Recently I came across a fascinating book titled "Lost Skills of the 19th Century: A Practical Guide to a Variety of Useful Arts No Longer Widely Known or Practiced".
The author has taken a common task for every year of the 19th century, and provided an excerpt from a contemporary source describing how to accomplish it. It's a series of vignettes of a way of life long past. It's also a sobering lesson in how hard our forefathers had to work in areas that today we take for granted. For example, they had to preserve meat through the winter by doing it all themselves, whereas we rely on freezers, cans, etc., avoiding all the drudgery.
I've selected a few of the tasks addressed in the book for your reading pleasure - and gratitude that we don't have to do that today!
(1803) PRESERVING BEEF
From DEANE’S NEW-ENGLAND FARMER.
As farmers are most commonly too far distant from market places, to be supplied from them with fresh meat, and as it is most convenient for them to kill only at certain seasons, they ought to be well acquainted with the best methods of keeping meat in good order, by salting.
The common method of preserving pork, reserving the lean parts for use in the cold season, and applying a large quantity of salt to the fat, is perhaps as good as any can be. But beef is greatly injured, and rendered unwholesome by a severe salting.
A good method of preserving beef, which I have known to be practised for several years past, is as follows: For a barrel of beef of the common size, reduce to powder in a mortar, four quarts of common salt; then eight ounces of salt petre, and five pounds of brown sugar. Let the salt be well rubbed into the pieces, pack them close in the barrel, and sprinkle the salt petre and sugar evenly over each layer. No water at all is to be applied. The juices of the meat, if well packed, will form a sufficient quantity of brine; and the beef will keep sweet and good through the following summer, supposing it killed and packed in the beginning of winter, or late in autumn; and will not be too salt to be palatable.—Draining off the brine and purifying it by boiling and scumming, with the addition of a little salt in the beginning of summer, and returning of the brine upon the meat, will be a real improvement.
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(1806) STARTING VEGETABLES IN WINTER WITH DUNG
The American Gardeners Calendar - January - Work To Be Done In The Kitchen Garden
As it is generally the ambition of most gardeners to excel each other ... all necessary preparations should be made this month for that purpose, by preparing dung for hot-beds, in which to raise the plants; for they, being of a tender quality, require the aid of artificial heat under shelter of frames and glasses, until the middle or latter end of May, especially in the middle and eastern states.
But by the aid of hot-beds, defended with frames and glasses, we obtain early cucumbers, in young green fruit, fit to cut or gather in February, March and April, &c. and ripe melons in May and June…
In order to raise early cucumbers and melons, you must provide a quantity of fresh hot stable-dung, wherewith to make a small hot-bed for a seed-bed, in which to raise the plants to a proper growth for transplanting into larger hot-beds next month to remain to fruit; for this purpose a small bed for a one or two light frame may be sufficient, in which case two cart-load of hot dung will be enough for making a bed of proper dimensions for a one-light box, and so in proportion for a larger.
Agreeably to these intimations, provide the requisite supply of good horse-stable-dung from the dunghills in stable-yards, &c. consisting of that formed of the moist stable litter and dunging of the horses together, choosing that which is moderately fresh, moist, and full of heat… always preferring that which is of some lively, warm, steamy quality: and of which take the long and short together as it occurs, in proper quantity as above. And being thus procured, proceed to making the hot-bed, or previously to forming it into a bed, if the dung is rank, it would be proper to prepare it a little to an improved state, more successful for that purpose, by forking the whole up into a heap, mixing it well together; and let it thus remain eight or ten days to ferment equally, and for the rank steam and fierce heat to transpire, or evaporate in some effectual degree; and by which time it will have acquired a proper temperament for making into a hot-bed, by which treatment the heat will be steady and lasting, and not so liable to become violent or burning, as when the dung is not previously prepared.
Choose a place on which to make your hot-bed, in a sheltered dry part of the framing ground, &c. open to the morning and south sun: and it may be made either wholly on the surface of the ground, or in a shallow trench, of from six to twelve inches deep, and four or five feet wide, according to the frame; but if made entirely on the surface, which is generally the most eligible method at this early season, it affords the opportunity of lining the sides of the bed with fresh hot dung, quite down to the bottom, to augment the heat when it declines, and also prevents wet from settling about the bottom of the bed, us often happens when made in a trench, which chills the dung, and causes the heat soon to decay.
