Kentucky in the Long Ago by Mrs. W. T. Lafferty – Pioneer Women Made Real Art of Fireside Cookery
Had Long List of Quaint Sounding Utensils; Knew Many Dishes.
The Pioneer Woman made her open fire-place her chief concern. It was not only the focal point of interest in her cabin home, but also the most important factor in family subsistence. Dexterously she hung her hominy pot on the crane, put her pot hooks at a convenie4nt angle, set her spider and trivet oven on the hearth, stood her tin-kitchen in the ashes on its own four legs, its back open to the fire for baking her hams and beans. Her waffle iron and other long-handled cooking utensils, leaned against the chimney jam beside the bellows, and lo, she was ready to cook three meals a day for her family.
Her menus included such delicacies as tarts, custards, berries, floating islands, blanc manges, trifles, pigs, puddings, mincemeat, sausages, succotash and cheeses. She roasted her chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, beef and venison, over the blazing lot fire on spits, or skewered them. When making her famous “Hasty Pudding” she set a dish of “Injun meal” on the hearth and from this took small fingerfuls and dropped the meal into the boiling pot, a few grains at a time. It had to be stirred the hour that it cooked. When it was done, she turned it into a “nappy” (as she called her vegetable dish) and served it with milk.
As bread is the staff of life, it is interesting to know how she baked her “rye-an-injun” bread. It was made of half rye and half Indian meal, the dough worked in a great wooden trencher and baked all day long on oak or cabbage leaves that lined the old brick oven. The long baking produced a very thick crust and made a delicious mean when softened with hot water and sweetened with maple syrup after a generous lump of butter had been added.
Her Johnny-cake or Journey-cake, was a quicker bread, baked either on her Johnny-cake board or on a smooth stone, tilted before the fire.
Corn was the staple food of the pioneers. They could hardly wait for the young roasting ears to mature, so eager were they for the delicious morsel. Popped cord was a delight. Parched corn was carried by every hunter in the wallet of his smock. It was light in weight, easy to carry and nutritious. Everyone who came through Kentucky was carrying his deer-hide sack of apple seed on his back. Thanks to him, there were good strains of apples for pioneer housewives, who used them freely during the summer and dried them for winter use.
When spring came, the pioneer woman betook herself to the woods and there sought the wild greens she called “sallats,” old field mustard, white top, lambs quarter, dandelions, poke, dock, sheep-sorrel, crowsfoot, parsley, tonguegrass, wild pepper, wild buckwheat, etc., and of these she made a savory dish.
The household utensils of the pioneer woman are as interesting as they were crude. For the most part they were of wood and the pioneer was an expert in his knowledge of woods and their uses.
Troughs were made of maple burl or of poplar, as were the piggins, with their single high stave to serve as handle and the noggins which had two, that connected by a deer throng, made a good bucket. The wooden tankard whittled from one piece of wood, was passed from mouth to mouth, as we pass our loving cup. In some places a huge wooden trencher made of some tasteless wood, was set in the middle of the crude table and each person at the table ate therefrom, but in Kentucky, the pioneer house wife demanded individual platters and the “dish-turner” became a person of consequence in each community. She prized these wooden utensils and in the settlement of estates we find listed her “skippet or dipper,” hr “skeel” and “losset,” (receptacles for holding her milk), her “noggins” and “piggins,” trenchers, bowls and platters, her tubs and wheels.
Wooden spoons, ladles, rolling-pins, butter paddles and pudding sticks, whittled from the lovely red cherry; mortars and pestles for pounding salt and sugar, and herbs and roots for medicines.
Her cheese press as well as her wooden churn with its wooden dasher and long wooden handle were her pride and delight.
Added to these utensils were her gourds which she grew to great size and used for egg gourds, salt gourds, spool gourds, knitting gourds and for every other conceivable purpose mentionable and unmentionable.
The pioneer woman had some silver, a few nice pieces of copper and quite a bit of pewter as well.
Next week: Pioneer’s Clothing Picturesque But Not Always Comfortable