As I looked through cookbooks of food preparation in the 1800s, it seems that women of the American frontier did likewise. Here are a few tidbits I gathered...
"The quality of butter depends very much upon the kind of cows. Those who give a great deal of milk, are usually small and thin. Every cow should have a tea-cup full of salt each week, and must be well fed. Green cornstalks and carrots are excellent for cows. Turnips, cabbage, and parsnips spoil the milk.
Two particulars are indispensable to success in making a good butter; the first is, that the churning be frequent so that the cream will not grow bitter, or sour; and the second is cleanliness in all implements and processes connected with it.
In hot weather it is important to keep the milk, cream, and butter as cool as possible. For this purpose, those who have no ice-house or very cool milk-room, hang their cream down a well.
After the weather gets cold, the cream rises more perfectly after allowing the milk to stand say ten or eleven hours, to set it over a furnace a while till it is warmed through, but not heated hot enough to boil. Then take it back, let it stand eleven hours longer and skim it. This secures more, and better cream.
Do not use the hand in working over the butter, as it injures it so much that a higher price is often paid for butter made without using the hand. A wooden spade made for the purpose is the proper article for working over butter." (Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book, 1856)
Yellow or brownish colored eggs are mostly produced by hens of Southern breed, and the white alabaster egg, by Northern breeds. (Home Studies, 1856)
To tell good from bad; put eggs in water in a vessel with a smooth level bottom, but reject those which stand on end as bad. If eggs gurgle when shaken gently, they are “totally depraved.” (Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, 1877)
Eggs were preserved by several methods.
In lime-water ~ One pint of coarse salt, and one pint of unslacked lime, to a pailful of water. If there be too much lime, it will eat the shells from the eggs; and if there be a single egg cracked, it will spoil the whole. The yolk becomes slightly red, but I have seen eggs, thus kept, perfectly sweet and fresh at the end of three years. (The American Frugal Housewife, 1832)
Rubbed with fresh butter or dipped in liquid mutton-suet or beef suet, hung in a net, and daily turned upside down. (Home Studies, 1856)
Eggs are preserved longer by packing them close, standing them on their small ends. (Miss Beechers’s Domestic Receipt-Book, 1856)
Good flour adheres to the hand, and, when pressed, shows the imprint of the lines of the skin. Its tint is cream white. Never buy that which has a blue-white tinge. Poor flour is not adhesive, can be blown and easily, and sometimes has a dingy look, as though mixed with ashes. (Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, 1877)
It is estimated that one barrel of flour will last one person one year, which gives a rule of proportion by which to buy. (The Boston Cook Book, 1884)
Flour…of old mixed with plaster of Paris, ground bones, and potato-starch—thanks to the cheapening of pure materials, has come to content itself with alum only. (The New Cyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1872)
A girl learned as she helped at her mother’s side. A missed step, an unclean utensil, could easily end up spoiling the food and undoing hours of work. I supposed it could undo even more time if one takes into account the feeding and care of the cow or the hens. The more I learn of how difficult life was for women on the frontier, the more I appreciate my modern conveniences—especially the refrigerator and the supermarket!