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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Old gardeners avoided
'feast or famine' route

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
You can tell by reading my columns that I am fascinated by how people got by before the invention of electricity, refrigeration and all the other modern conveniences we take for granted today. Through research, I find they somehow managed quite well.

My personal gardening experiences always seemed to take "the feast or famine" route where I suffered failure or had to give the surplus away before it ruined. The old-timers were smarter than I, and planted at intervals about two weeks apart, so that produce continued to grow and ripen on a regular basis.

Not only did they plant at intervals, but they double-cropped things like turnips, which filled their root cellars just before frost. Some crops like corn furnished early roasting ears for eating then made hard grain later for grinding. Turnips furnished delicious top greens and hardy below-ground vegetables later in the fall. The better and more detailed the planting, the more produce provided and preserved. Few rural families went hungry unless the ravages of weather destroyed their gardens.

During the early days of frontier settlement, most meat was derived from hunting wild game. If you needed meat, go hunting. Since most game was small pounds in edible meat, the carcass was consumed before spoilage occurred. Wild turkeys and geese filled in the lean times. After the wild game dwindled, domestic livestock were slaughtered for meat. Usually, this meant larger carcass weights and if not used quickly, part of it might be wasted. Large families or a large number of employees had no trouble consuming the product. Small families and a small number of employees had problems with meat spoilage, especially during the hot months. If a surplus occurred, the meat was trimmed into thin strips and smoked over a fire to preserve. Winter supplies of meat were no problem as cool nights and cold weather prevented spoilage. Merely hang it above the varmints' reach.

One interesting solution, uncovered in interviews with old-time settlers in Montana, told of two neighboring ranchers joining together to prevent meat spoilage. In the book "The Ranchers" by Stan Steiner, we learn that often two ranchers joined forces during the hot months whereby one butchered a small beef one week, sharing half with his neighbor. The next week, the neighbor butchered a small beef sharing one half in return.

I imagine on a certain day like a Saturday, the rancher not butchering, sent a wagon over to the neighbor to pick up his share. The next week the opposite occurred. If garden produce was available, this was also shared. Careful planning and scheduling took care of transportation and sharing. Probably, each spring the original planning was agreed on and written on a calendar and carried out to perfection. This planning also provided a guide to having the proper size livestock on hand for slaughter.

I am amazed at the math involved maintaining the quality and amounts of beeves needed to carry out the plan. This plan would require 24 small beeves over a five- or six-month period. The trust and honesty required in such an agreement would probably be impossible in our modern world.

Delbert Trew

"It's All Trew" >

December 1, 2006 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.
 
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