More About Food

The livestock the settlers brought with them contributed much to their standard of living. The chickens provided them with eggs as well as meat. They increased their flocks by setting hens on fertile eggs and helped each other acquire flocks by lending their neighbors hens or settings of eggs (the magic number of a setting was thirteen.)

The importance of their livestock to these early pioneers is pointed up by a poignant story Susie Terry tells, that after leading their cow behind the wagon all the way from St. George, when they had been in the valley only a short time, the cow fell and died before someone came to get it up.

For the luckier ones, the milk cows they had led behind their wagons furnished them with milk, cottage cheese (which they sometimes called Dutch cheese), on occasion, brick cheese, and butter. Butter was made in a wooden upright churn with a dasher one manipulated by raising it up and slapping it down into the sour cream. It looked something like this:

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It was replaced by a round churn with a handle connected to wooden rotating blades that agitated the cream and precipitated the butter.

The women made cottage cheese frequently, partly because lack of refrigeration produced the sour milk it required. They also constructed their own crude wooden press with a huge rock for a weight and made a mild brick cheese that required a certain degree of skill. The process consisted of separating the curd from the whey with rennet, pressing the curd for weeks to remove every bit of whey, adjusting the weights at intervals, paring any rough edges (these delicious parings were a treat for some lucky child), greasing the surface to prevent a thick rind from forming, and finally wrapping thickly to store away for further ripening or future use. A number of the womenfolk became quite skilled in this process, Delle R. Ivins, Ruth B. Gardner, May Reid, Belle Gardner, Rebecca Sinfield. In later years, when dairying had made a tentative beginning, severe snowstorms sometimes isolated the town for several weeks at a time and prevented the milk from being shipped to Ely for processing. The milk was not wasted. The women simply made cheese.

Beef was used freely especially in winter when it could be kept for relatively long periods by the simple expedient of hanging the quarters outside at night to chill thoroughly, then wrapping them in clean sheets and heavy quilts or blankets and placing them in the coolest spot in the house or cellar for the day. Some of this meat might be put in bottles and processed in an open kettle. They were unaware of botulism at this point and fortunately no one suffered for their ignorance. They might also put a portion of the beef in brine for corned beef or they might make "jerky" from beef or venison. This amounted to salting and drying strips of meat which made a tasty snack to chew on without further preparation or it could be cooked in a milk gravy much like creamed chipped beef.

Each family kept a few pigs to supplement their meat supply and winter was the time to salt away the hams and bacon. Although it was not necessary to its preservation, some people smoked the meat for added flavor. They hung the meat in a small enclosure built for that purpose called a smokehouse. This allowed for a small fire underneath that was controlled to produce smoke without flame and this smoke rose to permeate the meat. The cured hams were wrapped and sometimes buried in the grain in the granary until they were used.

Sausage was made by grinding the pork scraps and seasoning with salt, pepper and sage.

Another pork product was head cheese. The head was trimmed, cut into pieces, covered with water and simmered until the meat fell away from the bones. When the bones were removed the remaining meat and stock were seasoned with salt, pepper and sage, boiled again and then allowed to jell. The resulting product was delicious sliced and used in various ways or it might be made into scrapple by adding cornmeal and cooking again.

All in all, because of their resourcefulness and industry, these early settlers had a remarkably varied and nutritious diet.