Then according to the size of the frame, mark out the dimensions of the bed, either on the ground, or with four stakes; making an allowance for it to be about four or five inches wider than the frame each way: this done, begin to make the bed accordingly, observing to shake and mix the dung well, as you lay it on the bed, and beat it down with the back of the fork, as you go on: but I would not advise treading it, for a bed which is trodden hard will not work so kindly, and be more liable to burn than that which is suffered to settle gradually of itself: in this manner proceed till the bed has arrived at the height of four feet, which will not be too much; making an allowance for its settling six or eight inches, or more, in a week or fortnight’s time; and as soon as finished, let the frame and glass be put on: keep them close till the heat comes up, then raise the glass behind that the steam may pass away…
Three or four days after the bed is made, prepare to earth it; previously observing, if it has settled unequally, to take off the frame and glasses, and level any inequalities; make the surface smooth, put on the frame again, and then lay therein as much of the above-mentioned earth as will cover the whole top surface of the bed, about three or four inches thick, then fill two, three, or more middling smallish garden-pots with more of the aforesaid rich earth, place them within the frame on the hot-bed, put on the glass or glasses, and continue them till the earth in the pots is warm ; and when that is effected, sow the seeds in the pots…
If the bed should heat too violently, as is sometimes unavoidably the case, the pots can be readily drawn up more or less, out of danger of burning the earth, &c. therein; and thus, the sowing in pots in a new made hot-bed in full heat may prove of greater advantage than sowing in the earth of the bed, with regard to more probable safety from burning.
After sowing the seeds, put on the lights or glasses close; but when the steam from the heat of the bed rises copiously, give it vent by raising one corner of the upper ends of the lights, half an inch or an inch, which is also necessary in order to prevent any burning tendency from the great heat of the bed in its early state.
Continue now to cover the glasses of the hot-bed every evening, about an hour before sun-setting if mild weather, but earlier in proportion to its severity, with garden mats; and uncover them every morning.
(Blogger's note: After reading that, all I can say is, "Thank Heaven for today's supermarkets and their fresh fruit and vegetable selections!")
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1817 - HOW TO BLEED SOMEONE IN AN EMERGENCY
The Medical Companion: With a Dispensatory and Glossary.
The art of opening a vein, and the necessary cautions respecting the operation, should be learned by every one; since cases of emergency may happen, when the necessity of its being performed is evident, and where life may be lost before medical assistance can be obtained. Another qualification necessary to be possessed, is that of being able to stop the flow of blood from a vein thus opened.
To bleed, you are to apply a ribbon or ligature with some degree of tightness, an inch or two above the elbow joint; and as soon as a vein is conspicuous, place the thumb of your left hand about an inch below the place of your puncture, and then with your right hand, holding the lancet firm betwixt your thumb and fore finger, make an incision obliquely into the vein, without changing its direction, or raising the handle, lest the point; being lowered in proportion, should cut the under part of the vein, or perhaps even wound an artery.
When the quantity of blood you wish, is drawn, un-tie the ligature, and close the orifice. To accomplish this, let the thumb be placed on the orifice, so as to bring its sides together, and to press it with a moderate force. The flow of blood will now be stopped, and the operator, with the hand, must introduce a compress, made by twice doubling a piece of linen about two inches square, between the orifice and his thumb; over this place another compress, three or four inches square, of a thickness sufficient to fill up the hollow of the bend of the arm, confining the whole with a ribbon or tape, passing over the compress, and above and below the elbow, in the form of a figure eight, finishing with a knot over the compress.
If the bleeding continue obstinate, the sleeve of the gown or coat above the orifice, ought to be ripped or loosened; and if this do not succeed, the lips of the incision should be brought nicely together, and while they are compressed firmly by the thumb of the operator, the coldest water should be poured on the arm, or the orifice washed with sharp vinegar. The placing of a piece of adhesive plaster over the orifice in the vein, generally succeeds in checking the flow of blood.
To bleed in the foot, a ligature must be applied above the ankle joint, and after opening the most conspicuous vein, if the flow of blood is not copious it may be increased by immersion of the part in warm water. On removing the ligature, the blood will readily cease to discharge, and a piece of court plaster is the best bandage.
Topical blood-letting is executed by the application of leeches, as near as possible to the part affected, or by a scarificator, or an instrument with a number of lancets acted upon by a spring.
When leeches are employed they must be previously prepared by drying them, or allowing them to creep over a dry cloth; the part also, to attract them, should be moistened with cream, sugar, or blood, and they confined on it by applying a wine-glass over them.
When the scarificator is used, as soon as a wound is made, a cup exhausted of its atmospheric air, by burning over it for a few seconds, a bit of soft paper dipt in the spirit of wine, and on the flame of which being nearly exhausted, must instantly be applied over the scarified part; when full, it is easily removed by raising one side of it, to admit the air. When you have taken away in this manner a sufficient quantity of blood, the wounds are to be covered with some cream or mild ointment.
