Stir up some history as you explore what Florida's pioneers ate at the turn of the century. Where did fruit, vegetables, and canned goods come from? How did rural Floridians preserve their food? What was in an 1890s kitchen?
Click on the video below to begin (available May 14). Then navigate through all the hands-on activities & worksheets below.
Click on the video below to begin. Then navigate through all the hands-on activities & worksheets below.
Activity 1: Introduction & Video
Video Link: https://youtu.be/XjFbFzUEQ6A
🍓 For your first activity, you will be comparing kitchen tasks today, with those of the late 1800s. Download and complete this worksheet in Paint: How To 1890s Kitchen
Activity 2: Growing What You Eat
The kitchen garden was an essential part of any homestead. The size of the garden depended on the size of the family; for reference, a ½ acre garden would feed a family of six. Typically the garden was fenced in to keep out pests and rows were made of straight lines for ease of use.
The act of gardening was considered a reliable and desirable form of exercise for Victorian Americans in search of improved health. It was touted as a cure for depression. Children were encouraged to garden in an effort to provide them with worthwhile outdoor exploits which would also cultivate a love of a variety of foods and nature itself. The garden remained primarily the responsibility of the women in the house, though.
Tools necessary for the kitchen garden were spade, rake, hoe, knife, planting stick or mechanical seeder, hand-weeding hook and pronged cultivator. Manure from horses, cows and pigs was the only form of fertilizer used.
In Florida, planting occurred in October after the threat of hurricanes had passed. The first items planted were celery, cabbage, carrots, beets, turnips and radishes.
Take a moment to plan your planting: A radish is a root vegetable that produces one root per plant. If a family of 10 eats 40 radishes a piece and each radish seed can be planted 1 inch apart within the row. How long of a row do we need for radishes? About 33 feet!
🍓 Now, open the Plan your Kitchen Garden Excel document and get to work! Count your vegetables as you plant them so you know how many you will have for the year.
Activity 3: Food Preservation
Much of the food that rural Floridians of the 1800s and early 1900s ate had been preserved. They did not have freezers to keep food from spoiling, and their iceboxes were not always an option for all their food. This meant that they had to preserve fruits and vegetables and smoke meat. Many rural Floridians had a smokehouse, where they would hang pieces of meat in order to expose them to a low fire and a lot of smoke, which would “cure” them. This meat could then last through the winter and much of the summer. Sometimes they would encase the meat in salt, which took the moisture out of it so it did not rot.
A salt vat is a large cast iron pot used for processing salt water into salt. A fire would be started under the vat, heating it to a high temperature. Then a homesteader would fill it up with Florida’s salt water and boil the water for hours until all the water has evaporated and you are left with fresh salt.
Canning was another common approach, used on fruit, vegetables, and even meat! Canning involves cooking the food, placing it inside a sealable container like a can or a jar, and then boiling the container itself to sterilize and seal. Fruit would frequently be made into jams or jellies as it was being preserved, vegetables were frequently pickled, and meat was frequently canned with gravy and seasoning herbs. Canned foods might even last years before it spoiled.
🍓: Head to your kitchen! How is the food in your home preserved? Today we have a lot of food preservation technologies that Floridians of the late 1800s and early 1900s didn’t, but we still use many of the same techniques they did. Make a list: can you find meats that are cured, meaning they were salted, smoked, or dried to preserve them? Can you find anything canned? What about pickled, or jellied? How many of the foods in your home are preserved using these traditional methods?
Activity 4: Unlikely Sources of Food
Florida pioneers learned how to eat some of the most unlikely and seemingly unappetizing plants. Like the Florida prickly pear, a spiny cactus that wards off potential pickers with some convincing weaponry. Both the plant and its reddish fruit were carefully stripped of needles, boiled and turned into an edible, if not always palatable, mash. However, the fruit of the cactus does make a tasty jelly.
Another example is the coontie. It served as one of the most important Cracker foods, producing a rich starch. It was used by early settlers as a substitute for the wheat flour they had grown accustomed to in their northern homelands. If the starch - made from the crushed tap roots of the plant - is not allowed to ferment for some time, it is poisonous.
General Stores sold everything from medicine, to fabric, housewares, garden tools, and food items – including coffee. Sometimes Coffee was made partially or entirely from roasting corn kernels. Roasted corn was a cheap substitute for coffee beans. It was a very popular crop during the time: it can be used as cornmeal in corn bread, ground into grits for breakfast, or stored inside a corn crib to dry then feed to farm animals.
After the Civil War, ordering from seed catalogs became the preferred way to obtain seeds and the seed companies (Burpee’s Rice’s, Ferry’s) began to offer their catalogs for free and awarded prizes for the largest vegetables grown with their seeds.
🍓 For your final activity, play Food Pictionary. Draw (on paper or in your imagination) each food item as your read the description of its color, texture, taste, smell, and size. Then compare your drawings to the actual food items. Okay, get started.
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