Friday, January 17, 2014

Our Forefathers' First Foray into Their New World

I will try to go into each of these subjects in detail as we go along.

They brought pigs with them: 
The pigs soon went wild, did serious damage to the natives' gardens, but were a perennial, though dangerous source of meat forever.  Pigs produce an amazing number of piglets, but can also consume your entire garden in a single night.  Letting pigs go wild might mean that you will have them around to hunt at no cost to you, but domesticated pigs can be controlled...Don't name them...Trust me on this!

They brought sugar:
 They brought sugar in large conical loaves.  You had to break off pieces, and grind it up to use it.  It was often impure, and dirty.  The "Indians"(as they were referred to at the time), soon taught them how to tap trees and boil the sap for sugar.  Everything you make will taste like maple, but I guess there are worse fates.  There are plenty of sugar crops available...beets, Stevia...some may be good survival crops for you to make your own sugar and to trade with others.  Sugar may seem trivial, but in the absence of refrigeration, it is a powerful preservative.  In just how many ways did the Native Americans SAVE OUR  ASSES?

Salt was precious: 
Salt has always been valuable.  It preserved everything from herbs in crocks to meat.  You can dry meat, but what if your summer is rainy?
Boil or evaporate sea water....God help you in areas where the sea is filled with junk and garbage!  Long Island might not be the best place to do this!  There are natural salt deposits all over the place.  Check out your county extension office or geology professor to see if any are in your area.  You cannot live without any salt at all.  Buy huge supplies if the time really comes when you need to be self sufficient and there are no local sources.  This is an often overlooked necessity.  Salt will not go bad as long as it does not dissolve.  It is a rock!  Do not try to eat salt that is used for snow melt.   Use sodium chloride, and other salts labeled for preservation of foods only.

  Not just for drinking...Another preservative, Rum became a staple in the colonies as soon as sugar cane plantations were in full swing in the Caribbean. 
Make alcohol from fruit of all kinds.  Tomatoes, apples, grapes, plums...even potatoes...all make good wine, then a still can be set up to make alcohol strong enough for a party, an antiseptic or for food preservation.  Wines and the must for making wine can be boiled down to make a sweet syrup.  Learn to make wine, cordials flavored with herbs and vodka and other alcohols.. 
Submerge small fruits in sweetened alcohol.  Fruit and fruit peels submerged in alcohol both preserve the fruit, but also flavor the alcohol like limoncello.

Chickens ducks and geese:
  Eggs...and more generations of poultry... are the main product here.  The meat is only available when the roosters get too large or numerous for the well being of the flock.  The feathers can be used to stuff pillows and feather beds.  Chickens stew well when they are too old to lay eggs.  They also forage for nuisance insects, and your yard will be relatively free of ticks and the such.   They will pick at vegetable scraps, grain, corn...what ever you have can go to them.  They need protection from predators and a place to roost and to nest.


  They brought the next season's gardens and grain crops in small casks and bags.  Seed was then saved for the following year, a portion of the crop set aside.  Seed can vary in preservation preferences.  Learn how to preserve seeds.  Buy heirloom seeds to begin with, for easier to grow and store varieties.

Fruit trees:

There are so many old varieties of fruit that preserve and store very well...Most modern fruits are not nearly as useful or as varied in flavor and uses.

  Many an apple tree, pear tree etc. were brought from door yards in England and France and grapes from France, Germany or Italy, to be planted in the New World garden or orchard.  Roots were wrapped when dormant, kept damp through the long voyage, and were probably in the ground before they built a shelter.  Fruit was often wormy and pretty ugly, but almost every piece of fruit can have a portion salvaged for canning etc.  Imperfect fruit is not the best to work with, but before pesticides, there was very little perfect fruit.  Be careful! 
Much fruit and some vegetables were dried on strings hanging near the fireplace..  some were cooked down into butters that lasted a while, and might be sweetened for longer term.  Jams and jellies were another product.  Wax or fat sealed the jars or crocks and a clean oiled paper, leather or cloth would be tied on the top to keep out beasties, debris, etc..

 One of the first things that colonists would do was search for a supply of clay.  Kilns were built, the clay refined and sieved through coarse cloth.  Some clay would only be suitable for one kind of red-ware or low fired pottery, while another might be good for stoneware or even for bricks for foundations and the walls of the houses.  Oyster shells or possibly fresh water clams might be ground to make mortar, or limestone might be used. (lime is also a good wood preservative.) Dry laid stone work can be very drafty.  A source of clay might also allow you to make cob.  This was a mixture of clay, sand and fibrous organic matter (like Straw) made into damp loaves and used to either build whole walls or fill in between timbers in post and beam houses or barns.  Well cared for cob can and has lasted for centuries if moisture is kept away.  Pottery that either has not been fired or only lightly fired can be used for dry storage.  Fired pottery can be used for cooking.  If it is fired high enough to stand heat shock, it can go directly into the fire, and even low fired pottery can be used for cooking by dropping hot rocks into the liquid in the pot.  (even baskets can be used this way if tightly woven.)  Porous, low fired pottery can be filled with liquid.  As the liquid sweats through the pottery and evaporates, it cools the liquid inside...sometimes quite significantly.   Ice can be made this way as well.

