Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Vegetables, Vegetables, Winter Vegetables

By: Gwen Miner, Supervisor of Domestic Arts
How many times as a kid were you told to eat your vegetables? I’m pretty sure children in the 19th century were told to do so too.
In nineteenth-century rural America, almost everyone had a kitchen garden and a field garden. In those gardens folks grew the vegetables that would sustain them through the following year after harvest. They grew seasonal vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and tomatoes, but also root vegetables or “Winter Vegetables.” “Winter Vegetables” is a term used to loosely designate any vegetable that grows below the soil. These vegetables were grown so frequently because they kept well throughout the winter and were easy to store either in root cellars or outside in a trench in the garden. Directions are abundant in period sources for both of these techniques. Using root cellars was often called “putting down” vegetables and leaving them in the garden was referred to as “overwintering.” Many of the methods of “putting down” vegetables work well, but each particular cellar determines the best method of storage: bins of sand if your cellar is dry or elevated wood bins if your cellar is damp. The cellar at Lippitt House is damp so we use elevated bins.
No matter how the vegetables are stored the use of the vegetables is determined by size and condition. You all have heard, “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch,” right? The same could be said for these vegetables. In order to make the best use of them, families constantly monitored their cellar conditions. The smaller vegetables along with any that show signs of softening or rot are cooked up before the others.“Winter Vegetables” that were commonly grown were potatoes, carrots, onions, beets, turnips, parsnips, salsify or “Vegetable Oyster,” rutabaga or “Yellow Swede” and winter varieties of radishes. When we put everything in the cellar last fall, we had many examples of these different vegetables.
Right now, the cellar at Lippitt House is looking leaner and the vegetables that remain are not as firm or plump as they were when harvested. With careful selection, though, there will be enough vegetables left until early summer when a new season of fresh vegetables can be harvested and the cycle can begin again.

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