It was one of the primary things that drew me to the house we now call home. Not the size, colors or layout, but this unique space, located in the basement.
Tucked into the back corner was a white room with water pipes running through it. Two windows, wide shelving that ran the length of the room with some cabinets on the opposite wall, I fell in love even before I was aware of it’s potential!
Our cold room. There’s no better time than fall to chat about food storage and show some (rather poor quality) photos. Very poor lighting down there!
I’d never been in a cold room before we moved into this house! My unseasoned eyes saw it as nothing more than a suitable place to store my canning, apples, pears, squash, onions and garlic.
This is a photo of that first winter. Not bad for a newbie, eh?!
Little did I know it was the beginning of a grand adventure!
Call me a weird, but food is an adventure to this gal!
As I began to see the potential this cold room held, my intrigue for traditional food preservation methods grew, expanded. Soon I was digging out old cookbooks, researching cold storage methods and experimenting with all kinds of foodstuff.
Though practicing cold storage satisfies a craving deep within, is frugal and does help save money, my primary reason for this practice centers around healthy living. Having pesticide, chemical and GMO free food for winter is a big deal, whether purchased locally or grown myself!
Let’s talk about foodstuff that can be successfully overwintered in this space!
On the Cold Room Shelves
I soon discovered the room was nothing more than a large refrigerator, provided our winters held to near-freezing temps. That’s right! The cold room’s coolant is found in the winter chill and steady temperatures of the earth.
Two years ago, I attempted to cure cheese in the cold room and overwinter it on the canning shelves. It worked! This year, I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting serious! See?! I even brought in a “dairy shelf,” and placed it against the warmest wall. We shall soon see how it goes this year!
Extra maple syrup, honey, fats/oil find a home in one of the cupboards. We’ve even prolonged the life of herbs and spices by storing them in airtight containers (aka canning jars with lids and bands) in this cold, slightly damp environment. You’ll notice them in the photo below, wrapped in paper bags to block all light!
Once fermented, my apple, raspberry and grape vinegar will be bottled up in old fashioned glass jugs or wine bottles (like the two leftovers from last year) and be transferred to the top cupboard shelf.
This year, I hope to store rendered lard here, along with butter preserved in a salt water brine. Old timers used to claim that brined butter lasted for longer, was fresher and sweeter than anything that came from a freezer! My interest is piqued and I must try it this winter! I’ve got a batch of butter chilling in forms right now that will go toward the experiment.
Home Canned Food
In the heart of autumn, our cold room is full of home canned food. This photo sports one half of our shelf! Tomato sauce, meat and soups have yet to make their way down!
Though it takes time to make the trek into our basement, keeping home canned food cool helps preserve it’s quality and vitamins. To which I say y-e-e-e-s!
Dry Loving Produce
Dry loving produce, such as onions, garlic and squash overwinter well in the cold room, so long are they are properly cured. We discovered they do best when stored on a top shelf where it’s warmer, always making effort to keep them away from direct, icy-cold airflow!
Root vegetables or tubers will keep when properly prepared and packed in damp soil. They do well in the coldest part of the room!
Potatoes, beets and parsnips. That’s all I’ve stored in way of root vegetables. You see, last year the flea beetles got my turnips and rutabagas. I left carrots in the ground for too long, where they froze in straight, uniform rows.
But this year…its going to be different. Much, much different! We’ve already got some of these beauties stashed away!
There are several fruit varieties that preserve well in these cold temperatures, apples, pears and quince being most common. Some folks wrap these fruits in paper and box them up, while others are lazy (like us) and, having plenty of space, set them out on a bottom shelf where changes are easily noted. They don’t last as long this way, but it’s far less messy!
Fermented vegetables, if jarred and sealed will keep beautifully in lower temperatures! This is my (almost) favorite feature of cold storage! Fermented food is so rich. Cucumbers, pickled vegetables and kraut varieties can help boost gut health and the immune system during long winter months. When stored in the cold room, fermented goods will keep from weeks upon weeks! My favorite Carrot and Cabbage Kraut usually keeps for (at least) 5 months.
Cold Room Storage for Nutrition’s Sake
Crazy amounts of nutritious food can be kept in the cold room, enough to keep anyone healthy over the winter months. Yes, even this disease-ridden gal!
