Sunday, September 6, 2015

September 6, 2015 - How It Was Done

The barns are filling up with pumpkins and other winter squashes.  These will last a good long time if stored properly, some longer than others.  Not long ago, it was important for people to store as many root vegetables and squashes as they could in order to get through the winter with plenty of healthy food.

The pumpkins wait to be sold or stored.

Onions, garlic, turnips, potatoes, carrots, and squashes lasted well into the winter.  Eventually, they would begin to rot or would have all be eaten, and in that case, the pickled vegetables were consumed.  Cucumber pickles and sauerkraut have seen many people through the winter, and the natural fermentation process adds a great deal of vitamins and nutrients that are especially important in the winter months.  Add apples into the mix with everything else--stored separately because of the ripening gas they give off--and you have yourself a very fine cellar capable of feeding many people.

This is how it was done before supermarkets came about.  The delicate foods, such as salad greens, were consumed in season for the treat that they were.  Other delicate foods that don’t store well were dried, or they were canned in more recent times.  I still remember stringing green beans with a needle and thread, and then hanging them above a wood stove to dry.  We used to call them “leather britches.”  You drop your dried vegetables into a pot of simmering soup or stew and they just expand slowly as they cook.  Delicious.

After all the vegetables are stored, dried, or canned, hunting season comes along.  Meat is eaten while fresh, then cold-smoked in a smoke house or dried in strips or into jerky.  In more modern days, we see the meat canned or frozen.  Hogs are slaughtered and the meat is consumed or stored as above.  The leaf fat is rendered into lard.  That’s one thing I haven’t given up.  I do still render my own lard.  I get the fat from the farmer up the road.  It’s the best stuff for cooking.

And this is how it was done.  It’s an oversimplified version, of course, because I left out some foods and the hard work involved in doing it all, but this is how people did it.  Nowadays we’ve traded the hard work for monotony and boredom.  I don’t think it was a good trade.  Some people are going back to the old ways, bit by bit, step by step.  There is life without malls, supermarkets, and box stores.

But I should warn you about the leather britches.  We don’t call them that for no reason at all.  They are quite leathery and take a good long time to reconstitute.  But what else is there to do in the long winter months?

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