A number of years ago, my uncle bought an old farmhouse out near Sullivan, Missouri. It was a pretty rural area and when he first bought the place, water came from an outside well and there was a cistern that collected all of the waste, which was then used as fertilizer. Back then nothing was really wasted, most everything was recycled, not to “live green” or save the environment like today, but rather out of necessity.
Outside of the old house was a slanted wooden door that led down into the root cellar. The cellar had makeshift walls made out of rough stone, but the floor was all dirt. Along one side of the room were several wood shelves and one that was made out of rusted metal. There were also some bins for storing vegetables like potatoes and onions and such. On the shelves there were still some old jars filled with home canned wares: various types of vegetables, tomatoes, and one jar of peaches. We joked about eating the stuff, but since the jars had probably been sitting there for almost twenty years, we may not have survived the experience. But then again, who knows, it might have been mighty tasty?
Back in the day, most people lived on a farm where you raised most of your own food. They didn’t have the luxury of driving down to the grocery store and buying fruits and vegetables that were grown in other parts of the world and then express shipped or frozen for use many months later. And before the days of refrigeration, most people had “root cellars” where they either canned or stored their produce for the winter.
According to the New York Times, (www.nytimes.com), because of consumer anxiety over high food and fuel prices, many people are installing root gardens in their houses and homes. In a recent survey some 37 percent of respondents say that they will grow most of their own fruits or vegetables and many say that they will can them for later use. The cousin to home canning is the root cellar. The root cellar is the most economical way to keep perishable foods at a temperature of between 32 and 40 degrees to keep them from spoiling during the winter.
During the last recession, 29 million households bought supplies for freezing, drying, processing, and canning food. There are several ways to go about storing your food. You can spend a lot of money on specially designed root cellars that you can have installed in your basement or you can improvise like a lot of folks do. Since different foods have different ideal storage conditions, it’s better to take a multi-pronged approach. Some people will store potatoes and onions in the basement, for example, and other foods in the attic or a storage shed out in the back yard, depending on the weather conditions and humidity. Some even go as far as hanging the vegetables in their bedroom closet.
As the recession deepens and we head towards a depression, more and more people will try home food preservation to stretch out their food dollars. Let’s hope we don’t get down to the reusable soup bone and edible shoe leather.