Preparing Potatoes for Winter Storage

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I have fingerlings under the sheets.   

Hundreds of pounds, in fact, under many sheets and a few cardboard boxes. Fingerling potatoes, that is, which are currently drying and curing in a corner of the basement. Protected from the light, these fresh tubers lay underneath, well, old sheets and some fabric scraps. There are also some Kennebecs, Katahdins, and other baking potatoes under cardboard boxes, a small quantity of russets, and striking Purple Vikings and Purple Suns underneath the local updates of some expired newspapers.     

This is our practiced, practical praxis for readying our freshly harvested ‘taters for winter storage. In the past couple of weeks we have forked, dug, shook, searched, prodded, nudged (aggressively), burrowed, mined, and quarried approximately 2,500 pounds of potatoes from our newest field. All by hand, of course. It is a formidable quantity, an autumnal treasure hunt of many days and numerous work hours for a bounty that will feed us through the winter months.   

In order to last late into the spring, these potatoes will be stored in our root cellar amongst cool temperatures and high humidity. First, though, they must be dried and their skins cured. Moist and damaged tubers are a set-up for rot, and a careless oversight can ruin a whole passel of work.   

So we have potatoes lining the basement, potatoes cobbling the floor of the barn, potatoes filling the barn loft, and potatoes spread about the old tractor room. Wall-to-wall it’s a tight fit, but somehow just the right amount of space has been found.   

Shielding these tubers from light is especially important – some time in the sun turns potatoes green in color and toxic to eat. A tragedy to avoid, most certainly. Even those stored in the dark corners of the barn are carefully covered …cardboard, newspaper, and sheets are all breathable materials that assist the drying process while thoroughly protecting the potatoes. 

Shrouded in such simple sunblock, our potato harvest sits for two to three weeks. We’re not interested in rushing the process, and the wet weather isn’t suggesting otherwise. By next week, though, we’ll be in the thick of it. Sorting potatoes by type (broadly categorized as white baking potatoes, purples, reds, and fingerlings), we’ll also pull aside the small ones and any damaged ones that were overlooked in the initial triage. These get eaten first, as they are the least likely to keep well. 

Everything else, the proverbial cream of the crop, is gently tumbled into our mouse-proof bins in the root cellar and labeled accordingly. There they will sit, 2500 pounds of delectable feasts and delicious dinners in the raw. We’ll eat hundreds of pounds of ‘taters through the winter months; we’ll sell them to friends, visitors, market-shoppers, and restaurants; we’ll share them at community food events and potlucks. If anything is left in spring, we’ll have seed potatoes ready to plant.   

So there are grand plans for our many ‘taters. For the moment though, they are tucked in beneath retired bed sheets and curing on cardboard. The next phase of their journey from field to meal is about to begin.  

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