Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's in Your Root Cellar?

As winter begins to close in here in upstate New York, I'm thinking of the many root cellars I still see in Ukraine.   Root cellars are pretty much gone from here, as we can buy out-of-season food year-round, or if still a preserver, might use the big chest freezer out in the garage.   But root cellars are still the norm in most Ukrainian villages and filled with far more than root vegetables.  In May, the supplies in root cellars were dwindling down--but there were potatoes,  onions, and shelves of pickled and canned vegetables, remnants of the previous summer.
And as we sat down to eat, my hostess dashed out to the root cellar to retrieve the soup she was chilling there.  It was a perfect temperature, and kept that way, of course, in the most environmentally thoughtful way possible, in a space that stays about the same temperature year-round, underneath the ground.   Even the New York Times, in a 2008 article, heralded the return of the root cellar, "food storage as grandma knew it."
 We're continually struck by the resourceful of Ukrainians and how much we can learn about growing, storing, and of course eating food--and the root cellars serve as physical examples upon the village landscape of this.   A typical root cellar has shelves for canned goods, separate floor bins for potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables,and meat hooks for hanging meat.  In autumn, the shelves are filled with tomato sauce, pickles, compote and more to sustain through the non-growing seasons of the year.
The interiors of the root cellars shown are are all from a village, as is the blue exterior.  I saw many of these slant-roof, above-the-ground entrance root cellars in common use.  The other two root cellars are historic buildings from Pyrohiv, the National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life, outside Kyiv.


  1. Interesting blog!

    My cold room houses all my summer canning, potatoes, carrots, onions, beats, rice and flour. I'd love to see some of those meat hooks you speak of. I didn't butcher my calf this year because our wonky weather went from too warm to too cold too fast. I never thought of hanging it in the cold room. Usually I butcher in the garage.

  2. Growing up in Upstate New York, our basement has a backroom that was our root cellar. 30 years later I started a pickle company in Boston called selling the same canned goods we used to put up in the root cellar.