The Art of Storage by Tia Tamblyn
With wedding and events cancelled, our bountiful kitchen was brimming full of home-grown vegetables ready to harvest, and the worrying prospect of no-one to eat them. The extract below is taken from the November issue of Drift magazine, in which Tia Tamblyn discusses the importance of reducing food waste, and shares with you some traditional winter food storage techniques we have been trialling at Boconnoc this winter.
Before it became the norm to airfreight over apples from South Africa in February and green beans from Kenya in November, what might eating patterns have looked like reaching forward from harvest-time, as we transitioned into the quieter growing period of winter and early spring? How did we extend the season’s offerings to have access to varied taste and nutrition through the sparser months?
We practice storage techniques the moment we bring fresh food into our homes – from the garden, supermarket or farmers market – but often with the intention of making it last just a few days, until the next shopping trip. Before we had such readily available, year- round access to food, storage would have been a central part of the harvest process. Hard fruits such as apples and pears, and vegetables including potatoes, onions, turnips and parsnips were grown here in Cornwall for their durable qualities – able to be left in the ground until ready to pull, or harvested and stored, especially in colder periods or if the soil became particularly saturated.
By harnessing specific storage techniques much autumn produce has the potential to last, retaining a good proportion of its nutritional value, through the sparser growing seasons; meaning less wasted food, more support for local growers, and significantly lower environmental footprint of the plants that make up our winter diet. We have got used to the crisp bite of a well-travelled apple in winter, but have we considered exchanging this for the mellow flavours of one that has been locally grown and stored? If we are serious about supporting local and eating with the seasons – including through winter – we could revisit the ancient art of storage: so simple, yet seems to have become obscured in a fog of freight fumes.
Lockdown served as a catalyst at Boconnoc to revisit opportunities for embracing local, seasonal eating. Clare comments: “Covid has given us the time to really think about how essential local food is, the importance of growing what we need, to store it and use it throughout the winter. Without thought we all tend to go to the shop, so it is very inspiring hearing from Stuart [Robertson, Boconnoc’s gardener] about what they used to do through winter.”
This year is about beginning the journey, testing out techniques and learning in order to increase the storage capacity for next year. Clare says: “We are using potting sheds near the kitchen garden this year as a trial run. For future years the dream would be storing as much as possible and potentially selling through veg boxes to guests or in local shops. Going forward we would love to host volunteer holidays where guests can come and get involved with activities like apple picking and storing, so people can start to experience more of the ways in which these things happened in the past.”
Top tips on how to apply winter storage techniques in a domestic setting:
Keep fresh produce such as root veg and hard fruits in dark, well ventilated spaces, ideally off the floor – a larder or cupboard can work well or even a basement or attic.
Keep the temperature as constant as possible, cool but above freezing.
Use a rack to increase ventilation, try not to pile produce on top of each other.
Check produce regularly and prioritise use of any with signs of spoiling, removing immediately from the storage space.
Place cut herbs in a jar of water, out of the fridge. Prioritise fridge space for leafy greens.
For those with access to bulk storage space:
Fresh produce should be picked and stored when mature, dry with soil brushed off, in good condition (without bruises or nicks), and any leafy tops removed.
Crates or low-sided cardboard boxes can be used to allow ventilation. Produce should be checked regularly, removing any showings signs of rot. Specific storage techniques depend upon the plant – from hanging garlic and onions in the open air, to individually wrapping apples in newspaper, or creating a clamp for root crops.
To get your copy of the magazine and read the full article, click here.
Tia Tamblyn writes and cooks on the theme of sustainable living from her family home Botelet Farm (www.botelet.com) in South East Cornwall, not far from Boconnoc. For more musings on living sustainably along with seasonal recipes, head to Tia’s blog www.tiatamblyn.com/blog or instagram @breakfast_and_beyond
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