Food stor­age

The ideal stor­age place for fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles is cool and moist with good air­flow.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Self- Sufficiency -

Tem­per­a­ture

Cool tem­per­a­tures slow ripen­ing and pre­vent win­ter veg­eta­bles from sprout­ing.

The op­ti­mum tem­per­a­ture for a pantry to store cheeses, trop­i­cal fruits and win­ter veg­eta­bles is 13-15°C. A home chiller to store fruit and meat is usu­ally set be­tween 2-4°C. A fridge is usu­ally some­where in the mid­dle, about 7°C.

Dif­fer­ent fruits and veg­eta­bles have dif­fer­ent op­ti­mum stor­age tem­per­a­ture. In gen­eral, tem­per­ate fruits are best stored as cold as pos­si­ble with­out freez­ing (1°C), while trop­i­cal fruits and root veg­eta­bles will be dam­aged if kept be­low 10°C.

Good in­su­la­tion is es­sen­tial in a stor­age room. Cold wa­ter (flow­ing) or re­frig­er­a­tion can be used to lower the tem­per­a­ture.

Hu­mid­ity

Mois­ture is im­por­tant when stor­ing food. The op­ti­mal range for fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles is 90-95 per cent hu­mid­ity. Less and the fruit will de­hy­drate and go wrinkly. Cheese should be aged in 75-95 per cent hu­mid­ity. Nuts, dried fruit and herbs re­quire a drier en­vi­ron­ment.

Most fridges are very dry (about 30 per cent hu­mid­ity), hence the de­vel­op­ment of in-built fruit and veg­etable bins to seal and pre­vent mois­ture loss. Com­mer­cial chillers can be adapted for a price.

But, on a smaller scale, the eas­i­est so­lu­tion is an ul­tra­sonic an­ion atom­iser, oth­er­wise known as a gar­den mist-maker or fog­ger, avail­able at most gar­den cen­tres for about $30. Other meth­ods are to put moist pa­per tow­els, sponges or con­tain­ers of wa­ter in the fridge. For those that can, cold wa­ter trick­ling over the floor keeps con­di­tions both cool and damp.

Air­flow

As fruits and veg­eta­bles ripen, they use up oxy­gen and pro­duce car­bon diox­ide (CO2), which in turn in­duces fer­men­ta­tion (rot­ting). Air­flow is the best way to pre­vent CO2 from build­ing up, but that can af­fect tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity.

Burnt lime, or cal­cium ox­ide, ex­posed in the stor­age area will ab­sorb CO2 un­til it is sat­u­rated and con­vert it to cal­cium car­bon­ate. Burnt lime can be found in ru­ral hor­ti­cul­tural sup­ply stores (eg Fruitfed) but most min­i­mum or­ders are a ton, which might be a bit ex­ces­sive for the home pantry. On­lime have it in 25kg bags (www.on­lime.co.nz).

More im­por­tantly, most fruits that con­tinue to ripen af­ter pick­ing need eth­yl­ene. That’s why putting an ap­ple in a pa­per bag with a banana is a good idea – the ap­ple gives off eth­yl­ene gas, which ripens the banana. It is also why one bad ap­ple, giv­ing off ex­ces­sive gas, will over-ripen and rot the rest.

Once again, air ex­change is the eas­i­est way to re­move eth­yl­ene from a stor­age area, although potas­sium per­man­ganate, com­monly known as Condy’s crys­tals, can ab­sorb it.

Con­struc­tion

My hus­band loves me and loves his stom­ach. When the need for a stor­age area be­came ap­par­ent, a cou­ple of me­tres of the work­shop were di­vided off and a door was put through to the laun­dry.

It in­cludes an all-in-one stain­less bench. Pro­duce comes in from the gar­den or or­chard to the laun­dry, is washed and sorted, and goes from there into stor­age or to the kitchen for pro­cess­ing.

The di­vi­sion from the work­shop was done with in­su­lated pan­els. A mate sup­plied an old chiller door. My brother sells re­frig­er­a­tion sup­plies, so the far end be­came a walk-in chiller.

