29 April 2011

Food Preservation
—1826, 1843, 1845, 1858, 1873, 1874—

This is a firkin from the 1800s. Housewives used wooden containers like this to preserve  suet for making "fresh" puddings and pies the year round, as explained below.

To Preserve Hams
Having tried several methods of preserving hams from the ravages of bugs and flies, and all having failed, I concluded to try the effect of pepper. I ground some black pepper fine and put it in a box, and as soon as the hams were well smoked, I took them down and dusted the pepper over the raw part, and over the back and hung them up in the smoke house again. This I have tried two seasons, and neither flies or bugs touch them. I am well satisfied in my own mind that it is a good remedy and deserves to be generally known. I was induced to try the experiment from the circumstances of knowing that ground pepper mixed with sweetened water and the yolk of an egg would kill flies.

To Preserve Suet
Suet may be preserved perfectly fresh and good for any length of time by the following method. Prepare and chop your suet fit to mix into puddings—pack it down in a stone jar or firkin—pour molasses till the whole is covered—let the vessel be closed to keep out the flies; and you have nothing to do but to dip out and drain the suet, if you do not wish to sweeten with molasses. By this simple method the sailor my enjoy a luxury in every climate; and the farmer who is fond of the article may have fresh suet for puddings or pies the year round.

To Keep Tomatoes Year Round
Take them full ripe, and scald in hot water, to facilitate the operation of taking off the skin; when skinned, boil well in a little sugar and salt, but no water, and then spread in cakes about an eighth of an inch thick, in the sun. They will dry enough in three or four days to pack away in bags, which should be hung in a dry room.

To Pickle Tomatoes
Pick them when they are ripe. Put them in layers in a jar, with garlics, mustard seed, horseradish, spices, &c., as you like, filling up the jar; occasionally putting a little fine salt, proportionally to the quantity laid down, and which is intended to preserve the tomato. When the jar is full, pour on the tomatoes cold cider vinegar (it must be pure,) till all is covered, and then cork up tight and set away for winter. 

Preservation of Apples
The following observations, contained in a letter from the late Noah Webster, LL. D. have formerly been published in the Massachusetts Agricultural Repository: “The best mode of preserving apples for spring use I have found to be, the putting of them in dry sand, and as soon as picked; for this purpose I dry sand in the heat of summer, and late in October put down the apples in layers, with a covering of sand upon each layer. The singular advantages of this mode of treatment are these: 1. The sand keeps the apples from the air, which is essential to their preservation. 2. The sand checks the evaporation of the apples, thus preserving their full flavor; at the same time any moisture yielded by the apples, (and some there will be,) is absorbed by the sand, so that the apples are kept dry, and all mustiness is prevented. My pippins in May and June are as fresh as when first picked; even the ends of the stem look as if just separated from the twig.”
Long before there was Tupperware, stoneware crocks like this one, made in Bennington, Vermont, circa 1855, were used by rural families to store food, as discussed in the next excerpt.

To Preserve Hams
Slice and trim ready for cooking; pack in a stone jar, alternating a layer of ham and lard; cover tight, and it will keep perfectly good for a year. 

Preserving Fruits & Vegetables
While the farmer himself is slicking up out of doors, the farmer’s wife, within, should be making some slick things for winter. With the self-sealing cans, of varied type and patent, no good housekeeper has an excuse for not laying in a good supply of those fruits and vegetables which in summer and autumn grace the table. They keep perfectly in these cans, and some of them can hardly be distinguished from the fresh-picked articles. Green corn, tomatoes, peaches, berries, plums, and other perishable fruits, not only add greatly to the delicacies of the farmer’s table in the winter, but they promote health. Nothing can be a more agreeable change from the inevitable salt junk and potatoes than these preserved fruits and vegetables. Lay in a good stock of them. 

