Root Cellar and Pantry Spaces

29 11 2008

It’s interesting how something low tech and simple can make such a huge difference in the day to day operations of a household. The refrigerator is indispensable, but a root cellar really adds another dimension to food storage. Anything that requires a cool humid environment will do quite well in a root cellar.

Pumphouse root cellar

The pumphouse converted to a root cellar

First you need the appropriate space, of course. Most of us here in the PNW don’t have a root cellar dug in the back yard. One of the reasons for this, at least here Upriver, is lots of rain. Those of you with sump pumps in your basements will know what I’m talking about. Have a look around the house and outbuildings and see what types of spaces you have available.

Ideal root cellar temps are 32F - 40F with 95% humidity. This photo was taken in August - not ready yet!

I put a thermometer with a humidity sensor into our well pumphouse for a while and found that it had pretty good storage conditions. It’s usually about 5 degrees below ambient and in winter holds at about 35F – 40F since we keep a small heater in there to keep the pipes from freezing. We have a pressure tank so humidity is about 88% on average. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good for storing most things for a while. I’m not trying to keep my fall harvested carrots until spring, but I can store potatoes and cabbages for a few months and free up some space in my refrigerator.

Wrap cabbages in a moist cloth since they need extra humidity.

Wrap cabbages in a moist cloth since they need extra humidity.

A good article on root cellaring can be found at Mother Earth News. It’s written by Mike and Nancy Bubel who wrote Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables. Another idea might be a cold box which could be workable even in an apartment. The useless window above the sink perhaps?

The wrapped cabbages are kept in a cooler with the lid cracked open - ventilation is important!

The wrapped cabbages are kept in a cooler with the lid cracked open - ventilation is important!

Another useful space is, in my case, a closet under the stairs. This is the coolest place in the house and stays somewhere in the neighborhood of 50F – 60F most of the year. It is also dry. Here I can store large sacks of oatmeal, flour, sugar and onions. I picked up a box of sweet potatoes and it seems to be the perfect conditions for them too.

The coat closet, also under the stairs, was converted into a baking pantry with shelves shortly after we moved in. There I keep totes with my baking flours, spices, pasta, rice and legumes. It’s a great stash for nuts, dried fruit and chocolate. An article about stocking a pantry at MEN can be found here and indepth information from Sharon Astyk’s blog. You’ll notice a new category in my blogroll for pantry blogs as well. Feel free to suggest your favorites!

Keep in mind that it’s really best to store only what you use. It’s easiest to start by stocking up on the non-perishables staples and go from there. I don’t keep MRE’s or other freeze-dried meals since we don’t eat that type of thing. I do keep some wheat berries because I have a flour mill and I bake all our bread. I also keep a 50 lb. sack of bread flour. None of it is stored only for emergencies, it is part of our daily fare and is used and replenished as needed. No money is saved if food gets tossed because it didn’t get used!

Where do you start? I don’t know, the big pack of toilet paper from Costco? An extra couple of cans of tomatoes, tuna or soup during the next shopping trip. If you have a root cellar, get a box of potatoes. Call around to the potato farms or stop in at Norm Nelson.

50 lbs. of slightly bunged up organic potatoes discounted to $25!

If you’re Upriver, get in on the buying club that Cindy Palacios set up. This is one of the first steps while waiting for the establishment of the Upriver Co-op. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept buying clubs, here is a recent article. Orders need to be in by 2:00pm on the 1st Tuesday of every other month to start. Pickup will be on the following Friday. Pickup will be at Marblemount Community Center’s Pavilion or another agreed on location. Contact me for Cindy’s contact information if you do not have it.

I’ve crammed a lot of information into one post already so I’ll save my suggestions on where to buy what for the next post. Meanwhile look around and see what types of storage spaces you have and also check your existing stores for what you need to round out your supplies.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.



12 05 2008

I don’t know about you, but my seed potatoes are still in a brown paper bag. Last year I planted them in April, the year before at the end of March. Today I can still see the snow level looming in the foothills. It’s going up and down like a set of faulty blinds. Faulty because it’s mid-May and I should be wearing shorts not lohnjohns and certainly not wondering if we’re going to have to start burning next year’s wood already. It’s going to be a short season Upriver this year.

Meanwhile, it’s a good time to sign up for a CSA share. Jericho Farm still has shares. Give Rebecca a call or visit her at the first Saturday Market (Concrete Senior Center) on May 24th. She has full shares, half shares and EBT payment options this year. We were her guinea pigs last year and we’re looking forward to another season of fresh vegetables.

It’s also a good time to go through the freezer and the pantry. Bring the Musgovians forward and finish off last year’s harvest stash! Our Farmer’s Markets are starting up, but they’ll be mostly vegetables starts, a few early greens and asparagus yet. Last month we inadvertantly emulated the fictional family profiled in The Ethicurean’s humorous January post – on April Fool’s Day we shopped for a party and on April 28th I picked up a small bunch of Washington asparagus and some rapini from Mother Flight Farm. This weekend’s bad weather kept the seed potatoes in their bags still, but I got the freezers organized with crates so we might just eat out of the pantry for another month.

