Root Cellar Diary, Summer Edition

"Gently refrigerate" highly perishable items

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By David Hammond

Last winter, I did a series of entries on this blog entitled Root Cellar Diary. I started writing this continuing entries in late autumn and finished in early spring. I figured my root cellar would be out of operation for the summer months, when all kinds of local fruits and vegetables are available for enjoying fresh.

However, I realized recently that it made no sense to stop using a root cellar during the summer.

Here's how that revelation came about.

My wife Carolyn and I went to Familia Foods in Berwyn to get some masa, chiles, skirt steak and a few other Hispanic food items. While there, we spotted some incredible deals on fruit: a case of 12 mangos for like three bucks, and 24 beautiful bananas for two bucks.

Now, on the carton for the bananas, it suggests storing them at 57 degrees.  With the heat wave we'd been enduring, our kitchen was about 30 degrees too warm. Our root cellar, however, though probably not 57 degrees, was more likely in the 60s, and so acceptable.

You can't refrigerate bananas without their turning brown; in our root cellar, they mature more slowly, enabling us to eat them slowly rather than resorting to a few days of banana-only dishes. They also seem to mature more evenly, with a few brown flecks developing over time but no soft spots or big squishy blemishes.

Ditto the mangoes – they last much longer in the basement than they do in the kitchen.

We figured we might as well keep our potatoes in there as well, as they too seem to age quickly in the heat.

And for just-bottled home-made beer, a relatively cool dark place is where you want to store it, and the root cellar is perfect.

So although my experiences with my root cellar last winter were less than 100% positive, I have hopes that this summer I may be able to "gently refrigerate" highly perishable items and keep them just a little bit longer.

Thank you, Digital Age, for rendering my photo darkroom obsolete and thereby enabling me and my family to enjoy the fruits of our root cellar year-round.

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