A Good Way to Preserve Eggs
The most convenient and satisfactory way to keep eggs fresh that we have ever tried is to punch numerous holes in a small tin pail, fill it with fresh eggs, lower the pail with the eggs into a kettle of melted tallow, which is as hot as it can be without burning one’s finger when thrust into the liquid; then lift the pail out quickly, and the melted tallow will flow out, leaving a thin coating over every egg. Let the eggs be removed as soon as possible from the pail, and be placed on the ends in a keg or barrel, which should be kept in a cool cellar until the eggs are wanted for use. We have kept eggs in this manner more than six months so fresh that expert judges supposed they were fresh. As the eggs are so much colder than the tallow, a thin melted pellicle of cold tallow formed almost instantly, which may render the shell impervious to air.

To Make Butter Cool in Hot Weather
Set it on a bit of brick, cover with a flower-pot, and wrap a wet cloth around the pot. The evaporation cools it as well as ice.

This six-gallon crock, made around 1865 in Bennington, Vermont sold for $90,000 in a 2007 auction. I wonder if a Tupperware bowl will sell for that kind of money to collectors 142 years after it was made? Not likely. The crock was crafted by humans, but Tupperware is spit out by a machine. Big difference.


How many of us today would feel safe eating ham that had been "larded" in a crock for a few months? Or suet pudding from suet stored in a firkin in like manner? Without refrigeration, that's what people did. Lard, suet and tallow are all fats that were important to the Agrarian Nation.  

Canning jars were developed in the early 1800s and utilized a wax-sealed lid that could not be reused. In 1858, Stanley Mason, invented his Mason jar with a reusable screw lid. That jar became a very popular method for rural people to put up food. And, of course, it still is.

If you are ever around Bennington, Vermont, make a point to visit the Bennington Museum. They have an astounding collection of old stoneware made in Bennington in the 1800s.

In the next installment of Agrarian Nation, I will post a "Farmer's Creed" that was published in the 1881 Maine Farmer's Almanac. It is a remarkable statement of beliefs ("sound doctrine," the editor says of it) that gives us a much clearer understanding of what good farming was all about back then (and it wasn't just about growing food).

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My Backyard Farmyard said...

I appreciate your blog posts very much! The information is so valuable for anyone attempting to live an agrarian, off-grid life.

These are interesting food preservation techniques. I plan to make the pickled tomatoes this summer and would like to try to preserve apples in sand this fall.

You've found a real treasure in these almanacs. I look forward every post!

Anonymous said...

I have been trying to find info on larding pork for years. My Grandma told me that when they butchered a hog that the women would melt the lard in a iron pot outside while the men cut up the hog. The pieces were cut into serving sizes and the women would sear the meat on all sides but not cook ,then lay it in a large stoneware crock and ladle the hot lard over each layer . When she was a girl ,1910's ,she enjoyed going to the cellar with a platter and spoon to scrape away the lard to find what they would have for their supper, she never knew if it would be steaks or chops or roast.I never heard if this was salted or if they cooled each layer, but Grandma was a very neat clean lady and I have every reason to believe this must have been a safe clean method of storing meat.I have searched for years and had never heard anyone mention it until now! Karen

Herrick Kimball said...

Thanks for the positive feedback. I'm glad you are enjoying this web site. I have a wealth of information to share here in the months ahead. Please let us know how any old-time food preservation technique you try works for you.

I really appreciate your recollections and insights about larding!

Kelle said...

My Grandmother larded meats, especially venison, using beef suet for the lading as venison fat has a gamey flavor. She also preserved eggs by a method known as waterglassing and while she shared these eggs can NOT be used for beating whites into stiff peaks for certain recipes, as the whites will NOT beat into stiff peaks after waterglassing.

Thank you for posting al of this great and wonderful information, a blessed way to ensure it isn't lost forever. :o)

Sorry I'm a bit behind in the readin of this blog, planting and gardening season is abounding! :o)

diana jane cervantes said...

Very interesting. The flies around the hams when doing the tropical preserves is also my problem. I should try what you do to take away the flies. Thank you so much and I really appreciate your blog. :)