Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Food storage techniques of yesterday

This is one thing that was really exciting to me with this old cookbook from the World War II preservation.  Besides the usual section on canning, there were many options given for storing food.  Gardening and even having a few chickens was considered a patriotic duty during the war years, and people needed to store all the bounty.  Here is what they did....and many people today are returning to these older arts.
Notice the diagram illustrating how to turn the family cold frame (a mini greenhouse of sorts, used to start tender garden plants in a protected, sunny location near the warm foundation of the house) into a solar dehydrator.  Also, a plan for a collapsible indoor dryer.

I would love the have the one on the left to hang over my woodstove!
Here is a serious pair of dryers for someone preserving a lot of food during a heavy harvest:
Details on the ventilation needs of a root cellar:
Building a serious outdoor root cellar for those without a useable basement that can be converted:
And a link to some updated ideas and instructions online.

And finally, some simpler and smaller designs for those unable to build a proper root cellar this year, but still needing to store the garden harvest quickly:
The last two, although simple, were vulnerable to mice and other burrowing critters.  I've seen instructions online for converting an old refrigerator or freezer, compressor and coils removed and small holes drilled for dtainage, into a small cellar or clamp as shown in the picture with the buried barrel.  The freezer or fridge is buried in a convenient location and the top is covered with a few bales of straw or bags of fall leaves to insulate it and keep the ground from freezing.  These are easily set aside to access the food stored underground.

For dehydrating a lot of stuff all at once, I've been known to set trays in the back seat of my car and park it in the sun with two windows opened every so slightly to allow moist air to escape.  This works well for leafy herbs only, and maybe for getting some smaller veggie or fruit pieces started, then finish them up in the electric dehydrator.

I'd love to build that cold-frame/dehydrator for next year!

If you want to try to find this book, the title is The Culinary Arts Encyclopedic Cookbook by Ruth Berolzheimer.  There were several printings and it is a fairly sturdy book, so you just may have success in finding it.


  1. It is crazy to think that the underground storage unit looks alot like the modern eco homes. Plus now people have to help keep the damp and cold out of the basements but i guess it has had it's uses, although the damp surely would have made the food rotten?

  2. Most garden produce needs to have some moisture to be stored is a nice chart: You can get a thermometer with a humidistat. I purchased one to check a corner of my basement that I thought would make a reasonable root cellar and discovered that the same corner had a variety of temperatures and humidity levels depending on how close to the floor and how close to the ceiling I put the thermometer.

    Now that we are heating exclusively with wood, I'll be revisiting the root cellar idea, since our furnace is rarely in use so our cellar is quite a bit colder than it used to be.

  3. We built a root cellar in the NW corner of our basement. It's worked pretty well. Here's pics:

    That chart you found online is great! I've saved it for reference.

    Regarding the dehydrators, controlling the temps is important if you want to retain enzymes in the food. Anything over 145F (I think) kills them. High heat destroys nutrients also. I had contemplated a dehydrator over my wood stove too, until I learned about what high heat does. Properly dehydrated foods can actually have a higher nutrient content over any other storage method.

    But the temp controlled dehydrators require electricity and I'm always thinking, what if??? But until that time comes, I'll use my Excalibur and dehydrate all I can each year.

    I am going to look for that cookbook, as it sounds really interesting to read through.

  4. Have you measured the temps over your wood stove? I doubt ours gets that is a super efficient model for heating, not cooking, though. We also put a fan on it to distribute the heat throughout the house.

  5. Well the thermometer on the stove pipe reads around 500F (recommended burning temp) and the rack would be within 2' of it, so I doubt it would be under 145F or the 125F or 95F I normally dehydrate at.

    I know the thermometer on the wall 6' away often reads 90+F. This is a brand new stove and heats the whole house. We've heated with wood since we built this house in '83.

    We also use a fan to move the warm air to other parts of the house, but it is not on or near the stove, but in a constricting doorway.

    I thought I had saved the reference for dehydrator temps, but can't find it. I've asked the wonderful person who had found it originally if they could send it to me.

  6. So....hang it a little further from the pipe? We have a box fan on a chair beside the stove, blowing directly across it. Then another fan that takes the warm air around a corner. Our stove is in our living room, which was an addition built out on the back of the house, originally a three season porch with a flagstone floor. So the stove was not meant to heat the house, we changed that but have to work with fans to make it work.

    You might try a box fan in a similar way, at least while dehydrating things. If the hanging dehydrator used chains instead of boards for the sides, or if the boards are easily removable, it would be easy to put it up and take it down for storage, especially if it hangs into the room a bit and you might walk into it. I'll bet you could make it work.

    Please share that dehydrating temp link if you find it!