Friday, November 17, 2017

Wagon Traffic Jams and Stop signs

I was at the Salt & Straw Ice-cream shop in Portland with a group of friends. When we finished with our treat we stepped out to cross the street. Like most folks, we used the crosswalk and lo-and-behold the vehicles stopped to let us pass.

How did the cars know to stop and wait for us to get across?
When were crosswalks invented?

After reading all about The Manure Crisis, I was intrigued and went after the answer.

Phelps was 40 when he made his first move to fix the traffic issues.

Thanks to William Phelps Eno (1858-1945) we crossed in relative safety about a hundred and seventeen years after he made his mark on society. Stop signs and crosswalks are easy and known by all who learn to drive. And they are enforced by the law. But how did they get there? Can you imagine thinking up traffic rules before there was such a thing?

It all began when he was nine years old.

He was out on the town with his mother, when they were caught in a traffic jam comprised of no more than a dozen horses and carriages. He observed that it wasn’t that many vehicles, but no one knew what to do.

Here are a few of the things Phelps began:

Stop sign
Pedestrian cross walk
Traffic circle
One-way streets
Taxi stands
Pedestrian islands

The first stop signs were black and white not red. This one is from 1925

He is know for implementing his plan in New York, London, and Paris.

First roundabout in UK was in Letchworth in 1909

Taxi stands were made for this kind of taxi.

But there was still the obstacle of getting the news out to the public and getting the rules enforced.

No social media back then.

He created his changes with his pen.

Yup. You heard me. His pen.

He wrote an article in 1900 that was published titled, “Reform on Our Streets Traffic Urgently Needed.” Being published in the paper made him an instant expert and authority on the subject and led to the first written transportation policy in 1903.

Interesting fact:
The Father of Traffic Safety never drove a car.

William Phelps Eno never was comfortable with cars. He thought they were a passing fad and stuck to riding horseback. If he did find the need to drive in a car somewhere, he hired a chauffeur. He ended up with a drivers license, but it was an honorary gift not one he earned.

Eno's guidelines were just in time since Henry Ford established Ford Motor Company in 1901.
I wonder what he would think of our super highways and intersections if he could see them now?

I wonder if it would be possible to make such a culture-changing observation these days? Inventions yes… but can you think of something that would universally affect everyone for the better? Gotta love innovators. 

If you've made it this far, I'd like to tell you about something new. I started a podcast. If you are a podcast listener and you need a dose of joy-meets-common sense come on over to Life Caraphrased. 

CaraGrandle is a Historical Romance Novelist who prefers to write about the early settlers of the Pacific Northwest. Think trappers and loggers and scroungy backed woodsmen. She is represented by the Steve Laube Agency. Cara leads the author4TheAuthor writers group on Facebook, home to 190 writers. Together they're pressing back on busy and making a space for their dreams. Cara hosts a Writers Encouragement show weekly on Periscope. The show is on Tuesday mornings at 9:00am PST. Cara's Periscope show includes live, interactive author-interviews with leading Christian fiction novelists, editors, publicist and agents under the handle @CaraGrandle.

Cara is currently out on submission. Follower her journey on her Facebook author page.

Prayers much appreciated. Smile.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Culinary Arts, Part II - Colonial Era

It's hard to believe an entire month has passed, and it's time to share Part II of my Culinary Arts post. A quick recap...

In September, I attended a luncheon at my alma mater, East Central Community College (ECCC). The event was hosted by the Culinary Arts program and was part of the students' mid-term exam.

The event was divided into four eras, the Muskogean Era, which I blogged about last month, (Click HERE to read last month's post), the Colonial Era (today's post), and in coming months I'll share photos and recipes from the Civil War and the Civil Rights Eras.

So, let's get started!

The Colonial Period Menu

Colonial Era Food in a Pleasing Display
Left: Peanut Soup with a bowl of peanuts in front, Cover Pottery (sorry!) I'm pretty sure that was the Apple Tansey, Center back: Ranch House Stew & Three Day Buns (basket in rear), Right front: Chicken & dumplings, Far right: Black eyed peas. If you read last month's blog, you'll notice a huge difference in the cookery. Right? According to, the Colonial Period is the period between1607-1776, so cast iron pots, kettles, and skillets were becoming more common and affordable during this time, so the wooden trenchers and cornhusk wraps that were the norm in the Muskogean Era have given way to cast iron.