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1839 - BIRCH BARK CANOE CONSTRUCTION
Indian Traits: Being Sketches of the Manners, Customs and Character of the North American Indians, Vol. I.
… Canoes were also made,—chiefly in New England,—as they are by the modern Indians, of bark, particularly that of the birch-tree. The tribes of the Northern Lakes make them wholly of this material, with a little soft wood and pine-gum, or boiled pitch, without a nail or a bit of metal of any kind to confine the parts. The entire outside is bark. Where the edges of it come together at the bottom or along the sides, they are sewed very closely with a sort of vegetable thread called wattap,—made of roots,—and the seam is then plastered over with gum. Next to the bark, are pieces of cedar, shaven flat and thin, not thicker than the blade of a knife. These run lengthwise, and are pressed against the bark by means of cedar ribs fitted to the bottom and sides of the canoe, in the opposite direction, and which, at the upper end, are pointed, and run into a rim of cedar. This rim, being about an inch thick and an inch and a half wide, forms the gun-wale, (as the whites call it,) to which the bark and ribs are all sewed with wattap. Across the boat are several bars, which keep it in shape, and are also fastened to the gunwale. The seats of those who paddle are alongside of, but below the bars,—made of plank or board, a few inches wide, and hung by a cord or withe at each end to the gunwale. In small bark canoes, however, no seats are used. The Indian adjusts himself on the bottom. They are sometimes thirty feet long, and of course capable of accommodating quite a party, like a log canoe; but more frequently they are made for the use of two or three people, and are so light and small as to be very easily carried a long distance on a man’s head. This makes them convenient for travelling in the winter, when the streams and lakes are frozen, as well as for navigating shallow or rapid streams.
The bark-canoes, of whatever size, indeed, are so fragile as to be easily damaged and destroyed by overloading, or by running against obstacles in the water. The larger ones, used on the Lakes, are made to carry a weight of stores, tents and baggage, to the amount of from four to eight thousand pounds; but in this case the bottom is defended by a layer of long poles, which cause the burden to press equally on all points. The paddles are of red-cedar, and very light. The blade is about three inches wide, except the steersman’s, behind, which is five inches. One of the crew looks out in front, to prevent running upon rocks. In mounting a rapid current, a stout pole is used instead of the paddle; and those who use it are obliged to stand erect. This makes the navigation exceedingly difficult, and sometimes dangerous, even for those most accustomed to it. Of the whites, perhaps not one out of ten could safely for the first time navigate a small birch canoe, even in smooth water, without oversetting it.
An advantage in most of these boats, which should not be forgotten, is, that the two ends being generally fashioned and shaped much alike, both answer equally well for the prow or stern, so that there is no necessity of turning them round. When they are so constructed, as to admit of a sail being hoisted, the Indians will accomplish sixty miles with them in a day; without it, about half that distance.
It is but two or three years since a member of the Penobscot tribe, residing at Old Town, in Maine, paddled one of the smallest kind of birch canoes all the way along the Atlantic Coast from the mouth of his own river to the harbor of New York.
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(1850) HOW TO FIND GOLD IN THE STREAMS OF CALIFORNIA
Mc’Neils Travels in 1849, To, Through and From the Gold Regions, in California.
At this point I think proper to offer some remarks respecting the digging and washing of the gold, and the best places for finding it. On the sides and tops of mountains gold is not found in large quantities, nor on the plains. But dig wherever you may think proper in that country, you will find some. When a river is high you cannot work along it to advantage. The explorer, if passing along a river when the water is high, may correctly judge that gold may be found at the foot of a fall or eddy, where he will or may be very successful when the water is low, the swiftness of the eddy having accumulated the gold scales in piles in places called “pockets.” In such places the diggers should not be discouraged if at first they find none, but dig on until they get to the rock where they will find it the most, as gold, being the heaviest, passes through the sand and gravel, and settles on the rock. In those eddies, or pockets, or gravel bars, formed by the current of the river, some, not aware of what I said, will dig down one, two, or three feet, and finding none will leave the spot, while an old miner, coming afterwards, will dig deeper in the same hole, and find thousands of dollars safely deposited on the rock. In the slate rock it is only found in the crevices, as if it had been melted and poured into them by the hands of the Almighty. In the white flint rock it is not found so distinct or separate, but is there frequently seen commingled with the rock itself, the gold still being perfectly pure or almost, only losing two cents in the ounce when assayed at the mint, yielding seventeen dollars and sixty cents to the ounce, some say a great deal more, but the gold I gathered, which was the purest of the pure, only afforded that amount in the mint at New Orleans. While I was at the mines the New York and Massachusetts companies arrived, bringing with them patent gold washers, but were compelled to throw them away and use the common simple cradle, reminding me of the old woman who remarked that the old way of getting children is the best in the world. I will now describe the simple cradle. It resembles a common baby cradle, about four feet and a half long, of white pine, having bottom, sides, head board, but none at the foot. On the bottom three cleats, an inch wide and eighteen inches apart, are nailed. A kind of hopper, the bottom of which is sheet iron perforated with half inch holes, having a low raised board round the edge, is fastened across the top of the cradle. The sand, gravel and gold are poured into this hopper, and then while water is poured on these with one hand, the cradle is rocked with the other, by which motion the gold, sand, and gravel are forced into the body of the cradle, where the gold, being the heaviest, lodges against the wooden cleats, while the sand and gravel pass onward and out by the foot of it. Then the gold along those cleats, and the little sand and gravel still mingled with it, are taken out, put into a pan and washed at the edge of the river as clean as you can get it without wasting any of the gold. Then it is placed on a handkerchief spread in the sun, and when it is dry the remaining sand is blown from it as one blows the dust from beans. This sand is as black as powder. The fact is, gold is only found in black sand. The pure gold is then put into a double sewed buckskin bag or purse, and is then ready for preservation or exportation.
