Root cellar

Root cellar

A root cellar is a structure originating before the advent of electricity to store vegetables. They are still used today on a commercial scale to store seed potatoes during the winter, while on a private scale families still maintain small cellars.

Function

Root cellar are for keeping food supplies at a low temperature and steady humidity to keep from freezing during the winter, and keeping food supplies cool during the summer months. Typically, a variety of vegetables would be placed in the root cellar in the autumn, after the harvesting of the vegetable gardens had been completed. A secondary use for the root cellar is as a place in which to store home made alcoholic beverages.

The main vegetables stored in the root cellar consisted of potatoes, turnip, and carrot. Although some people did store cabbage in the root cellar, most did not as cabbage had a tendency to rot if not pickled first. Other food supplies placed in the root cellar over the winter months included beets, preserves/jams, salt meat, salt turbot, and salt herring. Separate cellars are occasionally seen for storing fruits, such as apples. Food supplies were kept in the root cellar in the summer months to avoid spoilage. Water, bread, butter, milk, and cream were often stored in the root cellar so that these items could be used more than once by the family. In addition, items such as salad greens, fresh meat, and jam pies were kept in the root cellar early in the day, so that they could keep cool until they were needed for supper.

Construction

Common construction methods are:

  1. Digging down into the ground and erecting a shed or house over the cellar (access is via a trap door in the shed).
  2. Digging into the side of a hill (easier to excavate and facilitates water drainage).
  3. Building a structure at ground level and piling rocks, earth, and/or sod around and over it. This may be easier to build on rocky terrain where excavation is difficult.

Most root cellars were built using stone, wood, mortar (cement), and sod. Newer ones may be made of concrete with sod on top.

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