Students and Guests Lining up for the Feast of the Eras!

Students in Period Garb Serving Their Guests

The Colonial Period Menu with a serving of each dish.

9 o'clock: Apple Tansey; 12 o'clock: Peanut Soup; 3 o'clock: Ranch House Stew; 6 o'clock: Three Day Sourdough Buns

Oh, and Sweet Tea all around, regardless of the era.

Now, let's talk about each of these dishes in turn. The chicken and dumplings were a bit bland but the texture was perfect. Some of us are used to over seasoning in this day and age, so dinner guests would have cleaned their plates. Beans were spicy. I skipped the black eyed peas as I couldn't sample everything, and those are still staples down in Mississippi to this day. I wanted to try the more exotic foods I'd never heard of.

Which leads us to the Peanut Soup and Apple Tansey.

Peanut Soup

I was leery of the Peanut Soup. I just couldn't imagine what that could taste like. However, it was surprisingly good for the small serving that I took. But I'm not sure I would want to eat a huge bowl of it.

When I make soup or stew, my family eats it as a meal. Maybe in the Colonial Era, they ate Peanut Soup as a meal, or possibly they ate it more as an appetizer in small amounts. Also, you'll notice that it was thick... not peanut-butter thick, but mashed potatoes thick. It tasted slightly sweet and peanutty, but not overly so. In the words of Goldilocks, it was "just right". 

Here's Colonial Williamsburg's Cream of Peanut Soup recipe. While it might not be exactly what Mr. Karrh's class served, I daresay it's quite close. And... if you decide to make Cream of Peanut Soup, go to the Colonial Williamsburg site and download your own recipe card.

Image/s Courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation or All rights reserved.


In a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring often, until softened, three-five minutes.

Stir in flour and cook two minutes longer.

Pour in the chicken stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until slightly reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Pour into a sieve set over a large bowl and strain, pushing hard on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible. Return the liquid to the sauce pan or pot.

Whisk the peanut butter and the cream into the liquid. Warm over low heat, whisking often, for about five minutes. Do not boil.

Serve warm, garnished with the chopped peanuts.

Apple Tansey

Apple Tansey as prepared by the ECCC Culinary Arts Students

The Apple Tansey was a nice light dessert, sort of like apple dumplings but not as rich, and in our case, was served cold, not hot. The recipe found at Colonial Williamsburg sounds thicker with more of a pancake texture than the dumpling like deep-dish Apple Tansey the culinary arts students served. Either way, it's a nice sweet compliment to end a meal of Peanut Soup and Ranch House Stew.

To make Apple Tansey, take three pippins, slice them round in thin slices, and fry them with butter; then beat four eggs, with six spoonfuls of cream, a little rosewater, nutmeg, and sugar; stir them together, and pour it over the apples; let it fry a little, and turn it with a pye-plate. Garnish with lemon and sugar strew'd over it. The Compleat Housewife' book, published London in 1754

Rosser 1954 Roger Griffith, Public Domain (Wikipedia)
I was curious where the name Apple Tansey originated from and did more research. Tansy is a perennial, herbaceous flowering plant of the aster family, native to temperate Europe and Asia. It has been introduced to other parts of the world including North America, and in some areas has become invasive. It is also known as common tansy, bitter buttons, cow bitter, or golden buttons. The leaves or stalks of the Tansy plant are used as an ingredient when they are young, tender and not fully matured. They are chopped into small bits to be prepared for salads, savory meat fillings and stuffings, egg dishes, custards, and cakes.

While none of the recipes I found contained tansy, based on this description of the herb, it's very likely early versions of the dish did contain tansy, hence the name of the dish.

Click here a printable recipe card for Apple Tansey from Colonial Williamsburg. The Colonial period as well as the Muskogean Era were interesting to me since my Natchez Trace Novel Series is set in the 1790s. My characters are of European, African, Natchezian, and Choctaw descent, so Banaha, Fry Bread, Peanut Soup, and Apple Tansey as well as wooden chargers and the coveted cast iron pots and kettles would be part of their daily lives.

Have you ever heard of Apple Tansey or Peanut Soup? Ever tasted either?

