From "The Family Doctor" 1859
Calf Foot Jelly [we call this
gelatin - where did you think gelatin came from?]-
Calf's-feet jelly is of great value in cases of sickness or convalescence, while
its preparation is very easy. Well clean two calf's-feet, boil them in a
gallon of water till it is is reduced to a quart. When cold, skim off all
the fat, and carefully take up all the jelly quite clean, put it into a saucepan
with half a pound of loaf sugar, a pint of sherry wine, and the juice of four
lemons. Then take the whites of six eggs, well beaten up, and having
stirred all up well, let it boil for a few minutes. Pour the whole into a
large flannel bag, and having put some thin lemon peel into a large basin, drain
the whole off, and when cold it is fit for use. The lemon peel greatly
improves both color and flavor.
From "Directions for
A Farmer's Rice Pudding - This pudding is made without eggs. Wash half
a pint of rice through two cold waters, and drain it well. Stir it raw
into a quart of rich milk, or of cream and milk mixed; adding a quarter of a
pound of brown sugar, and a table-spoonful of powdered cinnamon. Put it
into a deep pan, and bake it two hours or more. When done, the rice will
be perfectly soft, which you may ascertain by dipping a teaspoon into the edge
of the pudding and taking out a little to try. Eat it cold.
From "The Everyday Cookbook" 1860
Lard - Take the leaf fat from the inside of a bacon hog, cut it small, and
put it in an iron kettle, which must be perfectly free from any musty taste; set
it over a steady, moderate fire, until nothing but scraps remain of the meat;
the heat must be kept up, but gentle, that it may not burn the lard; spread a
coarse cloth in a wire sieve, and strain the liquid into tin basins which will
hold two or three quarts; squeeze out all the fat from the scraps. When the lard
in the pans is cold, press a piece of new muslin close upon it, trim it off at
the edge of the pan, and keep it in a cold place. Or it may be kept in wooden
kegs with close covers. Lard made with one-third as much beef suet as fat is
supposed by many persons to keep better.
From "Six Little Cooks"
Soft Candy - One pound brown sugar, three tablespoonfuls water; while
boiling add a quarter of a pound butter; when thick and ropy, take it from the
fire and stir till it grains; then pour into buttered plates. For nut
candy make the above recipe, stirring in nuts while it is still over the fire.
From "What to Cook and How
to Cook It" c1900
Corn Fritters - Use two cups of grated corn, two eggs beaten together,
one-fourth cup of flour and one teaspoon of baking powder. Season with
salt. Drop by spoonfuls in deep, hot fat and fry a delicate brown-
Hamburg Steak [what we would call a 'hamburger']
- Grind lean beef, season with a little onion, pepper, and salt. Roll into
a flat mound about an inch thick. Put it on a very hot griddle, turn it
when done and pour over it melted butter. Or you can make it into little
cakes and broil.
From "Directions for
Fricasseed Rabbits - The best way of cooking rabbits is to fricassee them.
Take a couple of fine ones, and cut them up, or disjoint them. Put them
into a stew-pan; season them with cayenne pepper and salt, some chopped parsley,
and some powdered mace. Pour in a pint of warm water (or veal broth, if
you have it) and stew it over a slow fire till the rabbits are quite tender;
adding (when they are about half done) some bits of butter rolled in flour.
Just before you take it from the fire, enrich the gravy with a jill [1/4
of a pint] or
more of thick cream with some nutmeg grated into it. Stir the gravy well,
but take care not to let it boil after the cream is in, lest it curdle.
Put the pieces of rabbit on a hot dish, and pour the gravy over them.
From the "Frugal Housewife" 1833
Chocolate [what we would call
- Many people boil chocolate in a coffee-pot; but I think it is better to boil
it in a skillet, or something open. A piece of chocolate about as big as a
dollar is the usual quantity for a quart of water; but some put in more, and
some less. When it boils, pour in as much milk as you like and let them
boil together three or four minutes. It is much richer with the milk
boiled in it. Put the sugar in either before or after, as you please.
