The Old Cellar


When I was a little girl, I was both frightened and fascinated by what lies beyond this latch. I knew, just knew, there were spiders. And rhubarb. I don’t know what was scarier, the spiders or the rhubarb. My parents taught me that I was to eat anything served before me, and when we came to this old farmhouse, that always included rhubarb.

We’d visit here in the summers and Great-Aunt Ruby would be outside in the garden, doing stuff that seemed totally bizarre to me like actually taking corn off a cornstalk and shucking it. When everybody knows corn comes in a bag at the grocery store. But at least that was corn. She grew it all, including the dreaded rhubarb. Not to mention beets. (Don’t get me started on beets.) Then she did all this weird voodoo stuff to it. Meaning, somehow she did some trick where she put it in jars and stuck it in the cellar. With the spiders. Then when I wasn’t playing with the oddly simplistic little wooden games and puzzles she kept around the house, I’d creep into the cellar just to prove I wasn’t too chicken to go in there. To go inside, you had to lift a heavy chain from a hook. It was like entering a medieval torture chamber. Even to a child’s eye, the ceiling was low. It was dark. Cobwebs lurked in the corners. The shelves were filled with the odd glass-jarred concoctions of Great-Aunt Ruby’s garden witchery. I was pretty sure there was a monster hiding in there somewhere and it would suddenly leap out and drown me in shattered jars right before it ate me.

I was an imaginative child.

My kids don’t like the cellar either. It’s a great spot to hide birthday presents since it’s the last place on earth they’ll look. They think it’s creepy, and besides, what are they going to go in there for–to satisfy their undeniable impulse for green beans? And it’s true, the cellar is creepy. The door still looks like the entrance to a medieval torture chamber. Now that I’m grown, the ceiling is even lower. The spiders still keep residence. The shelves are still filled with glass jars. It’s almost like a tourist attraction. When people come to visit, it’s one of the first things I show them. Come see the cellar! This old farmhouse is full of treasures, but the old stone cellar with its low ceiling, rickety wooden shelves, and cobwebbed walls is mysteriously alluring.

People don’t build cellars very often anymore. Most people have a store around every corner. They don’t need to stock up. They don’t put up home-canned food. A lot of people don’t even have gardens. A cellar like the one in this old farmhouse is a relic of a lost time when people took responsibility for their own survival, in every way, especially the most basic. Food. And visitors come to look at it with a sense of awe, then go away with relief that they won’t spend any hot August days putting up tomatoes like Great-Aunt Ruby did.

Then there are a few of us, maybe the crazy ones, who put up tomatoes in August even when there is a store down the road where you can buy them already canned, then we carry the heavy jars into old cellars and set them on rickety shelves with the satisfaction that we did it ourselves, with our own hands, from the moment we planted the seed.

No rhubarb, though. Not for me. Great-Aunt Ruby’s rhubarb still comes up in the garden every year, but I still don’t like it.

I feed it to the monster.


  1. Bayou Woman says:

    I love the nostalgia. In Louisiana, we don’t typically have cellars. We certainly don’t have them down here in South Louisiana–water table is too high. My sister and I have canned off and on for years and wondered all the while why we were attracted to such things. Maybe it’s a skill we will need somewhere in the future. Regardless, it’s not something we regret knowing how to do. I love seeing the jars lined in my pantry, both empty and full!

  2. Renna says:

    Ooh, I remember those cellars. The ones I remember always had a little bit of standing water in them, too. We didn’t have one, but our neighbors did, and living in Tornado Alley, we’d frequently have to spend an hour or so in there during tornado season. It was hot, wet, and very, very creepy. Personally, I was less afraid of the tornado than what might be creeping around in the cellar. 😮

  3. Fitzy says:

    OH! And the smell, I can almost smell the smell of the cellar. Our floor was covered with pea gravel and the light was a bare bulb. Scarey indeed.

  4. Jyl says:

    I grew up in an old house built in the 1800’s. It had a cellar that was as creepy as yours. Reading your post about life in an old farmhouse brought back many memories. Yes, it was very cold in the winter, hot in the summer, pipes were always freezing and busting, etc. Ours looked like the Amityville Horror house and everyone was always afraid to come over and weird stuff always happened in that house that could never quite be explained. I was thrilled when I moved out on my own and had a thermostat for the first time and no more icecicles forming on you when you got out of the shower, if the water even worked.

  5. Jenn says:

    I grew up in an old farm house with a fabulous cellar. We didn’t use it much because my mom doesn’t can, but I played down there. Yes, I was an odd child.

    Thanks for wetting my thirst to get some canning done this year! I haven’t canned for about 5 years and I really miss it. I make some of the best homemade salsa ever. Mmmm…I’m hungry now!

  6. Kim A. says:

    Our old house had a root cellar below the kitchen. Small space, about 6 feet down, trap door in the kitchen floor covered over by the old area rug. We used it to store our potatoes and turnip (hate turnip to this day), but nothing canned. Mom and I blanched all our garden veggies and stored them in the body-sized deep freezer.

    BTW, every spring, during thaw and flooding, the leftover potatoes and turnips would float to the top on the rising water. 😆

    -Kim, who *loves* rhubarb!

  7. AnnBB says:

    Hi Suzanne –

    Thanks for the memories…..

    My dad’s parents had the neatest cellar set-up (not that they did it on purpose). Late in the afternoon the sun would pour through the basement/casement window and illuminate att the jarred veggies, fruits, and yes, even jarred meats. It was beautiful.

