Storing Root Vegetables from Christmas until Spring

Last Christmas we started an experiment, storing root vegetables from Christmas until Spring to avoid waste. We're now in March and are still eating those vegetables, which should still be good for at least another 2 weeks. So I'd say that experiment was a success. And we will be doing much more of this. Today, 2 March 2022, I made soup for lunch from carrots that had been in our porch since 24 December 2021. I didn't freeze them, prep them or bury them. Yet we are still enjoying them, and will be able to continue eating them for at least 2 more weeks. This is what we did.

Root Vegetable Surplus

We have had an allotment and grown our own vegetables for years. We run our shop too, plus we have two sons at school and college. So whilst we don't perhaps buy as many vegetables in summer and autumn as non-growers do, we are nowhere near self-sufficient. Our allotment is a joy and it is big. It is therefore a big task to cultivate every bit of it (much as we aim to), and the reality is we cannot spend as much time up there as we would like. 

This means we do find ourselves buying vegetables at different stages in the year. Just before the big supermarkets closed on Christmas Eve, they started massively discounting perishable food as they always do. Presumably they do this because they know they're going to be closed for a couple of days, and expect deliveries of fresh supplies immediately after Christmas. In light of all that: everything must go. 

Tempting as it is to fill our fridge with discounted goods in situations like this, there's a limit to what we can realistically store. And the last thing I want to do is take things we will never realistically eat, thereby depriving someone else of it, only for it to end up in the bin. So imagine my (ahem) delight when Andy came home with rather a lot of carrots, parsnips and baking potatoes on Christmas Eve. To be precise: 11.5kg of carrots, 6.5kg of parsnips and 40 large baking potatoes. For a family of four who have already bought all their Christmas veg and/or grown it, that's a lot of veg.

What are we going to do with all this, says I? "It cost pennies! And they had so much left, this wasn't even half of what I could have bought! But don't worry" says Andy. "I have a plan." Well then. I'm all ears.

Store in a cool, dark place

Andy had seen all this produce reduced in previous years and had wondered how long it would last if you attempted to store it. As the supermarket was virtually giving it away, this was his opportunity to find out. We don't have a root store, much as I'd love one, or a root cellar, or similar (if you're wondering what they even are, check out this guide to root cellars from Mother Earth News). We have a freezer but it is usually pretty full, as it was last December. We have a cellar, but we don't keep anything down there that might get eaten by a passing rodent - all food is either tinned or in sealed containers plus, of course, our home brewed wine, cider and mead. And there isn't a huge amount of time to start processing vegetables in jars at Christmas time.

What we do have is an unheated porch. And some heavy duty potato sacks made from paper.  

So we transferred the vegetables to the sacks, one kind of vegetable in each. We folded the bag over and stored it in the unheated porch which is extremely cold in January. Where possible, we raised the bags above the floor slightly (on bricks, pieces of wood, whatever you have) to keep the air circulating around them.

And here we are over 2 months later, still eating our way through them. All three vegetables are still perfectly firm, they haven't gone limp like carrots have a tendency to do. No green potatoes. The carrots and parsnips have started growing a bit, and the carrots are probably the vegetable that looks like it will give up the earliest. The outsides of them are discolouring now though, when you peel them, they're still perfect and firm on the inside. The thing is, because we didn't grow them, we have no idea how old they were when we bought them. But however old they are, they're still perfect for making carrot soup.

Storing Root Vegetables from Christmas until Spring

This carrot, coconut and cardamom soup is a particular favourite.

We had tried storing vegetables in traditional hessian storage sacks in the past without a great deal of success. But if I'm honest, I'm not convinced we stored them in a cool, dry place. So I think we will try these again too.  

Why is Storing Root Vegetables so appealing?

(Appealing... geddit? Sorry.)

There are a number of reasons we're delighted to have realised something that people before us have known for hundreds of years: storing root vegetables in the right way means they last ages. And there are a number of reasons to do it:

* reduced food waste. As I've mentioned before, we're on the IKEA Live LAGOM Programme which is inspiring people to live more sustainably. One of the early modules we covered was food waste. Now I don't know whether some of those carrots, parsnips and potatoes reduced at the supermarket would have gone to waste if Andy hadn't bought them. But these kinds of foods are wasted up and down the country every day. These will not be. I was given a tip once: imagine those vegetables being grown. The seed being planted, watered, the seed germinating, the plant growing and the vegetables forming and growing. Then think of the machine or person picking the vegetables, and the journey they have to take to arrive in the supermarket, and then to your house. Surely we owe that lowly carrot, having been through all that, not to simply end up in the food waste bin because we forgot it was in the fridge?

* convenience. I always know I've got carrots, parsnips and baking potatoes without having to shop for them (I hate shopping so that's a very big win for me). I'll let you know how that works out in May when I no longer have my stash, mind you.

* reduced number of shopping trips (see above)

* money saved. The vegetables cost pennies to buy, plus we don't have to keep travelling to the shop to buy more of them. Yes we bought the bags, but they can be reused at least once more. And if we can crack the hessian bags, they can be washed. Those vegetables that cost pennies on 24 December are going to have lasted about 3 months by the time we've finished them.


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