A root cellar is a structure, usually underground or partially underground, used for storage of vegetables, fruits, nuts, or other foods. Its name reflects the traditional focus on root crops stored in an underground cellar, which is still often true, although a wide variety of foods can potentially be stored, for weeks to months, depending on the crop and the conditions, and the structure may not always be underground.
Root cellars have been vitally important in various eras and places for winter food supply. Although present-day food distribution systems and refrigeration have rendered them unnecessary for many people, they remain important for many people who value self-sufficiency, whether by economic necessity or by choice and for personal satisfaction. Thus they are popular among diverse audiences, including gardeners, organic farmers, DIY fans, homesteaders, preppers, subsistence farmers, and enthusiasts of local food, slow food, heirloom plants, and traditional culture.
Root cellars are for keeping food supplies at a low temperature and steady humidity. They keep food from freezing during the winter and keep food cool during the summer months to prevent spoilage. Typically, a variety of vegetables are placed in the root cellar in the autumn, after harvesting. A secondary use for the root cellar is as a place in which to store wine or home-made alcoholic beverages.
Vegetables stored in the root cellar primarily consist of potatoes, turnips, and carrots. Other food supplies placed in the root cellar over the winter months include beets, onions, jarred preserves and jams, salt meat, salt turbot, salt herring, winter squash, and cabbage. A potato cellar is sometimes called a potato barn or potato house.
Separate cellars are occasionally used for storing fruits, such as apples. Water, bread, butter, milk, and cream are sometimes stored in the root cellar also. In addition, items such as salad greens, fresh meat, and jam pies are kept in the root cellar early in the day to keep cool until they are needed for supper.
Common construction methods are:
- Digging down into the ground and erecting a shed or house over the cellar (access is via a trap door in the shed).
- Digging into the side of a hill (easier to excavate and facilitates water drainage).
- Building a structure at ground level and piling rocks, earth, and/or sod around and over it. This may be easier to build on rocky terrain where excavation is difficult.
- Bubel, Nancy; Bubel, Mike (1991), Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables, OCLC 40137781.