When the market is winding down, you can stock up on all kinds of storage vegetables to keep in your refrigerator or cool garage that will last several months. You can be eating local produce long after the last vegetable came out of the fields! Potatoes are an obvious one, but did you know that cabbage can last all winter in cold storage, too? And carrots, as well? Of course you already know that the Alaskan-grown cabbages and carrots are tastier than anything that comes from Outside because of our long days and cool nights, so they are worth hanging onto, even after the market closes. Other vegetables that we should be on the lookout for are beets, winter squashes, and parsnips.
But here’s the question: how do you store these so-called storage vegetables so they last far into the season, instead of rotting in your refrigerator, shriveling up in your garage, or growing long white sprouts?
Before I get too much further into my storage techniques for these vegetables, I have a confession to make. I have two refrigerators. One is in the kitchen, of course, but the other one is in the garage, and I use it for all manner of overflow. In the summer it’s really handy for storing the large amounts of vegetables I buy at the farmers’ market for the few days before I might I get around to making soups, stews, and salads, or processing them to freeze for the winter (see the previous section for directions). But in the early months of the winter, it’s full of carrots, parsnips, turnips, and cabbages from the market. This extra refrigerator is also great to be able to store those large bags and boxes of Costco produce in the wintertime, when we’re not able to get fresh, local veggies from the fields.
If you’re wondering “how on earth will I talk my spouse into buying another refrigerator?” I’ll let you in on how I was able to convince my husband. Half the refrigerator is his designated “kegerator,” which houses one or two small kegs of beer on tap from local microbreweries. He doesn’t brew his own beer (yet) but he loves to take his kegs to the breweries, taste all the beers on offer, and then have them filled with the beer of his choice. One of the kegs is 5 gallons, the other is 3 gallons. He says it’s great because he can just have a little glass of beer if he wants it, instead of having to drink a whole bottle at one time… Whatever he says about the beer consumption, it gives me a half a refrigerator to store vegetables in, so I certainly don’t complain!
The enemy of winter squash is humidity. You want to try and create a dry shell to protect the squash. This means that you don’t want to keep it too cool, like in a very cold garage, where humidity will become a problem. Maybe in a relatively cool and dry garage or basement, or just in your pantry is fine. You definitely don’t need to refrigerate them, which is a good thing if you’ve bought one of those huge banana squashes—no way would they fit in the ‘fridge! If you’ve bought spaghetti squash or Hubbard squash and it’s still green, it needs to be ripened first—do this in your warm house in a sunny spot. When they are orange and lovely, you can cook them up! Or store until you’d like to eat them. Keep an eye on them for any mold spots, and cut any mold off if you see it—then cook and eat the squash as soon as you can.
Potatoes should be stored in the cool and dark, but not in the refrigerator. If you have a cool garage, put them on the floor where it’s coolest, and make sure they are in a cardboard box where they won’t have any light on them. Don’t put them in a dark plastic bag, though, because this will keep too much moisture in, which will encourage rot. Don’t wash the potatoes until you’re ready to eat them.
Cabbages are easy—they are already wrapped in their own wrapper of cabbage leaves, so you can just pop them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Buy good, solid, heavy heads that are tightly grown—they keep much better than the lighter, more loosely-wrapped ones. If you want, you can wrap them in plastic bags, first, but it’s not necessary. As the winter progresses, you’ll just have to peel a few layers of leaves off to get to the good leaves on the inside of the cabbage. Even if the outer leaves get dried out, or a little moldy, I just peel them off and eat the good cabbage inside.
carrots, turnips, beets, and parsnips
These vegetables really need to be stored in your refrigerator to keep them happy. First, though, fold them up firmly into a large paper bag, then put the paper bag into a thick plastic bag (not the cheap grocery bags, but a good quality plastic bag). This will keep the moisture in, but the paper bag will absorb any excess moisture so the carrots won’t mold. I learned this trick from Mark Remppel of Remppel Family Farms.
Like winter squashes, the enemy of onions is moisture. After they have been cured, they can be stored in your kitchen—either on the countertop (where they will eventually sprout because of the light), or in a dark cupboard or drawer in your pantry (that’s where I like to keep them). Read more about curing onions in the “products” section!
buying Alaskan produce after the market ends
So, let’s say that you weren’t able to convince your spouse to buy an extra refrigerator, or else you just don’t have the space for it. There’s still lots of opportunities to buy local produce once the market closes. There are actually several different options for you, and some of them are as simple as looking carefully at the signs in your neighborhood grocery store!
direct from the producers
One option is to ask Mr. Rempel of Rempel Family Farms to store vegetables for you through the winter—ask him for more details in the fall when you go to the market, or call him in Palmer at 1-907-745-5554.
food buyers’ club: Organic Alaska
After exhausting those options, or for the weeks in between your orders, you can also go to your neighborhood grocery store for local produce.
Many of the grocery stores in town do make an effort to stock locally-grown produce. Look for the “Alaska-grown” stickers on the winter squashes, the “Alaska-grown” signs above the cabbages, and the bags of locally-grown carrots and potatoes. I was most successful finding locally-grown produce at Carrs’ (both Abbot and Huffman locations), New Sagaya, and Natural Pantry.
Here’s an idea: Do ask the staff in the produce department where the Alaskan stuff is, and if you like, tell them you’re interested in getting as much locally-grown products as you can… It’s bound to make a difference if lots of us show that we care where our vegetables are coming from, and that we want to support local farmers.