Ice houses were a common sight in early America, and even into the 1960s. I used to play in one of the last ones in our area as a child.  A room would be excavated from a hill or built up from more level land and an inner wall constructed in the room from timber, stone or brick.  It would be insulated with sawdust.  A funnel would be constructed of bricks leading down into the hill and draining outside into the surrounding land or a stream(possibly into an ornamental pool).  A ledge was constructed in the brick, near the inner mouth of the funnel below floor level, and a wagon wheel was dropped in on the ledge to hold the ice from dropping into the hole like a rather coarse sieve  The door was closed and much of the ice cut from ponds in the winter would be preserved for culinary use, preservation and for treatment of sprained ankles from carrying heavy ice blocks.  Layers of sawdust isolated blocks of ice from each other and insulated piles of ice from warmer air that might enter. These rooms were often used for vegetable and meat storage like root cellars which also were pretty common.  Another good skill to have.  It is especially valuable if you have a little spring running through it to help with cooling. (Not the ice house...a residential root cellar.  The ice house needed to be pretty air tight other than the drain.)  Remember that ice chests or ice boxes were in common use up till the 40s all over the US.  It worked,  not as a long term a storage solution as in  modern refrigeration, but it kept your milk and meat fresh for some time.

  Animal dung can be dried for fuel in small scale pottery and even cooking operations.

 Not everyone could afford to bring in cows and other livestock.  Possibly, someone with a pregnant wife might think of the expense for the access to milk.  There was a bit of the communist in the early groups, and those that did not share, often paid for their livestock in installments of goods returned to investors in the old world as their holdings prospered.  Cows are a big expense....and BIG as well.

  Goats make more sense for many people...They are a little feisty and more likely to climb on your bomb shelter roof than a cow.  They make pre-homogenized milk.  Cheese is easy to make...just fresh cheese with vinegar, sour fruit juice or thistle tea as a rennet substitute.  I will be sure to put a couple of recipes in the blog where appropriate.  Goats will eat almost anything organic and other things as well.  Other than docility, they are the best alternative for livestock.  If you do not mind the castrating of males,(castrating females would be silly I suppose.), meat from goats can be quite good.  Many of us have a prejudice against it.  I know I do, but many millions of people eat it every day. Goat curry can be quite good, and I once dumped some down Bill Cosby's back at an event in Philadelphia.  I wonder if he ever noticed...I think it dried pretty fast.
Goat hair is useful for fabrics and an alternative would be sheep's wool....Sheep...another meat and milk source...but dumb as a post!

Cheese...especially aged cheese can be a good source of salt.

Looms were brought over with the colonists, or made from local materials. So, we will have to discuss weaving sometime in this blog....Don't worry men...Sorry...He Men...weaving is traditionally a man's job....production weaving is a real job and it was thought to be something a woman could not handle in the past, at least on a large scale...the women just did all the other know all the stuff that was too difficult for men!  And they usually did it better.  Remember the old joke about Fred Astair?  Yeah he was good, but Ginger Rogers did just as well, but backwards and in high heels!  I bet that more women will survive than we expect if we have a doomsday....They are tough and they KNOW THINGS.  You men...try pulling something the size of a softball out of ANY opening in your body and survive it!  Lets not even discuss some tiny being, sucking the life out of your nipples...let alone adult men chewing on them for fun!

Horses need a higher stall than cows, so do not think that they are interchangeable.  You can house a cow in a horse barn, but not necessarily the other way around.  Horses are native to North America, but became extinct many thousands of years ago.  The Spanish reintroduced them to the continent.  They reacted much like the pigs that they and the other European settlers brought over.  The pigs reverted to very primitive forms, tusks, bristles, mean tempers all came out when the docile pigs got out of captivity.  Horses also reverted to more primitive forms, but at least the Spanish would still recognize them.  The elegant, spindly Arabians that were so prized by the Spanish and Moors, were probably in the minority.  The more likely arrival was probably a more serviceable breed from a number of sources.  In any event, the American Horse that developed was, and is, an extremely tough animal.
Early horses in Europe had been bred for a number of uses.  The Knights in the movies are usually shown charging at each other on average mustang or thoroughbred type horses.  But they would actually have ridden around on the huge, monster, working horses, that were common in farmyards even up to my youth.  Percherons, Clydesdales and similar horses were descended from these monster war horses.  It was just a coincidence and also their salvation, that they were suited for heavy labor.  One would perhaps ride around on a more familiar horse when not in armor. 
Women and the clergy(those not also fighting like knights) would ride smaller serviceable animals.

Over-bred horses can be very high strung.  Best to get yourself something like a mustang if possible.  You sometimes see them being removed from a wild life and offered to the public.  There are endless variations(breeds) of horses, and they will all have strengths and weaknesses.  I have a particular weakness for Morgans, but they would not do for farm work.  Try rescue agencies...if their personalities have not been ruined...or if you have a particularly patient personality, they can be a great animal and usually deserve to be saved.  Get advice, though, to get past their issues from poor handling, violence and neglect.
An average horse...a sturdy one...can do a little work, and often small famers had to use horses for many things in the course of the year.  With a small family and soft earth to till etc., you will make out fine.  But a real working horse needs to be big!  It is so easy to be cruel to a lovely animal by over working them and giving them tasks that will wear them out. 
Horses also need good nutrition and physical care to thrive.  A good horse-person would likely be happy to help you out in choosing and keeping horses. 
Remember that you cannot be overly sentimental about animals, so a reasonable work load and food husbandry is not to be confused with keeping a pet.  However....  You not only use them for your well being, but you also take care of them and make their lives bearable.  This brings me to a subject that is very important to me.  Animals are a lot of work, and require a lot of time and energy to keep.  Do not get even one animal if you do not plan to commit yourself.  Never...ever be cruel or neglectful to any animal.  Even FOOD animals deserve respect and decent care.  If you will be killing animals for your consumption, make it quick as living thing DESERVES to suffer at our hands...their lives are a great gift to us...make yourself worthy of that gift.

To be continued...



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