Kitchen, house chores in days of old


Almost every time I am in a modern kitchen, my memory returns to the way a meal was prepared in Colonial days and not too long ago, in my younger years. Fifty years have gone in a wink of an eye, and therefore the experiences of the 1930s on are quite alive in the older folks mind.

My younger days, 10 years to 20, were spent in homes wherein first were kerosene lamps, yard pump, wood and coal heaters, fireplaces and cook stoves and the ever present necessary, the outhouse.

Of years ago. One special book in my vast library of over 30,000 volumes of books and magazines is an encyclopedia of 1843 describing every item of plain and fancy homes plus the kitchen and its many items found or needed therein at that time.

Many folks interested in Colonial life already are familiar with the ways and means of daily life during those early yesteryears. This narrative is for those unfamiliar with that era of Americana.

By women. The vast majority of all food consumed by any family was prepared in its many stages by the women. During those days, distance between a homestead and any general store or community were hours and miles away, unless a home was in a small village, of course.

Every item, except sugar, salt, pepper and coffee for example, was grown, canned and prepared at home. No factory canned goods, no condensed prepared soups, no powdered or frozen foods, no instant puddings to mention a few modern conveniences and quick fixes.

All meats were prepared, from raising to being placed on the table ready to eat. Grains were from the fields seen from the back porch. Fruits and vegetables were carefully planted, cared for, harvested and cooked by the farmers ladies. All the food usually was locally acquired and via the hard manual labor of the consumers.

Hard workers. At that era all usually worked for what they deserved, and there were no slackers or moochers. The acreage gave the farmer and his family a good living, from the produce from the land, and possibly left a few dollars a year. Usual cost was perhaps $10 or so a year.

The land gave them what they needed – food, independence, a home, shelter, clothes and satisfaction. Rarely was any thing bought to eat, drink or wear. God, farm and labor provided all.

Even the preparing of a fire was a chore to our early colonists. There were no matches in that era of time, only flint and steel. Therefore a fire was always part of the required necessities, and the fireplace or cook stove, if any, was always alive with embers.

Many dwellings and barns were consumed by fire even into the 1930s in local areas due to careless lanterns or dropping live embers in place to place transportation.

Life at home. A woman of that era was rarely overweight. Many were tired and worn out by the age of 50, if yet alive. Child bearing almost constantly placed these ladies in jeopardy.

Imagine the huge kettles and pots needed for food preparation, whether in early times in a great fireplace or later on a massive black six burner coal stove. These undoubtedly proved to be huge monsters to a frail lady already tired by late afternoon.

She usually arose before daybreak to get the fire going and prepare breakfast for a family of perhaps six or more. These brass or cast iron monsters often held 15 or more gallons, and considering the metal weight and contents, 40 pounds was not uncommon.

These pots and kettles have outlived many generations that sweat poured from as they lugged them to and from the fire, to the table or wherever.

On their own. The Northern ladies usually accomplished their own tasks. Southern counterparts were sometimes assisted by numerous slaves and servants.

The ladies prepared meals and accomplished chores that would put most, but not all, ladies of modern times to shame. Our colonists’ ladies had their leisure on Sunday, after meals were prepared, and between daily chores, usually sixteen hours of chores a day. Hours were longer in summer due to the late sunset.

Even the well-to-do ladies labored. A typical dinner entertaining guests could include hams, poultry, beef, pork, custards, creams, tarts, vegetables of four or more kinds, punch, wine, cakes and pies. The bigger the spread, the more delighted was the lady of the house.

Besides the duties performed by ladies of modern times, the Colonial lady added to that list many a chore accomplished in the factory today. For over 200 years, most if not all clothes for the family were homemade, from fiber at first to bolts of cloth later to the finished apparel.

No machines. Almost any chore was a hand and mind combination. No machines, gadgets, few tools and a great bit of patience did it all, or mostly so. It was due to those hardy individuals we owe our existence.

Not only did our colonists perform tasks of wonders, the Europeans and other groups of humanity had the same experiences and were just as hardy.

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