The Promise of Breeze Hill is set in 1791 Natchez Territory. With a wide range of characters with ties to the Spanish, French, British, Choctaw, African, and Irish, the food served would have been a bit more varied than what was available during the Muskogean era. The serving pieces would be more in line with the Colonial era, with cast iron being coveted cookware, but there would still be some overlap from the Muskogean era on the table, especially when the cook was of Choctaw, Chickasaw, or Natchez descent.

CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of.

Join Pam next month on the 16th for a look into the Culinary Arts of the Civil War Era in the South.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mid-Month Madness Book Party

It's time for our November Mid-Month Madness Book Party, so lets celebrate. We are giving away prizes here on the blog and on our FB party event at this link. The FB party will start at 3:00 pm EST and go until 6:30. You'll have a chance to talk with each of these great HHH authors.

Anita Mae Draper

The American Heiress Brides Collection

Meet nine young women in America between
1866 and 1905 who have been blessed by fortunes made in gold, silver, industry, ranching, and banking. But when it comes to love, each woman struggles to find true love within a society where “first comes money, second comes marriage.” What kind of man can they trust with their greatest treasure—their hearts?

Includes SWEET LOVE GROWS by Anita Mae Draper: The illegitimate daughter of a wealthy sugar manufacturer faces eviction and the loss of her inheritance when a handsome by-the-books attorney produces a vindictive legal heir. Can sweet love grow in spite of the odds?

Giveaway: Anita is giving away a copy of The American Heiress Brides Collection. To enter, comment on this post.

Kathleen Rouser

Secrets and Promises

Stone Creek, Michigan, April, 1901 Maggie Galloway and Thomas Harper clash after their sons collide in a fistfight. Both widowed, they’re each doing their best as single-parents. Outgoing Maggie has dreams for a home of her own and a business to provide for her son as she searches for God’s path for her life as a widow. Reserved Thomas struggles to establish his new pharmacy and take care of his four rambunctious children, while wondering how a loving God could take his beloved wife.
When Thomas becomes deathly ill, Maggie is recruited to nurse him back to health. Taking the children in hand, as well, is more than she bargained for, but she is drawn to help the grieving family. Both nurse and patient find themselves drawn to each other but promptly deny their feelings. 

A baking contest sponsored by the Silver Leaf Flour Company brings former beau, Giles Prescott, back into Maggie’s life. When Giles offers Maggie a position at their test kitchen in Chicago, he hints that, along with assuring her a good job, it will allow them to possibly rekindle their relationship. 

But then a charlatan comes to town, and tragedy soon follows. Maggie and Thomas discover the miracle potions he hawks aren’t so harmless when an epidemic hits Stone Creek. Thomas and Maggie realize they must work together to save lives.

Maggie finds herself caught up in battles within and without—the battle to help the townsfolk in the midst of illness and chicanery, and the battle to know which man—Thomas or Giles—deserves to win her heart.

Giveaway: Kathleen is giving away a copy of her novel, Rumors and Promises. To enter, comment on this post.

Amber Schamel

Solve by Christmas

When sabotage threatens the Rudin Sugar Factory, Detective Jasper Hollock believes this will be his first real case. But dear Mr. Rudin—the only father Jasper has ever known—holds a different assignment for his private investigator. 

“I’ve struck a deal with God, Jasper, and you’re my angel.” 

Mr. Rudin charges Jasper to build a “case” of reasons for his employer to continue his life. If he fails, Mr. Rudin will end it in suicide on Christmas night. 

As the incidents at the factory become life threatening, Jasper’s attempts at dissuading Mr. Rudin prove futile, and Jasper is left staring at the stark reality of his own soul. Time is ticking. Jasper must solve both cases by Christmas before Mr. Rudin, the company, and Jasper’s faith, are dragged to perdition. Will this be the Christmas Jasper truly discovers what makes life worth living? 

“Amber Schamel's engaging prose weaves together not one, but two edge-of-your-seat threads in this historical mystery. With the hero racing against time to solve the two cases readers will be kept guessing as they attempt to crack the case. “  ~ Laura V. Hilton author of Christmas Admirer (Whitaker House)

The Swaddling Clothes 

Through the ages, men have told many stories about Mary, Joseph, and the birth of the Messiah. Stories of shepherds and sheep, kings, angels, and stables. But one story no one has ever told. One story hidden in the fabric of time. The story of The Swaddling Clothes. 

