How to store winter squash, sweet potatoes, and other Fall foods
It is a special time of year, when farmers often have HUNDREDS of pounds of winter squash.
The question is what do I do with so…much… squash. The answer is simple – you store it!
Winter squashes are generally exceptionally good keepers if handled right.
Why Store Fall Foods for Winter
Now you may also ask why store hundreds of pounds of squash? First, for GAPS people, little else can replace spaghetti squash, butternut squash fries, and a host of other Fall/Winter recipes that use squash as a base ingredient in place of various grains and grain based foods. You have to have something to put that pastured butter on!
If you don’t have many or any GAPS/squash recipes, make sure you come back over the next few days, since I will post a few of our favorite GAPS/gluten free dairy free recipes from my wife’s forthcoming cookbook.
Second, having local squash all winter long means you have some food flexibility in case anything bad happens for a few days, like a blizzard or some other disaster (provided you have a way to cook them, which is why I recommend having a few backup cooking options like a ROCKET STOVE). You will also save money, since if you take a hundred pounds of squash from a farmer or a buying club, you should be getting at least 10-30% off their normal price.
But once you have 100 lbs of squash or sweet potatoes, how do you store them?
How to Store Squashes and Sweet Potatoes
First, after harvest, the farmer should have cured the squash in a warm, dry place for a few days to toughen the rind. Ask the farmer if he has cured the squash properly. If they are uncured, you don’t have to turn them down. You just have to take the time to cure them before putting them up for storage.
Second, you only want to store squashes and sweet potatoes that have a solid and undamaged rind (outer layer/skin). Small blemishes and the like are no problem.
When we get squash, we sort them by rind condition to help us know which ones to eat first. Any with deep nicks or large damaged spots will be consumed quickly, or canned for later use in recipes like butternut squash soup. Those with shallow, but numerous nicks or multiple small blemishes will go in the “eat sooner than later” pile, usually consumed before Christmas of the end of January of the next year. The rest get racked and stored for enjoyment until Spring arrives.
Next, you want to store your squash in a cool, dry, relatively temperature stable place. A root cellar or basement is the obvious first choice, but other options have served us well (check out Nancy Bubel’s book Root Cellaring).
The first year we purchased 200lbs of winter squash we were living in a two floor apartment. It had a (cold) lower master bedroom floor with a large walk-in closet. The second floor was bermed into the earth, with the master bedroom closet right next to earthen hillside. It was a cool, good humidity, temperature stable spot.
We racked some of the squash on wire racks and spread the rest out on towels on the floor… and ate squash, and ate squash, and ate squash… until February or so, when we ran out. We regretted not getting more.
Fourth, you can rub the squash lightly with olive or coconut oil to help them keep better. We hope to test one year to see how much this extends their shelf life, if at all, but it is worth mentioning, since many claim that it helps. Skip this step for sweet potatoes. Also, for sweet potatoes, some folks recommend leaving them unwashed to increase shelf life.
Check Your Stored Produce
We would quickly look over our stockpile once per week to find any that were “volunteering” for dinner or appeared attacked by any sort of pest. Consistent checking is key – you want to catch any problem before you have an infestation or spoilage spreading throughout your stash. Checking usually takes us no more than five minutes if we have them stored properly.
We no longer live in our old apartment, so this year we are using a back “guest room,” which will see few guests over the long winter but LOTS of food and stays relatively cold since it is far away from our wood stove. So, our squash fills the floor space under the bed and in parts of the closet.
We have to be careful to keep the door CLOSED – we have a wood stove that can hit 1200-1400 degrees when going full blast… it can make the central part of our house very, very hot, while heating up and sucking the humidity out of the corners as well.
For members of our club, taking advantage of this flood of food saves them an additional 20-30% off the normal price and rather than eating “organic” food from who knows where, means they continue to support our local farmers long after the last harvest for the year is finished.
This year, we put up over 300lbs of various winter squash and they are looking lovely so far. We hope you will do likewise.
And if you want some great winter squash recipes to break the mundane monster that occasionally pops up on your menu, you can check out my wife’s forthcoming, GAPS friendly, food storage oriented e-book, which we hope to have ready by early 2012!