Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Harvesting Root Vegetables

By: Gwen Miner, Supervisor of Domestic ArtsAbout a week ago we harvested what did grow in the Kitchen Garden at the Lippitt Farmhouse. The majority of the vegetables we grow are root crops such as potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips and rutabaga. Along with the root crops, cabbage, onions, beans and peas were also grown and stored for the long winter months.
Root crops were the primary vegetable foodstuffs grown for much of the 19th century due to the available technology for the long term preservation of foodstuffs. A permanent method of freezing was not available and home canning did not become a common method of food preservation until the latter part of the 19th century. What couldn’t be put down in the cellar was “put up,” hung up to dry. All you would have needed was the correct environment and the “know how” for the successful storage of most of the vegetables grown in the 19th century.
Harvesting this year was easy. I hate to say it, but it only took a few hours to bring all the vegetables in. It was not a good growing year. The vegetable yield this year was only a fraction of what we normally grow in a good year. The vegetables overall were in good condition but in size they were small to the occasional large.
We pull our root crops out of the garden and cut off the tops, leaving two inches or so of stem. The roots are then laid out to dry for a few days in the wood shed or on the barn floor to toughen up the skin and remove any clinging soil before taking them to the cellar.
After they’ve dried, the vegetables are then sorted according to size. Why, you might ask? Small vegetables do not have keeping qualities that the large do. The rule is, use the small and damaged vegetables first because they do not keep. As the saying goes, “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” Once sorted, they are carried to the cellar and stored in bins for use during the winter.
For more on “cellaring” or winter storage, check out my next blog post.

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