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"Nature's fridge" doesn't work for everything.

COUNTRYSIDE: First of all I would like to thank Dr. Kowalewski for his article "Wild Plants--Winter Food" in the Sept/Oct 2007 issue. Methods of obtaining fresh plant foods in winter are indeed an under-addressed topic. Second, I would point out that what Dr. Kowalewski refers to as "nature's fridge" is not a very good way to store everything. While it is good for subterranean and leafy plants, it is actually one of the worst ways to store most fruits, seeds/pods and nuts that are growing in the woodland, especially those that ripen in the fall rather than in the winter itself. This is true for several reasons:

1. Much of the nutritional value, up to 40% of it in fact, is lost due to continual temperature fluctuations, sunlight exposure, precipitation and above all, the freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw alternations to which the fruit is exposed as many as 50 times as it sits on the shrub. Nutrients degenerate the slowest in a stable and dark environment. "Nature's fridge" (the environs in winter) is neither.

In Canada and Scandinavia, bearberries are collected late in autumn and placed into jugs or barrels; then enough cold water is added to cover the berries and the container is closed off or sealed. These containers of submerged berries are placed in a cave or cellar, where they rest in a stable and dark environment. Another northwoods method of keeping fruits and berries is "snow-freezing": a pit cut out of a snow mass (mound of snow), a lid placed on top of it and covered with more clean snow, then flagged so it can be found again.

In general, woodland fruits should be harvested at their nutritional zenith. In the case of crowberries, this is indeed the middle of winter, after frosts have broken down some of the nutrients and neutralized some of the acid. The same is true of Pembina (high bush cranberries, as they are also called). However, once they reach that point, sometime between December 10 and January 10, they should be moved to a dark and thermally stable place; cellar, cave, natural snow freezer, etc.

2. Fruits left out in "nature's fridge" are vulnerable to ice storms. During the so-called "Trial By Ice," and ice storm in Missouri and the surrounding area in January 2007, nearly all of the red haws and other berries were annihilated. The few that remained were shriveled, sour and by the first of February, usually moldy.

3. In the case of nuts and pods, sunlight often causes the nutshell to crack, even if ever-so-microscopically, and allow mold into the kernel. I have left black walnuts to dry before opening them, and if dried in the sun there is usually no nut inside. In a different, but equally undesirable scenario, water may get into the nut and cause it to rot or decompose (Emery, 1974).

The reason leaves and roots are best collected direct from nature throughout the winter is that they are still active biologically. This is not the case with most fruits, and not with any nuts. The nut is "alive" as a seed, but dormant. Therefore, no energy is being put into them. For all the above reasons, the advice that the "best bet is to do nothing" is wishful thinking, at best.--Jeffery Goss Jr., Missouri
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Title Annotation:Country conversation & feedback
Author:Goss, Jeffery, Jr.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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