Mentioned not once, but several times in the Scriptural text, what is the significance of these special cloths? And how did they make their way into a stable in Bethlehem? From the author that brought you the Days of Messiah series comes a whole new adventure critics are calling "intriguing...thought provoking... a fresh twist on an age old story."

"A surprisingly sweet treasure that deftly weaves fiction and Scripture." 

"I get tired of Bible stories sometimes, but The Swaddling Clothes brings the story to life."

"Heartwarming...truly inspired. A story you will want to read again and again. Rich details and a suspenseful plot will keep you reading while giving you a glimpse of God's wonderful power and His amazing love." 

Giveaway: Amber is giving away an eBook of each of her titles. Comment on this post for a chance to win.

Debbie Lynne Costello

Shattered Memories 

The Charleston earthquake has left destruction like nothing Doctor Andrew Warwick has ever seen. On a desperate mission to find the lady who owns his heart, he frantically searches through the rubble, where he finds her injured and lifeless. After she regains consciousness, the doctor’s hopes are quickly dashed as he realizes she doesn’t remember him. Things only get worse when he discovers she believes she’s still engaged to the abusive scoundrel, Lloyd Pratt. Now Drew is on a race with the wedding clock to either help her remember or win her heart again before she marries the wrong man.

Waking in a makeshift hospital, Olivia Macqueen finds herself recovering from a head injury. With amnesia stealing a year of her memories, she has trouble discerning between lies and truth. When her memories start returning in bits and pieces, she must keep up the charade of amnesia until she can find out the truth behind the embezzlement of her family’s business while evading the danger lurking around her.

Giveaway: Debbie is giving away winner's choice of her novels: Shattered Memories, Sword of Forgiveness, or Sword of the Matchmaker. Comment on this post for a chance to win.

Nancy J. Farrier


Yoana Armenta’s reckless behavior results in her being captured by bandoleros, Yoana fears her impulsive nature has caused irreparable disaster. Amado Castro gave a death bed promise that he intends to keep – at all costs - even if he must break a childhood vow. When his choice endangers Yoana’s life, he struggles with the decision to honor his word, or to protect Yoana, whom he has come to care for more than he could have imagined. Now as the bandoleros threaten to sell Yoana and her tía to a fate worse than death, and the rancheros want to hang Amado, they must make choices. Will they trust God, or will they do what seems right to them?

Giveaway: Nancy is giving away copy of Bandolero. To enter, leave a comment.




J.M. Hochstetler


The Return

Jakob Hochstetler’s refusal to take up arms against the Indians who attacked his Amish family’s home on the Pennsylvania frontier during the brutal raids of the French and Indian War cost the lives of his wife and two of his children. Carried away with his younger sons, Jakob is enslaved by the Seneca, while Joseph and Christian are adopted into different divisions of the Lenape tribe.

As the boys struggle to adapt to new lives, Jakob plots a perilous escape in spite of overwhelming odds against succeeding. But even if he can get away, could he survive a harrowing journey over the hundreds of miles of rugged terrain that lie between him and his Northkill community? Does home still exist? Are his older son and daughter, Johannes and Barbara, still alive? Will he ever find his boys and bring them home?


Tamera Lynn Kraft

A Christmas Promise

A Moravian Holiday Story, Circa 1773
During colonial times, John and Anna settle in an Ohio village to become Moravian missionaries to the Lenape. When John is called away two days before Christmas to help at another settlement, he promises he'll be back by Christmas Day.

When he doesn't show up, Anna works hard to not fear the worst while she provides her children with a traditional Moravian Christmas.

Through it all, she discovers a Christmas promise that will give her the peace she craves.

Giveaway: Tamera is giving away a copy of one of her novellas: A Christmas Promise or Resurrection of Hope. Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win.
The winners will be announced November 17th. The contest ends at Midnight EST on November 16th.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

For the Love of History

Gabrielle Here:

I've always been fascinated with history, since the time I can remember. When I was little, and learned about the Civil War era, I begged my mother for a hoop skirt and gown. My sister and I repeatedly embarrassed our older brothers by parading about in our historical garb, with our horrible southern accents (I was born and raised in Minnesota, so you can about imagine how bad it sounded), when their friends were around.

