Old homes are quirky, featuring so many details that you’d never find in a newer home. One thing you may have noticed in an old house is a cold closet or root cellar.
A root cellar is a quirky old home attribute. Before people had refrigerators, they used a cool, dirt-floor cellar beneath the house for storage, especially for autumn’s harvest. A root cellar can also be a separate structure near the house. If there was no room available to add a root cellar beneath or near the home, a cold closet was implemented.
The cold closet was built into the home with the purpose of keeping vegetables, cheese and meats fresh. These closets are often on an outside wall. Today, a home not having a refrigerator is an anomaly. In fact, manufacturer’s have made it their goal to increase storage space without making appliances overwhelmingly bulky. So the question is: Is there any need for a cold closet these days?
Root cellars and cold closets are great low-cost ways to store vegetables and other fresh produce. Ideal especially for farmers and backyard gardeners, they require no energy and need very little maintenance. If your old home already has one of these, you may want to take note!
There are also plenty of alternatives to a root cellar or old school cold closet that you can try out. You’ll want a cool, dark place with humidity high enough so the produce doesn’t dry out.
Examine your home and ask yourself the following:
- Do you have a room in your house that stays below 60 degrees but above freezing?
- Do you have a closet on an outside wall?
- Can you use the coolest corner of your cellar or attic?
- Do you have an unheated mudroom or entry?
Now get creative! Here are some ideas:
- “Our house has a wrap-around porch that had a vestibule added to it,” says blogger Danny of Simple Bites. “That floor gets crazy cold in the winter, because no insulation was added when the vestibule was added, so it is essentially bare concrete sitting on the ground. Our coat closet is even colder, so… we have a root closet. Through the winter, it will stay cool and well ventilated anytime someone opens the door.”
- Another suggestion is to dig a hole in a dirt-floor basement and put a metal garbage can in it.
- You could also use picnic coolers or wrap a clean metal garbage can with insulation for protection against cold and store in an unheated garage or shed.
- “My parents used their bulkhead for cold storage,” says blogger Robin Sweetster for the Old Farmer’s Almanac. “It had easy access from inside and outside and the wide steps made handy shelves. They could open the bulkhead door occasionally to add fresh air but the warmer cellar air kept things from freezing on extra-cold nights.”
Whether you want to take advantage of the root cellar or cold closet you already have, you want to build one yourself or even get creative with alternative methods, always remember to check your stored produce regularly and remove anything that has begun to spoil. When building a pantry or adding additional cabinets aren’t in the budget, get creative with some of these inexpensive no-pantry solutions.