Hi there. Hope all of you are doing great. Well, it is time once again to hear the ranting from my brain.
This time, I am going to talk about food. If you didn’t already know this, I am president of a nonprofit farmers/artisan market, so I am dealing with fresh, local food items all the time. This year, for the first time in close to 25 years, I am doing some major canning. This week, I am going to do pureed tomatoes, canned peaches, peach jam, apple sauce, apple butter. My daughter told me she was hungry for my lasagna (I call it poor man’s lasagna, more of a pasta bake). And I am hungry for apple fritters.
Why am I talking about food? If we look at what we eat, we truly are just a day away from starving in the hedgerows with Mrs Bennet. Right now, we are experiencing massive floods, severe temperatures, droughts, fires, earthquakes, and even shortages of people to work the fields. The war in Ukraine is another problem with food, as the ground in Ukraine is suppose to be some of the most fertile in the world. But their grain is being stolen and destroyed, not going where it is supposed to be. How easy would it be for the entire world had severe shortages? Though it isn’t common these days, we need to start thinking of what we will do if one of the extreme natural or manmade problems makes it near impossible to maintain enough food to feed the world’s population?
One thing we can do is take lessons from our forefathers. Did they have commercially made food products that were filled with chemicals to preserve them? Or did they do what they could to make their food last as long as possible? Can you see Elizabeth go to the store to get potato chips and dip? Or can you see her going to the green grocer to purchase some potatoes (if they didn’t grow them on her father’s estate? They could be baked or fried, boiled or added to a dish. Did you know that you could keep most “winter” squash for months without using it, and it was is still good to eat? There are many things we can learn from Regency time which could assist us in preparing for the future.
I grew up in central Illinois, in a little town that is in the middle of corn and soy bean fields. Every year we went through storage of the different crops as they were available, having not only a huge garden, but we had family and friends who we could swap with for what we wanted. Usually started with peas, then green beans, tomatoes, corn (Dad would trade work for corn and come home with a station wagon full. In the spring, Grandma and Grandpa would take a van and go to one of Grandma’s brother’s home and come back with strawberries, and later, they would get peaches.
Now, 50 years later, I look at how we approach food, as well as think of how the was done 200 years ago.
How would we all survive without refrigeration or freezers? How about electric blenders, crock pots, instapots, coffee makers and more? Microwaves or air fryers or convection ovens?
We take for granted how easy it is to make a cup of coffee or tea. In Jane Austen’s time, there were different ways to make a cup of tea. Most ways start with boiling water, putting it in for a few minutes to heat the teapot, then poured out. Then more water would be added to brew the tea, which the leaves would be steeped for several minutes. Some blends were steeped, then poured out, and steeped a second time. It was believed that it would wash off any dirt and such in the first steep, as well as preparing the leaves to be properly steeped. A true tea expert in our times will do the same. I’m not an expert, so I drink the first steeping.
I always found it interesting (and to be honest, yucky) to add milk to tea. Not a coffee fan, so that doesn’t matter to me if people want to add milk to it, but to tea? Of course, I am lactose intolerant, so that might have something to do with it. In researching, I found lots of reasons for the milk, and some of them were humorous. One man said that his mother always said it was to help keep the cups from being stained from the tea. Another person said it was to cool the tea and keep the cups from breaking from the heat of the steeped tea.
The version I tend to believe is that because of the expense of tea, those of a lower class could not afford much of it. It was cheaper to have just a little tea in your cup of milk.
The East India Company had a monopoly on tea, and they charged a 118% increase of the cost of the tea. It was a tax they placed on it. Can you imagine being charged 118% over the cost of the tea, in a tax on your cup of tea? I had a hard time when the store increased the tea I like (cold brew tea bags) from $3.99 to $4.99. If it went up 118%, I wouldn’t be drinking much tea. So I can understand why those of lower income could use a small amount of tea in a cup of milk.
It wasn’t until 1830’s that a new tea was grown outside of China, giving the East India Company competition. It was grown in the India area called Assam. Then they began growing more varieties, such as Darjeeling and Ceylon. By doing so, India broke the dependency and the financial hostage of China.
When it came to food storage, how they were able to preserve so much was amazing. Salt was a friend of everyone during the 1800’s, as it aided in preserving food. Meats especially were preserved with either salt or smoking or drying.
Food storage in the lowest part of the home was intelligent, as it aided preserving food. Potatoes, squash, beets, mushrooms, garlic, onions, and such could be preserved in a cool area. I had a banana squash that was harvested in September that was still good in May of the following year. It was stored in a cool place. Some people pick tomatoes when they are green, wrap them up and put them in a cool place to let them ripen slowly.
Spices, like tea, were extremely expensive in the early 1800’s. Sugar was another expensive item that was used sparingly. Jams and jellies were a good way to preserve fruits, which would use a considerable amount of sugar if you had a lot of fruit.
Cheese was a way to preserve dairy products. It was simpler to carry some cheese than it was to carry a jug of milk. It also didn’t go bad as quickly as milk.
Fermentation and pickling were another way to preserve food items, including meat, fruits and vegetables. So, next time you go to your cupboard or to the store, remember how fortunate you are. But also remember that in canning or preserving foods on your own can eliminate all the chemicals added to your food to make it last longer, and you can get produce at the peak of season, when the produce has the best flavor. If you can, take a bit of time to make some food from scratch. May take more time and energy, but I think you will be pleased with the results. Bon appetite. Now back to the canning. Apple butter and tomatoes in crock pots right now, some peaches are cut up and ready to go tomorrow. YUMMMMMMM!