Extending summer by
enjoying the flavours of fresh vegetables should be considered magic. I cannot
think of anything that keeps the memory of those hot days alive in my mind more
than enjoying the garden.
This picture is from Elliston, Newfoundland, Canada. These cellars have been name the Upstairs/Downstairs Cellar.
Of course we love our frozen
vegetables. Some dry herbs. We preserve fruits and jams. But one of the
original methods of food preservation is the root cellar. This is making a
revival as people want to eat more locally grown food. To work properly, a root
cellar must hold a temperature of 32 to 40 F (0 – 5 C) and a humidity level of
85 to 95 percent. This higher humidity prevents vegetables from drying. Beets,
Brussels sprouts pulled with the root and hung upside down, cabbage, carrots
and potatoes with no sprouts keep best in a root cellar. They will keep better
if clean and soil removed.
In my research for this
week’s article I came across the town of Elliston on Bonavista Peninsula,
Newfoundland. It is the self-declared “Root Cellar Capital of the World.” After
the cod moratorium in 1992, many families left. Now with its documented 135
root cellars for 300 souls, Elliston is capitalizing on this unique feature.
Some of these cellars are 200 years old and still in use. The town hosts Roots,
Rants & Roars, an annual festival showcasing the province’s culinary
heritage. This is an admirable feat for such a small community. There is still
time to attend this year’s festival from September 21 – 23 with an impressive
line up of top chefs from across the country. As a lover of food and all things
Canadian, this is feast is on my bucket list.
How to Create a Root
This, at its simplest, is
a hole in the ground. I can remember as a child visiting neighbours who had a
root cellar. It was accessed by an exterior hatchway or more commonly called,
trap door. It had concrete walls and a dirt floor. Cellars were often under the
house, porch or under a mound of soil to maintain a constant temperature both
summer and winter.
To create one in your
home, determine the dampest section of your basement. If possible, select a
corner as this offers the maximum coolness and requires minimum construction.
Create ventilation that allows cold outside air to enter. An existing window
would be ideal. Remove the glass from the window and replace with plywood so a
vent can be installed.
Use a plastic composite
material for the floor since basement floors are damp. Insulate the ceiling and
interior walls to keep the cool air in and warm air out. An exterior insulated door is ideal or
insulate an interior door for access.
Add shelving for storage
with space for air circulation. Lower shelves will be the coolest and upper
shelves will be the warmest. Wire baskets are a good way to organize items
stored in the cellar.
A cold room on the other hand
needs dry air. The construction is the same but the air is drier. Keep
preserves and canned goods in a cold room. Dry beans and lentils, garlic and
onions, squash, tomatoes and apples are best in a cold room. In both cold rooms and root cellars
ventilation is required. It allows the gases that are produced from ripening
foods to escape and prevents spoilage.
Oven Roasted Squash
Squash keeps so nicely
over the winter in a cold room. You can pull it out and enjoy garden freshness
any time. Oven roast to make a delicious healthy soup that everyone will enjoy.
It can be tossed with vegetable oil or butter to serve with your supper. High
in Vitamin A and C, traces of calcium and iron make it a nutritious side dish.
Roasting carmelizes the natural sugars and adds a depth of flavour not obtained
through simply boiling.
Cut squash in half and
scoop out seeds. Spray inside with oil and place cut side down on a baking
sheet. Place in a 375 F (190 C) oven for approximately 45 minutes or until fork
tender. Cool, peel skin and discard. Cut into 2-inch cubes.
At this point you can
quickly reheat in a pan with a little butter or vegetable oil, season with salt
and pepper and serve. Or you can make a squash soup.
Squash Soup with Ginger
This is a heart warming
soup with lots of flavour. Make it vegetarian by using milk or water instead of
chicken broth. Or use vegetable stock.
If fresh ginger is not readily available, herbs such as thyme and
oregano add a nice hit of flavour.
Approx 4 lbs squash, roasted 2 kg
2 T. vegetable oil 30 mL
2 c. thinly sliced onion 500 mL
1 T. golden brown sugar 15 mL
2 t. minced fresh ginger 10 mL
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cinnamon stick
4 c. chicken stock 1 L
Heat oil in heavy large pot
over medium heat. Add onion, brown sugar, ginger, garlic and cinnamon. Cover
and cook until onion is tender, about 15 minutes. Add squash and 5 cups chicken
broth. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.
Discard cinnamon stick.
Working in batches, purée
soup in blender. Return soup to pot. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer,
thinning with more broth, if necessary. Serve immediately. Garnish with chopped parsley, toasted
pumpkin seeds, croutons or sour cream.
The Pioneer Woman is one
of my favourite blogs. She is a big city girl who married and moved to a ranch.
The recipes are simple and always please. This is one I make every chance I
1 whole large onion (sweet like a Vidalia or
2 c. buttermilk 500 mL
2 c. all purpose flour 500 mL
1 T. salt 15 mL
1/4 t. cayenne pepper 2 mL
5 – 10 c. canola oil 1-2 L
black pepper, to taste
Slice onion very thinly.
Place in a baking dish and cover with buttermilk. Soak for at least an hour.
Combine dry ingredients
and set aside.
Choose a deep pot and fill
at least 4 inches (10 cm) deep with oil.
Heat to 375 F (190 C) degrees.
Using kitchen tongs, grab
some of the onions and shake off excess buttermilk. Toss into the flour
mixture. Toss around to coat
thoroughly and tap to shake off excess flour. Plunge into hot oil. Fry for a
few minutes and remove as soon as golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve.
Repeat until onions are
Root Cellar Storage Chart
tops down to 1 inch
Brussels Sprouts 3
plant upside down
tops down to 1 inch
sprouts and soil
Cold Room Storage Chart
Dried beans and lentils indefinite
in mesh bag
in mesh bag
entire plant & hang