Nutmeg improves it. The chocolate should be scraped fine before it is put
in the water.
From the "Kentucky
Squirrels - Prepare them as for the stew, season them with salt, pepper, and
nutmeg, dredge them with flour, and fry them a handsome brown, in lard or
butter. Stir into the gravy a spoonful of flour, one of tomato catchup,
and a glass of sweet cream, and serve the squirrels with the gravy poured round.
From "Six Little Cooks"
Baked Apple Dumplings - Prepare a regular "dumpling-crust"; roll it out, cut
into squares and in the center of each lay a juicy, tart apple, pared and cored;
bring the corners of the square neatly together and pinch them slightly.
Lay in a buttered baking pan, the joined edges downward, and bake to a fine
brown. When done, brush over with beaten egg and set back in the oven to
glaze for a few minutes. Sift powdered sugar over them and eat with sauce.
|19th Century Food Preservation
In the 1800s, there were no Frigidaires, freeze drying, or
vacuum packaging. Our ancestors, however, made do surprisingly well when it came
to preserving food. Most homes still grew and put up a great deal of food even
though, increasingly, canned foods were becoming more and more common by
mid-century. There were many processes that evolved to keep food from spoiling,
and thus ensure a well fed family through the lean months of winter, and beyond.
Preserved foods in the nineteenth century were stored in a
variety of containers. Ever present were stoneware crocks, a universal tool. By
the mid 1850s, glass jars had been developed for home canning, and tin cans with
metal screw tops for home use were being made and sold by Wells & Provost
in New York by 1854 (see the photo at left). Many foods were commercially
available in tin cans, which were soldered closed. Virtually any food could be
found in a bottle of some form. Depending on the type of food, it could be
stored in something as simple as a wooden box, or a cloth sack. What do you
think of when I say "pickle"? Cucumbers, right?
image to enlarge full size
In the 19th
century, "pickle" meant anything that had been soaked in
a pickling solution. Not only cucumbers, but nearly all vegetables,
many fruits and meats were pickled. Foods such as peppers, cucumbers, gherkins,
green beans, parsley, musk-melons, cherries, peaches, plums, grapes, walnuts (in
the hull according to Miss Leslie’s Cookery, 1850), onions, mushrooms, tomatoes,
cauliflower, red cabbage, and oysters were commonly pickled.
Pickling solutions were all basically the
same. Most used differing ratios of vinegar, black pepper, cloves, allspice, and
mace. Some used salt. To pickle an item, it was washed and then soaked in the
solution for several days, several months, or indefinitely. Although any vinegar
cider vinegar was considered the best.
Food that had been pickled was to be stored in glass
vessels and unglazed stoneware. Glazed crocks were shunned for pickled food as
the vinegar would react with lead in the glaze and have "pernicious"1
One food that we today would probably not think to pickle
is sausage. Sausage that was to be smoked was prepared in the following manner.
A mixture of lean beef and pork, in a ratio of about 2.5 to 1 was stuffed into a
casing (made of beef or pig intestines) and put into a brine solution and left
for three weeks. Then the sausages were hung in the smoke house and smoked.
Afterwards, the sausages were taken down and rubbed over with sweet oil and
stored in ashes. Pickled foods, depending on what it was could last from a few
weeks to several years.
popular food preservation technique was
smoking. Smoking was usually an end point
for another process such as salting, or
image to enlarge full size
As with pickling, a wide variety of foods were
smoked. Fish were smoked in abundance in the days before reliable refrigeration.
The fish were first rubbed down with a mixture of salt and sugar. A weighted board was laid on
the meat and left for two days and two nights.2 The meat was then
washed and splayed with sticks and hung in the smokehouse to be smoked for five
to six days.