My stor­age room is 2m wide and 3.5 me­tres long, with the 70cm-deep chiller at the end. There are no win­dows – light and tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions are the last thing I wanted. When­ever the chiller door is opened, cold air drops into the pantry space, help­ing to keep it cool. In sum­mer, I some­times pur­posely leave

My hus­band loves me and loves his stom­ach so he gave up part of his work­shop to build the ul­ti­mate pantry.

the chiller door open a crack to drop the tem­per­a­ture. Un­for­tu­nately, the air­flow isn’t good. All I can do is leave the out­side door open dur­ing cool win­ter nights.

Much thought went into shelv­ing, and dif­fer­ent op­tions were costed out. We de­cided on hav­ing stain­less steel shelves made, which were cost-ef­fec­tive and have proved to be ex­cel­lent. Af­ter a child­hood in quakey Hawke’s Bay and hor­ror sto­ries from Christchurch, I in­sisted on a cur­tain cord in front of each shelf – about 15cm up – so I can wipe un­der­neath (see pic­ture above). This is great as I can stack to the edge of the shelf with­out wor­ry­ing about jars fall­ing off and it will hope­fully keep things se­cure in an earth­quake.

Other shelves are made from re­cy­cled bread tray racks, in­valu­able at har­vest time. Fruit and veg­eta­bles are sorted and packed into the trays in the or­chard or gar­den as they har­vested. They are then hosed and washed, and/or left out to dry, then stacked into the chiller or stor­age area with no dou­ble han­dling.

Pest con­trol

The stor­age room is se­cure ex­cept for the en­try door and it hasn’t yet fallen vic­tim to pests. Flies don’t like the cold, the cat en­sures no mice get past the back door (although I do have a trap set just in case), and I am picky about jars and the like be­ing clean and sealed so they don’t at­tract ants.

I do not do any pro­cess­ing in the stor­age room. It is for stor­age only. It is also the one room in the house I oc­ca­sion­ally sani­tise with bleach.

Pluses

The lo­ca­tion, close to the in­com­ing pro­cess­ing area and kitchen, is in­valu­able. I try to limit door open­ings (and tem­per­a­ture in­creases) in sum­mer but I do go in and out fre­quently.

A small bench in­side to put things on is great. Trays of fruit and arm­loads of jars are placed there be­fore stack­ing on the shelves. Cheese is pressed on it, and meat can be left to de­frost away from flies.

A switch on the door turns the light on and off as I en­ter and exit, great con­sid­er­ing my arms are usu­ally full of stores. For the same rea­son, I swapped the round door han­dle for one I can open with my el­bow.

Hav­ing all the food in one place makes man­age­ment a lot eas­ier. Each day, I can sur­vey what needs us­ing, what is spoil­ing, what needs pro­cess­ing and the quan­ti­ties I still have so I can menu-plan.

Dan­ger­ous goods – ginger beer, ap­ple cider and kom­bucha – are stored in lid­ded plas­tic con­tain­ers to con­tain any spillage. The low tem­per­a­ture has pre­vented any ex­plo­sions.

The chiller means I can har­vest fruit when it is in its prime, and bot­tle or freeze it when I have time. Some fruits, like ap­ples and nashi, keep so well I no longer bother to process them at all. They store beau­ti­fully, de­gen­er­at­ing slowly but still suit­able for cook­ing 10 months later.

The chiller also al­lows me to hang a string of sausages, age salami or hang a car­cass to set. It wouldn’t hold a whole cow but is per­fect for pigs, sheep and deer.

Mi­nuses

I am not sure that try­ing to age cheese and store root veg­eta­bles in the same space is a good idea as a lot of bac­te­ria are brought in with the po­tato crop. I mit­i­gate this is­sue by wax­ing my cheeses, or stor­ing them in sealed con­tain­ers.

Us­ing the chiller for drinks is def­i­nitely a bad idea. Party traf­fic and fre­quent open­ing of the doors re­sults in con­tam­i­na­tion and big fluc­tu­a­tions in tem­per­a­ture. There is now a des­ig­nated beer fridge else­where, well worth the cost of the ex­tra elec­tric­ity.

Un­for­tu­nately, the laun­dry is on the north and hottest side of the house. This means hot air en­ters the stor­age room ev­ery time I do. Keep­ing the pantry at 13°C dur­ing sum­mer is a real chal­lenge.

Look­ing down the pantry, to­wards the chiller at the back.

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