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Thread: The Return Of The Root Cellar...

  1. #1
    Gregory Morrow Guest

    Default The Return Of The Root Cellar...


    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/garden/06root.html

    November 6, 2008

    Food Storage as Grandma Knew It

    By MICHAEL TORTORELLO

    "IN a strictly technical sense, Cynthia Worley is not transforming her
    basement into a time machine. Yet what's going on this harvest season
    beneath her Harlem brownstone on 122nd Street, at Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
    Boulevard, is surely something out of the past - or perhaps the future.

    The space itself is nothing special: Whitewashed granite walls run the width
    and depth of the room, 16 feet by 60 feet. A forgotten owner tried to put in
    a cement floor, but the dirt, which takes a long-term view of things, is
    stubbornly coming back. "It's basically a sod floor," Ms. Worley said.

    What's important is that the shelves are sturdy, because Ms. Worley and her
    husband, Haja Worley, will soon load them with 20 pounds of potatoes, 20
    pounds of onions, 30 pounds of butternut and acorn squash, 10 heads of
    cabbage, 60-odd pints of home-canned tomatoes and preserves, 9 gallons of
    berry and fruit wines, and another gallon or two of mulberry vinegar.

    The goodies in the pint jars and the carboys come from the Joseph Daniel
    Wilson Memorial Garden, which the Worleys founded across the street. The
    fresh produce is a huge final delivery from a Community Supported
    Agriculture farm in Orange County, which they used all summer. Packed in
    sand and stored at 55 degrees, the potatoes should keep at least until the
    New Year. The squash could still be palatable on Groundhog Day, and the
    onions should survive till spring. Ms. Worley, who counsels and teaches
    adults for the New York City Department of Education, and Mr. Worley, a
    neighborhood organizer and radio engineer, will let their basement-deprived
    friends store vegetables, too.

    The Worleys, like a number of other Americans, have made the seemingly
    anachronistic choice to turn their basement into a root cellar. While Ms.
    Worley's brownstone basement stash won't feed the couple through the winter,
    she said, "I think it's a healthy way to go and an economical way."

    According to a September survey on consumer anxieties over higher fuel and
    food prices from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa
    State University in Ames, 34 percent of respondents said that they were
    likely to raise more of their own vegetables. Another 37 percent said they
    were likely to can or freeze more of their food. The cousin to canning and
    freezing is the root cellar.

    "I've been doing local food work for a long time," said Rich Pirog,
    associate director of the Leopold Center, who conducted the study. "And I'm
    seeing an increase in articles in various sustainable ag newsletters about
    root cellaring."

    According to Bruce Butterfield, the research director for the National
    Gardening Association, a trade group, home food preservation typically
    increases in a rotten economy. In 2002, the close of the last mild
    recession, 29 million households bought supplies for freezing, drying,
    processing and canning. Last year that number stood at only 22 million - a
    figure Mr. Butterfield said he expects to rise rapidly.

    Root cellars have long been the province of Midwestern grandmothers,
    back-to-the-landers and committed survivalists. But given the nation's
    budding romance with locally produced food, they also appeal to the backyard
    gardener, who may have a fruit tree that drops a bigger bounty every year
    while the refrigerator remains the same size.

    While horticulture may be a science, home food storage definitely can carry
    the stench of an imperfect art. According to the essential 1979 book, "Root
    Cellaring," by Mike and Nancy Bubel, some items like cabbage and pears do
    best in a moist environment below 40 degrees (though above freezing). To
    achieve this, a cellar probably needs to be vented, or have windows that
    open. Winter squash and sweet potatoes should be kept dry and closer to 50
    degrees - perhaps closer to the furnace.

    Other rules of root cellaring sound more like molecular gastronomy. For
    example, the ethylene gas that apples give off will make carrots bitter. As
    a general principle, keeping produce in a cool chamber that is beneath the
    frost line - the depth, roughly four feet down, below which the soil doesn't
    freeze - can slow both the normal process of ripening and the creeping
    spread of bacterial and fungal rot. These are the forces that will turn a
    lost tomato in the back of the cupboard into a little lagoon of noxious goo.

    But if you leave that green tomato on a vine and drape it upside down, it
    will gradually turn red in three or four weeks. "I've had fresh tomatoes for
    Thanksgiving," said Jito Coleman, an environmental engineer who practices
    the inverted tomato - which should be a yoga pose - in a root cellar he
    built in the house he designed in Warren, Vt.

    People who squirrel away vegetables tend to be resourceful, and they do not
    limit themselves to the subterranean. Anna Barnes, who runs a small media
    company and coordinates the Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture in
    Champaign, Ill., says squash hung in a pair of knotted pantyhose stay
    unspoiled longer than others.

    Here, the cold is optional, too. It's the bruising that comes from a squash
    sitting on a hard countertop, she said, that speeds senescence. ("You wouldn
    't want to do it in the guest closet," Ms. Barnes said. Or, presumably, wear
    the pantyhose again.)

    Taken to a do-it-yourself extreme, lots of places can become stockrooms.
    Margaret Christie has surrendered countless nooks in her 1845 Federal-style
    home in tiny downtown Whately, Mass., to laying away the crops she grows in
    the family's half-acre vegetable plot. Ms. Christie, 44, a projects director
    for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, a nonprofit that supports
    community farming in western Massachusetts, also feeds her husband and three
    children from their milk goats, laying hens, pigpens and lamb pastures.

