Winter Warm-Up: Root Cellar Suppers

As outside temperatures drop warm-up with classic comfort favorites featuring root cellar veggies - potatoes and onions, the vegtables gramdma stocked-up and stored for winter.

Winter cold temps have arrived. Time to cozy down and enjoy recipes featuring those root vegetables we once traditionally stored in the root cellar. Root vegetables such as potatoes, onions and carrots that helped “winter us over” until spring. 

Our South Side St. Louis truck farm yielded bushels of potatoes and onions each fall, which when stored correctly would last until March. Those potatoes and onions would surface throughout the winter months, appearing in soups, stews, and as the value-added sides cooked with mother’s Sunday beef roast. 

While root cellars are gaining in popularity among hardcore foodies, most of us don’t have a root cellar filled bushels of potatoes and onions. Nonetheless, it still pays to know how to stock-up and store root vegetables when these favored roots are in season or on sale. Here’s a few storage tips for potatoes and onions that won’t require digging a root cellar in the backyard. 

Store potatoes and onions separately. Store onions in cool, dry, well-ventilated places, optimally, at a temperature between 45 and 55 degrees, but not in the refrigerator. Potatoes require similar storage conditions, but they also need darkness and should kept at 50 degrees or less to avoid sprouting. 

Potatoes can be stored in perforated plastic bags or paper bags to extend their shelf life.

Onions should not be stored in plastic bags. Lack of air movement reduces storage life.

Don't wash potatoes or onions or any produce before storing. Dampness will promote early spoilage.

Chopped or sliced onions can be stored in a sealed container in your refrigerator for up to 7 days. Onions also freeze for up to six months. 

Rediscovering your mother’s or grandma’s “stick to your ribs” winter recipes for one-pot meals or soups can help chase the winter blues away.  Search out those old recipes, check that vintage cookbook, or better yet ask grandma for one of her recipes.  Heritage recipes featuring potatoes and onions promise to provide cozy suppers to savor all winter long. Here’s a few  recipes I enjoy warming up with – two from my cookbook Pushcarts and Stalls: The Soulard Market History Cookbook and a supper pot roast from the National Onion Council. 

Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Onions 

  • 1 (2 1/2-pound) boneless beef sirloin tip or chuck roast
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 1 1/2 pounds yellow onions, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 pound red potatoes, trimmed and halved
  • 1/2 pound carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into 2 to 3-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stems
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (stems removed) 
  • 2 cups tomato juice
  • 1 cup low-sodium beef broth
  • 1/2 cup red wine (or additional beef broth)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Pepper and salt to taste (optional)

Trim fat from beef roast. Place roast in bottom of 5 to 6-quart slow cooker. Spread horseradish over surface of meat. Top and surround roast with onions, potatoes, and carrots. Sprinkle with thyme and rosemary and pour in tomato juice and beef broth. Cover and cook on high setting for 6 to 8 hours or until beef is fall apart tender.

Mix wine (or beef broth) with flour and pour mixture around meat in slow cooker. Gently stir flour mixture into existing sauce without disturbing the meat. Replace cover and cook on high setting for 15 minutes or until thickened. Before serving, season with pepper and salt to taste and garnish with sprigs of rosemary. Serves 4 to 6

Field Potato Soup

  • 4 cups white potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 4 cups chopped yellow onions
  • 1 stick butter 
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • chopped chives 
  • 1/2 cup crispy fried crumbled bacon

Place potatoes into a large 3 1/2 quart stockpot with onions; cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender. Remove stockpot from heat and mash vegetables with a hand potato masher, or puree in a blender until smooth.    Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan over a medium high heat, whisk in flour.  Slowly whisk in milk and cook until thicken. Return mashed potato mixture to stove and place over a low heat. Stir in milk mixture and sour cream. Simmer until soup is heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper; garnished with fresh chopped chives and crumbled bacon. Makes 2 quarts of soup or 6-8 servings.

Stove notes:  For a quick lunch or supper freeze soup in one-cup servings. Microwave on 70 percent powder for a few minutes to defrost and heat through. 

Shamrock Stew

  • 3 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 large white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 3 large onions, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 springs of fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
  • 2/3 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • chopped parsley and Worcestershire sauce

Lightly dust the beef cubes with the flour; set aside. In a large ovenproof casserole or cast iron Dutch oven, place half the potatoes in bottom of pot. Cover potatoes with half the onions. Top with the beef, sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme springs and parsley. Layer the remaining potatoes over lamb; add enough water to just cover potatoes. Bring to a boil over a medium high heat; reduce to medium low heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, or until lamb is tender. As stew cooks, stir every 15 - 20 minutes to prevent from sticking.  If stew becomes to dry or too thick add in a little water.  Serve garnished with chopped parsley and Worcestershire sauce on the side. Makes 6 large servings.


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