It's February - that wonderful month where the light rapidly returns and I start fantasizing about this year's vegetable garden (that I won't be able to start planting for at least a couple of months yet).
While I'm waiting for this year's growing season to start, it's a good time to take stock of the fall produce I've been storing over the winter and see if there's anything that needs my attention.
Onions: I buy these in 10 lb bags when they go on sale in the fall. Usually they keep pretty well stored on a shelf in my basement for several months - but about now is when they might start to go south. I check to see if there are any that are sprouting or starting to go soft. These can be chopped and frozen without blanching; the frozen onions can be used in any type of cooked dish but will not have a good texture to use raw.
Apples: We still have some apples down in our basement fridge from our annual apple picking trip at a nearby farm. I suspect they are starting to get a bit on the soft side - which means it's time to make applesauce! If you happen to have a lot of soft apples and make an extra-big batch of applesauce, it can be frozen or canned for longer-term storage. I also have quite a few favourite recipes that use cooked apples, so if the apples start off a bit on the soft side it won't affect the finished dish: Upside-Down Apple Oven Pancake, Pork and Apple Stew, and in my book you'll find Apple and Bacon Baked Beans (p. 177), Sausage and Apple Saute (p.137), Morning Glory Muffins (p.98), Apple Raspberry Squares (p.228) and Basic Fruit Crisp (p.220).
Potatoes: If I find potatoes that are sprouting and going soft, I make up a big batch of mashed potatoes and freeze them in 1 cup portions for use in my Whole Wheat Refrigerator Bread Dough.
Carrots: I usually managed to stagger my purchase of 10 lb bags of carrots so that they stay reasonably fresh stored in my basement fridge; if you have a lot of carrots that are starting to go soft, they can be chopped and frozen. They will need to be blanched first (instructions here).
Squash: Winter squash stores pretty well, but even these can start to get soft at this time of year. When they do, they can be cooked, pureed and frozen in meal-sized portions.
And while you're busy freezing things, it's a good time to check what else might still be in the freezer that needs using up - I need to check on my supply of frozen strawberries, zucchini, tomatoes, and pumpkin to see how much I still have left from last season.
Do you have any favourite strategies for dealing with stored-over-the-winter produce?