With wedding bells just a few days away for my younger sister, this has been a busy time for my family, though I didn’t mean to drop off my blog completely last week! I am scurrying around in the kitchen as usual, and have many posts to bring to you soon. Stay tuned!
I was introduced to the book, Lark Rise to Candleford(authored by Flora Thompson) by the BBC version of the book. Having watched some of the series I knew I had to read the “real thing”. Flora Thompson description of growing up in a hamlet at the turn of the century is full of both dirt and beauty. I found these down to earth, joyful, non-sentimental people intriguing and I loved the descriptions of their cooking as well. I found much to admire and learn from these strong-limbed people.
But before we get to the food, let me briefly introduce you to the people and their life.
A Tough Group
The hamlet people were full of joy of life even though they were a half step away from poverty with no hope of ever getting ahead. They were the type of people who would drop everything to help a neighbor with a new baby. They didn’t want to “flinch” in life, but face it courageously. And they expected their children to do the same. The women would put their toddlers outdoors, running noses or not, and let them fight, play, and wander the daylong. It was a rough and tumble upbringing for sure, with sweet games of play, and flying fights, kicking feet and even cruel games.
It Was Better in the Past
These hardy people were the remnants of past traditions before the new world of machines and the Industrial Revolution. But they didn’t have it as well off as their grandparents and parents who had access to common ground, where they could raise animals and plant crops. The older houses in that Hamlet showed some of the prosperity of that former time with fine furnishing. In that day, all of the common land and been plotted off and now the men, instead of working for themselves, were paid a small amount to work for the farmer who owned the land.
With not as much freedom to raise crops and animals for themselves, these bright eyed, strong-armed, white teethed people managed to feed themselves. Here’s how.
“ The men took great pride in their gardens and allotments and there was always competition amongst them as to who should have the earliest and choicest of each kind. Fat green peas, broad beans as big as a halfpenny, cauliflowers a child could make an armchair of, runner beans and cabbage and kale, all in their seasons went into the pot with the poly-poly and slip of bacon. Then they ate plenty of green food, all home-grown and freshly pulled; lettuce and radishes and young onions with pearly heads and leaves like fine grass.”
They depended on their garden to survive and it sounds like they were quite successful at it as well. The main meal of the day was full of freshly picked garden produce. Every night, after working all day on the land, the men could be found working their garden. Or perhaps, hanging over the fence watching the beloved pig with a neighbor.
Every household had a pig. It was the main source of protein for them, and extremely important. They may not have common land anymore to raise a wide variety of animals, but they still had room a few feet away from their windows, for a pigsty. Its stench would make its way into the house at times, but they called it a “healthy smell” because for them it was. It was food to nourish.
Feeding the pig was a family affair. Everyone took part in gathering and feeding that family pig. All of the kitchen scraps would be given to the pig, and the children on the way home from school would gather armfuls of wild greens, acorns, and snails which the pig relished.
Once the pig was slaughtered, the fresh meat was shared among the neighbors and enjoyed in celebration in the house and the wife would get to work.
“Hams and sides of bacon were salted, to be taken out of the brine later and hung on the wall near the fireplace to dry. Lard was dried out, hog’s puddings were made, and the chitterlings were cleaned and turned three days in succession under running water, according to ancient ritual.”
Wild Food and other Foods
While the common ground was gone, they still had access to enough wild food for the children to pick and enjoy wild greens on the way to school (it was, after all a mile and a half long). And the mothers would pick wild berries to make into jams and wines for the yearlong. I would imagine then, that these housewives bought sugar to make their jams.
Eggs would sometimes to be found in their diet as well, if they were lucky enough to have their own fowl, or when egg prices were the cheapest in the year. While some families made a point to buy milk for their growing children, many did not. In fact, many did not even taste it, from the point of weaning until their death!
A heavy expense on their budget was bread, which they bought. But the women and children would glean the fields for wheat for making their own “Roly Polys” and such.
Their Daily Meals
Their one hot meal of the day generally consisted of a bit of bacon, green vegetables and potatoes from the garden and “Roly-Poly” a type of steamed bread, from what I can gather. Not everyone had an oven, so it was all cooked in one pot, the different cooking times accounted for by having each food cooked in separate nets and cloth and added at the appropriate time. The author claims that this did produce an appetizing meal, though so different from how we cook now.
For other meals, they often ate bread spread with butter on occasion or, more often, rosemary scented lard, which they relished. Sometimes the men would spread their serving with mustard as well, while the children would get a bit of treacle or dark brown sugar.
What I learned from the Hamlet People
While so much of that culture is long gone, there is still much I can learn from the Hamlet people. For example: 1) A joy in life, regardless of finances. 2) The fact that without computers, TV or Netflicks, one can spend the evening in the garden and have food to show for it. 3) Pigs are good for eating scraps and turning it into meat (but they are stinky).4) Simple food is okay.
I love learning about people (and in their food) in history. Thank goodness for books!