Apples, Root Cellars and Life Without Refrigeration

Last fall we picked several hundred pounds of apples, all for free, all local, all organic. These are trees on vacant lots and even in parking lots, but some of them are very good. Sometimes, they're just in neighbors' yards and they don't pick them. I've been sampling these trees for years, and I know each one intimately. We dried 'em, nearly ten one-gallon bags full, and made several more gallons of apple sauce. It is my principal source of sugar. Finally, we repurposed the well-house as a root cellar. I just took a case of apples out today (March 23), and they're crisp and delicious. There's four more cases down there, and we'll be eating them through May, maybe longer.

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In my childhood, quite urban, I never had any perspective on life without refrigeration. It didn't even come up. But people have been living, eating and storing food without energy-consuming appliances for thousands of years. I don't expect my kids to grow up and never buy an apple from a grocery store, but at least they've seen what's possible. I never had that as a child. The first time I saw a root cellar - in my late 20's - it blew my mind. Holy shit, guys, this a hole in the ground!

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In case you don’t know the magic of a root cellar, here’s the basic concept. If it’s dug deep enough, below the frost line, it doesn’t freeze. If designed well, the air temperature in winter hovers around 35 degrees F, maybe a little more, a little less. It’s the exact temperature recommended for your fridge. And the earth does it all by itself. Isn’t that wild?

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Someday, I’m going to live for a year without a refrigerator. I already have the basic plan in place, trapping cold air in the summer nights in an insulated cooler (it helps that I live in the desert), then leaving it in the shade of the house throughout the day. In winter, I’ll lug it into the coldest room in the house, then back outside during warmer moments. Food will rot more quickly. I’m sure it will freeze occasionally. Coyotes will sometimes eat my dinner. But I’ll compensate by eating quickly, and being happy.

Who knows, maybe I’ll never go back?

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