Wednesday, February 9, 2011
The Root Cellar
We don't hear as much about the Root Cellar these days as in the past. With all of our modern refregeration options available, the need is not as great as it once was. The root cellar is a type of structure built either completely or partially underground and used to store vegetables, fruits and nuts or other foods. They are for keeping food supplies at a low temperature and steady humidity. Root cellars keep food from freezing during the winter and keep it cool during the summer months to prevent spoilage. Usually, several kinds of vegetables are placed in the root cellar in the fall after harvesting. Another use for the root cellar is as a place to store wine or home made alcoholic beverages. The most common vegetables stored in the root cellar are potatoes, turnips and carrots. Other food supplies placed in the root cellar during the winter months are beets, onions, preserves and jams, salt meat, winter squash and cabbage. Sometimes separate cellars are used for storing fruits such as apples or pears. Water, bread, butter, milk and cream were sometimes stored in the root cellar. Also, items such as salad greens, fresh meat, and jam pies were kept in the root cellar early in the day to keep cool until they were needed for supper.
My grandparents had a root cellar built under a garage on their farm and was therefore underground. I can still remember the smell as I entered the root cellar. It smelled a little like an old basement. There were several rock steps leading down to the heavy wooden cellar door. Papaw had built wooden shelves from rough lumber on three sides of the root cellar. The floor was cool and smooth. Mamaw lined each shelf with clean newspaper. She would line up her canned tomatoes, green beans, pickles, beets, shelly beans and corn in straight rows on the shelves. There were bushel baskets of potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips sitting on the floor in front of the shelves. I remember Mamaw taking a big granite dish pan down to the root cellar each day to gather the items she needed to cook supper. The root cellar felt so cool compared to the heat and humidity on the outside. After Mamaw told me she once saw a snake in there, I never spent much time there and certainly never went in alone. I just knew that snake was in there somewhere waiting for me.
There are a few ways to build a root cellar: One way is digging down into the ground and erecting a shed or house over the cellar which is accessed via a trap door in the shed. Another way is digging into the side of a hill which is easier to excavate and facilitates water drainage. Yet a third way is building a structure at ground level and piling rocks, earth, and/or sod around and over it. This way may be easier to build on rocky terrain where excavation is more difficult. Root cellars take advantage of the earth as a natural source of insulation and coolness. Since deep holes are naturally cooler than the area around the surface of the earth, a root cellar will be cooler than the air temperature by design, and several features can make a root cellar even colder. Usually a root cellar is constructed in an area which is already cold, such as a north-facing hill in the Northern Hemisphere, and it may be shaded by trees and buildings. Thick insulation such as stone, brick, and straw may be used to keep a root cellar's temperature stable, while ventilation shafts pull cold air up, keeping a constant flow of cool air going through the root cellar. Root cellars have also been used to age cheese. Modern day root cellars continue to be used for the storage of fruits and vegetables, and a growing interest in natural preservation techniques and small scale farming in the early 21st century led to a revival of the root cellar in some communities.
The primitive "staples" pictured above are available for sale at Persnickety Primitives. With these great items, you can "stock" your primitive pantry or buttery for just the right look to enhance your primitive decor. They also look great in your primitive cupboards and Hoosier cabinets. These primitive home decor items have been created by me and coffee stained for that old grungy look we love.
(Research provided by: http://www.wisegeek.com/ and Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)