Keep your produce harvest-fresh for months in your basement, garage, or closet hideaway using the time-tested methods of energy-free food storage.
With the root cellaring methods you'll learn in this book, you will be able to stretch the resources of your backyard garden further than you ever thought possible—without devoting hundreds of hours to canning. This informative and inspiring guide shows you not only how to construct your own root cellar, but how to best use the earth's naturally cool, stable temperature as a cost-effective and eco-friendly way to store nearly 100 varieties of perishable fruits and vegetables.
Our children . . . should enter adulthood with a basic knowledge of how to store food over winter without the cooperation of a nuclear power plant a hundred miles away. Every animal in the forest is taught this skill; we owe our children no less.
"Energy-Free Food Storage," Countryside
Root cellars are as useful today as they ever were. In fact, root cellars in all their forms are as up-to-date as tomorrow, now that costs of food and power used for processing are higher with each passing year.
The term "root cellar," as we are using it here, includes the whole range of ingenious vegetable-saving techniques from hillside caves to garden trenches. The traditional root cellar is an underground storage space for vegetables and fruits. Where space and lay of the land permit, these cellars are sometimes dug into a hill and then lined with brick, stone, or concrete bock. Dirt-floored or insulated basement rooms, somewhat less picturesque but probably more numerous, are also traditional.
Since our purpose in writing this book is to help you to store as much garden produce as possible without processing, we'll also include as root cellaring techniques suggestions for decentralized vegetable storage — in garages, porches, buried boxes, and even right in the garden row, as well as a few ways to keep your family in fresh green vegetables during the winter, even if you don't have a greenhouse.
What would a root cellar do for you? Simply this: Make it possible for you to enjoy fresh endive in December; tender, savory Chinese cabbage in January; juicy apples in February; crisp fresh carrots in March; and sturdy unsprayed potatoes in April — all without boiling a jar, blanching a vegetable, or filling a freezer bag. A root cellar can save you time, money, and supplies. I discovered this the summer we started to build our house. In planning our garden that year, I had to come to terms with the fact that I'd be too busy, as the carpenter's assistant, to do any freezing or canning of garden produce. So I planted vegetables — like tomatoes and corn — that we could eat fresh throughout the summer, and others — parsnips, carrots, and the cabbage clan — that I could harvest in the fall and keep in our cold basement for winter eating. This plan, born of necessity, worked beautifully. Our gas and electric bills were lower because I was not heating two-gallon kettles of water to can things, I was stuffing less into the freezer, and I didn't need to buy new canning jar lids or freezer bags.
We found, too, that root cellaring led us to a whole new system of eating, one based on the age-old seasonal swings. In June we really appreciated the peas because we knew we wouldn't have them in January. In the fall, when frost jewelled the grass and the pig was ready to butcher, we were hungry once again for the hearty, earthy flavor of turnips and rutabagas, beets and carrots, and parsnips. I don't mean to imply that I've quit canning and freezing. I would truly miss my freezer, and our favorite canned goods — tomatoes, pickles, catsup, and peaches — are a must. But I can see now that I was processing more food than necessary, perhaps because of some innate squirreling instinct that whispered in my ear every August: "Provide, provide." Now I give that impulse a more satisfactory expression by putting by a carefully planned store of winter keepers that make our January meals as special in their own way as those we enjoy in July.
Last evening, for example, I took a basket to our cellar to go "shopping" for the ingredients of the evening meal. Five potatoes, dusty but still firm, filled the bottom of the basket. A fistful of carrots and a single huge beet leaned against the side. Good sturdy root vegetables — just what you'd expect from a root cellar. But there's more. Salad was on the menu too, so I put a long, solid head of Chinese cabbage and a rosy crisp radish into the basket. While in the cellar, shivering a bit out of range of the wood stove, I checked on the witloof chicory sprouts growing in a box of earth by the all. Looks like they'll be ready for next week's salads. On my way up the stairs I grabbed an onion from the net bag hanging above the stairway.