  8. Jill says:

    In our cellar, we have just the spiders. Maybe you could come visit again and fill it with good stuff. Skip the rhubarb though . . .

  9. AuthorMomWithDogs says:

    Hi Suzanne. Found you through your carnival link. I’ve been an organic gardener for longer than I care to admit. Just now starting to get into canning (I usually freeze). Talk about scary…! My sister insists that it’s safe and I will not poison my family. Wish me luck!

  10. Alice Audrey says:

    I’m with you. No rhubarb. But I like to have a good supply of food. I’m not so big on the home canning, though I do it, but I love having a size of beef in the chest freezer and a 20lb bag of flour in “deep storage.” I get double of everything so I never run out of anything. If I never get around to making fried spam I donate it to the Christmas food drive.

  11. Traci in IL says:

    De-lurking to say Hi, I am enjoying your “Farmhouse Blog”.
    While I have great appreciation for 100 yr old farm houses I couldn’t actually live in one. I am rather attached to modern heating and 70 degree rooms in winter time. Ha, Ha..
    I remember my mother and g-mother canning, it still scares my to this day!
    But please, please send me your rhubarb!!!! Rhubarb Coffee Cake, Rhubarb Cherry Pie, yum.
    I have a great recipe for Rhubarb Coffee Cake, if you would try it next summer I will dig up the recipe. I promise you would LOVE it!

  12. Darlene says:

    Nothing tastes as good as home canned. My parents always canned enough every summer to last at least a year. One of my favorites was green catsup. It was more of a relish than the catsup we are all familiar with. Unfortunately the recipe was lost many years ago.

  13. Susan says:

    I agree with you about rhubarb and beets. Yuck!

  14. Estella says:

    I don’t care for rhubarb, but I like pickled and Harvard beets.

  15. catslady says:

    My grandmother always canned lots of things but their old farm house got torn down and the house they moved into wasn’t a scary place. I really miss all the wonderful foods. My grandfather farmed for a living. We too usually had to eat everything but for some reason my mother never made us eat the rhuburb lol.

  16. Jean Morford says:

    I think your canned goods look like shining jewels on the shelves. Truly beautiful.

  17. Fannie M Wiggins says:

    This post brings back a lot of precious memories. :heart: Our house had a walk in cellar. It was clean and we kids loved to play down there. All the cans my Momma would can sitting waiting for winter. We never had rhubarb though. Momma didn’t like it so we never acquired a taste for it. My daughter, Maggie loves it. She eats it raw or cooked. I love your old farmhouse but I wouldn’t trade my snug little mobile home for it. I’m spoiled for 70 degree inside temperature and no frozen pipes. Have a great evening and :hug: to all.

  18. smiledarlin says:

    My Grandma had an old farm house on 1200 acres in Kansas…
    Your posts bring back memories of that old house.

    Later while living in Oklahoma, my DMIL used to can and she taught me. I can Peaches and tomatoes and my husband gives them away as Christmas gifts to the guys at his fire station.

    I don’t have a cellar now. We used to call them “scaredy holes” coz that’s where you went when the tornado was coming and you were scared. AND they were scarey…

  19. Brandy says:

    I like your old farmhouse and cellar! But, um, no rhubarb here either. YUCK! *G*

  20. Jennifer says:

    I still put up food every summer and fall, eventhough I live in an apartment in the city. Friends think it’s a way I try to save money on the food bill, but really, it’s because I enjoy it. Also, there are no better canned tomatoes than what I put up myself. They taste like summer.

  21. Maryann says:

    The only thing we canned in past 10 yrs has been zucchini relish. I do miss it.

  22. Jannie Sue says:

    It will make me smile to think that you and my mother are putting up tomatoes.

    Learned to like rhubarb pie (but only a la mode.) With a cup of tea.

    kinda always liked beets as a side dish.

    Jannie Sue

  23. miss julia says:

    I just popped in to get your bread and sweet roll recipe again. I misplaced it. I am a lurker. sigh. But all this talk about canning and cellars got me to thinking. Our first house was ancient and cobbled together. Cold in the winter, boiling in the summer with a cellar that was like something out of Steven King’s novels. We didn’t store things there, but I had to go down and change the fuses often. Spiders and lots of creepy things. Always damp. We put pea gravel on the floor, , but still had planks to walk on, had an outsieside cellar door. Kids would not go down in to it.Grew almost everything we ate and barter for others. Thanks for the memories.

  24. Donna says:

    I hate rhubarb too…and I hear Elderberries are pretty nasty too. My husband hates those – he’s from New York.

  25. b says:

    i think it is cool that there is still people that use cellers. at my grandparents there friends grow corn and have a celler full of jars with green beans and stuff. i always like working on the farm.

  26. Amy Lynn says:

    :chicken: Our cellar is always one of my favorite places during the tour of the house. It tends to creep people out with the stone walls, dirt floor, shelves upon shelves of jars of … well we don’t know what is in them anymore … that are older then we are, the large boulder in the middle of the room that was easier to build around then pull out of the ground some 100+ years ago. But the icing on the cake are the large jars on the shelves next to the canned goods that hold the 2 headed fetal pigs that my father in law has collected over the years. 😮 If that don’t creep a person out nothing will! And this concludes our tour. Please exit to the left of the piggies. Come again! :cowsleep:

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