Take that, Lyme infection! How about a bowl of sauerkraut? A dose of garlic-infused salad dressing? How about some of my immune boosting Rose Hip Applesauce?
Are you inspired yet? If you have a basement, you should consider adding a cold room to it! Here are the necessary basics for setting up your own!
The cold room relies on nature’s temperatures, hence the reason they are popular only in climates with colder winters. If your “chilly season” holds to freezing (or thereabout) for several month’s time, you are a prime candidate for one of these little rooms!
Ummm, right! Got that, Autumn!
E-hem! Moving on!
Ideally, a cold room should be located in the corner of your basement, with two of the four walls being exterior. This will ensure most steady temperatures. If the walls are north and east facing, even better!
Or, if your home is situated like ours, having a deck that shelters exterior walls from the sun does just as well!
A Heat-Free Room
Unless you live in an old home (as we do) it’s likely your basement is heated. Today, it is often necessary to build and insulate a small room for cold storage purposes.
Note: while most cold rooms should be free from the household heat source, those who live in colder climates (-30-40 winters) will have the opposite issue. A heat source is necessary to regulate the cold! For those folks, a heater set to just above freezing temperatures is a good idea!
Insulation will be necessary if your basement it heated! Maintaining proper temperatures is necessary for long-term (4-6 month) food storage. Without insulation the cold room becomes a thing of frustration: either your basement will freeze when it ought to be warm or the cold room will be warm when it should be cold. Again I say…insulate!
Proper airflow and access to outside temperatures is of utmost importance. Windows, however large or small, offer excellent ventilation. Building a cold room around a window (or piping it in from one) is a wonderful idea!
Whether window or pipe, ensure there is a heavy screen in place to keep mice and critters out.
Produce, once frozen, will quickly break down. A thermostat is a useful thing, particularly if you live in colder regions where -40 degree weather is common for weeks on end.
Should your winters primarily sit around freezing (or less), thermostats will be less crucial to the longevity of your food.
Honest confession? We don’t have a thermostat in our cold room! Temperatures are monitored by a window and “feel.” Winters here primarily sit around freezing, with an occasional dip into the -20’s. When these cold times come, we do have to be cautious. Sometimes, the window’s opening is reduced to a hairline crack!
We discovered produce stored directly below the window will be blasted with an icy chill. Root vegetables layered in soil do well here. Onions and potatoes…not so much!
The cold room is dependent on whatever nature hands you. No setup is the same and learning by trial and error is necessary.
A cold room should be free of natural light. Completely and totally. Light will cause foodstuff to break down. If using a window to access cold air and ventilation, it should be blackened out!
There must be space to maneuver through your cold room! It does no good to have stacks of beautiful, nutritious produce if you can’t access (or sort through) it.
Proper size depends on available space, the type and amount of goods to be stored in the room. Consider your current winter food preservation! Based on that, what will you need?
Also consider your goals. Is more canning in the near future? Fermenting? Root vegetable or fruit storage?
Before building a cold room, take time to calculate the size of storage bins, amount you need, width of shelving and always leave yourself enough space to maneuver through goods with ease! Give yourself a walkway at least 3 ft wide if putting up a substantial amount of produce.
Shelving & Containers
It’s important to have an adequate setup inside the cold room. Whether you store canned goods, winter squashes, cheeses or anything else, make certain you have solid, reliable shelving. Check it yearly.
When storing root vegetables in soil, bins are a wonderful thing. Artistic-less as they are, we make due with rubbermaid totes. Yep. Ugly-old gray totes. Thus far, they have served us well! Whatever you use, make certain it is sturdy and reliable.
At the time of this writing, I am not affiliated with any person, business or company. But I highly recommend reading “Root Cellaring-Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables” by Mike and Nancy Bubel. They not only discuss root cellars and cold room setups, but also how to store produce in a porch, garage or closet.
Also check out resources and ideas on my Root Cellar pinterest board! You are welcome to follow along!
The Truth About Cold Storage
Very few people actually have the “ideal” setup. Very few. Most folks make due with less. But don’t let not having the perfect setup get in your way. We have some heat-free entrances that preserve apples beautifully…along with my desem bread starter!