Occupations (Butter Maker and Butter Buyer)
Mother, along with some help from the children, spent hours making butter. There were no farms in the city. A person called a Butter-buyer would go out to the farms in the country, and buy butter to take back to the city to sell. The butter-buyer tested the butter, stored in large tubs, with a long implement designed to take a sample of the butter. All the butter in Mother's tubs was golden and firm without one streak. Unlike with the tin-peddler, Mother didn't bargain with the butter-buyer, saying, "My butter speaks for itself." A Butterbuyer would need to be educated about what makes quality butter, and about the going prices of such butter. This butter-buyer knew quality butter when he saw it, and paid Mrs. Wilder top dollar for hers. As with Father's hard work with the colts, Mother receives a very high price for her butter thanks to her hard work. The butter would be shipped to New York City. Almanzo thought people would comment on how good it was and who made it.
Where does your butter come from? Look at a butter box and see where it is made. Is it a town close to you? Are there any butter factories in your town? Try to trace the route of the butter, from farm to store to table.
Early settlers generally had plenty of milk, cream, butter and eggs; so much of their meals included these products. If you did the lesson on milk in chapter 2, you may remember that butterfat rose to the top of raw milk and was scraped off for making butter. In early days, butter was put in a churn, which was churned and churned to mix the butterfat and separate the curds from the whey. The butter was then pressed to remove the excess liquids, and had a bit of salt added for flavor.
It may be fun to make some butter this week. Put 2 cups heavy cream in a jar with a lid. Blend the cream by shaking it until the curds (pure butter) separates from the whey (thin liquid). Pour off the liquid and discard. Rinse with cold water until water runs clear, and then drain it all off. Put the butter in a bowl and press to remove excess liquid. Refrigerate for a day or two to age it. Add a little salt to enhance flavor if desired.
During the 1800’s, there was no refrigeration to keep foods fresh. People needed to harvest and slaughter their foods in the right seasons and find a way to preserve the foods throughout the year. Foods were pickled, canned, bottled, brined, smoked, dehydrated, fermented, and root-cellared to save and have food for the future. If they didn’t learn to use these various methods of food preservation, they would have starved through the long months when foods were not available.
Canning and Bottling– Many food items can be canned. Canning involves bringing foods packed in jars to high temperatures for an allotted period of time to kill all biological activity and to create a vacuum to keep oxygen from spoiling the food. This method is good for things like jams, preserves, and some vegetables. The downsides to using this method are:
a.) It requires special equipment,
b.) It requires lots of preparation time,
c.) It takes up a lot of storage space,
d.) You lose 60 – 80% of the nutritional value of the food.
Pickling – Pickling is a method of preserving whole, sliced, or chopped meats, fruits or vegetables by cooking them and covering them with vinegar. Vinegar is highly acidic, and inhibits bacteria growth. Pickled foods do not need as much processing time as other canning due to the high acidity of the vinegar. The downsides to this method are the same as with canning. Popular pickled foods include cucumbers, beets, peppers, beans, and watermelon rinds.
Brine – Some foods are put in a brine to be preserved. This is often done with meats. Brine is a super salty solution, the salt acting as the preservative. The downsides to brining foods are excessive salt in the diet, in addition to the other downfalls of canning.
Fermenting – Some foods are fermented to preserve them. Fermentation is the gradual decomposition of fruits or vegetables as enzymes, yeast, and bacteria convert the food into a different form. Remember the apple cores that were saved? They will be fermented and changed to apple cider, and then vinegar. Cabbage is fermented and changed to sauerkraut. Long ago, people would ferment crocks or barrels of sauerkraut in their dug out basements, where the temperatures stay around 60 degrees, for up to four weeks. The smell was horrendous, and everyone around knew that sauerkraut was fermenting. The downsides to fermenting were
a.) The smell,
b.) The long time it took.
Dehydration – Dehydration is the process of removing water from foods. Dehydration is the oldest method of preserving foods. Early settlers would hang foods in a well-ventilated area to dry. They would use this method to preserve meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables. Dehydrating foods remove up to 90% of the moisture, and without water, foods won’t grow bacteria. Dehydrated foods have a longer storage life, cost less to prepare, and take up less storage space than any other preservation method. With low heat and gentle airflow, dehydrated foods retain up to 97% of their nutrients, making them the most healthful of all preservation methods. The main downfall of dehydrating is possible rodent and/or insect infestation if not properly stored after drying. Dried apples, beef jerky, and raisins are popular dehydrated foods.
Smoking – Foods such as meat and fish were dried more quickly over a fire. Eventually, smokehouses were used for the sole purpose of smoking meats. Molds could not survive very well on dry, smoked food, so smoked fish and meats could last a family long through winter. Downsides are
a.) Method could not be used satisfactorily with fruits and vegetables,
b.) Curing agents used today are suspect.
Root-cellaring – Early settlers would have cellars dug, sometimes under their houses and sometimes in any hillside they could find. The temperature below ground level stays consistently cool, and is good for storing root crops such as potatoes, carrots, beets, and turnips, as well as for keeping tree fruits. Before refrigeration, practically every home had a root cellar.