As I grew older, I fell in love with historical fiction. For the space of a few hours, I could immerse myself in the times and places that so captured my imagination. No longer was I living and breathing the 1860's. After I discovered my love for books, I was a princess in a medieval fortress, a lady-in-waiting in Queen Victoria's court, a brave pioneer on the American Frontier, a gold-digger in the California hills, and a young woman coming of age in a charming turn-of-the century Midwestern town. The options were endless and I reveled in them.

Here I am sitting near the Lindbergh piano, portraying
Evangeline Lindbergh (Aviator Charles A. Lindbergh's
Mother) in a living history event at the
Lindbergh Historic Site.
I went on to work at a historic site, and later a county historical society. I delved deep into the history of my own hometown on the banks of the Mississippi River, and I swam with abandon. I sang with the voyageurs as they plied the lakes and rivers, I shot the rapids with Zebulon Pike on his search for the headwaters, I stood on the lookout with Chief Hole-in-the-Day as he watched the white men come into his region, I rejoiced and cried with the men and women who toiled to start my hometown, I balanced on the billions of logs as they floated downriver to the mills, and I waved toward the sky when Charles A. Lindbergh, our hometown boy, became a national hero and world-renown pilot. The stories of these brave men and women, many of them as common and ordinary as me, did extraordinary things with the time and resources they were given.

These people from the past began to speak to my heart, and I longed to tell their forgotten stories. People who lived, fought, and sometimes died so I could enjoy the "simple" luxuries of life. They harnessed the falls in the Mississippi for power to cut logs, mill grain, and ultimately produce electricity. They cleared, leveled, and paved roads so I can drive down the street with ease. They constructed bridges, so I can effortlessly traverse the wild Mississippi River several times a day. They hauled thousands of wagon loads of dirt to fill a massive ravine, so commerce could fill our downtown, and make life easier for all of us. They designed the courthouse, with its high tower, and built it from local, handmade brick, and did it all before modern technology produced skid steers and power tools. The list goes on and on.

As I discovered all these things, and began to share my love of history with those around me, I realized that most people think of history as dry and boring. To me, it's anything but boring! History is alive, it's active, it's dangerous and fierce. History allows us to look at the past from a place of safety and step into the shoes of the people who lived it out. It teaches us lessons on what to do and what not to do. It's full of wisdom, insight, and experience.

When I was in college, it became my deepest desire to tell the stories of the men and women forgotten by history. I don't want to retell the stories we all know so well; I wanted to resurrect the names and places of people that didn't make it into the textbooks. The stories I love telling are found in old letters, dusty journals, faded photographs, and yellowed newspapers. Their stories are like buried treasures, waiting to be discovered and unearthed, full of untold riches for those lucky enough to find them. 

One of those stories was told in my novel, A Family Arrangement, which released with Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical (LIH) line last December. A second came when Inherited: Unexpected Family released in September with LIH, and the third is found in The Gift of Twins, which releases this December with LIH. All of these stories are inspired by real people, places, and events in my hometown's history--and they are just a morsel of the stories I long tell.

Your Turn: What are some true stories you've heard about your hometown? What do you love about history? What's your favorite era? How were you first introduced to history?

Gabrielle Meyer lives in central Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi River with her husband and four children. As an employee of the Minnesota Historical Society, she fell in love with the rich history of her state and enjoys writing fictional stories inspired by real people and events. Her next novel, The Gift of Twins, releases with Love Inspired Historical in December 2017.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

A Different Kind of War

By Andrea Boeshaar

When I began researching my novel Lily’s Dilemma, for the “My Heart Belongs” series from Barbour Publishing, I was surprised to learn that the War of 1812 is often referred to as the Second War of Independence. During this two year conflict, we were fighting against British constraints on American trade so the war was largely fought at sea, although our Capitol and the Presidential Mansion were burned and our harbors at Baltimore and Alexandria attacked. Moreover British ships were confiscating American vessels and impressing Americans into serving in His Majesty’s Royal Navy—a practice that enraged Americans all the more.

It was, in fact, the spark which touched off the war, according to many experts.

Impressment was a practice by the British Royal Army in which British soldiers forced men into service on its warships. Impressment became a necessary means of recruitment due to Britain’s war with France, prior to the French Revolution. The “impress service,” which were no more than thugs, trolled ports

and captured those they felt would make fine additions to HMS Royal Navy. Quite often it was Americans 
who were impressed into service—against their will. 

