Sunday, April 3, 2011

thoughts on cold storage

our first two quarts of maple syrup

Not having a refrigerator for a week has made me appreciate how effortless and relatively inexpensive it is to store things so long as electricity is available.

We have plenty of electricity right now, but our new energy-efficient refrigerator that we purchased at the Warners Stellian warehouse sale isn't working, and they're dragging their feet replacing it, so we have been 8 days without a working refrigerator or freezer.
Fortunately, we still have snow on the ground.  There's not much that's fortunate about having snow on the ground on April 3rd, except when you are forced to find a way to keep your food from spoiling, and you have what amounts to a fancy stainless-steel covered icebox in your kitchen.  I've been filling up two buckets with snow from a big pile by our front door, and putting it in the fridge, twice a day.  Surprisingly, it keeps it fairly cold.  The digital thermometer still works, and shows that the temp goes down to about 35 or 36 an hour after I put the snow pails in, and slowly rises from there, until it reaches the low 50's 12 hours or so later, at which time I go to get new snow.

So I should put an asterisk next to all my complaining about the lingering snow.  I do appreciate it helping to keep our fridge cool.

maple sugar

The freezer is another thing altogether.  Fortunately, we have a small chest freezer in the pantry that we've moved everything to.  It's less convenient, but at least we have it. 

The pantry is actually a root cellar, probably put in when our house was originally built in 1909.  According to some elderly neighbors who stopped to talk one day when I was working in the front yard, our house was actually built as a farm house originally.  Back then they had well more than 1/8th of an acre.  There were no other houses on what is now our block, and the farm continued two blocks over to Summit Avenue.  The couple said that they had heard that the house's original owners had had an orchard that covered a lot of the farm, but weren't sure what else.

So we've found some little things here and there that confirm that story, and the root cellar is one of them.  I've seen a root cellar in another old house in the Twin Cities- a duplex in the Seward area of Minneapolis I rented 10+ years ago.  Root cellars aren't complicated things- a walled off corner of the basement with a door, a small window, and lots of shelves.  Drainage is good, but I guess not essential, so long as the basement stays dry.  Our current root cellar is raised slightly above the grade of the rest of the basement- I suppose back then to keep that corner dry if the rest of the basement flooded.

Gita got a little free thermometer at a convention a few weeks ago, and I put it in the root cellar to see what the temperature would be.  It's steady at 50F right now.  It probably will go up to 60 or 65 in the summer, and seems to stay at about the 40-50 range through the winter.  If we need sudden cooling, we can open the small operable window (this helps a lot in the fall when we bring in stuff from the garden but the basement hasn't cooled off yet).  I leave the window open for a few days, and the cool fall air fills the room, keeping our potatoes or squash or whatever dry and cool until the real winter sets in and I can close it up again.

I wonder if we should put our two quarts of maple syrup in the root cellar now.  I have no idea how the fluctuation in fridge temperatures is treating the semi-finished syrup.  I haven't checked to see if either has gotten sour.  But if I put it in the root cellar now- with the ants just starting to come out of the ground- and even a drop spills- they'll be all over it in no time.

We had our first major mishap in syrup making today, by the way.  It may not have been a huge mishap- but we boiled the sap past the point of being syrup.  We ended up with a gooey mess, that tasted pretty good, if a little bit burnt.  Now we have maple sugar- it  looks like wet brown sugar.  We're really not sure what to do with it.  I'm open to ideas.

crocuses found under a piece of concrete- first flowers of spring
My daughter and I went searching around the yard for flowers this weekend.  We found a lot of green and red shoots- tulips, daffodils, crocus- even last fall's garlic is starting to poke up-- but no flowers blooming.  But- I turned over a piece of concrete that I had tossed into a flower bed carelessly when I was trying to finish my backyard patio project before the snow fell last fall-- and we found- the most beautiful sun-starved crocuses.  At least they looked beautiful to flower-starved Minnesotans desperate for any sign of spring. The foliage was a bright yellow, and the flowers were deep purple.

I've never seen etiolated crocus before and these were a surprise-- an almost make you gasp when you turn over the rock--surprise.  Our first flowers of the spring. 

saturday morning is muffin making time
We also made muffins this weekend.  Saturday morning has become muffin making time for me and the kids.  We don't have any of our own ingredients to add this time of year.  Even the freezer is emptying out.  April is the nadir for locally produced food in our house.  I tried to sneak in some grated carrots from last year's garden, but my daughter caught me and stopped me before that happened.  We may be able to make muffins with our own blueberries this summer if we can keep the birds away from them, but the blueberries we do get never make it to the freezer, or even the kitchen most of the time.

If I actually used a recipe for our muffins I would post it- but they're a unique creation each time.  Fortunately muffins are hard to screw up, and the kids are pretty forgiving of baking mistakes- just don't try to put fish oil in them.  That's one taste that's impossible to conceal- no matter how many blueberries you add.  I didn't do that this time- but the one time I tried to sneak that in, most of the muffins ended up as bird food. 


  1. Jeff and Gita,

    Reading your blog made me realize how much i miss the twin cities and you guys. As i read through the blog, i felt like i was there and the best part is finding the flowers. I am very happy to see that you guys are still working in the backyard, i still remember the jars in the basement when i first saw your place. Jeff are you still brewing :) i bet you are. From the first article i read, i am sure you have mastered gardening, i am sad that i cannot do that, but happy that you guys(That I Know) are doing it :):) nice to see that the kids have grown up, cutie pies.

    Miss You Guys,


  2. Thank you Archana- what a kind comment! Gita and I miss you as well- she often talks fondly about all of the 'desi girls' in the apartment on Brewster St. and all the fun you used to have. You and your husband (and kids now?) should stop by when you come back to visit. I know it's not easy traveling across the world with kids- but in a few years it will be easier, and you'll have a place to stay here when you do.