Courtesy Stephanie Staton
About 12 years ago I took a 5-week literature course in Paris. When we weren’t in the classroom, we had the opportunity to experience the city’s sights, sounds and attractions. During one field trip, we visited the catacombs that lie beneath the City of Lights. Plunging into the cool, dark tunnels, I was immediately thankful for the sudden drop in temperature (Paris was experiencing record high temperatures that summer!) and awed by the structure and its contents. Surrounded by thousands of bones and hundreds of years’ worth of history, I was surprised to find my mind drifting to the functional aspects of the earthen walls; specifically, their ability to maintain temperature and humidity despite the rising mercury topside—something I’d learned in school on our many field trips to Kentucky’s underground caves but had filed in the back of my mind.
Thinking back to my childhood experiences underground, I also remembered the cooling properties as they applied to food storage. Growing up, my only thoughts about cellars involved my grandparents’ less-than-inviting root cellar. Spider webs and my older brother’s stories of "rodents of unusual size” prevented me from setting foot inside the structure without my grandmother’s presence. (Don’t judge! Even Mom wouldn’t go in there unless it was absolutely necessary.) Strangely enough, I found that cellar far creepier than the bat-dwelling caves and Paris’ underground tomb.
Walking through the catacombs stirred memories of the few times I carried potatoes into and canning jars out of the cellar. Constructed of nothing more than cinder-block walls, wood shelves and a dirt floor, the root cellar provided a steady climate of cool, damp air for storing fresh and canned goods year-round. Its earthy aroma was only occasionally tainted by a spoiling piece of produce, which was quickly removed.
Having visited and seen root cellars of all shapes and sizes since my childhood, I’ve come to appreciate their role in seasonal eating as well as the timeless genius of their design. People—farmers and their customers alike—have come up with some pretty creative ways to adapt the cellars of yore, but this rural staple remains a functioning nod to our rural roots. Breathe new life into an old cellar on your property or retrofit one to store this year’s harvest with the storage methods and tips in "Root of the Matter.”
If you’re looking for more ways to fill your larder, turn to "Put a Lid on It” to ease the chore of putting by the harvest by hosting a preserving party. Or use up some of your fall bumper crops with the handmade beauty treatments, and treat yourself to a well-deserved spa day on the farm.
With the warm days winding down and harvest in full swing, it’s up to you to take full advantage of the season—don’t let a few spider webs stand in your way!