June 24, 2011

Book Review: The Joy of Keeping A Root Cellar, by Jennifer Megyesi

I sometimes get requests via my blog to publish guest posts or promote various products. I have always declined these, because this is a blog about our personal homesteading journey. It's about our successes and failures as we work toward a simpler, more self-sufficient agrarian lifestyle. It's about what we're learning, and serves as a record of our homesteading adventure. Hopefully it is an encouragement to others who also seek to do the same. When Skyhorse Publishing contacted me however, and asked if I'd be willing to do a book review, I was delighted. Books, particularly books on any homesteading topic, are a valuable resource and a joy to share.

I don't know if you're familiar with Skyhorse, but they do publish a lot of books relevant to homesteading interests. The book I got to review, is The Joy of Keeping A Root Cellar: Canning, Freezing, Drying, Smoking, and Preserving The Harvest, by Jennifer Megyesi.

The concept of root cellaring is an old one, and I'd have to say the easiest method of preserving food. Even so, the art and science of it is all but lost to modern culture. I think this is because the more industrialized we've became, the more our sense of security lies in our earning power and monetary wealth. Homesteaders sometimes tend to have a different take. One might preserve their monetary wealth through any number of plausible calamities, but if there's no food on the store shelves, so what?

For those new to root cellaring, questions arise: ...how do I make a root cellar? ...where should I put it? ...what conditions do I need to maintain? ...temperature? ...humidity? ...what kinds of foods can I store? ...for how long? ...how much should I plant? ...do they need special preparation? ...is it true some foods can't be stored together? ...what do I do if things go bad?

Okay, enough introduction. Time to get down to the nitty-gritty. The book is divided into two parts: part one covers storing and preserving fruits, herbs, and vegetables; part two covers preserving meats and poultry. Here are some of the things I really like about it:

In Part One (fruits, vegetables, & herbs)

  • alphabetical listings of fruits and vegetables with best methods of preservation, and best crops for root cellaring
  • charts for: gardening (seed amounts and expected yields); planting & harvesting; length of storage with preferred temp and humidity; 
  • tips & trivia on seed saving
  • types of root cellars and tips on building, temperature, humidity control, light
  • planting and harvesting chart
  • other foods to store in a root cellar
  • methods of dehydration & specifics for various fruits, vegetables, even dried sourdough starter!
  • canning basics, and specifics for various fruits and vegetables, including a chart of yields
  • pickling and lacto-fermenting (with or without whey)
  • freezing, including an 8 page table on preparation methods for various fruits and vegetables, along with freezer lifespan
  • recipes

In Part Two (meats & poultry)

  • raising livestock with food preservation in mind
  • legal considerations
  • average yield chart for selected livestock (beef, pork. lamb, kid, turkey, chicken, duck, goose)
  • table of selected breeds of cattle, goats, & sheep & their uses
  • methods: smoking, curing, canning, drying, freezing
  • safety considerations
  • preserving dairy products and eggs
  • recipes

In the back of the book are an index and references, also a glossary, and state resources (cooperative extension contacts).

The other thing I need to mention is the photography. These are the kinds of photos that make you want to stop and study each one. Photographer Geoff Hansen's work is a beautiful addition to the book, the icing on the cake so to speak.

Food is at the heart and soul of homesteading, both growing and keeping. That's why books like this are good to read, and valuable additions to our home libraries.


Lynda said...

Great book review...so good in fact I just think I may need to buy it! I too am in love with *homesteading* books.

trump said...

Looks like a interesting read, even if someone does not live on a farm. Richard from the Amish community of Lebanon,Pa

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

Interesting, I will be on the lookout for it.

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Mama Pea said...

Thanks for reviewing this book and bringing it to our attention. If we're concerned about self-sufficiency, getting back to practical root cellaring makes a lot of sense.

Grace said...

Hi Leigh. Sounds like a great read. I'm wondering if she addresses root cellaring in the South? It used to be fairly common back home in the North, but I don't know anyone here in Georgia or South Carolina who even has a root cellar. I always kind of assumed it wouldn't work here with the heat.

Sherri B. said...

Thanks for giving this review. This sounds like a must have as it seems to cover everything, I will be ordering it right now.

Leigh said...

Lynda, thanks! I hadn't heard of this book but am delighted to have it.

Thanks Richard. Actually, I've heard of folks who just have a family garden and create a root cellar in their basements, because there's nothing like garden grown produce.

Jane, check your library. Of course, you may have the luxury of actually living near a bookstore!

Tanya, love those Amazon wishlists! LOL

Mama Pea, I'm just so glad folks are writing skills like these down before they get lost. So many useful ways are not popular anymore. It would be sad to lose them.

Grace, excellent question. Being a transplanted Southerner myself, I ponder this as well. I do have to say that before we bought this place, one of the properties we looked at in South Carolina had an old root cellar. It was dug into the side of a hill, with an earth roof. It would probably be a great place to store things like potatoes, onions, garlic, squashes, apples, which can't be left in the ground all winter. I lost a lot of potatoes because my pantry was too warm, but I didn't have enough room in the fridge! A root cellar would definitely have to be customized for the South.

