Potatoes are inexpensive and readily available all year, so storing them for months is no longer the survival skill it was in bygone years. Still, knowing how to extend their shelf life is useful both for gardeners and frugal buyers of produce. Modern homes seldom have a root cellar for vegetable storage, but you can improvise suitable accommodations for your spuds with a bit of know-how.
The Ideal Environment
The ideal long-term storage temperature for potatoes is 42 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the University of Idaho, and 45 to 50 F, reports the Idaho Potato Commission. That’s an awkward temperature, much cooler than your basement or garage, but warmer than your refrigerator. To complicate things still further, potatoes are roughly 80 percent water and therefore require lots of humidity to retain their quality. Commercial storage units keep them at 95 percent humidity, which is utterly impractical in most homes. The spuds need good air circulation to prevent mold and should be kept in darkness to inhibit sprouting.
The Not-Quite Root Cellar
If your home has an uninsulated basement or a garage that remains above freezing even in mid-winter, you can improvise a suitable storage area. Set up wire or perforated plastic shelving or storage bins with ventilation slots cut in the sides to hold bags of potatoes. Mound bulk potatoes in layers with paper or egg cartons to provide air space and absorbency. Surround the area with partitions or a heavy curtain to block out light and minimize temperature fluctuations. Alternatively, scavenge a used refrigerator and set it to a potato-friendly temperature of 45 to 50 F. In either case, keep an open pan of water in your storage area for humidity.
Best Available Cupboard
If those options aren’t available to you, give some thought to which of your cupboards offers the best conditions. Ideally, it should be away from your stove, toaster or toaster oven — all of which drive up the temperature — and not under your sink, where hot water and the dishwasher can do the same. If you have a spot available that gets no direct sunlight during the day, that’s even better. Store your potatoes either loose or in their perforated bag, preferably inside a light-inhibiting plastic storage bin. Cut a few holes in the bin for ventilation; otherwise, the potatoes are likely to mold.
The Fridge, in a Pinch
If you’re in an especially hot climate, you can store potatoes in your refrigerator to prolong their life. The downside to this approach is that your potatoes will convert some of their starches to sugars, a natural anti-freeze. It won’t matter if you bake or boil the spuds, but fried potatoes will brown much too quickly — and darkly — if they’ve come straight from the fridge. They’ll need 10 to 14 days to return to their normal condition after coming out of the fridge, so start with two weeks’ potatoes in your cupboard and rotate one week’s supply at a time from your fridge to room temperature.