Delta Dreaming: Root Cellars

            Somewhere there is a picture of my mother and me standing in front of the root cellar at my grandmother’s house. I was about three and smiling to beat the band, maybe because I was thinking of the spiced peaches or dill pickles stored and waiting behind me.

            Of course there were more basic foods stored there—peas, beans, and even sausage made by “Grandpa Rodgers,” my mother’s stepfather.

            There was a smokehouse, too, off to our left and out of the photograph. That’s where the meat for the winter was cured and stored. You see, there weren’t any supercenters in those days. If a family was to eat during the winter, they butchered and canned during the fall and summer, the canning done under a tin roof with not even an electric fan to stir the air.

            My grandmother’s cellar wasn’t as big or fancy as the one pictured below. As I remember it, there wasn’t room to stand. But it kept the two of them fed, along with the crowds that would assemble after church on Sunday. The long plank dining table would be filled with bounty from the root cellar, garden, smokehouse, and sometimes the orchard. I doubt if the Queen of England dined better.

            More has changed since those days than our method of maintaining food. It’s hard to believe now, but there was a defined and honored order of dining. First the menfolk. Then the kids. Then the women.

Try selling that idea to those who want to go back to “the good old days in America.”

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about my grandmother’s root cellar lately. We had a good garden this summer and have put away lots of bounty for the winter. Again, times have changed and we preserve most of it in frozen form. We will enjoy some canned pickles and fig preserves though. Some things you just can’t modernize.

I guess you could say we are “modified back to the earth” family, more quaint than authentic.

An old newspaper editor in Hope, Arkansas used to state the problem with modern America as, “… the garage is where the smokehouse ought to be.” I’m glad there are still places that smoke hams, (although the lady in charge of weight control at the VA hospital has “forbidded me” them except on rare occasions and in minute portions). I’m glad, though, that I don’t have to smoke them and I’m glad for my automobile.

I’ll settle for “quaint.” Now, if I can just get that root cellar dug before next summer.


“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”
Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World


A super root cellar of 800 jars - Farm Security Administration
A super root cellar of 800 jars - Farm Security Administration

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The von Tungeln Family Tree
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