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Preserving food in the middle 1800's

How do you suppose great grandmother Heim preserved foods so they would be edible at some future time? They didn't believe in wasting food in those days any more than many people do now. Meat was quite plentiful in the earliest times but as the years rolled along, it became scarce. Hunters had a harder time finding buffalo, grouse, prairie chickens and deer. Yes, we had all of these in those earliest days but with the growth of population, they moved on west or were over killed. When meat was found, it was preserved by salting and smoking it, then wrapping it in cloth and hanging it in the attic or tightly made building so it did not get damp and mold and to keep insects off of it. It was years before anyone knew any other ways to preserve meats. Canning of any kind had not been "invented".

Wild fruits were plentiful in the timber along the streams. Two varieties of wild plums, one much sweeter than the other which has long gone out of existence. We still have the other type in the patches of bushes along roadsides and fence corners, now usually badly infested with worms. Wild blackberries and raspberries grew in the timber also, as did gooseberries and currants. We still can find small patches of the raspberries and gooseberries if brush spray or the bulldozer has not destroyed them. The prairie yielded strawberries, which grew in big patches if the prairie fries had missed them in those early days. Roadsides sometimes have then now. It was always a thrill to find these fruits unexpectedly and gather a hat-full or apron-full depending the discovered, and the whole family enjoyed a change of fare. Wild grapevines grew in the timber too and still does if allowed to grow at will. Wild cherries and chokecherries grew in the timber and chokecherries can still be found if you look on the side roads and if the brush sprayer or the axe has not been there first. They all make wonderful jell or butters now days. But what did great-grandmother do-she dried them in the sun carefully covered with thin cloth and beside the fireplace or, if she had a cooking range in the oven or on top the stove rack if the house was fortunate enough to have one. Then when she wanted the fruit in the winter, she soaked them over night and cooked them next day or made pie or tarts with them.

If a "bee tree" was discovered in the timber it was robbed of its sweetness, either by cutting the tree or climbing it after dark so the bees did not cause trouble. Wild bees were more "hot tempered" and smaller in size than those known today. This honey was a sweetener much favored by the pioneers. Molasses made from the juice of sorghum cane was a great help as a substitute for sugar in baking. It was as much a necessity for the early settlers as anything else raised for food.


Last updated March 5, 2005


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