As I scrubbed the potatoes and chopped the leafy cabbage into the salad bowl, I thought about this direct, earthy, and deeply satisfying connection between our summer efforts in the garden and our winter need for fresh wholesome food. The simple life? I suppose you might say so. It is simply a matter of planning, fertilizing, planting, weeding, watering, weeding, weeding, and weeding, then harvesting and storing away. Snow is predicted for tonight, a thick snow that will drift across the lane and make driving tricky. But there's no frantic dash to the grocery store for stuff to tide us over. We're free to stay home and crack walnuts by the fireplace.
Then there is that little corner of our minds that sometimes says "What if?" What if the economy sags to the depths some forecasters predict? What if electricity becomes prohibitively expensive? What if we didn't have our freezer? Could we manage? We feel sure that with some hard work and careful planning and good gardening our root cellar could bring us through.
Storage vegetables needn't be limited to those old standbys: carrots, potatoes, and turnips. With a really well-planned root cellaring program, you can feast on Belgian endive in the dead of winter, fresh tomatoes for Christmas, tender dandelion shoots when the ground outside is ringing hard, nuts and apples, pears and sweet potatoes, even cantaloupe for your Thanksgiving fruit cup.
Those homely old vegetable carbohydrates are being appreciated in a new light these days. Far from being merely inexpensive menu fillers, complex carbohydrates like those found in vegetables have more value than we've given them credit for.
Certain vegetables have, in fact, been found to counter a toxic substance directly. The fiber they contain has been found to help control blood cholesterol, prevent bowel cancer, and regulate blood sugar. The vitamins that vegetables supply, especially vitamins A and C, are newly appreciated as immune-system boosters. Vitamins C and E are known antioxidants, effective in deactivating the free radicals that some scientists believe to be at least partly responsible for aging our bodies. The large and varied group of cabbage-family vegetables contain indoles, compounds that have been shown to inhibit tumor formation in animals. These crucifers, as they are called, include kale, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, Chinese cabbage, turnips, rutabagas, and Brussels sprouts. The antitumor compounds they contain are especially effective when the vegetables are eaten uncooked. If you have a ham in your freezer, then you need some cabbage and turnips in your root cellar! And if you have a well-stocked canning shelf, you need some fresh raw foods to provide the valuable though little-understood enzymes that aren't found in cooked or processed foods.
Some root cellar staples have solidly recognized health-building qualities. Onions and garlic have been shown to be effective in lowering blood cholesterol. Pectin, found in apples, quinces, oranges, grapes, and tomatoes, also reduces cholesterol. And garlic, sometimes called "Russian penicillin" only half in jest, protects against infection, making it a fine food to have on your side during the cold and flu season.
Within the last 100 years, the use of fiberless fat, meat, and sugar has increased to the point where these foods often contribute most of our calories. This is not only an unnatural diet, when considered in the light of mankind's long dependence on vegetable foods, but also an unwholesome one. Vegetables are far more than side dishes. They contribute vitamins and fiber and, when eaten raw, they help to stimulate the production of desirable digestive enzymes and provide valuable chewing exercises for the gums.
You can make profitable use of root cellaring techniques even if your garden is small. If you live in town, you can put by a good hoard of winter vegetables by using some of the "here and there" storage plans described in chapter 12.
Even if you must buy some produce, prices of storage vegetables are usually lowest in the fall. If squash is 25 cents a pound at a roadside stand in October, you can be sure that it will cost more than that in the market in January.
Your root cellar storage, then, can:
Help you eat better.
Save you money.
Conserve dwindling supplies of energy.
Give you that priceless feeling of security that comes with being prepared.
It is good to be able to provide for yourself, to be prepared for the winter by your own skill and forethought with your own wholesome home-grown produce. If you like to take charge of your life, choose your food with care and live in a simple, self-reliant way, perhaps this should be your next step toward independence. By spending a little effort, you stand to gain a lot.