Little wonder that the practice of impressment conflicted with the newly formed United States whose very foundation hinged upon individual freedoms as described in the Declaration of Independence. Meanwhile, impressed Americans suffered brutalities, degradation, and horrible living conditions. The government of the United States made known it would not stand for it. But out at sea, private merchant vessels were particularly vulnerable because they offered practiced sailors and valuable cargo. One may wonder how Britain got away with it. The answer lies with the vague laws on the High Seas at the time which allowed Britain to continue with its impressment practice, so American diplomats’ outcry went ignored.

Not many novels are set against the backdrop of the War of 1812. When they
are, the practice of impressment is often romanticized. Some authors either don’t enjoy doing research or they fear their stories many sound like textbooks, and novelists avoid that pitfall like the plague. I have only read (and thoroughly enjoyed) only one series of novels set during the War of 1812. The books were written by MaryLu Tyndall, one of my favorite authors. She does her research and, for this series, inserted her characters into a very realistic setting based on known facts. Ms Tyndall’s imagination was sharp enough to fill in the blanks and make her story wholly fiction and hardly a boring textbook. That said, the goal of most novelists is to touch our readers’ hearts with our stories. My goal as a writer goes even further. I aim to pepper enough historical truths into my stories to satisfy any history lover, while striving to show faith in Christ in action. I’ve learned the only way to accomplish this is to delve into research and then write unabashedly.

What about you? How much do you know about the War of 1812?


Andrea Boeshaar has been married for nearly 40 years. She and her husband

have 3 wonderful sons, 1 beautiful daughter-in-law, and 5 precious grandchildren. Andrea’s publishing career began in 1994. Since then, 31 of her books have gone to press. A little known fact about Andrea is that she is a college student, finishing her Bachelor of Arts degree with an emphasis in Business Management from Concordia University-Wisconsin. Back in the year 2000, Andrea cofounded ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and served on its Advisory Board for a number of years. Presently, Andrea is a member of her local ACFW chapter. She also serves as the secretary for the CAN organization (Christian Authors Network). In 2007, Andrea earned her certification in Christian Life Coaching and she’s now the co-president of the newly-founded Steeple View Ministries, a world-wide organization focused on eradicating illiteracy.

For more information, log onto her website:
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Follow her on Twitter: @AndreaBoeshaar

Lily's Dilemma, a historical novel

Journey into the Shenandoah Valley of 1816 where...
With Very Little Left of the Family Farm, Lily May be Forced into a Loveless Marriage.

Captain McAlister “Mac” Albright has purchased land in the Shenandoah Valley. However, the land belongs to Lillyanna Laughlin—or so she erroneously thinks. Mac sets her straight and despite a poor start, the two become friends. . .if only he were financially stable to offer her more.

When Lily’s life is threatened and his whole future goes up in flames, Mac truly becomes a man without means, and Lily is forced to make the impossible choice between a loveless marriage with a man twice her age or the man who has shown her what true love could be. How can she choose between love and economic security? Her family is depending on her. Is her heart destined to break?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Preserving the Harvest in the 1800s

A footnote from history by Stephanie Grace Whitson

I knocked on the neighbor's door and held up a sprig of something I'd just cut from a bush growing wild along our country road. When the elderly farm woman (who would become a dear friend) came to the door I asked, "If I make jelly from this, will I poison my family?"

She chuckled. "Well, honey ... what do you think that is?"

I looked at the smooth-skinned red fruit. "I think it's chokecherries, but I'm not sure. We picked gooseberries and blackberries on my Grandpa's farm in Illinois ... but I don't remember chokecherries."

My friend nodded. "Yes, that's chokecherries. But they aren't ripe." In July, my family drove the country roads near our acreage, the children and I hopping out the side door of the mini-van when Dad came to a stop, filling buckets with ripe chokecherries. We were following in the steps of thousands of pioneer women who not only planted vast gardens but also spent hours harvesting and preserving wild fruits and berries, roots and plants. 