While lying asleep or awake at night I did not think it strange for lizzards to run over my body and up the legs of my trowsers, and for wolves, called the kyota, to steal my breakfast prepared for the morning.
In my travels through California I saw thousands upon thousands of the finest and fattest cattle I ever saw, perfectly wild;—deer, antelopes, and elk, but I never saw the wild oats, wheat and clover high as a horse’s belly, mentioned by Col. Fremont, as published in his travels, and have the strongest reasons for believing that they do not exist in that country.
I caution persons going from this country to California against the traders and speculators found in that country. When those strangers inquire for the best diggings, those traders direct them to the spot where they have provisions and mining implements for sale, whether those places are the best or not. Strangers, after digging with little success in spots to which they have been directed—perhaps in places which have been abandoned, become disgusted, leave the gold region, and return home, believing that the whole is a humbug affair; whereas, if they would travel a little and search for themselves, they would find plenty of gold, return well laden with the precious metal, and publish that it is the greatest or rather only El Dorado in the world.
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(1867) INSTRUCTIONS FOR TRAPPERS
S. Newhouse: The Trapper’s Guide.
OUTFIT FOR A CAMPAIGN ON FOOT. If the region in which you propose to trap cannot be reached by boat or wagon, you must be content with such necessaries as you can carry on your person. A trapper on foot should not tire himself with long stiff-legged boots, but should wear short half-boots (with soles well nailed), fitting snugly above and around the ankle. His pants should be gray woolen, closely fitting below the knee, but roomy above. His coat should be of the same material and color, with plenty of pocket-room. His hat should be of soft felt, gray, and with a moderate brim. He should carry a “change” of woolen drawers, wrappers, shirts, and stockings. A towel with soap, a night-cap, and a blanket, or, what is better, a Canton-flannel bag to sleep in, will complete his personal equipments. Then he must carry for shelter a small tent, made of firm cotton-drilling, weighing not more than two pounds and a half; for subsistence, a double-barrelled gun (rifle and shot), weighing seven or eight pounds, with ammunition, and fishing-tackle ; and, for all sorts of purposes, an axe of two and a half pounds (with a good length of handle), and plenty of tacks and nails. For cooking and table service he must carry a frying-pan, a camp-kettle, a hunting-knife, some knives and forks, spoons of two sizes, a few tin pressed plates and basins, and a drinking-cup. Above all, he must not forget to take a good supply of matches and a pocket-compass. These necessaries (exclusive of clothing) will weigh, according to my reckoning, about twenty-five pounds. The rest of his load must be made up of traps and provisions. If he is stout enough to undertake trapping on foot, he ought to be able to travel with about fifty pounds. He may take then five pounds of provisions and twenty pounds of traps, or any other proportion of these articles that will make up the remaining twenty-five pounds. His provisions should consist of articles that will be desirable as accompaniments to the produce of his gun and fishing-tackle, namely, sugar, tea and coffee (rather than whiskey), salt, pepper, butter, lard, sifted Indian meal, white beans, crackers, &c. The butter and lard should be put up in air-tight cans, and on arrival at the trapping grounds should be sunk in a spring. The best kind of knapsack for carrying such an outfit is made of rubber-cloth, with shoulder-straps: but you can easily convert your sleeping-bag or your blanket into a knapsack that will serve very well. If you trap with one companion or more, which is a good plan and according to the general practice), many of the articles named in the above list will answer for the party, and so the load for individuals will be lightened. Thus equipped, you can turn your back on the haunts of men, march into the wilderness, and, with a little hunting and fishing in the intervals of trap-duty, live pleasantly for months, and return with your load of furs, a stouter and healthier man than when you started.
