It's often in winter that I think back to our root cellar on the first piece of property we settled on when we made the move from Illinois up here to Minnesota.
The land was a piece that had been originally homesteaded in the early 1900s (when it was REALLY challenging to be a homesteader) but abandoned shortly thereafter. The man and woman who worked so hard to carve a small farm out of the wilderness had seven children so you know they grew and preserved all the food that was possible.
We were so lucky that one of the children raised on the land (by then elderly) was living nearby. She told us many stories of their short years on the homestead. The mother and father died within two years of each other so the children were sent to live with relatives and friends until they grew old enough to be on their own. Tough times those were.
When we first moved onto the property, we had noticed a depression in the side of a hill and guessed it must have been the old root cellar. Yes, it was confirmed by E that we were right. That was where their root cellar had been.
It was a natural location, overlooking a small stream and facing south. So when we could afford it, we had the hole re-excavated so the construction for our new root cellar could begin. We used timbers and lumber from a friend's sawmill a mile down the road from us, and had the same man who had dug the hole bring in his heavy machinery to cover it up with dirt once our construction was complete.
A mighty fine root cellar it was. You entered the outside door, walked down a narrow "hallway," then turned right and went through another door to the main room of the cellar. We once kept crisp and juicy Red Delicious apples in it until the next July after they had been harvested the previous fall. We can remember only one winter when we were afraid the temperature was going to fall too low inside the main room. We had had a couple weeks' stretch of 30 to 35 degrees below zero weather so we kept a lantern burning in there for a few days until the frigid spell broke.
The one glitch was that the location of the root cellar was quite a hike from where we had our house, being down on the hillside by the creek. The trek to load up on stored veggies was so much easier when Papa Pea and I did it together. It was a steep slope down to the door which often times was nearly covered with snow which had to be shoveled away. I can remember sliding down to the door on my butt and hoping I didn't keep going all the way to the creek. Coming back up with boxes or bags full of goodies was much harder. We tried to keep "steps" shoveled in the hillside, but the frequent snows made that a hard task. We had to crawl up the hill, load whatever we had managed to carry into a sled and go back down for another load before pulling the full sled back to the house.
I did try to avoid trips to the root cellar alone but every now and then I'd be unwilling to wait for Papa Pea to return home, so I'd gear up and make the trip myself.
In the winter, wolves used the frozen creek as a main thoroughfare. Having a healthy respect for majestic canis lupis, I always wondered if I would encounter a touring family of wolves. I also envisioned entering the root cellar only to have the door blow shut behind me and the outside latch fall into place. (Don't snicker, it happened to me once in the biffy.) I didn't relish the thought of being locked behind that very stout door and passing the time making conversation with potatoes and cabbages until someone came home and finally thought of looking for me in the root cellar.
That lovely cellar came to a sad end. When the heavy equipment operator was covering our newly constructed root cellar with dirt, on one pass he got too close to the back wall and, dang and drat, a huge crack shortly showed up in a main support beam. We did all we could to reinforce the weakened beam but a few years later after days of torrential rain, the whole structure collapsed. It was in the summer time so we didn't have much stored in there. And by that time we had our own alternative electrical system in place and had added more storage room on to the house so I didn't have as much need of the root cellar for preserving food as in the earlier years.
Still and all, I know we think back on that old root collar with much fondness.
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