The Simple No-Processing Way to Store Fruits and Vegetables
By Mike & Nancy Bubel
Note: the subtitle of the newer editions is Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables. I got the 1971 hardcover edition from the library, so my version had some awesome 70s lettering on the front. (Same art, though.)
I was on the library website looking for something else when I saw this book.
This is a very simple book, and a quick read. It has three main parts:
1) Overview of vegetables that store well in a root cellar, and what their ideal conditions are
2) Descriptions of many, many different kinds of root cellars and other related cold-storage options
The authors were so jazzed about root cellars that they traveled around the U.S. taking pictures and drawing diagrams of interesting set-ups they found. They only touch on the greater philosophy behind root cellaring once or twice:
“Home canning has been common practice for something over 100 years, freezing perhaps 40 years at most. We consider these technologies to be conveniences, and of course they are. Now, we have no wish to turn back the clock. We’re very glad to be living here and now. But haven’t we been missing out on a truly basic convenience — the practice of root cellaring — in our preoccupation with jars and lids and blanching kettles and freezer bags? It’s as though we’ve forgotten briefly, almost momentarily, considering the long sweep of human history, how to make use of natural rhythms, how to sensibly meet and participate in each season of the year, how to put natural cold storage to work for us. Now we need root cellars again. Perhaps, in a way, more than ever.”
I think I pulled one of the only philosophical paragraphs in the entire book. The rest is given over to discussions of how real people are doing this. Here’s one example that really struck me:
In this example, some city-dwellers built a little box into one of their basement windows. The box is big enough to hold two refrigerator-crisper drawers of vegetables. They open the window on fall nights to let in cold air, but during the winter the temp stays just right.
I love simple solutions like these. The Bubels also provide photos and plans of root cellars they’ve come across, which comprise: drawers built into stairs, improvised crawlspaces, an old buried milk truck, a really beautiful HUGE buried stone cellar, a combination root cellar and smokehouse, and many others.
Basically, an optimal root cellar needs a cold air intake, a source of humidity, and a stale air outlet. But because different vegetables thrive in different conditions (and they have a detailed list in the book), you can tweak your cellar to your circumstances. For example, perhaps you only want to store pumpkins and winter squash? You’re in luck. Those are best kept at 50-60 degrees F and moderately dry, 60-70% relative humidity. You could easily achieve this in a cool basement room and call it your root cellar.
The recipe section has some gems, too. Some great ideas on CSA box cooking can be found here — simple recipes that call for things like celeriac and salsify, turnips and rutabagas. There’s also a section on fermenting and pickling. They have a really nice way of explaining the benefits of lactic acid (which fermented foods are rich in):
“Lactic acid, like yogurt, buttermilk, and acid fruits, helps to dissolve the iron in iron-rich foods so that it can enter the bloodstream.”
This makes sense at so many levels, because since I started fermenting I’ve noticed that the most iron-rich foods are the ones that taste the best in combination with some type of fermentation. Examples? Pancakes made from wheat flour soaked in buttermilk. Steak with fermented banana peppers on top. Sausages and sauerkraut.
Naturally, this book has inspired me to think about whether we could have a small root cellar. We don’t produce a ton of stuff, but even having some extra kraut storage-space during the winter would be nice. I already have a spot in mind: there’s a closet under the basement steps that always stays pretty cold in the winter anyway, and right now it is literally filled with old junk. I am going to investigate it this winter to see how cold it really gets, to gauge how much work it would be to change it into a real cellar. Add that to the list of to-do’s for 2010 I guess… Damn that list is long already.
UPDATE, July 23, 2010: I’ve just purchased this book and am drawing up plans to convert our basement closet into a root cellar. Hope we can get this done by September or so. Looking at this book again was like seeing a friend after a long absence. (I feel that way about a lot of books, though.)
UPDATE, Feb. 1, 2011: No, we never got around to making a root cellar last year. Instead we bought a small second-hand refrigerator and set it up as our pickling fridge! So wrong, and yet so wonderful. I have not abandoned hope, though. I WILL get my root cellar, someday!