Cooking with Chef Ellen: Storing Crops for the Winter
A note about Plastic Bags and Sustainability
Many of the vegetables I speak about in the video and below need to be stored in airtight containers. I personally use a combination of zipper bags, silicone bags and plastic containers. I also have a vacuum sealer that I use for food I want to keep longer. I use ALL of these containers over and over again. PLEASE make sure you save the plastic bags and clamshell boxes from the grocery, your takeout containers and your plastic shopping bags. These are all very useful for storing your winter veggies and can be washed many times over. By the way, the silicone bags are a very worthwhile investment. My favorite brand is Stasher. They’re made of food grade silicone and contain no pvc/latex or petroleum. They can be used in the fridge, freezer or microwave, they can be washed by hand or in the dishwasher and they can even be submerged in boiling water to warm up what’s frozen inside, or to cook sous vide. Also, keep in mind that reusable mesh bags with toggle closures are great storage containers for anything that doesn’t store in the fridge. I use them for onions, garlic, potatoes and squash. I also take them with me to the market or CSA and they are easily cleaned in the washing machine with your regular laundry.
Carrots, Beets, Celery Root
Store these crops in the fridge. Prepare them by making sure they are completely dry and if you receive your carrots with dirt, keep the dirt. DON’T cut the root or it will let bacteria in. Trim foliage to ½”, don’t put them in water. Sort the dry beets, celery root or carrots by size and pack them in zipper bags, or silicone bags or other airtight container. Lay them side-by-side in your container and remove as much air as possible. Store flat on a lower shelf or in a bottom drawer in the fridge, check monthly for decay. OR: If you’re set up for this you can create a mini root cellar. These crops can be stored in moist sand, in a CLEAN plastic bucket, or plastic lined cardboard box in layers, not touching each other. Keep them covered, in a cool dark place, away from any pests.
Storage Kohlrabi, Turnips, Rutabagas, Radishes, Daikon
Also store these in the fridge, similar to carrots and beets. Of all the radishes, use the daikon first, as it will last the least amount of time. Store like veggies together in airtight containers. Check these often for decay.
Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Leeks
Also store these in the fridge. Wrap cabbage and leeks in airtight containers and keep them where the humidity is med-high, if you can control that in your fridge. Take Brussels Sprouts OFF the stem and store in a zipper bag or plastic container. You may have to take a layer or so off of the leeks before you use them if they get slimy, but don’t worry – they’re still good. Again, check these for decay.
Kale, Lettuce, and Greens
Store them individually in plastic bags in the fridge. These will not last long. You can wash and spin dry and layer in kitchen towels to access more easily. Spinach and other cooking greens can be steamed, squeezed of excess water and frozen in airtight containers for use later in the winter. This is a much better alternative than cooking with supermarket baby spinach that has minimal flavor.
I like to store my arugula and herbs in the fridge with their root or trimmed ends in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the top. They seem to last really well – like for two weeks. Keep any eye on them and use them quickly. Any excess herbs can be dehydrated, if you can’t use them quick enough. You can do this in your oven at 140º or in a commercial dehydrator, or just on a sheet pan in a warm area of your kitchen. When they’re completely dry, take the leaves off the stems and pack individually in labeled containers. Store these in a COOL and DARK place in your kitchen
Keep all squashes in a cool DARK place – like a file cabinet in the garage (as long as it doesn’t get too cold). They need good ventilation and not too much humidity – 60º is ideal, but not below 50º. Eat delicata, honey nut and spaghetti squashes first and then acorn squash before butternut. Try to choose unblemished squashes – a ding in the surface will allow bacteria to enter and will cause the squash to decay sooner. If you come across a decaying squash and cannot use it quickly enough, just cut out the bad part, peel and chop it up and freeze it for use later.
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
These can be stored together. Keep them in a net bag or box, but they must have good ventilation and be covered so no light can enter. Light will turn the potatoes green. Ideal temp is 45º to 50º. DO NOT store these in the fridge.
Onions and Garlic
Store onions and garlic AWAY from other vegetables, especially potatoes, as it makes them degrade faster. Keep them in a well-ventilated box or a mesh bag, in a dark, cool place, ideally at about 40º. Red onions will not last as long as yellow onions, so use them first.
Apples must be stored in the fridge and sealed in a plastic bag or they will cause all of the other vegetables in your fridge to age way too fast. Keep them as cold as possible. You probably know that if you place an apple in a paper bag with an avocado, for example, the avocado will ripen faster. So keep that in mind.