Now, accoring to the New York Times, people are using old root cellars for economic and enviromental benefits:
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.
There is a fair amount of chemistry that goes into all of this, and all the tecniques have bene forgotten since fresh preserved food is only a shopping cart away. Still, the habits aren't entirely lost.
My Aunt is a wonderful preserver--she was born in 1922, and grew up in a farm town in Kansas during the depression. Her family ran the general store, so they were always making pickled beets, and apricot jams, and quick breads, and sausages, and selling them in the store. She still does that every year, and has a pantry and freezer full of preserved bounty. (It's hard to have a root cellar on the 12th floor!)
But there has been a fair amount of research into the history of food preservation, according to the same NYTimes article:
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.”
Guess I'll have to whip out my Country Wisdom & Know-How, and start learning.