Mattie Oblinger's letters
are a treasure to researchers
longing to know about the
everyday life of a pioneer woman.
What did pioneer women grow? How do we know? One way we know is by reading their letters. Martha (Mattie) Virginia Thomas Oblinger and her husband, Uriah, homesteaded in Fillmore County, Nebraska. In 1873, Mattie wrote her family, "I set a hundred and thirty cabbages last week." In another letter, she mentioned squashes, cucumbers, mellons [sic], beans, potatoes, and beet seed. "We have the nicest patch of early rose potatoes in the neighborhood. Uriah bought 10 bushel ... I have nice tomato plants coming on ... I want to set more." ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY cabbages?!! Ten BUSHELS of seed potatoes? And Mattie considered that a "nice patch"?!!! 

A pioneer family shows off their garden bounty.
Nebraska State Historical Society nbhips 10957
Of course all that garden produce had to be preserved. Thanks to one John Mason, who invented a jar with a screw-on lid in 1858, pioneer women could preserve their food in glass jars. That canning jar revolutionized food preservation. In an interview published in Nothing to Tell: Extraordinary Stories of Montana Ranch Women, Marie Walker Converse told Donna Gray, "I canned ninety quarts of peas the first summer ... "

Prior to the invention of the canning jar, food was dried to preserve it. ("You slice the pumpkin around in circles, take the seeds out, peel it, and hang it on a stock crosswise of the joists of the house. Let it hang there until it dries. Then store it in sacks. You have to cook it several hours, and season it with hog meat and grease"). Leather Breeches Beans were created by stringing beans with a needle and strong thread and hanging up in the warm air until dry. "Store in a bag until ready to use." "I never canned carrots; we could keep them down in our basement. Put them down there, put sand over them and they kept real well. And rutabagas, lovely potatoes and onions, and oh, so many string beans."

Cabbages and potatoes might also be buried in a dirt trench and then covered with straw and dirt. Cabbage might also be layered in a crock, alternating chopped cabbage with salt. "When the jar is filled, cover the cabbage with a clean white cloth or a saucer. Then place a flat flint rock or other weight on top to hold the cabbage under the brine that will naturally form." Once canning was possible, the next step would have been to portion out the sauerkraut and can it, but "old timers used to leave the cabbage" in the crocks. 

In 1873, Mattie Oblinger wrote, "I have 8 dozen cucumbers up." I don't know what kind of pickles she made, but I can imagine stoneware crocks lined up in her kitchen and the aromas of vinegar and onions in the air. I've made my share of watermelon pickles, dill pickles, zucchini pickles, cinnamon cucumbers, and relish. But in all my years of pickling, I doubt I've gone through the number of cucumbers Mattie's garden yielded in one growing season.

I remember my mother topping dozens of jars of jelly with a layer of melted paraffin (wax).  

My mother's Bread & Butter Pickle recipe is relatively easy and definitely time tested, although it assumes basic "pickle & canning knowledge." Born in 1913, my mother knew life without electricity and indoor plumbing and remembered old fashioned "ice boxes" and storing canned food and potatoes in the root cellar beneath the farm house. 

Nora's Bread & Butter Pickles 
1 quart sliced cucumbers 
slices of onion 
1 cup vinegar 
1 cup sugar 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon white mustard seed 
1 teaspoon celery seed 
1 teaspoon turmeric 
Put all ingredients, except cucumbers, in enameled pan and let come to light boil. Add cucumbers, let come to boil. Boil 1 minute. Pack in sterilized jars. Seal while hot. Process 10 minutes at simmering temperature.

Do you preserve summer's bounty? What's your favorite home-canned food? Jelly or jam? 

In my novel Sixteen Brides (Bethany House Publishers) band together on a Nebraska homestead. Learning about early gardening enabled me to write the passage below. While I love writing about pioneer women, I'm very grateful I don't have to adopt their workload.

"They planted pumpkins, squash and melons, all of it without plowing. Ella slit the soil, and Caroline walked behind her, a bag of seed at her waist as she bent and tucked seeds into the slots. The planted corn that way, too. Five acres to start with, although Ella had plans for at least twenty ... By the end of that first week they'd set out over a hundred cabbages.They planted onions and carrots, parsnips, beets, and peas. Nancy Darby brought them tomato seedlings, and they planted those close to the house inside wire cages lest a jackrabbit nibble the tender plants off. They planted lettuce and radishes, turnips and cucumbers ..."

To celebrate their first growing season on their homestead, my ladies host a harvest celebration on their place. Read more here: