50 Before 50 #24: Preserve Food, part 1

Essentials for Basic Root Cellaring

When I wrote this goal down in 2008, I believe I was thinking of canning. I wanted to put up a few jars of jam and pickles, learn to can in the process, and that was about it. Moving to Central New York with its amazing foodways has both coincided with and driven a reordering of our food priorities. Living here also brought us a house with a basement, and while most of that basement is finished, it does contain a pleasantly dark, cold corner that is good for food storage. The freezer went straight down there when it came to the house the May before last. It was joined this year by a baker’s rack that filled up with the canned goods I made. And at some point, it occurred to me that I’d like to expand our bulk-goods purchases to winter vegetables, and that those would need some storage space.

So far, creating a root cellar has involved the following:

  • Idly reading the Bubel’s canonical Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables. Optional: perplex one’s stylist by reading it in the chair whilst covered in hair dye. Note the range of possibilities that they map, which range from simply sticking a bag of onions in the coldest spot in your house (attic, stairs) to building a full-blown circulating-air root cellar. Also note with appreciation the detailed instructions for cellaring a wide variety of produce.
  • Purchasing a couple of $11.50 Acu-Rite humidity/temp sensors and putting them in a few areas that I thought might work. Tracking them for a few weeks. Identifying that the best spot really is that open area that needs to have some of the previous owner’s ridiculous, ancient, badly proportioned wooden storage racks hauled out of it.
  • Going to Boston, because then your wonderfully strong husband might take a sledgehammer to those racks while you are gone. Might spend an inordinate amount of time swinging at them, actually, and observing the various huge screws and crucifixion nails that all that scrap lumber had been knocked together with about 20 years ago. And then he might haul it all up to the curb for the village to haul away.
  • Returning and being amazed by the amount of space that has been freed up. Then procrastinate on cleaning the walls and floors.
  • Stop procrastinating, clean the space, and start setting up wire racks to hold the 13 squashes, 10 pounds of garlic, 10 pounds of potatoes, and 35 pounds of onions that you’re starting out with.
  • Start planning a wine rack and shutters for the window that you’ve never opened and that lets in far too much light for good preservation conditions.

Right now the onions and garlic are still stored in the string bags they came in, but we’ll figure out crates soon. The whole thing is very much an in-progress project, but so far we’re really enjoying having a consistent supply of alliums and squash just downstairs. The nice thing about this is that it’s been a very low-key, as-time-is-found process that has been relatively easy to fit in between deadlines. The only thing that hurried it along is the seasonal nature of produce availability. Next year, we’ll have figured out the humidity and light better and I’ll fill it up with quite a bit more things when autumn comes. But for now, I’m pretty happy with the way things are shaping up.

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5 Responses to 50 Before 50 #24: Preserve Food, part 1

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  3. Joanna says:

    This is inspirational! I bought a winter share from my CSA, and don’t have enough room for the incredible bounty it brings. do I have a basement (unfinished, kind of spooky-looking, shared with others in the building) and I might be able to set something up, but I’d have to think about the occasional vermin infestation.
    When I get back home after the holidays, I will definitely check out that book!
    happy holidays!

  4. Becky says:

    Ah, I’d love to follow your lead here; I so admire your ability to do things in found time, to work in small batches, etc. But the BP and I are more likely to go whole hog all at once, or not do it at all. What’s the difference? The difference is that you have a functioning root cellar, and we do not!

  5. Krista says:

    Joanna: Hooray! They do have some tips about vermin in the book. Let me know what you end up with. Enjoy Spain and happy holidays to all of you!

    Becky: But there’s something to be said for the whole-hog approach. You and BP will suddenly have a nice, fully-fledged root cellar, whereas I will be still be poking around and someday-ing. This is not really my native state, but such is the tenure track. Post-tenure, I envision a lot more going BLAMMEDY on projects like this.

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