It all starts with the seeds
By Deb Whittaker
Decades ago I happened upon an Asian woman at the Boulder Farmer’s Market who sold 20-lb bags of “long-keeper” onions and potatoes. WOW! They really did last all winter, but little did I know the specific variety was the key to their storage ability.
Vegetables that hold well in long-term storage offer more variety than you might think. Heirloom varieties that store well are making a comeback as a nation suddenly concerned about food insecurity and power outages returns to the simplicity of long-keeping vegetables. What’s old is new again.
There are a lot of rules for keeping vegetables through the winter, and we’ll cover them in the Harvest issue, but the best conditions in the world will never outperform starting with the right variety. In general, long keepers are planted and harvested later, so you still have time to get some in for this year. If you already have seeds that fall into the general categories listed here, most of them should still keep for several months right in the crisper.
Long keepers are hard to find. Seed companies rarely highlight storage characteristics. The tough, thick skins and overly large specimens historically prized for winter storage have been replaced with smaller introductions that mature mid-season and sport the thin skins preferred by consumers no longer accustomed to storing vegetables. The Cornell University website, however, categorizes storage life for hundreds of specific varieties. They also rate ease of growing, yield, and taste, an important factor since storage varieties traditionally have been cultivated for shelf life, not necessarily flavor or texture. Winter storage vegetables show their best character pureed in soups and cut into stews rather than fresh.
Beets Year-round, garden-fresh produce doesn’t get much better than beets. Not only are they long keepers in general, but every part of the plant is edible starting with the thinnings. Storage beets can get large, like the Lutz Winter Keeper, also known as Lutz Salad Leaf, which garners 4.7 stars. Others mentioned for extended shelf life are the late-harvester Long Season, the bolt-resistant Boltardy and the striped-rooted Fuer Kugel. Early maturing strains like the Detroit Dark Red and Crosby Egyptian also offer good storage.
Carrots Available in both conventional and organic seed, the Bolero carrot provides excellent eating quality both fresh and after long-term storage. The fat Oxheart performs well in the colder temperatures and heavy soils of the Front Range, and the Danvers Half Long heirloom also holds well. For cooking, Black Cat restaurant owner Eric Skokan favors the yellow Jaune Obtuse du Doubs.
Root Crop Honorable Mentions A sampling of some of the best root keepers includes:
Celery root: “Brilliant,” an easy-to-grow, long keeper Parsnips: Hollow Crown, which grows sweeter after frost Turnip: Purple Top White Globe Rutabaga: Helenor, high-yielding
Kohlrabi: Kossak, stays tender up to 4 months. Radish: Daikon, spicier the longer it’s stored
Cabbages and Brussels Sprouts Cabbage is a vegetable everyone takes for granted, but if you’re desperate for something fresh in the dead of winter, try one of the storage varieties. Storage No. 4 has flavor superior to typical supermarket cabbages after long storage and grows well even under stressful weather conditions. Typhoon is noted for superior eating quality, and Brunswick is cold hardy and stores very well. The best red heads are Ruby Perfection and Mammoth Red Rock, as well as cabbage relatives like the Diablo Brussels sprouts and Perfection Drumhead savoy. All store well but may not keep as well as green heads.
A wide selection of onions are dedicated “storage” onions, most of them yellows, like the Cortland, the Patterson - similar to the Copra; and the Big Daddy, which stores up to 8 months. Among the reds: Rossa di Toscana and Southport Red Globe seem to be the most reliable. Whites and sweets don’t fare well in storage. (All mentioned above are Long Day varieties, the recommended type for Colorado.)
Potatoes A surprisingly wide array of potatoes awaits the eager storage gardener. The late-season Katahdin, reportedly the best storage potato for winter stews, proffers high yields under varied conditions. Kennebec, a mid-season, thin-skinned, all-purpose variety is successful even in finicky soils and gets high marks for taste. Late-season Red Pontiac is a high-yielding masher that performs well even in heavy soils. If colors appeal to you, the mid- to late-season All Blue stores well, as does the 5-star, purple-skinned Peter Wilcox, a.k.a., Blue Gold. Potato lovers will be happy to note the ever-popular Yukon Gold and Yellow Finn hold up well despite being early-season producers. Even a selection of the trendy fingerlings - Rose Finn, Russian Banana, and French – last for several months with high marks for taste. Not forgetting sweet potatoes, the popular Beauregard sweetens in storage for up to 8 months.
When it comes to winter squash, the range is so varied it’s difficult to choose. Some varieties of Kabocha store for six months or more and still taste great. Butternut varieties are the longest keepers and, like most long-keeper winter squash, require time in storage to develop full flavor. The Canada Crookneck, a butternut relative that’s resistant to pests and diseases, is categorized as a super keeper.
Of the dizzying array of gorgeous ornamental squash, many are actually edible. The Cinderella Carriage, Musquee de Provence, is a late-maturing type that can weigh to 20 lbs and store for a year, as can the dark green, ultra bumpy Marina Di Chioggia and Jarrahdale, a cross between the Cinderella and the ubiquitous behemoth mother “Hubbard.” Other notable storage varieties include: Sibley, a 4-lb banana type described as an excellent keeper, which won the Seed Savers Exchange taste test in 2014; and Silver Bell, which turns pink in storage. Please Note: Vegetables sold as ornamentals aren’t governed by the same pesticide restrictions as edibles.
Deb Whittaker is the Herb Gourmet in Denver, CO.