Thursday, October 23, 2008
1850 Pioneer Farm
I look out my glass doors to the garden and see the many pumpkins ready to be harvested. My husband got a tad carried away with his planting, and now my yard resembles Linus’s Pumpkin Patch. They will be shared by family members to either create Jack o’ Lanterns for Halloween or used for Thanksgiving pies. Pumpkins weren’t my husband’s only crop planted this year. Throughout the summer we’ve also enjoyed corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans and squash. When the surplus ran out, we were back at the grocers, filling our baskets . . . but that convenience wasn’t something the pioneer farmers of the 1850’s shared.
In my research I discovered Arizona, Texas and California weren’t areas rich in crop farms. These states dealt primarily with cattle. Since herding is something that can only be done amongst the wide open plains, fencing off land to plant was made difficult for farmers to do. So, I set my sites on Iowa.
The majority of people who settled in Iowa in the 1840’s and 1850’s came from the Eastern United States. They were accustomed to multi-room dwellings and only built log homes as temporary structures, living in them while the farm site was in transition between subsistence agriculture (producing enough food for just the family to survive) and becoming a profit-making business.
It took about four years to establish a farm that averaged 160 acres in size, with farmers cultivating anywhere from 25 to 40 acres. Corn, wheat and potatoes were the three major crops. Corn fed the pigs, and the pigs sold for profit. Wheat and hogs were cash crops for the farmers, and potatoes were a staple at every meal that lasted throughout the winter.
Even though wood-burning stoves were available, newly formed farms didn’t earn enough money to purchase 1850 technology and relied on older farming methods. Women prepared food over an open fire. When busy harvest times or severe weather prevented pioneers from getting to the grist mill for cornmeal, the corn was ground in a common household coffee grinder. This was hard work and not ideal, but it served the purpose to make cornmeal, a staple ingredient for making cornbread and many other foods the pioneers ate.
Pioneers families relied on poultry for three major purposes: meat, eggs and money. For those farmers who raised pigs, smokehouses had to be built to preserve the pork. In 1850, barns were used to store tools and some crops, rather than to house animals. The big barns that are associated with modern farms were not built in Iowa until the 1870’s.
In my attempt to learn how Halloween was celebrated in the old west, I wasn’t all that successful. It seems the Puritans classified the event as Satanic. New Mexico and Arizona did celebrate a “day of the dead” festival. Then trick-or-treaters . . . or marauders as they were called, would dismantle the boarded sidewalks and nail them one atop the other. Irate villagers discovered the vandalism in the morning, making their business impossible to accomplish until the boardwalk was set straight again. In view of this, I guess modern day pranksters using eggs and shaving cream aren’t so bad after all.
Posted for:Roberta DeCaprio