Friday, September 15, 2006

Cold Storage Cave As I alluded to earlier, we used a cave that had been "enhanced" by opening it up some, while letting it remain basically a cave, to store some foods. Although the cellar, as we called it, stayed about 28F-32F (-2C-0C) year around, it wasn't actually cold enough overall to freeze food effectively. The main reason was that there were many drafts and more than a few "warm spots" which we had to avoid. Every winter, after the farm pond had sufficiently thick ice, we would spend one or more long weekends "harvesting" ice for the cave. This was done in part by use of the ice cutting and handling tools pictured above. The other photos show a remarkably similar heavy object/stump pulling hoist rig such as the one we had, and a wood stove similar to the two in the kitchen and one in the pantry, although the pantry stove was much wider with more oven and surface space. The rig was used to lift heavy stones from fields onto and off of the farm wagon, pulling stumps, and lifting ice blocks from the pond. This was accomplished by positioning the hoist over the object to be moved and utilizing heavy ropes and block and tackle assemblies. Although crude, these rigs allowed the slightest of men or boys to lift extremely heavy objects with ease, using the principles of mechanical advantage. Prior to "re-icing" the cellar, everything in it was removed and the place thoroughly cleaned. Then the floor panels, which were set on 4X4 beams to allow drainage, were reinstalled. Then the walls were lined floor to ceiling with hay bales, which provided insulation. Only then was the cellar ready to add new ice. The hoist and ice tools were moved to the pond, which generally had ice over a meter thick and ideal for our purposes. The first thing done was to create a pilot hole in the center of the pond from which the ice removal progressed toward the edges. After this hole was cut, a larger square was cut with holes drilled at the four corners and one on the side opposite the pilot hole. The purpose of the pilot hole was as much to allow a place to cut from and allow the ice tongs in, as to center the operation. Now the hoist was wheeled over the block to be removed and the tongs inserted into the holes on the sides as far as they would go. Uncle R had his own measuring method, which consisted of marking the blocks at two "axe handles" long by one "axe handle" wide. This worked out to a rectangle of ice roughly two meters long, one meter wide, one meter thick, and extremely heavy. So heavy in fact, that the farm wagon could carry only one at a time to the cellar entrance without fear of damage to the wagon. Getting the ice onto the wagon took a combination of moving the wagon and team into place as close as possible followed by R and F hoisting and manhandling the block into place to be lowered to the wagon bed. Once in the bed, it was held in place by iron pegs that fit into the "ice rails" installed to run in parallel from the front to the rear of the wagon bed. The operation then moved to the cellar and the "tricky" part, as R would say. The west side of the cellar had one of the two doors leading to it, the other being on the south side and accessing the food pantry off the kitchen. Once there, the ice block was slid back in the wagon using block and tackle installed above the door. Prior to cutting, a specially designed three-rail ramp had been installed leading at about a forty-five degree angle through a short earthen "hallway" to the cellar floor. A block and tackle was used to lower the blocks slowly down the ramps until they settled on the floor. The floor was sturdy and level enough to allow the blocks to be slid and hoisted into their final spots. The room held four blocks along each side lengthwise, two regular and one half size on the north end, and two regular on the south end to allow for access from the pantry. These were stacked three blocks high. When completed, the west side door was fully blocked off by hay and ice and the "hall" filled with smaller blocks of ice to help prevent heat intrusion from the door. The pantry door was "insulated" by virtue of its being wood and approximately four inches thick, with a sheet steel surface on the cellar side. While not perfect, all these elements managed to accomplish the desired ends, a large, cold, reliable space for long-term storage of semi-perishable items, and short-term storage for perishable items. When the room was ready, we'd restore the items which had been removed according to how soon we'd need access to the various items. The semi-perishable goods were generally home-canned foods and butter, along with other items I can't recall well enough to inventory. Barrels of potatos, corn, apples, and root vegetables were long-term also. Shorter lived things were mostly homemade sausage, raw fresh meats, eggs, and some fish. Many things, like fish, were kept on ice in addition to the cold of the room. Perishable things were mostly ground meat and dairy products. My aunt knew from long experience what would keep for how long and be useable, and directed the stowing of cellar goods like a plump, apron-clad general. As the year wore on between seasons, the cellar was a constant source of amazement to me. I'd often ask to be allowed to take a flashlight or lantern down to retrieve needed things, simply so as to see how much the ice had melted since my last foray. It never receded appreciably on any of those occasions. I did, however, always manage to snag a juicy apple or two for my future snacking pleasure. We didn't have much in the way of candy, chips, or other denizens of todays cupboard shelves, and we were much healthier as a result. Our "treats" were apples, rhubarb, and maple sap flavored snow in spring. Nowadays I consider those things treats. I don't know where R and F got their cellar knowledge, other than from their dad. I think it was one of the long-established methods of food storage passed down over the centuries. We had many stored foods beyond those in the cellar. My relatives who fished for a living would supply another relative with fish, we'd supply the needed varieties of wood, and my uncle and cousins would smoke the fish in a large one-story barn-like shed. Much of the fish was eaten by them, traded to us for the wood and some farm goods, and the remainder sold and shares of profits allotted between the fishing cousins and the smoking cousins. We always had smoked herring, salmon, flounder, and salted pollock, cod, and haddock available, as well as sardines from the canneries that still operated at that time. Some foods were smoked by us, such as hams, turkeys, and wildfowl. We also had a time set aside for making sausages, jerky, dried and spiced beef strips, and corning beef. My aunt and Mrs F would spend days and weeks on end canning and preserving everything from various pickled fishes and pork cuts to jams and jellies. Almost all the vegetables grown would be grown in quantities to allow preserving jars of peas, beans, beets, rhubarb, etc for fall, winter, spring, and early summer use. Store bought food was a rarity, usually the store food money was saved for purchasing treats such as oranges, peaches, pears, and the like. The kitchen was a beehive of activity from the first harvests of early summer until late autumn. Just the smells emitting from the pantries and kitchen at these times was pure heaven. When it came to meat, we generally raised a few beef cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and an occasional "meat" goat or two that were raised for that purpose. We also always had ample supplies of deer meats, bear meat, rabbit, squirrel, wildfowl, and freshly caught fish. Fresh fish were available via ice fishing in late fall and winter, and pole fishing at other times. Uncle R, F, Dad, myself, and some cousins and uncles would go as a group on my relative's boats deep-sea fishing several times a year also. In addition, other cousins fished for lobster or dug clams, which they'd trade us for farm or dairy goods. My aunt made the best batter coated, fried clams in the world, and they remain my favorite food to this day. Not the clam strips sold in stores, those are akin to cardboard, but whole clams where the clam explodes with flavor in your mouth on first bite and the flavor can be savored to the last, slow, drawn-out chew. I often think that if someone could capture and bottle the aroma of food being canned, dinner roasting in one wood stove, and pies and bread baking in the other wood stove, they'd become a billionaire overnight. Those smells and the anticipation of tasty delights to come are a part of childhood that I fear is beyond reproducing. I think it's because of the "magic" my aunt put in every dish. Take care and enjoy life's little pleasures when you can.

