Food storage before we had refrigerators or freezers took a little creativity. By the time we were settling the west, we knew all about food storage and spoiled food.
The simplest thing was to dig an underground storage area. They still exist today and they can keep all sorts of vegetables fresh for months. These underground units vary by area. Where I grew up, springhouses were common. The ones I remember were usually made of wood and bricks and that was covered with dirt. Most had a "normal" roof. They were built right over a spring. They keep the temperature fairly steady.
I have a family recipe for cookies that is somewhat laughable. The dough is supposed to be put in the springhouse to cool. Today, I leave the dough overnight in the refrigerator.
The other common storage area is the root cellar. It's exactly what you can imagine. It is a dirt cellar under the house or another building.
A more complicated one was meant to keep meats and things that you wanted very cold. It was an icehouse. Most of them were fairly large. Ice was brought in as slabs. The ice was placed on the dirt floor and covered in straw. The smaller the slab the faster it would melt. Many a settler had to make the frozen slabs, as there was no one to bring it. Obviously this did not work in warmer climates. Create a wooden box and fill it with water. Allow it to freeze. Dump the frozen slab in the root cellar and make another slab. Think of them as overly large ice cubes. Don't make those slabs too large because ice is heavy. Lucky was the woman who had enough ice left in July to serve iced tea to her family or visitors.
For those who lived in a small town or near one, slaughtering an animal meant an abundant amount of meat and it was shared because it was too difficult to store. If it was in the winter and cold enough, the meat could hang in a shed or barn. But it was also a beacon to animals of prey. It was no fun to have a couple of wolves circling your barn. Placing the meat on ice, kept it cold and hidden from quite a few animals. (And maybe because it was frozen, it didn't have as strong a scent?)
Naturally if meat was being kept in the icehouse, the lady of the house knew not to serve ice for drinks in the summer with what had once been under a carcass.
Things have changed. Back then, not a scrap of meat went unused. But that also meant that not every meal contained meat. Most families ate strictly vegetables and eggs in the summer months.
Salted meats and jerky were quite common. Planked fish was a method of drying fish by a fire. The fish were nailed to planks and dried. Jerky was made by sun drying meat or placing it over a low fire. Besides, it was easier to keep dried meat.
But a root cellar or springhouse is still a viable option today. Many people are looking for
I can still remember one evening asking if I could have some apple cider. My dad allowed me to go to that root cellar and pour some from one of the gallon jugs. I brought it upstairs and decided that it was delicious. I drank it and asked for more. It was close to summer and the cider had been there
I guess I'm too far south to keep things through the winter without refrigeration or an honest to goodness cold cellar. My potatoes sprouted in the garage. I'm no longer keeping a big garden so I have no desire to watch that happen. If I want a few potatoes, I'll go buy what I need. But springhouses and cold or root cellars go way back in time, but they are just as useful today. With so many people looking back to pioneer times because they want to return to a more natural way and try to live greener, these underground storage areas are perfect.
There are plenty of sites on the web with directions for DIY root cellars. Dirt floors are still considered to be better than concrete. Dirt makes it easier to maintain humidity levels. If this sounds like something you want, give it a try! At least today, we aren't burying a wooden box and covering it with something to keep an animal out. Many a woman had to make do until a proper root cellar could be dug. I'm glad we no longer have to churn our own butter or worry about a warm day that might ruin everything we've stored. Our biggest worry is losing electricity for an extended time and I'm certain that someday that won't be a problem.