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. 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
- 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
An old-style clamp for storing root vegetables.
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. 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
Continue with more layers of vegetables, letting them dry between layers
but not dry out. Then top with straw and more soil.
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
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 then be cooked in the usual way.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.