Press-Republican

November 25, 2013

Eating well from the root cellar

By LAURIE DAVIS
Press-Republican

---- — Now’s the time of year I generally like to write about two things: winter storage crops and eating locally for the holidays. 

This year is no exception. I love the root vegetables we’re able to grow and store here in the North Country. Hopefully you were able to visit the farmers’ markets and stock up before the markets closed. It’s not too late – some markets are open through the holiday season or even through the winter. Visit www.adirondackharvest.com for an up-to-date listing of regional farmers’ markets. 

What’s available now for root vegetables? We’ve got winter squash from acorn to butternut to Delicata (although the latter won’t last long in your root cellar so try to use it up soon!) Don’t forget that pumpkins are also a squash and make delicious eating – I just made a large batch of creamy curried pumpkin soup to freeze for mid-winter comfort meals.

Potatoes grow well locally and there are so many varieties to choose from including those with skins of red, white, blue and yellow. Carrots and beets are wonderfully sweet additions to the root cellar, although I have to say on our farm they store much better in a spare refrigerator. We harvest these treats directly into plastic grocery bags, clinging soil and all. The bags are loosely tied at the top to provide some air circulation but still keep the veggies from drying out. Our carrots and beets last for at least six months in this way.

The alliums are an essential component of the well-stocked root cellar. If onions and shallots have been properly cured you can enjoy them right into the late winter (except for the super sweet varieties). We layer ours on old bread trays and stack them in a cool corner of our basement. Leeks are harvested, cleaned and stored in the spare ‘fridge. And garlic! It’s the only commercial crop we still produce on our farm, about 10,000 heads each year. We sell most of it as seed garlic to other local farms, but still end up with pounds of it to enjoy for many months.

My favorite root vegetable is the sweet potato. Did you know that we can grow them up here in the north? Traditionally these starchy tuberous roots come to our supermarkets after being grown in the south. But several years ago our farm decided to experiment with planting them here. The catalog said it was possible, so why not give it a try?

We tried our best to simulate southern growing conditions using raised beds covered in black plastic mulch to warm the soil early. We planted the “slips” (small bare-root sweet potato plants) into holes in the plastic and waited. It was kind of a gardening miracle. The plants vined out beautifully, covering the beds and smothering competing weeds. They had no pests that we could detect, probably because they haven’t found their way to northern climes yet, and the deer did not venture into the center of our garden. Our nice light sandy loam and irrigation system were helpful as well.

In late September we dug around under the plastic and were amazed at the treasures beneath. The sweet potatoes were monstrously huge. A particularly memorable one weighed 8 pounds and fed us for a week, still deliciously sweet in its giant size. We’ve never looked back and now enjoy sweet potatoes for a couple of months (they don’t store for nearly as long as regular potatoes).

Does your farmer grow sweet potatoes? Hope you can find some for the Thanksgiving table. Visit www.adirondackharvest.com to find your local farmer.

Laurie Davis is an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the coordinator for Adirondack Harvest. Reach her at 962-4810, Ext. 404, or by email: lsd22@cornell.edu.