A productive kitchen garden in the 19th century would provide a family with a succession of vegetables to eat each season. The technologies available to families for storing or preserving vegetables for the long winter and spring were limited to “putting down” or cellaring, drying and pickling. Root vegetables, cabbages and apples were put down. Beans, corn, peas and pumpkins were dried. Cucumbers and cabbage were pickled in stoneware jars.
Most homes in the 19th century had cellars under the house for preserving vegetables. Climate-wise cellars were cool and moist, the ideal environment for cabbage, apples and most root crops. For those who did not have large enough cellars (or no cellar at all), certain vegetables were overwintered in the garden in straw lined trenches or hills that were covered over with more straw and soil.
Directions for harvesting the winter vegetables remain much the same today. Prior to the first hard frosts, root vegetables should be pulled out of the ground and the tops cut off. The root vegetables should be laid out so the outer skin dries and excess dirt can easily be brushed off. Cabbages pulled up by the root should be set head down so that any excess moisture can drain out and wrapper leaves removed.
When the vegetables are dry enough they are carried to the cellar for winter storage. In the Lippitt Farmhouse cellar we use large footed wooden bins with wire tops to store our root crops, barrels for apples and we hang the cabbages by their roots.
The productive root cellar is one that is well tended. It’s important to cook the soft vegetables, throw away the rotten ones and keep rodents away.
For more specific information on storing vegetables contact your local cooperative extension. They have excellent resources.