The Memory Store: The root cellar – that is built heritage…..
[Image of Don Johnson and Terra Barrett standing in front of a hillside root cellar]
[Don Johnson standing outside of a hillside root cellar]
Don Johnson: The root cellar that is built heritage, modest construction, all local materials. Later on they started using concrete its built by several different types.
There’s ground up, when you dig a hole into the ground and build up turf and rock around it, put a trapdoor over it and then a little house with a roof on it.
These are the most common, this is what you’ll see in every community in Elliston. These cellars stick out because they’re mostly of this type built into a hillside or up against a cliff. Like you dig into a hillside or they’re built up against a cliff face. So they stuck out more, they’re very obvious.
But every house from the Depression Era, from the 1950s and before, in their backyard there will be a cellar what used to be, it looked like little crater that’s left behind because they’re all gone, nobody uses them anymore because well, really we can’t remember a time…nobody around here can remember a time when we didn’t have almost endless and affordable energy. These are from a time when there was no energy.
Perhaps in the future, in a low energy future, we might be looking back at these, this is green energy, it uses the earth itself for a purpose. The purpose of a cellar is to stabilize the temperature, it will not go below freezing in the winter, and it won’t go above eight Celsius, usually, in the summer. And humidity is very important.
You put your potato in the fridge and of course, you know, you get a few days and it’s just shriveled, dried and gone. Leave your vegetables, your root vegetables, potatoes, carrots, parsnip, turnip, you keep these in there in humidity and they’ll last all winter. Put them in your fridge and they’re gone in a week or so.
[Don Johnson standing inside the doorway of a hillside root cellar]
This is green energy. This could be something from the past, but it could be something from the future. This requires no energy except the initial building and it’s a better way to keep vegetables for a long time.
If we ever do find ourselves in an energy poor future where we can’t have bananas from South America in Elliston, within two weeks we’re going to have to go back to storing food long term. The gardens, they’re disappeared, being taken over again by the trees, might expand again, and then people are going to be looking for this, the intangible cultural heritage that is the keeping of root cellars.