Root crops are amazing. Not only are they delicious, nutritious and fun, they remind me that sustainable living is possible all year-round. Think of it, they are large packets of energy, and, if left in the ground, they can survive the harshest winter only to have enough energy to grow a new set of foliage and eventually flower and seed. Long story short, you don’t need much energy to keep root vegetables over the winter, especially not two thousand miles of driving to and from warmer climates, wasting fossil fuels and the health of our planet!
Apart from simply leaving root crops in the ground (which you can certainly do!) there are several more methods to storing these wonderful vegetables. My favorite is keeping them dirty and placing them in a cool dark place, where you can also water them down from time to time. For example, we packed 40 pounds of beets in styrofoam boxes (that were salvaged from a dumpster, never ever purchased) in sand. We will keep them in our basement, and water them, just like you would a houseplant, because, after all, the beet roots are still alive and if allowed to dry out they will shrivel and die. In order to store roots this way, each root has to be perfect: not too small, greens trimmed to 1/2 inch, and absolutely no blemishes or cracks. If the roots are not perfect, they will rot. And who wants forty pounds of rotten beets? The best part is that stored this way they are kept alive, with all of their nutritional content, sweetness and crispness in tact.
If you are a stocker-upper, you may, of course, can or freeze any vegetable, including root crops. We use these two methods a lot actually, for tomatoes, greens, broth, applesauce, pumpkin and jam, but the nutritional content of the food is compromised with both these methods. A “local” winter diet needs of balance of these “processed” foods along with highly nutritional, fresh items, such as stored root crops and lacto-fermented vegetables.
Two weeks ago I helped pack a ton of carrots in sand, situated snuggly in apple boxes. But as I pointed out previously, carrots with cracks or blemishes cannot be stored this way. Out of a ton of carrots, there is always a significant amount of imperfections. So, as my bonus, I took home a 5-gallon bucket of imperfect carrots. They have been sitting in said bucket ever since. Happily, since carrots are so amazing they were still in tact this morning, two weeks later. Granted, they lasted two weeks, but they won’t last all winter in this state. So I set about to lacto-ferment the carrots, which will last as long as I can keep them in the house. Fermented vegetables maintain all the original nutrients, plus the added bonus of beneficial bacilli.
Here’s the method. This method works for any amount.
Rinse (if dirty) firm carrots. Peel and rinse again. Chop off the tops and any rotten spots. Slice into thin, even slices. I used my awesome 14-cup capacity food processor, but you may prefer thicker slices, which can be cut by hand. The thicker the slices, the longer the fermentation process will take.
Pack sliced carrots into jars, or a ceramic crock.
You may make plain carrots, or add seasonings. If you prefer, alternate the seasonings between layers of carrots, or just put them in at any point of the packing process. My two preferred seasonings are chopped ginger root, and garlic and dill. Luckily, I had some dill plants that went to seed and are sprouting right now, so I have access to fresh dill. You can also try peppercorns, chili, or any other herb.
I used a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped, in one-1/2 gallon ball jar.
I used 5 cloves of garlic and 3 sprigs of dill in one 1/2-gallon ball jar.
After you have packed the carrots, make a salt water brine. I use 1-1/2 TBS of SEA SALT per QUART of water. Mix until the water is clear and pour over the carrots until they are covered. You may need more or less than a quart of brine depending on how may carrots you have and how big the slices are.
Place a weight on top of the carrots so the brine covers them completely. Mold will most likely form on the top. If the brine covers the surface of the carrots, the mold will not grow on the carrots. Place the jars or the crock of carrots in the corner of your kitchen in the winter, or in a cool place, such as a cellar, in the summer.
Check the carrots every few days. Scrape off any mold that has formed on the surface and taste them. I usually let vegetables ferment for 5-10 days or so. They will develop a pleasant, sour-pickle flavor, but should also maintain some crispness. When they taste delicious, cap them off, if in jars, or ladle them into jars if using a crock and move them into the refrigerator. They will continue to ferment at a slower rate, so don’t be alarmed if they soften after a month or so. Enjoy in moderation.