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This past weekend the beau and I headed down to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia for his grandfather’s 80th birthday party (see trip photos).  If you haven’t had the chance to visit this historical tourist trap, I suggest it.  The environment and colonial monuments really do give you a different take on eighteenth century American life. As with most pre-modern American landmarks, Colonial Williamsburg did exhibit the slightly “unknown to the modern man” romanitc feel, but what felt different was the lack of granduer throughout the colony. Our self-guided foot tour comprised of a visit to the blacksmith, the tinsmith, the magazine, the apothecarist, the gardens, and lastly the stop that most peaked my interest, the Governor’s palace. Within the palace we experienced the kitchen, the cellar, and the preserved foods!! For this segment of “Pickles goes to” I figured I would delve into food preservation before the times of modern refrigeration.

Just to give you a quick idea of the different preservation methods used during the colonial era, food preservation techniques included:

  • Salt curing and smoking
  • Pickling
  • Potting
  • Drying
  • Sugaring

As you would expect, colonial preservation methods are similar to modern techniques, but upon further research, I found that the rational behind colonial food preservation far extended the simple idea of preserving crops from one season for use in another. Initially, historians assumed that the colonists preserved food to in a way control nature, that being events that could devastate the following season/year crops (droughts, floods, infestations). Further studies suggest that food preservation had to do with “human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature.” Preservation through fermentation was meant to imitate the natural process of digestion of refined foods. Other techniques such as food potting or preserving with sugar, were meant to supplement digestion by treating difficult to digest foods with corruption-resistant substances.

Neat, right? If you are interested in reading more about this, you can consult the Eighteenth-Century Life series, found here.

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