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Winter Food for the Pioneers

January 26, 2015

interpreters at the 1850 farm in winterDuring the winter months, pioneers in Iowa did their best to keep warm. They would keep the fire in their log homes going all day and wear warm clothes made of flannel and wool. But what did they eat? Iowa is too cold in the winter to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, so pioneers needed to find a way to make their crops from the summer last through the winter months. Here are a couple of ways they could do that:

pickled foods in jars on shelf

Pickling: Pickling means placing something in vinegar and spices to make it last longer. The vinegar helps stop germs from getting to the food and making it rotten. The pickles we see at the store are pickled cucumbers, but you can pickle almost anything, such as peppers, nuts, melons, cherries, and tomatoes. Can you guess what pioneers called pickled tomatoes? Ketchup! We still eat pickled tomatoes today!

cut slices of pumpkin drying on table

Drying: Pioneers would hang food up to dry. Taking the moisture out of the food helps make it last longer. Pioneers would string foods up close to the fire where the heat from the fire would help dry them out, or they could place some food outside, and the heat from the sun would dry things out.  Some foods pioneer could dry include apples, pumpkins, pears, and grapes. Dried grapes are called raisins!

root cellar

Root cellar: A root cellar is like a man made cave. Pioneers would dig into the side of a hill, and place some foods like root vegetables, underground. beetscarrots

Root vegetables are foods where people eat the part that grows under the ground such as potatoes, carrots, beets, and onions. The root cellar would stay about 50-60 degrees all year round, keep the vegetables from getting too hot or too cold. Pioneers would start preserving their food as soon as possible in the summertime to make sure they had plenty to eat during the winter. They would store these foods upstairs in their attics or keep them in the root cellar.sliced apples in a bowlYou can try these food saving ideas at home now! With an adult’s help, you can try drying apple slices. Cut two or three large apples into very thin slices and let the slices soak in a mixture of 3 or 4 cups of water and a half cup of lemon juice. Adults can do the slicing while kids help mix the water and lemon juice. The lemon juice helps keep the apples from turning brown. The pioneer  would not have had lemon juice–so you can skip this step if you want. Lay the apple slices out onto cookie sheets or baking racks. In the fall and winter, you can put the apple slices into your modern oven. Bake them for 1 hour at 200 degrees and then flip them apple slices over. Then bake them 1 to 2 hours more at 200 degrees. Sometimes a really juicy apple can take even a bit longer. The finished apple should be leathery–kind of like a raisin. Let the slices cool and then store them in an airtight container or bag. On a really sunny day, you can dry apples without the oven. Set your trays of apple slices in a very sunny place and lay cheesecloth over the slices to keep the bugs off of them. The apples may have to be in the sun for a day or two to dry completely. (If you are drying the apples outside in the sun, bring them in at night and put them out again the next day.)

Read more posts on the LHF Kids Blog


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