    This year, she swapped a lamb for 40 pounds of sweet potatoes, 40 pounds of
    onions and 40 pounds of carrots from a neighbor's farm. This cornucopia has
    colonized the basement, along with the family's own potatoes. "They're
    sitting next to the Ping-Pong table," she said, in "five-gallon buckets with
    window screens for the lids."

    Onions, garlic and pumpkins dwell in an uninsulated attic - except in
    midwinter, when that space drops below freezing. Then the vegetables move
    into the guest bedroom. If that space has already been claimed, they
    occasionally hide out under the bed of her 11-year-old son. Their homegrown
    popcorn kernels have a way of turning up everywhere, courtesy of the
    neighborhood mice, who have developed their own taste for locally grown
    year-round produce.

    The contemporary American, for whom a pizza delivery is seldom more than a
    phone call away, is an oddity in the annals of eating. Elizabeth Cromley, a
    professor of architectural history at Northeastern University, said that at
    one time, "just about every house had special facilities for preserving
    food."

    Professor Cromley has finished a book called "The Food Axis: Cooking,
    Eating, and the Architecture of American Houses," which is to be published
    by the University of Virginia Press in 2010. She said that understanding
    food preservation is not a frivolous pursuit. More than 400 books instructed
    19th-century Americans on how to plan a functional house, with a practical
    larder, basement and outbuildings, she said. "You're not going to die if you
    don't get a new dress," she said, "but if you don't know this, it will kill
    you."

    Harriet Fasenfest, 55, who lives in Portland, Ore., has been playing with
    her food for a long time. A semiretired restaurateur, she started "hacking
    up" her small city lot in the Alberta Art District to grow food. (Her
    husband asked, "Where will we play Frisbee?" and Ms. Fasenfest replied, "The
    park.") She also teaches classes on canning and created the Web site
    portlandpreserve.com.

    There is no digging a dry refuge from the seep and suck of a Portland
    winter. So in lieu of a traditional cellar, she applies the scientific
    method. "Last year I tried an experiment with four different varieties of
    apples," she said, "to see how long it took them to rot. So I put them in a
    box in my shed and then they rotted. It worked!"

    When she's not filling her 10-foot-by-10-foot shed, she experiments in the
    cubbyholes that sit alongside the outdoor cellar stairs. Copra onions, Ms.
    Fasenfest has found, store better than Walla Wallas. An indoor heating vent
    can cure butternut squash so effectively that it can probably last in cold
    storage until the economy turns around (whenever that is).

    Nevertheless, even those who rhapsodize about the pleasures of eating
    locally grown food year-round have to admit that the effort doesn't always
    seem worthwhile. Ms. Fasenfest has been forced to conclude that the labor
    that went into growing and storing the 30 pounds of russet potatoes now
    beneath the stairwell was not really adequate to the reward. "If we had to
    survive off of those," she said, "we'd be dead."

    </>





  2. #2
    sf Guest

    Default Re: The Return Of The Root Cellar...

    On Tue, 11 Nov 2008 00:17:33 -0600, "Gregory Morrow"
    <[email protected]> wrote:

    >"IN a strictly technical sense, Cynthia Worley is not transforming her
    >basement into a time machine. Yet what's going on this harvest season
    >beneath her Harlem brownstone on 122nd Street, at Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
    >Boulevard, is surely something out of the past - or perhaps the future.
    >
    >The space itself is nothing special: Whitewashed granite walls run the width
    >and depth of the room, 16 feet by 60 feet. A forgotten owner tried to put in
    >a cement floor, but the dirt, which takes a long-term view of things, is
    >stubbornly coming back. "It's basically a sod floor," Ms. Worley said.


    16 feet by 60 feet? Is this what the rest of the world calls a
    partial basement???


    --
    I never worry about diets. The only carrots that
    interest me are the number of carats in a diamond.

    Mae West

  3. #3
    Giusi Guest

    Default Re: The Return Of The Root Cellar...

    "sf" ha scritto nel messaggio > On Tue, 11 Nov 2008 00:17:33 -0600,
    "Gregory Morrow"
    >
    >>"IN a strictly technical sense, Cynthia Worley is not transforming
    >>her>>basement into a time machine. >>
    >>The space itself is nothing special: Whitewashed granite walls run the
    >>width>>and depth of the room, 16 feet by 60 feet.


    16 feet by 60 feet? Is this what the rest of the world calls a
    > partial basement???


    It sounds to me like a one room wide NYC townhouse, and not a small one.



  4. #4
    Nancy Young Guest

    Default Re: The Return Of The Root Cellar...

    Giusi wrote:
    > "sf" ha scritto nel messaggio > On Tue, 11 Nov 2008 00:17:33 -0600,
    > "Gregory Morrow"
    >>
    >>> "IN a strictly technical sense, Cynthia Worley is not transforming
    >>> her>>basement into a time machine. >>
    >>> The space itself is nothing special: Whitewashed granite walls run
    >>> the width>>and depth of the room, 16 feet by 60 feet.

    >
    > 16 feet by 60 feet? Is this what the rest of the world calls a
    >> partial basement???

    >
    > It sounds to me like a one room wide NYC townhouse, and not a small
    > one.


    It's a brownstone, and in Harlem there were many large lovely
    examples, though now they are mostly divided into apartments.

    nancy

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