Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, maybe you bought a 20 or even 50 lb bag of potatoes, and you’re sitting there looking at it, thinking that they will all rot before you can eat them all. Not true! You can store potatoes long term (even if you don’t have a cellar!). Now without a cellar or basement (something that stays at approximately 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you can’t keep potatoes for a year (as far as I know). We don’t need to keep them for a year though – we just need to keep them for a two or three months while we’re social distancing and/or self-isolating.
Gramma Izzie taught me how to store potatoes when I was a little girl. I am so thankful that she taught me so many of the old Appalachian ways that she did (canning, freezing, “putting food by”, food storage methods, etc.). I know a lot of people don’t know how to do these things so I am trying now, more than ever, to share them. I know now that it could mean the difference between life and death now if you have to leave to go buy something at the store at this point in our lives.
Storing potatoes is very easy to do! Gramma Izzie used wooden apple crates in her cellar for the potatoes, but I don’t have access to any and cannot go out to get any due to the COVID-19 lockdown. That’s okay! By the end of this, we are all going to be professionals at making due with what we have on hand! This is just part of it and knowledge we will then pass on to our kids and grandkids.
HOW TO DO IT: First, you need a box of some sort or a basket that is NOT tightly woven (so not a plastic container if you can help it). You’re looking for something that allows air flow (air flow is very important when storing potatoes long term!). Second, you’ll need some paper, and it can be any kind – newspaper, printer paper, pages you tore out of a coloring book, even a cereal box that you ripped open. Third, you need a cool dark spot to store the potato box once you fill it (NOT YOUR GARAGE IF THE TEMPERATURE DROPS TO FREEZING IN THERE – FREEZING AND THAWING WILL RUIN ALL OF YOUR POTATOES QUICKLY!); good spots that are cool and dark are a room you can shut off from the heat in the rest of the house (and close the door), a closet in a room farthest from the heat or in a room that just naturally seems to stay much colder than the rest of your house – even a box under the bed is better than setting out in your kitchen.
Now that you have your basket/box, paper, and know where you’re storing the box once your potatoes are in it, you can start sorting your potatoes. You are looking for any potatoes that are bad/moldy, that have eyes (sprouting – see here for how to grow those eyes into your own potato plants for your garden), or that look “wet” as you don’t want to store those.
Once you’ve sorted out the potatoes that you cannot store, just place a layer of good potatoes in the bottom of your container. Don’t pack them in there tightly – remember, you have to make sure there’s good air flow space around each potato so leave a little room between each potato. Place a layer of paper over top of those potatoes, and then place a layer of potatoes on top of that paper. You can continue layering paper and potato layers until your box is fairly full. Now store it – it’s that simple! If you have to store it in a cooler room but can’t put it in a closet, and that room has windows, simply toss an old towel or another layer of paper over top of the container so the potatoes are in a dark environment (again – remember the potatoes need air flow so don’t put a tight fitting lid on your container).
“Shop” for potatoes from your stored potato container, and each time you do, Gramma taught me to do two things: 1) sniff above and near the box, and if you smell an awful smell, you have a bad potato in there (see below for what to do) and 2) look at the top layer of potatoes quickly to see if any look “wet”, have eyes, or have moldy spots and remove them immediately (again – you can eat “wet” potatoes and trim off the eyes to plant in your garden, but moldy potatoes need to be tossed to the chickens/into the trash/composted after cutting off the moldy part).
What to do if your box smells awful after a few weeks: You have a bad potato in there! Nothing in the world smells like a rotten potato. You’ll know it when you smell it. Simply remove the layers of potatoes one by one (you can grasp the topmost paper and just lift them out, layer by layer). When you find the layer with the bad potato in it, trash the bad potato and then leave that layer of potatoes out of the box – you’ll want to eat the others that were in that layer soon (as long as there’s no moldy spots on them because remember that we never eat moldy potatoes!). As long as the rotten potato didn’t go to mush in your box and soak into the bottom of it, and as long as it didn’t leave a layer of liquid in your box, you can return the other potato layers back into the box for further storage. If it did turn into mush or did leave liquid in the box bottom, simply toss that container and get another one from somewhere in your house.
That’s all there is to storing potatoes in your home!
We’re going to make it through this, everyone. We really are.