by Lindsay Suto
In February the snow piles higher and the cold, barren winter continues. The Wolf Moon fades into the Hunger Moon; the earth remains dormant and the people must rely on the food that is left in storage in order to avoid going hungry.
Since our ancestors didn’t have access to supermarkets, their only available source of fresh vegetables in winter came from what could be stored from their autumn harvests. Without refrigerators to slow down deterioration and rot, they relied on the original cold storage, which was usually underground! A good root cellar relies on the insulating properties of the earth to keep food cool in the summer and just above freezing in the winter, thus prolonging spoilage. One of the benefits of keeping food in a cellar is that it can be preserved in its natural form. While other foods can be stored after fermentation, drying, or pickling, hardy fruits and vegetables can be placed directly into a root cellar with little preparation.
Root cellars have been found all around the world, and are one of the ways archaeologists learn about cultures that came before us. It is believed that native Australians were the ones who developed the original underground storage technique, growing large quantities of yams and burying the extra produce in order to preserve it for future use.
Root cellars were used extensively in Europe, and many credit the invention of walk-in root cellars to 17th century Englishmen. The early American settlers continued this ancient method of food storage, leaving thousands of old root cellars on the East Coast of Canada and America, some of them over 200 years old.
The foods that were commonly stored in these cellars are those that our bodies crave during the winter. Whether roasted, mashed, or served in soup, they are versatile veggies that quickly and easily bulk up a meal and provide the nutrients our bodies need in preparation for the coming spring. Some of the best storage crops are apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, onions, potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, and squash.
Storage of root crops is regaining popularity as people return to local, organic foods from their own backyards or nearby farms. The beauty of the hardy winter vegetables is that they can be grown in most climates, meaning that everyone can participate in the root crop resurgence! Whether it’s basic shelving in a crawl space or an intricate, ventilated cellar or basement cold room, this important form of food storage is making a come back, meaning root crops are taking center stage!