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When we say that we use local and sustainable food sources, you might not think that we’d really be featuring local produce in the middle of a Minnesota winter. With frigid temperatures, frequent snow falls, and just all around bleak midwinter weather, where could we possibly get local veggies? From the locals, of course—our area farmers are more intrepid than you know! You can even get tomatoes at this time of year, honest! The more classic wintertime vegetables, however, are those that can be stored long-term, like onions, potatoes, carrots, and squash. Stocking up for the winter isn’t as common nowadays as it used to be, but right now at Söntés, you’ll find local squash paired with our pan seared scallops and curried granola.

We get our squash from Fairview Farm, which is located just over in Altura, Minnesota. It’s been run by Mark and Laurie Timm since they purchased the farm from Mark’s parents in 1989. Not only is it a great family farm, but it produces some magnificent veggies. Mark and Laurie’s long history and combined experience also means that they have some excellent advice to give about storing vegetables.

Keep ‘em cool & dry

Remember root cellars? They’ve waned in popularity, but the idea behind them was to keep vegetables safely stored through the fallow months. Even though you may not have a root cellar at your house or in your apartment, you can follow the same principles when storing your favorite acorn or butternut squash. Basically, keep them in a cool, dry, dark place. You’ll want to make sure that the temperature of the storage area is somewhere in the mid-50’s (Fahrenheit). Laurie Timm has a couple of tips. You’re probably not using those summer picnic coolers over the winter, so instead of leaving them sitting empty in the garage, fill them with squash, potatoes, or beets. Just make sure that, wherever you’re storing them, it doesn’t freeze hard. If it’s an attached garage, but not insulated, store them against the wall of the house, which should keep the root veggies at about the right temperature. (Laurie advises a similar thing for onions: store them in a mesh bag hung on that same wall. This will keep them cool, but allow airflow to get to them so that they stay fresh.)

Keep the fruits & veggies separate

Acorn squash actually store for the least amount of time (about 8 weeks), but most other squash, such as pumpkins or hubbards, will store for a minimum of two months. Another tip from Laurie: for maximum lifespan, don’t store them with apples or other fruit. Apples in particular put off a lot of ethylene gas, which causes vegetables to start growing again. Laurie described how their carrots actually started growing tops again when they got too close to the apples! Basically, if the veggies come out of dormancy, it’s going to cause them to begin to break down and potentially rot. Therefore, once you do take your winter veggies out of storage, use them quickly.

Fairview Farm Spinach, January 2012

The moral of this story? Well, there are two of them. One: don’t be afraid to stock up on late season vegetables at the autumn farmers markets. Two: try the midwinter markets! You’re guaranteed to be pleasantly surprised. Just today, Fairview Farm was selling an excellent crop of spinach at the morning farmers market.

P.S. – One last good tip from Laurie Timm! Did you know that you can make autumn tomatoes last until December? Buy up the green tomatoes in the fall, then wrap them in newspaper and put them in a cool, dark area. They won’t last as long as the squash, beets, or carrots, but you can bet that you’ll be able to have tomatoes with your Thanksgiving or Christmas feast!