Sherri, it does cover a lot. It will be a resource I will definitely use.

Evelyn said...

My parents and grandparents always had a rootcellar and I have one in my current house. It is such an asset even though I probably don't use it optimally. The book sounds like an excellent investment, thanks for the review.

Kids and Canning Jars said...

Thank you for the great review. I love the idea so much. But, I live where if we were to have a root cellar it would be full of water and fish at about 4 feet deep. darn. But, I can have a root "cellar" so to speak. I have an extra fridge i use as my root cellar.
I am still thinking I may have to pick up this book for my collection.
Thanks, Melissa

Michelle said...

In the section on preserving dairy, does it teach about cheesemaking? I'd like to know what is meant by preserving dairy, making other peoducts, canning milk,drying milk, or just what. Thanks!

Mr. H. said...

I happen to have this book and can attest to the fact that it is an excellent resource on food storage via the root cellar. I enjoyed reading your review.

Leigh said...

Evelyn, I wish this house came with one, but heck, it doesn't even have a basement. It would be great for storing quite a few things.

Melissa, clever you! Yes, as Grace mentioned, the concept does have to be adapted to different regions. Still, if that can be achieved, what a great way to have longer availability of homegrown produce.

Michelle, about the only things she covers in dairy (besides what can be kept in a root cellar and for how long), are making butter, creme fraiche, cultured buttermilk, and yogurt. You'd be better off checking out your library for cheesemaking books. I'm getting ready to freeze some half gallons of milk, for yogurt when our does dry up. I've never heard of canning milk, though I've heard of canning butter and cheese. Might be worth researching.

Mr. H, thank you for that! You're able to make good use of root cellaring. In fact, I've learned a lot from your blog about that very topic.

Mama Pea said...

Leigh, way back when our daughter was an infant, she was such an eager little eater that I supplemented my breast milk with our goats' milk for her. When I froze the goats' milk for later use, I thought it was necessary to pasteurize it before freezing. Luckily, we had a small pastueurizer that I could use. (We still have it packed away.) How do you stand on this situation?

Leigh said...

Mama Pea, when I researched the how-to of freezing milk, the main concern folks had about freezing raw milk, was about losing the enzymes, vitamins, and probiotics. The answer to that was that loss was minimal. The other concern applies to frozen milk in general, in that freezing may change taste and texture ( by "reverse-homogenization"). Since I'm going to use my frozen milk to make yogurt, none of that is a concern for me. I have to pasteurize it anyway for the yogurt culture, and the taste will change as well. I think if we were going to use it for drinking, I'd do a small test batch first.

Mama Pea said...

Thanks very much for sharing your research and conclusions!

Michelle said...

Leigh, milk can be canned, but the Dept. Of Agriculture or the FDA- whichever makes those recommendations- says its unsafe. It's not unsafe, but it is difficult to get a good result because the lactose caramelizes.

Unfortunately, our library has a pathetic excuse for a selection of books on homesteading. I pretty much have to buy everything I want to read. And then I'm not willing to let those treasures of books go! :-)

Leigh said...

Mama Pea, you're welcome. I hope it was helpful.

Michelle, that's interesting. I didn't know milk could be canned. I wonder if part of the problem is the butterfat. When I researched canning creamed tomato soup made with roux (flour & butter) the forum discussions revolved around the butter. The argument presented by the National Center for Home Food Preservation was that the butter can coat botulism spores so that they survive pressure canning. Industry can do it, so they say, because they can at much higher pressure and hence obtain much higher temperatures. OTOH, lots of people can creamed tomato soup and live to tell about it. It would be nice to have some updated, unbiased research on the issue.

Michelle said...

Yeah. If that were a serious concern, then canning any type of meat would be impossible as well. I have an old canning cookbook that has tons of recipes for canning meat dishes. My grandma, who would be about ninety years old now, used to can homemade sausage by simply cooking it, jarring it, and completely covering it with the hot fat, then lidding it. It would keep until the next butchering season. I'm not saying I'd personally want to do it that way, but she raised nine kids doing it that way. :-D

Leigh said...

Good point Michelle. I've canned a lot of meat in my day and we're all still here to tell about it, LOL. Interesting about the sausage. Saturated fats are actually way less prone to rancidity, so with a cool storage temperature, she obviously did quite well.

Michelle said...

Yep. And she was in Arkansas, so its not like the sausage was ultra cold or anything...

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Super dooper review. The info on REAL homesteading is so limited, so very happy you found this book or it found you. I will certainly order it soon

Amy said...

I just found your blog today, and this author, Jennifer Megyesi, is my first cousin. I have very special memories of spending happy summers together playing in the mountain streams of her Vermont home, when we were children. How fun to find not only your fantastic website full of the same things I love, but a review about my cousin's book! (:

Leigh said...

Michelle, sometimes I think it's amazing that anyone survived in those days according to the USDA!

Donna, thank you so much. I felt fortunate to stumble upon it. Great resource.

Amy, thank you! How neat to have Jennifer's cousin stop by! Do tell her I love her book.