Root Cellar Diary, Part 1, Humble Beginnings

A root cellar: an excellent way to store local products throughout winter

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By David Hammond

Of all the photos I’ve ever included in a food-related article, the picture accompanying this first entry in my Root Cellar Diary is, beyond doubt, the most humble. Pathetic may be more like it.

A few weeks before the digital revolution and the new millennium, I was having work done on my basement. We had a brick backyard stairwell that was closed off when former owners put in a deck. The contractors suggested we could turn it into a darkroom. What a great idea!

Within the next 16 months,  everyone was using digital cameras. The notion of processing film and making prints on paper in a darkroom became, suddenly, quaintly archaic.

For years, we used our dark room (as you can see in the picture) as a dump zone for bottles, old laundry baskets, and paper products.

This autumn, however, we’re going to turn our old dark room into a root cellar, a kind of oversized cooler for root vegetables, like carrots and potatoes, as well as apples and other food products that, I’m told, will last a long time if kept in a cool dark place.

A root cellar is an excellent way to store local food products in large quantity throughout the winter.

Or so I’m told.

Soon, we’re going to start buying up vegetables for the purposes of storing them in our former dark room. Soon…but not yet. I was talking to Walter Skibbe at the Oak Park Farmers Market last weekend, and I asked him about what apples I should buy for keeping this winter.

“Don’t buy any yet,” said Skibbe, “we haven’t picked the good hard apples you’re going to want to keep all winter. We’ll have Fuji, Newtons, Pippins,  and Winesaps. Those are the ones you’re going to want to keep. We’ll have them the last two weeks or so in October.”

Rob Gardner, fellow Oak Parker and Editor-at-Large of Local Beet, also suggested I hold off on buying any root cellar produce because either it hasn’t been picked yet, or the farmers are already storing it in facilities superior to my own (not hard to imagine).

I’m way open to suggestions regarding what I should store, how I should store it, and how I should use it as time goes by. Thoughts?

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