Another motivation is the media flurry over the price of food (oil). One important aspect that doesn’t seem to get addressed, however, is the incredible amount of food that gets wasted in the US. This happens on all levels from harvest (~40%) to kitchen (15%-25%). The price of petroleum-based commodities are going up, but Americans don’t spend very much on food. If they did, so much possibly wouldn’t get wasted. While the national average is about 10%-15% and going up, our household spends probably about 20%-25% of gross income on food. That does include dining out, but mostly it’s going to our local farmers and ranchers. Trust me, I’m not about to waste a quarter of my small income! Fortunately, this issue is being addressed in the Wasted Food blog and eventually a book.

Anyway, according to the forecast, summer will be here full force on Thursday so it’s time to dig out the shorts and dig in the potatoes!

Chicken Update

They’re settling in well although still in somewhat temporary quarters. Hopefully by next week they’ll be big enough to fend off the cats and they can begin free-ranging around the yard. Keith is becoming quite the chicken whisperer and the birds are getting used to being handled.

Grant County (Quincy)

15 02 2008

What do Microsoft , Yahoo!  and potatoes have in common? Quincy, Washington, population about 5,000. Quincy offers up wide open spaces, incentives, and cheap electricity rates. Microsoft and Yahoo! offer a couple hundred technical jobs (with mostly imported labor), a construction boomlet, and the prospects of an energized local economy. Hopefully, that doesn’t also mean a bunch of fast food franchises and a swipe of the great anonymizer turning this small farming community into another ugly modern boomtown with all the personality of a ruralized Lynnwood. Unfortunately, a quick peek at the real estate available already shows a plethora of cookie cutter boxes in the 2,500 s.f. range.

What to do? Well, I think it might be good to extol the virtues of some of the fine local options already available in Grant County! Maybe this influx will have the positive effect of making it possible for more new small businesses to open up in the area. Quincy would benefit from a few good restaurants. It’d be nice to not just drive through.

As it is, we end up visiting Quincy once a year. Sometimes it’s on the way to someplace else and sometimes we include it as part of The Harvest Loop. All the literature calls it The Cascade Loop, but we try to time it such that we can stock up on our wonderful Eastern Washington stone fruit (cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, etc.), legumes and popcorn. Occasionally, we don’t make it all the way round the Loop opting to turn around in Cashmere, but then it’s home for a flurry of canning and freezing. One year we may jackpot on the cherries and some years we just catch the tail end of the nectarines, but if all the stars align correctly and harvests are plentiful, early August is a great time as you can usually get a little bit of everything. It takes a lot of will to head east of the mountains at that time of year, however. It’s hot here and it’s even hotter over there!

The rewards are worth it whenever we go.

White Trail Produce, Quincy

One of our first stops in Grant County is always White Trail Produce. The stand is along SR 28 before you get to Quincy proper. If nothing else, we need to restock our Japanese Hulless popcorn supply. We used to buy it a couple of pounds at a time, but this time we just went ahead and picked up the 12 pound tub. That should hold us until next time. White Trail also carries a great variety of fresh local produce, both organic and not, local wines, and other wonderful treats.

Quincy Valley legumes

Another item to stock up on while out there is legumes. We picked up brown lentils this time, but there are also beans of every color and stripe. If you’ve never had beans or lentils from our state, you’re in for a treat. They’re more tender and flavorful than any other. I’ve not had to soak them yet!

River View Farms WheatSnax

It’s not all corn and beans either. There’s also wheat! In this case, in the form of some darn tasty snack food. WheatSnax are a simple concept, fried wheat berries and salt, but it’s quite addictive. A bit like CornNuts, but with the additional bonus of being “mother-approved” and the business venture of a young man and his family in Quincy. You can read all about it at their display at White Trail Produce.

Jones of Washington Vineyards

Naturally, there’s wine as well. The area is thick with wineries so it’s always fun to go to tastings and chat with winemakers. This was a nice one from Jones of Washington Estate Vineyards.

If one of you newly planted Quincy techies have suggestions, please let me know. We’ll be coming over to drive The Harvest Loop when the time comes again.

Okanogan County (Twisp & Winthrop)

30 01 2008

Ever since the North Cascades Highway opened in 1972, my family has made the drive almost every year. Usually it’s just a weekend jaunt, but we’ve been known to spend more time “east of the mountains” as well. If the road is open, we certainly use it as our preferred means for crossing over. While there are plenty of the familiar and favorites to revisit every year, it seems that new discoveries are to be made every time.

Local 98856 Sign

This year, one such discovery was Local 98856. Sound a bit like a union? It is, of sorts. A group got together and set up a commercial kitchen cooperative – a union of community. Farmstand, coffee shop or a quick place to pick up dinner, it’s many things, but most importantly it is a celebration of local foods in Okanogan County. The apples might have come from an orchard 8 miles away and the beer just a few blocks. The story in PDF

Glover Street Market in Twisp

Although we knew of it, we hadn’t visited Glover Street Market before. Often we’re just getting started on a camping trip so we’re already provisioned when we pass through the area or we’re enjoying the local restaurants during a short weekend visit. This time we planned a stop since I knew they carried Bluebird Grain Farms’ emmer in bulk. I picked up 5 lbs. of emmer and a few other things at this natural foods grocery.