I often get the question about jerky in the 1800s. The
answer is, "yes"; they did have what we would think of as jerky, but the process
was a lot different. Dried meats that were closest to modern jerky were beef,
mutton and venison. The meat was prepared by soaking it in a vinegar-brine
solution for six weeks. It was then smoked and could keep as long as kept dry.
Everyone has seen potted meat. Some have
actually eaten it. That gooey paste we have today that no one can identify, is a
descendant of the potted meats in the 19th century. Practically any meat could
be potted. It was first boiled until tender. After patting the meat dry, it was
laid before a fire until it was dry through out. The meat was then ground in a
mortar until fine. During the grinding, spices would be added such as black
pepper, mace, nutmeg, cloves, and butter. Miss Leslie suggested putting the meat
into block tin cans or ironstone pots. The meat was then covered with a layer of
butter to seal out the air. The container was covered with a cloth and tied down
The king of meats in the 19th
century was pork, hands down. Pork was
eaten, in some form at every meal. Hogs were
easy to raise and could be fattened in a
short time, so it made the meat very
accessible to the table 150 years ago. Pork
does very well when preserved with salt.
image to enlarge full size
Slaughtering was performed in the winter months so as to prevent spoilage of the
meat before it could be cured. Hams, shoulders, and middling meat were taken
from the hog, washed and dried with a cloth. The meat was then buried in salt
and be left there from one to two months. Salt would slowly draw the moisture
out of the meat. The salt also penetrated the meat to the bone. After the
requisite time in the salt, it would be hung in the smoke house for use later.
Most of the time, the meat was also smoked, a measure that added flavor and
probably also acted as a deterrent to insects. Much like salt, sugar was a good
preservative as well.
image to enlarge full size
While sugar was used in some salt curing processes, it was used primarily for
preserving fruits. The most common methods of putting up fruits was to make a
syrup of sugar, water and a little of the fruit itself. The fruit was afterwards
cleaned and stored in the syrup. Examples are marmalades, jellies, and jams.
Another sugar process would be familiar to most kids today. Peach leather3,
as it was made by Martha Jones, is what we might call today a fruit "roll-up".
Peach, apple, or other "leathers" were made by boiling the fruit to a pulp,
adding to it sugar, and once it started to thicken, it was spread out on a pan
and left in the sun to dry. The result is a chewy confection that would keep
indefinitely as long as dry.
For those who preferred a less labor intensive method of
keeping fruits, drying was another option. All manner of fruits were dried and
this usually involved pitting in the case of peaches, apricots and cherries, or
pared and quartered as with apples and quinces. The fruit could be spread out on
a pan or put on a string and set in the sun to dry naturally. The Shakers at
Pleasant Hill, Ky built their own dry house in 1862 where trays of fruit were
dried by a slow fire.
Another popular process for preserving fruits involved
Brandy. The liquor, which was itself made from fruit, usually apples, was used
one of two ways. The first, was much like the above mentioned method of making a
syrup except the Brandy was added to the mix and then the fruit was put up into
a vessel and covered with the brandied syrup. Brandy was also mixed cold with
sugar and then poured over the fruit. This second manner was faster.
A few last preservation tricks are added for fun.
According to Miss Leslie, eggs could be kept in a lime paste. Lime was added to
boiling water until the mixture was the consistency of a thin cream. The eggs
were covered over in a stone jar, and simply washed before use. Tomatoes could
be put into a crock and covered over with melted mutton fat. Yum.
While our forebears did not have all the modern
conveniences of refrigerators, pressure cookers and dehydrators, they found the
means to preserve their food. They had the same needs as us, and through their
ingenuity, they made a way and excelled at the culinary arts long before cooks
had ever heard of Ball, Hamilton Beach, or Fields.
1. Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery, Directions For Cookery
In Its Various Branches, p212
2. Ibid p.46
3. From Peach Leather and Rebel Gray, the diary of
Martha Jones, edited by Mary E. Wharton and Ellen F. Williams
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