Tuesday, January 29, 2019

What's cooking??

By Nan O'Berry

Writing and romanticizing about the old west is an enjoyable pastime. However, if we really think about day to day existence, we can come up with three basic needs: Home, Clothing, and FOOD, or as Oliver sang "Food, glorious food...". And yes, they did care where it came from.

Remember, in those early days, there were no refrigeration techniques, no electric stoves, no microwaves. A wife, daughter, or eldest rose hours before their families because wood had to be chopped, the firebox started and that huge cast iron stove brought to heating temp. Your family then like today's wanted their meals on time. They wanted them filling because usually there was only one hot meal and it was served in the mid afternoon. Your food had to be nutritious because being sick cost not only time but lost income - remember, no sick days.

Meat was always in some form of decay. To be resourceful and "cover' the foul taste of bad meat, sauces, relishes, and spices helped. Most of our foods including veggies were either dried, smoked, or cured. Cowboy chaps were green beans hung on a string and dried. They could be revived, in a pot of boiling water and salt meat as could "Mexican strawberries" or red beans.

To salt cure meets, our pioneer families would take butchered meat and plunge them into a salt brine barrel. Salt would be added for 28 days until the meat itself was no longer moist. It was then taken out of the brine, dried and put in cloth sacks to hang sometimes in the attic of your homes until needed. One caution in southern climates was to make sure the temperature was below freezing for at least three days before butchering your meat. A sudden rise in temps could spoil your whole pig! The loss of the meat could mean starvation for your family.

Like salt curing, smoke curing was another good option for our families.  Cuts of meats sometimes whole sides were placed on hooks in the smokehouse. Fires were kept going or smoldering until the meat was cured or dried out. This process took around 30 days.

Lots of work went into feeding the family, and very little was wasted. Fast food perhaps might be jerky, which was often  kept in pockets and helped ward off hunger until that meal was fixed. 

In writing this article, I came a cross a delicacy that was served in Chicago in 1865, BearPaws in burgundy sauce, rag out de coon ( raccoon ) and squirrel pie. After reading this, I'm not sure I would have made it, but I can say I understand why women's waist were so small.

Just a note here, near my home in Smithfield, Virginia ( yes home of the Smithfield brand of pork ) there is still a smoked ham that is over 100 years old.

1 comment:

Renaissance Women said...

I remember dressing chickens, and the slaughter of others meats when I was young. It was not pleasant then, and I can only imagine how it would have been way back when.

A very interesting look at 'food' from days long ago. Thank you. Doris