I was a little disappointed at the dearth of some local ingredients (eggs, meat), but it was well-stocked for a small shop. If I was shopping, I’d visit the Local first and then finish off my grocery list at this store. A nice surprise, however, was a cute little mushroom bag which are made locally. Pretty good groceries, as they say.

Cinnamon Twisp

Besides, that sort of order of things would allow me to stock up on fresh-baked breads and other goodies at Cinnamon Twisp!

Tappi Restaurant, Twisp

Just down the block and across the street is another new find! Tappi is a welcoming and delicious place to have dinner before heading back across the pass. Since it’s just a 2 hour drive for us, we had planned on making it an occasional Monday night tradition as long as their special (free Margherita pizza with a bottle of wine) held out, but
unfortunately the pass got nasty. We look forward to the opening of the highway and our next visit to Tappi. Yelp review

Lost River Winery Community Red

We didn’t choose this wine for our pizzas, but we did have it earlier at our dinner at the Mazama Country Inn. We always buy Lost River wines while in the area and my mother buys it by the case delivered to Anacortes. It’s also available by the bottle at Hank’s Harvest Foods in Twisp, Winthrop Red Apple Market and, of course, at many of the local restaurants and shops.

Sweet River Bakery, Pateros, apple fritter

A somewhat accidental find was the Sweet River Bakery in Pateros. In the 36 (yipe!) years of visiting Okanogan County, we’ve never gone to Pateros that I recall. We’ll be going to Pateros now! We picked up pastries, custard, a hot cup of coffee, a couple loaves of bread and our email. What more could we ask for? More room in the car, I think. 😉

Some other places to go:

Twisp River Pub/Methow Brewing

Rocking Horse Bakery in Winthrop

Winthrop Brewing

Local 99586 jam

Wherever you are in Winthrop or Twisp, ask for Blue Star Coffee and enjoy what Okanogan County and the Methow Valley have to offer. Keep your eyes open, you might discover something new in an old favorite!

Sweet River Bakery almond claw

Before you go:

Methow Valley’s Buy Local Page

Sustainable Methow & Sustinere magazine

WSDOT Mountain Passes

Nuts to You

28 12 2007

After reading Michael Pollan’s essay about the symbiotic relationship between beekeepers and almond growers, I knew I had to rethink my relationship with almonds. I love almonds, but I can’t love them with as much abandon since I now know that it’s dependent on the bee equivalent of a CAFO. I’ve certainly made it a point to seek out local honey from beekeepers that don’t truck their bees around, but I only knew half of it. Gosh, I hope there’s not too much more to know.

Since almonds don’t grow in this climate, I did need to find our local nuts anyway. All I had for information was that there was a nut orchard just west of Mount Vernon. As nut harvest approached (October-ish around here), I heard that the orchardist had passed away, but his wife was to open the orchards for U-pick. We couldn’t get it together in time and we missed that opportunity. I hope that she will continue next year or someone will take up the reins. I promise that I’ll buy bushels of nuts next year!

Of course, that is all the information that I have. West of Mount Vernon, perhaps on Avon Allen or Barrett or Kamb?, and that there were walnuts, hazelnuts and chestnuts(!!). I just remember the nut sign along Memorial Highway when I used to drive to work in Mount Vernon from Anacortes, but that was over a decade ago. Anyone know?

Meanwhile, we still need nuts.

Cascade Walnuts Walnuts

The co-op carries walnuts and chestnuts in the shell from Cascade Walnut of Loomis, Washington. The walnuts are the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. I try not to do too much product reviewing, but they have some fine nuts. The chestnuts are superior to the ones that we bought last year which came from Italy. I’ve not been able to find any information about this grower so I may have to do a drive-by this summer. We love touring the old ghost towns of that area, but I digress …

We do have a large local nut grower and somehow I never noticed them until I found some lovely hazelnut wine at Samson Estates Winery. They get all their nuts for the wine from Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards up by the border. I had wanted to do a personal visit in November, but we were late for another visit and it had to be missed. I’m pretty sure that I scared my other half by stating that I had my eye on a 25# box of nuts! I’ll be by there later. 😉

Meanwhile, did you know that you could make wine from nuts? I certainly didn’t! I knew all about liqueurs, but a wonderful dessert wine that tasted of the pure essence of hazelnut? I was in heaven and we promptly bought a box to give away as Christmas presents. That, dear reader, is why you haven’t read about nuts in a timely fashion. And now you have next year’s Christmas taken care of. My gift to you. 😉

Anyway, over there on the newly minted Skagit Cooks, there will be some nut recipes. Until I get them posted, a few have been chosen and photographed already, visit the links for recipes at Holmquist and the Hazelnut Council. Way to announce and not be ready. 🙂