Root Cellar 8: How I Would Die on the Prairie

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January 25, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Root Cellar 8:  How I Would Die on the Prairie

My root cellar food is rotting

(Catch up on the previous episodes of the Root Cellar Diaries here.)

New inventory for root cellar, courtesy David Hammond

New inventory for root cellar, courtesy David Hammond

If I were living years ago, let’s say as a sodbuster on the Great Plains during the brutal winter, I would have died on the prairie of starvation because all my root cellar food would be inedible.

Last week, my wife Carolyn and daughter Josie went to Costco to get supplies for our root cellar.

I realize restocking a root cellar is contrary to the way such food repositories have been run since the beginning of time, but we needed more stuff. I didn’t put enough away last autumn, and much of our stored food – like apples – is getting wrinkly and withered.

If I were living years ago, let’s say as a sodbuster on the Great Plains during the brutal winter, I would have died on the prairie of starvation because all my root cellar food would be inedible.

That’s why I’m looking at my root cellar as a replenishable domestic appliance. The goal now is not to store food to last us through the winter, but to store food long enough to get us through the cold days until the next trip to Costco.

This is not a tragic occurrence…because we’re not sodbusters living on the prairie during the winter. We can refill our root cellar and just use it as a cool dark place – a natural refrigerator – where we can load up a bunch of stuff.

We’re still using the earth as a resource to provide cooling, rather than relying upon electricity, and we’re saving on gas because we load up on stuff during each trip to Costco.

So even though I would have probably perished, along with the rest of my family, had our little house been on an eighteenth-century American prairie rather than twenty-first century Scoville Ave., I still feel good about my root cellar.

I know we’ll do better next year.

David Hammond talks about food every Wednesday in the Wednesday Journal and Chicago Sun-Times and regularly on Oakpark.com and WBEZ, 91.5FM.  You can also find him often on LTHForum, a food site he helped found and where he still works diligently as a Lead Moderator.
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2 Comments

  1. Rob Gardner says:

    Interesting perspective David. The first year we stored food, we ran into many of the same issues. Essentially, you don’t know how it will work, or how long it will work for, until you do it. And, as you note, we can always fall back on the grocery store for any failures.

    I’m gonna expand on my root cellar thoughts when I have a bit more time, but generally, for me, the idea is not so much an extra fridge, but the ability to stay with local foods. Also, if your apples are suffering like that, it is almost for sure that your root cellar is not humid enough. You may even want to spring for a hydrometer to keep your stuff dank enough.

  2. Rob Gardner says:

    Hey, Hammond, get ye self to Caputo’s (our Caputo’s) ASAP. They have Illinois grown beets at 3 lbs/$1; nice large, hearty beets perfect for all sorts of winter use. Get a bunch to put in the cellar.

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