Stacking Functions Garden

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Book review: Root Cellaring

rootcellaringRoot Cellaring
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

3) Recipes

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!

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CSA Week 18

It’s here, boo-hoo. Our final week of CSA for 2009:

1 bunch kale
2 stalks of brussels sprouts
2 heads broccoli
1 bag saute mix
1 large butternut squash
2 bunches radishes
2 bags of herbs for transplanting or using fresh
4 onions
4-5 apples
1 pie pumpkin
4 truffles (a thank-you gift for last csa week)

I’m really sad to see our CSA come to an end.  It has been so great getting all this fresh produce every week.  Combined with what we grew in our garden, we had very cheap grocery store trips all summer long and into the fall now.  I don’t know whether we’re getting a CSA or not next year; depends on if we can find someone to split it with us.

Standard CSA info:

What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts

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CSA Week 17


1 head romaine lettuce
1 pie pumpkin
5 apples
1 “sugar baby” watermelon
2 tomatoes
3 heads broccoli
2 squash – “heart of gold”
A nice handful of parsnips
3 onions
4 really cute little gold turnips
2 kohlrabis (one purple, one green)

Well, this is almost it.  The second-to-the-last week of CSA.  I absolutely loved getting a box of fresh produce every week for the last 17 weeks.  And I think we actually got a really good deal — if we had purchased all of this from the store I feel certain it would have added up to more than what we paid for our half-share.  What’s more, we’ve eaten way more fresh vegetables this summer than I ever thought possible, and what a treat they all were.  Having the CSA also enabled us to do more preserving of the stuff we grew in our garden, so now we have food laid out for the winter as well.

Standard CSA info:

What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts

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Recipe: autumn squash soup

This is a great “using up a bunch of stuff from the CSA box” recipe.  It is also very versatile.  Adapted from the Autumn Squash Barley soup recipe in the St. Martin’s Table cookbook.


Autumn Squash Soup

1/4. c. yellow split peas
3 c. stock or water
1/2 c. brown rice or barley

Cook peas and grain in water or stock until both are tender.  Meanwhile:

1 T. oil or butter
1/2 c. onions, chopped
1 leek, chopped (or 1 celery stalk)

Saute the onions and leek until soft and translucent.

2 med. parsnips, chopped
2 c. squash, peeled, seeded and diced
2 sm. turnips, chopped
1 kohlrabi, chopped

Add these vegetables to the sauteed onions, then cover with water or stock and simmer until soft.

Mix the vegetables and grains/split pea mixture together in a stock pot, and add all your seasonings:

2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 T. sherry or white wine (optional)
1/2 tsp. ground coriander or cumin
1/2 tsp. celery seed

Mix everything together, cook for a couple more minutes, and then give it a whirl in the food processor or blend with a hand-held blender.  That last step is optional and the SMT cookbook didn’t mention it, but it does look prettier this way.  We ate ours really thick, but you could thin it down a bit with some extra water or stock if you like.

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CSA Week 15

Seriously, how can there only be 3 weeks left of CSA?


Today’s CSA box, before we split it with our neighbors, contained:

1 head green leaf lettuce
1 napa cabbage (seriously, the biggest one I’ve ever seen.  Freakin’ huge)
5 apples
1 super cute Yellow Doll watermelon
9 beautiful tomatoes, various kinds
2 eggplants
1 head “cheddar” cauliflower
3 kohlrabis
1 little box of raspberries
2 red onions

We had the eggplant and half the napa cabbage in a stir-fry for supper.  Good stuff.  But there is so much cabbage that I think we might have to make another batch of kimchi, even though we also have two batches of sour kraut going right now.

Standard CSA info:

What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts

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What to do with celeriac?

We got celeriac in our CSA last week.  It’s a kind of celery, but it’s grown as a root vegetable (from Wikipedia).  I’d never had it before.  Here’s what it looked like, raw:

celeriac2You can use the root just as you’d use any root vegetable, and the leaves can be used like parsley.  Adam cut up the root, and mixed it together with some cut up potatoes, then put them in a foil packet with some butter on the grill for 30 minutes over med-low heat.  Here’s how it came out:

celeriac1You can see the pieces of celeriac, they are more square, with yellowy edges, whereas the potatoes have round edges.  He also put in some red onions.  The verdict:  absolutely delicious.  I am going to add this to my garden wish-list for 2010 and I’ll do some investigating on how to grow it.

It sort of has the taste and texture of a celery-infused potato, but it’s creamier than a potato.  It’s not terribly unlike the flavor of parsnips, actually, but it’s more delicate.

Later in the week we used the leaves in a soup.  Also very good.

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CSA Week 14


Today’s full-share CSA box included:

1 head Romanesco broccoli (they look like little christmas trees!)
1 bag of salad mix
1 bag of grapes
7 or 8 parsnips
3 gorgeous heirloom tomatoes of unknown variety
5 heirloom roma tomatoes
2 bell peppers
Sweet corn (enough for two meals)
2 heads kohlrabi
1 bunch French breakfast radishes
4 zucchinis

I couldn’t care less about the zucchinis, but everything else in the box was quite nice indeed.  The radishes must be from a second, later planting.  It’s been sufficiently long now since my radish-eating marathon of early June that I’m excited to eat them again.

I’m curious to see what the parsnips taste like.  I always wait until after the frost to pick mine, since the freezing makes them sweeter.  I don’t expect these to be bitter though, just maybe not quite as sweet.

Standard CSA info:
What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts

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CSA Week 13


Today’s full-share CSA, before splitting it with our neighbors:

1 head of “Romanesco” broccoli
1 celeriac (giant celery root, I guess you use it like potatoes)
1 small bag of grapes
1 bunch savoy cabbage (looks a lot like spinach)
5 roma tomatoes
1 package cherry tomatoes
Variety of other heirloom tomatoes, various sizes and colors
1 bunch red beets
3 rutabagas
6 mixed peppers (bell, banana)
Several small orange turkish eggplants (they look just like tomatoes)
Handful of onions, various sizes

Standard CSA info:
What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts

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CSA Week 12


These boxes just keep getting better and better.  Week 12’s full-share box:

1 head cauliflower
1 bunch cilantro
6 apples
2 heads bok choi
3 heirloom tomatoes
1 cantaloupe
1 bag green beans
Mixed peppers: 2 purple, 2 green, 1 banana
4 beautiful eggplants
5 cucumbers
1 pt box of crab apples

Tomorrow night (or maybe Saturday) I am going to make apple sauce with some of my apples and the crab apples.  I think they will give the sauce a nice tang.  Right now, at this very minute, we are canning tomatoes.  MANY tomatoes.  Will post about that tomorrow.

Standard CSA info:
What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts