By Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, Experience Life
Ah, fall. The season of the first scarlet leaves and the first scarlet flushes of sheepish regret: Why didn’t I plan elaborate activities to take advantage of every sunshine-soaked weekend? Why didn’t I eat outside every single weekend? Why did I keep working my job, keep sleeping between the same four walls, keep shopping in grocery stores when I could’ve been enjoying summer?
Now Halloween looms on the horizon, threatening to bowl us over like that rumbling boulder in the opening scene of that Indiana Jones movie. How can I get out of its way at the last second? How can I evade the terrifying rolling stone of oncoming winter?
I know: I could buy a rutabaga! A parsnip. Some beets.
True, summer is fading, but it’s not too late to start shopping at the farmers’ market, and the fall storage crops available now still give regretful cooks a chance to grab summer’s last-gasp bounty.
Let’s start by getting some lingo down. What are storage crops?
Once upon a time, there were no refrigerators — and certainly no refrigerated airplanes delivering strawberries from Peru to Maine. And people dealt with this by arranging everything about their gardens and farms accordingly. They planted long-storing grains like oats and barley. (Ask me sometime about the British Isles around AD 1000, when people ate oatmeal twice a day. I will go on at length.)
These wise people counted on invisible microbes to turn fresh cream into cultured butter, making it available long after the cows shut down. (Dairy animals make milk for their newborns, and don’t make milk when they’re pregnant, so typically they’d have a fallow period in the darkest time of the year.)
They dried fish, in case the seas or other waterways froze, or if winter storms made it too hazardous to go out to fish.
They put up wine, beer and sauerkraut as a very good way to get shelf-stable calories and phytonutrients in winter.
They dried beans — and not just beans, but lentils and split peas, too.
And they devoted a whole section of their gardens to root-cellar vegetables, which are vegetables that can sit on a cool, dark shelf for a couple of months with no ill effect.
A root cellar was essentially any place underground and out of the sunlight that stayed at 35 to 60 degrees all year with good enough air flow to prevent moldering.
Back when root cellars were popular, root crops (like beets, carrots and parsnips) and many cellar-friendly fruits (like apples and pumpkins) were cultivated for their storage qualities. An apple orchard, for instance, would offer early-ripening apples, cider apples and keeping apples — all sorts of apples to reflect people’s various needs.
Even today, when airplanes regularly deliver South American spring asparagus, these storage crops of yore appear in farmers’ markets in the fall, and they are all worth eating. Better yet, they’re worth roasting — the easiest of all conceivable cooking techniques.
Next: An easy technique for roasting any “storage crop” vegetable