Storing root vegetables the old way: clamping
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During World War Two, householders set their gardens aside for producing vegetables to cope with the effects of rationing, and even in earlier years, it was common for men to grow vegetables in their gardens or allotments, just to save money. Fridges did not become commonplace until the 1950s and freezers even later, so the vegetables had to be stored the old way.
I know how root vegetables like potatoes, carrots and beetroot were stored successfully for months because my husband's father explained it to him. Additional information has been supplied by Bill Hogg and Dick Hibberd. The same method was probably used for centuries.
The method of preserving the root vegetables was known as 'clamping' and it involved storing the vegetables in what was known as a 'clamp'. The principles were:
- to store only those vegetables that were in sound condition and to remove excess stalks and leaves that could rot in storage
- to keep the stored vegetables slightly moist so that they did not dry out while keeping out the wet which would have made them rot
- to prevent the frost getting to them
- to prevent the light getting to them.
How to make an old-style vegetable clamp
If possible choose a site that is likely to be reasonably dry, although this is not always possible.
Start by digging two trenches and putting the soil in a line between them as shown in the diagram. The lengths of the trenches must depend of the amount of vegetables to be stored - probably about 15 or 20 feet. In earlier times, men probably had a 'feel' for this, and they could always make the trenches longer if necessary.
The trenches are for drainage and the raised soil is to keep the vegetables above ground level away from ground water and frost.
Spread a layer of straw along the raised area and layer the vegetables on it.
Continue with more layers of vegetables, letting them dry between layers but not dry out. Then top with straw and more soil. Finally leave a small vent in the top of the ridge, to allow air to have some limited air circulation.
The resulting clamp should be of pyramid cross section and about a metre high. This size is important because the moist straw causes a form of decomposition to take place which provides enough warmth to keep the clamp from freezing even in cold winters. If the clamp is too small, it does not keep sufficiently warm and if it is too large, the vegetables get too hot and start to rot. So larger clamps need to be longer rather than wider.
How to use the stored vegetables
Root crops keep for most of the winter, and those which aren't quite fit for human consumption when the clamp is opened can be fed to cows or pigs.
The vegetables are removed as required, starting from one end of the clamp and working towards the other end. This maintains the optimum cross section of the clamp.
The vegetables can be cooked in the usual way.