Friday, October 14, 2011

Root Cellar Revisited

I finally have mine.   Do you have one?  Are you still longing for yours?  I'm certain that it is what everyone wants.  We're talking about a root cellar.

If you were fortunate enough to grow up a hundred years ago, you had a root cellar.  A root cellar is a "cave" carved into the cool, damp earth where you could store the root crops from you garden.  My grandmother's root cellar was on a slight incline.  Two large doors hinged like shutters over the entrance.  When open, the doors flopped back against the sloped earth, revealing a yawning darkness, a few steps leading down and the fragrance of soil.  When my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I could make out a few bushel baskets and apple boxes that had been stacked to form shelves.  Jars of peaches, apricots and green beens nestles in groups on these shelves, the result of many long hours in the hot kitchen (think wood stove fire in the middle of summer in a small kitchen with one window) putting up food for winter.

But in the bushel baskets were the root vegetables: carrots, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas and beets blanketed in dirt to hold their moisture.  Refrigeration was not yet a widely available convenience, and these crops like it cool and dark.  Certainly, they needed to be dug in the fall to save them for the hard freeze of winter, but in the root cellar, they could go back to bed and hibernate all winter at a very comfortable temperature until they became something delicious in the kitchen.

I planted carrots and potatoes and beets this year.  The refrigerator, in spite of its exquisite convenience is not ideal for storing my harvest.  Too cold and too dry.  Ever since moving into our current house (34 years ago), I've known that the space under the house held hope for storing produce.  My tall frame can almost stand up in one end of that crawl space, but before rather recently becoming table-saw-certified, I've not felt empowered to go ahead with any construction that could transform "crawl space" into "root cellar." That's history now.

A month ago "install hatch ring" was at the top of "Things I get to do today."  Our house was remodeled in 1992.  The carpenters and especially the flooring men pegged me right off as a lunatic for wanting the access door to the crawl space changed from my daughter's bedroom closet to the middle of the floor in the pantry just off the kitchen.  (To this day, not one person needing to do whatever needs to be done in a crawl space has complained about the clean, convenient and easy access to do gritty, uncomfortable work.)  But the flooring guys, grumbling about cutting a hole in the middle this beautiful sheet of vinyl, were not the ones to ask to put in the ring that would make it easy to pull the very heavy access lid into the open position.

Everyday look of the pantry floor.
Rug removed.  Crawl space access lid
Nearly 20 years later, I know I can do it.  Once that hurdle was jumped, everything else became real.
Hatch ring installed

Lid/hatch open to crawl space

A few dollars spent at my favorite store, a small pile of sawdust made from recycling a garden bean frame and an hour slightly crunched over with several years-worth of delicate spider lace and I have my modern version of a root cellar.

Attached to the sub-flooring are rails that hold the lips of the bins.
The bins pull out like drawers.



I think the beets and carrots would like a dirt blanket.


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