www.alpinefoodstorage.com. Give the owner, Chirine, a call and ask if they still have potatoes. They will store until late spring in your garage right in the paper bag they come in. Get 50 pounds for $19. That’s some inexpensive meals!
- Winter Squash – These also will store for months in your unheated garage or basement. They like it a little warmer than some vegetables. Make sure they don’t’ freeze and watch closely for mold. As soon as you spot it, pull that squash out so it doesn’t affect the others. Again, you can find these for a steal on ksl.com. Especially after Halloween!
- Onions- I use onions every day, so a 30 pound bag is great for storage. You can find this on ⦁ ksl.com or Alpind Food Storage also. Will keep in your garage or basement.
- Garlic – Check ksl for garlic right now. Put into brown paper bags and it will keep in a cool place all winter.
- Apples – You can get deals at orchards right now. They are getting rid of their late season fruit. Check ksl again! Store in a garage or basement, but watch closely. Remember that saying “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch”. It’s true if you don’t catch it!
- Raspberries and Blackberries – the late season ones are coming on strong right now. They freeze so well for smoothies in the winter.
- Tomatoes – This one may surprise you – you can freeze tomatoes whole. They defrost great to make tomato soup or any other tomato based soup. Find on ksl or your neighbors right now. My favorite way to use them if I have a bunch is:
Wash tomatoes well, then remove stem and cut in half. Put into a crock pot tightly and cook on low for 6-8 hours. When done, use a ladle or measuring cup to scoop off all extra juice/water in the crock. Use an immersion blender or a regular blender and blend up until smooth. Put in cans and process for 40 min in steam/water bath canner.
- Cabbage – You can pick cabbage and store for some time in a cold area. It will keep longer if you don’t cut the root end off. An easier way to store is in a sauerkraut. I know it sounds complicated to make, but it really isn’t! Here are the instructions:
adapted from Sandor Katz
- Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket, one-gallon capacity or greater
- Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
- One-gallon jug filled with water
- Cloth cover (like a pillowcase or towel)
Ingredients (for 1 gallon):
- 5 pounds cabbage
- 3-4 tablespoons sea salt
- Chop or grate cabbage, finely or coarsely. Place cabbage in a large bowl as you chop it.
- Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you go. The salt pulls water out of the cabbage (through osmosis), and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting. The salt also has the effect of keeping the cabbage crunchy, by inhibiting organisms and enzymes that soften it.
- Add other vegetables. Grate carrots for a coleslaw-like kraut. Mya include onions, garlic, greens, turnips, beets. You can also add fruits (apples) and herbs and spices (caraway seeds, dill seeds, celery seeds). Experiment.
- Mix ingredients together and pack into crock. Pack just a bit into the crock at a time and tamp it down hard using your fists or any (other) sturdy kitchen implement. The tamping packs the kraut tight in the crock and helps force water out of the cabbage.
- Cover kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the crock. Place a clean weight (a glass jug filled with water) on the plate. This weight is to force water out of the cabbage and then keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep dust and flies out.
- Press down on the weight to add pressure to the cabbage and help force water out of it. Continue doing this periodically (as often as you think of it, every few hours), until the brine rises above the cover. This can take up to about 24 hours, as the salt draws water out of the cabbage slowly. Some cabbage, particularly if it is old, simply contains less water. If the brine does not rise above the plate level by the next day, add enough salt water to bring the brine level above the plate. Add about a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
- Leave the crock to ferment in an out of the way corner.
- Check the kraut every day or two. Sometimes mold appears on the surface. Skim what you can off of the surface; it will break up and you will probably not be able to remove all of it. Don’t worry about this. The kraut itself is under the anaerobic protection of the brine. Rinse off the plate and the weight. Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months and months.
- I put into individual mason jars and store in the fridge or cool cellar all winter.
- Meat – I know I don’t grow this in my garden, but I have been feeling pushed to preserve more of it. Right now you can find a whole, ½ or ¼ beef on sale for a great price on ksl. You can also find natural chicken chunks for sale at Alpine Food Storage every few weeks. I pressure can the chicken, or freeze it in ziplock bags. It’s so nice to have it on hand, and the price beats anything you will find in a store.
There are so many more foods and preservation methods, but these are great to start with! Check these sources, follow your gut – you will know what your family needs. Don’t be caught wishing you had prepared. Have fun and do it as a family – they may grumble, but they will be proud when they are eating food they helped preserve. Happy preserving!
Dr. Michelle Jorgensen
This information is not meant as medical advice. It is provided solely for education. Our practice would be pleased to discuss your unique circumstances and needs as they relate to these topics.