5 comments:

Annette said...

Mike, that's another nice and delightful story. I know very well what you told about and it brings back a lot of memories... Thanks.

Patricia said...

Mornin', Red man...
What an operation! That was interesting. A good lesson in self-sufficiency. Just think, now-a-days people pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to send their kids out on survival treks in the woods for a few weeks, and they don't get half the information that old farmers already had in their heads. They do pay more attention, though, when self-sufficiency means dinner or NOT!

Mies said...

As a very young girl we visited Kansas and spending time in a root cellar was a common theme through out the summer. We seemed to be dodging tornados constantly. My flatlander Kansas tribe didn't have caves, so a dugout with old barn wood doors over the top was all I remember. It was a long time ago, but the little I do remember was very dark, dank, cold and earthy. I was usually frightened and spent most of my time on my Mom's lap, waiting. It was pitch dark until the oil lamp was lit. And then it was dim, with eerie shadows everywhere. Crude shelves with various jars of canned items. Always lots of honey from the neighbor who was a bee keeper. Now, that was good. Thick comb honey. Yum. I think the cellar did stay the same temp year round.
Your adventure sounds so much better, except for the hard work of getting the ice there. You were in a Mecca of sorts with all the variety of meats, veggies, and fruits...
As usual you made your story informative as well as interesting...Thanks again, until next time....

Sarah said...

Yep.Mike,I also had Clams like that.Lots of Seafood eaten in New England & it's oooh sooo gooood!!

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