Authored by Hilary Gebauer, UMN Public Health and Nutrition
In the middle of February, it can be hard to talk to friends in California. They’ll tell you of their latest trip the farmers market, or the newest delicacy that showed up in their CSA box. But just because the Mill City Courtyard and the farmer’s fields are covered in snow, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy local produce grown right here in Minnesota.
It’s true, eating local throughout the winter in Minnesota will take a little bit of advance planning, but it can be done. Many of the late season crops such as winter squash and root vegetables (potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, etc.) will last several weeks. Stored properly, you can enjoy them for your New Years Day feast and beyond.
To store beets, carrots, parsnips and rutabagas cut off the greens about 2” from the top of the vegetable and store them in a plastic bag in the hydrator drawer of your refrigerator. For longer term storage you can pack the roots in moist sand in a cool spot in your house. Onions will last for months stored in a cool, dry, ventilated place. Potatoes should be stored in a cool (but not cold, don’t put them in the refrigerator) dark place. Store winter squash the same way and it should last for months. When you’re getting your vegetables ready for storage, be sure to pull out any bruised or damaged pieces and eat those first. Storing them with the other vegetables could make the whole batch go bad more quickly. When stored properly, most vegetables will retain their original flavor and nutrient content.
Another good option for winter storage is freezing. Many vegetables that are available throughout the summer take well to blanching. This involves cooking the vegetables for a short time and then plunging them into cold water to stop the cooking. Cooking times vary by vegetable so check a cookbook or do a search on-line for the vegetable you want to blanch. After the vegetables have cooled, store them in the freezer in an airtight container. Freezing can also save you time later on. If you’ve had your fill of zucchini, try grating it and storing it in measured portions so you can quickly bake a loaf of zucchini bread on a cold winter day.
Other options for preserving the summer bounty include canning and dehydrating. Check your local library for more information. The National Center for Home Food Preservation also has a great comprehensive guide to home canning (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/publications_usda.html).
It’s true that eating local throughout the winter takes a little bit of work on the front end, but think of how great it will be to enjoy locally grown mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, or a warm slice of zucchini bread in February. Over the winter our favorite farmers will be making plans for the next growing season. Take some time this winter to read up on different food preservation methods and make plans of your own for what you’ll stock up on next summer so that you can eat local all winter long!
Don’t forget to search our recipes for delicious winter meals!