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(1879) HOW TO FRESHEN A BED
Wallace W. Nixon: The Chemical Laundry Guide.
307. – RENEWAL OF FEATHER BEDS. In cities there are establishments where feather beds are perfectly renovated by steam, but the process employed would be impracticable for home use. By the accompanying simple treatment, however, feather beds that have become soiled and heavy can be readily rendered clean, sweet, and light. At first sight, the process may appear to be detrimental, yet it is not only an easy method, but attended with perfect success. Without emptying the beds, thoroughly scour the ticking with a clean stiff brush and strong hot soap-suds; then lay them on the roof of a shed or some other clean place where the rain will fall on them. In very dry weather, they may be made wet by several thorough sprinklings with a watering pot, but the wetting is much better effected by the rain. When thoroughly soaked, let them dry in the hot rays of the sun for six or seven consecutive days. Shake them up well and turn them over every day. If exposed to the night air they will become damp and then mildew, so they should so covered during the night, for the idea is, after they are once soaked through, to have them continue to dry without receiving additional moisture. This plan of washing the bed-ticking and feathers makes them very fresh and light. It is far easier than the usual mode of emptying the beds and washing the feathers separately, and it answers quite as well. Care must be taken to thoroughly air the bed before using it.
309. – HAIR MATTRESSES. Hair mattresses, even the most expensive ones, by use soon become hard and uneven, and are then anything but comfortable. The reason why they get in this condition in so short a time is, that at manufactories where hair mattresses are made, the hair was never properly picked free from bunches. The hair is usually stored away in large quantities, where it becomes matted together in knots and bunches. In this condition it is made into mattresses, and although at first the mattress seems smooth and even, as soon as it sustains a continued weight, as a person lying upon it, the bunches become apparent. If a mattress that has become hard and dirty be subjected to the accompanying treatment, it will be rendered a better mattress than when first bought. Simply rip the ticking apart and wash it; then carefully pick the hair free from bunches and let it remain in a dry airy place for several days. When the ticking is dry, fill it lightly with the hair and tack it together. The hair is not likely to again get in bunches.
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(1895) PROPER RULES FOR LEAVING AND RECEIVING CALLING CARDS
George Henry Sandison: How to Behave and How to Amuse.
It is a rule among the best people to call upon the stranger who is in town. If the visitor brings letters of introduction, an entree to society is easy through the usually observed forms. If strangers who have come to reside near us, or even to visit our locality, bear credentials of respectability, courteous and hospitable residents will call upon them, after sufficient time has elapsed for the recently arrived to have adjusted themselves to their new positions. No introduction is necessary in such a case. The resident ladies call between two and five o’clock, send in their own with their husbands’ or their fathers’ or brothers’ cards, and if they find the strangers disengaged, a brief and cordial interview ends the first visit. This must be returned within a week, or a note of apology and explanation for the omission is sent, and the return visit is then paid later on. If a card be sent in return for this visit, or is left in person without an effort to see the parties who have made the first visit, it is understood that the strangers prefer solitude, or that there are reasons why they cannot receive visitors.
A gentleman should not make a first call upon the ladies of the family of a new-comer without an introduction or an invitation.
When should a lady call first on a new desirable acquaintance? She should have met the new acquaintance, should have been properly introduced, and should feel sure that her own acquaintance is desired. The oldest resident, the one most prominent in society, should call first. Good expedient for a first call is the sending out of cards, for several days in the month, by a lady who wishes to begin her social life in a new place. These may be accompanied by the card of some well-known friend, or they may go out alone. If they bring visits or cards in response, the beginner has started on her career with no loss of self-respect. First calls should be returned within a week.
After a dinner-party a guest must call in person and inquire if the hostess is at home. For other entertainments the lady can call by proxy, or simply send her card. In sending to inquire for a person’s health, cards may be sent with a courteous message. No first visit should, however, be returned by card only.
Bachelors should leave cards on the master and mistress of the house, and the young ladies. To turn down the corners of the card has become almost obsolete, except, perhaps, where a lady wishes it understood that she called in person. The plainer the card the better. A small, thin card for a gentleman, not glazed, with his name in small script and his address well engraved in the corner, is in good taste. A lady’s card should be larger, but not glazed or ornamented.
A different world from ours, in terms of social etiquette, day-to-day tasks, and the like. Certainly, one had to work a lot harder for the everyday things in life that you and I take for granted!