We have a root cellar. This statement seems improbable when you consider our contemporary house, situated in the end of a cul-de-sac full of other mid-1970’s houses in suburbia. But we do indeed have a root cellar.
Tucked into the northern-most corner of our basement, made of plywood and blueboard insulation, with a tube to the outside to let cold air circulate into the 3’ by 4’ space, our cellar has a dirt floor and shelves with big plastic coolers filled with produce and sawdust. It does its job quite well, except that we did not think to install a light source in that little room and often I find myself wishing for one as I grope about in the dark, thinking, “Is this an apple? Or a potato?”
Our first wintering over was five years ago, not seriously – mostly as an experiment. In the spring, while the apple trees were in bloom, I slid the last apple into the pocket of my raincoat and went to visit the orchardist from whom we had purchased them in the previous late-September. She was delighted, and cradled the unblemished Northern Spy in her hands with a happy smile. I went home and made a pie, feeling very proud of myself. Encouraged, we became much more serious about our root cellaring activities, so that now, in the spring, we often realize that we have too much still in reserve and we begin a mad push to use up all the produce hanging in stasis in our cellar.
It was my turn to be delighted to find the cookbook, Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman. I could choose from “270 fresh ways to enjoy winter vegetables”, in sections with such titles as, Salads and Pickled Vegetables, Vegetarian Main Dishes and Main Dishes with Fish, Poultry or Meat.
Each recipe I tested from this book was a good one and likely to be made again in our house, but there were a few that stood out above the others. From the Soup section, the Winter Minestrone was hearty and delicious, taking its celery flavor notes from thinly sliced celeriac as well as using up a half a cabbage head in tiny shredded ribbons. The Coconut Curried Winter Squash Soup I (we did not try Soup II, but I’m sure it is also good) was the perfect blend of sweet-creamy-curry heat, sporting super-orange color flecked with little dots of green cilantro.
The Mashed Potatoes with Greens and the Rumbledethump (a Scottish take on colcannon) seemed alike at first glance, but each shone with their individual character in the making. This book harbors a lot of comfort food ideas – the Cheesy Mac with Root Vegetables and the Creamy Fish Pie (accurately described as “New England-style fish chowder in solid form”) were extremely warm and soothing as the spring rains poured down upon us.
From the dessert section, we loved the Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake, which, spiked with a little Grand Marnier, was consumed in an embarrassingly short interval. The Chocolate-Chip Pumpkin Loaf went with me to a party and did not come home again.
Here we are in May, with a few more potatoes and a handful of apples still left over. I’ll go back to Andrea Chesman’s book tonight, I’m looking forward to the magic that could be conjured from these simple ingredients.