Throughout this past winter and early spring, Leslie and I have enjoyed beets and carrots from last year’s garden. The root veggies have been kept in a root storage bin from Gardener’s Supply Company. This is our “root cellar”, and it’s tucked away in a corner of the basement which gets minimal light but is close to the bulkhead door. This places it in the coolest part of the basement while allowing for sufficient air circulation from the drafts that come from beneath the bulkhead door. This is an ideal environment for over-winter storage of root vegetables and other “keeper” crops.
Long-term storage of root vegetables in this way is much more effective than keeping them in a modern refrigerator. How many times have you put a bag of carrots in the vegetable drawer only to take them out two weeks later and have a batch of flaccid, rubbery carrots? This is because beginning with the moment a carrot and other root vegetables are pulled from the ground, they begin losing moisture through evaporation since there is no longer soil to pull fresh water from. A refrigerator has some humidity but not enough to adequately preserve root vegetables. Hence, the rubbery carrots. So how to get your carrots to last longer than two weeks? Take ’em out of the fridge!
Using traditional root cellaring methods, the beets and carrots are packed between layers of lightly dampened sand. This is important because if the sand dries out, it acts as a dessicant and the vegetables with shrivel up and be inedible. A high level of humidity is important to preserve root crops. It’s also important to store root veggies that are as big as possible (because they retain more water) and are free from major blemishes (because those are the spots which will begin to rot first). Unfortunately we only had a couple of really large beets – ones more than three inches across – so the smaller ones did shrivel up despite the moist sand.
The beet in the picture at the top of this post and in the picture below was harvested nearly six months ago, in October. It was still as rock-hard as it was the day it was pulled from the ground:
I diced the beets and cooked them along with some mushrooms, red wine, vegetable stock, wheat berries, and dried thyme & tarragon from the garden. Along with a poached egg, it was a complete meal. Delicious! So delicious, in fact, that I was too busy wolfing down the meal to bother taking pictures. Next time I make this (soon) I’ll post a full recipe.
In the meantime, consider giving root cellaring a try, or at the very least investing in a root vegetable storage bin!