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Making Peace with the North

12.29.10

I have recently had a realization regarding living in a northerly climate: the north gifts us the ability to store food passively. Living in the north can feel like a shortcoming when it comes to short growing seasons and lack of heat, but increasingly my food adventures are teaching me that cold is key to many wonderful food-things, root cellaring veg included.

I’m still trying to get my head around root veg cellaring. It really can’t be this simple, can it? Well into the end of December, and the root veg in the photo were the only veg required for last night’s dinner. Carrot slaw, mashed potato with chevre, and 9-hr roasted beets. When the new year rings in, I’ll be a happy man not because I enjoy new year’s, but because I’ll have achieved reaching January with a cellar full of garden veg in my first year of giving it a go. At this rate, reaching spring with at least some remaining garden veg doesn’t seem like an unrealistic goal – which, if achieved, will make a wholesale change on the food culture in our family. The hardiness and storability characteristics of the veg and fruit themselves will decide when we eat what, which I always find rewarding – but perhaps more importantly, we will be vastly closer to producing all the veg, fruit, and herbs we need  on our simple, small, northerly city lot.

Something to think about: if preserving is trendy anew, root cellaring should easily dominate canning in our time-scarce society. I’m with Eliot Coleman – forget hot water canning in the heat, I’m all over letting my northerly weather keep fresh veg happy through the winter. Zero energy cost. Zero jar-packing-and-canning or freezing. Fresh food. Genius.

11 Responses

  1. It’s pretty rewarding isn’t it – once you forget about what is in the stores this time of year and quit listening to everyone telling you to eat ____ & _____ it becomes much easier, the real meaning of eating seasonally. I did not can one thing this year – but I did freeze a few things besides our various meats.

  2. Raymond says:

    While I agree that cellaring would dominate, that isn’t to say that canning doesn’t have it’s place. Apple butter is one thing I will point to as an item that makes canning all worth it. Think of it as an accent to the staples, letting you have things that don’t cold store as well. Nothing wrong with some canned cherries either.

  3. TTC – rewarding indeed, and I completely agree about being connected to the seasons sans effort.

    Raymond – You bet. I put up highbush cranberry paste, apricot jam, and a plethora of pickled carrots. It certainly does have its place – especially on a condiment/pickle basis, but on a ‘daily bread’ basis, I’m still all over root cellaring.

  4. And root cellaring? Tell me how I can have one at my house. This I have been dying to know. This is the missing bit of information here. I am all in. But, will be investigating the HOW which is a big question. What must one DO to have a root cellar?
    :)
    Valerie

  5. PS – I do know what my grandmother did. What do I do on my city lot?

  6. Valerie – I know…I’m working on a post about a solution. It doesn’t help me much to go on about this stuff if it will be dismissed due to lack of accessibility. I’m all about accessibility. Stay tuned.

  7. arlene says:

    I will be interested in your thoughts on how to make a root celler work, I have a few things in my cellar (in the old part of the house that is almost a hundred years old) but can’t keep veggies till spring, no matter what different ways I have tried yet, I have read all the books in regards to outside (which in my worst monhts can get down to min 40 max). I have water if you dig down even three feet in almost everywhere on the farm, so if I wanted a “root” cellar outside, I would have to build a hill up, and I am just not sure that it would give me the keeping quality that I am looking for.

    I am keep trying to figure out how to use my very deep dry cistern that is out back by the barn, it works very well for hanging meat to age etc.. but have yet to figure out how else to make use of it. Anyway look forward to your thoughts in the future.

  8. Mel says:

    I’m with you on this, wholeheartedly. I cannot abide the taste of canned vegetables. Frozen ones, while ok in a pinch, aren’t so great either. And eating pickles all winter long loses its appeal pretty quickly.

    I know you mentioned you’ll soon be posting on the logistics of establishing a cellar, but I’m going to ask this now anyway – about how cold do you think the cellar needs to be for it to keep the veg fresh enough? I have a space under the basement stairs that I think could be easily converted into a cellar, but I’m not sure that it gets quite cold enough. I’ll have to install a thermometer under there.

  9. Arlene – hope my recent post helps. I’m curious whether it’s a temperature, humidity, or ventilation problem in your case. Veg needs far more cold than is intuitive – close to 0C, is it getting that cold in your space?
    Mel – glad I’m not alone. I concur 100% with your assessment of put up veg via different methods. As mentioned elsewhere, the veg needs cold close to 0C, which essentially requires ventilation to the outside [which is good for the space anyway re: air exchange of gases from some items, esp apples and cabbage]. I’d be happy to take a look at your space, just let me know if you want me to.

  10. We’re sort of on our own here in the North, aren’t we? Especially the Northwest. We’ve got a lot of trial and error to do as far as what foods to grow, what stores in the ground, what’s really worth it to can or should it be frozen or dried or packed in root cellar. I’m slowly figuring it out though!

  11. Kevin says:

    VGC – I really figured this knowledge would have already been largely gained. I do think new plant cultivars and warming urban microclimates are allowing some tomfoolery [ex: my apricot tree and grapes], but the basics like root cellaring veg seem to have lost the battle to the box-store-year-round-supply. I only blame the companies so much – it’s us who demanded it, and they supplied it.

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