Ever wonder what everyday life was like for our emigrant ancestors? We have a general idea of what it was like as far as the traveling, and what the men endured in purchasing and homesteading land, but what about our female ancestors? How did they cope so far away from home with no relatives or older women to guide their endeavors?
The Canadian Settler’s Guide by Mrs. C. P Trail explains what everyday life will be like for those female emigrants. As she explains in the preface, “Among the many books that have been written for the instruction of the Canadian emigrant, there are none exclusively devoted for the use of the wives and daughters of the future settler, who for the most part, possess but a very vague idea of the particular duties which they are destined to undertake, and are often totally unprepared to meet the emergencies of the new mode of life.”
Imagine coming to a new country where you have no mother to consult, no girlfriends, no female servants, and you may be just about the only female in the area. The weather is different. The seasons are more harsh. The crops are not the same. The method of cooking is a far cry from home. Imagine carrying Mom’s recipes to the new world, only to find the ingredients are not available, and the mode of cooking is not what your mother used. Talk about culture shock.
This book explains everything a wife needs to know to survive in the Canadian Wilderness. It contains recipes, instructions to manufacture your own necessities (maple-syrup, curing meat, producing butter and cheese, soap, candles, etc.), and how to manage your household.
One of the most important things, she explains, is good bread. Most wives were used to purchasing bread in the Mother country, and once arriving in the wilderness are uneducated as to how to make bread, let alone the fermenting or raising of the bread. She goes into how to raise hops, how to tell when it’s ripe, how to harvest it for bread use, and how to bake with it.
She also explains how to make salt-rising bread. Start with one teaspoonful of sale, one pint of warm water or new milk, thicken with as much flour as will make a batter the tichness of good cream. Mix in a jug that holds about a quart.
Set the jug in a pan half fill with warm water, but not too hot. Cover your mixture close and set it near a stove or fire. In about four hours bubbles will begin to rise on the surface. In about another two more yours the yeast will begin to rise in a fine soft creamy head.
There is a certain trial and error to getting the timing right. After a certain point, it goes down and won’t raise the bread or it turns sour (oh joy!). She goes on to explain the bread making and baking process. Bread is considered the staff of life, and a wife who couldn’t produce decent bread must have been a sorry person indeed.
I am only about halfway through the book but all that needs to be considered and understood to survive in the wilderness has already overwhelmed me! I leave you with a “simple” recipe for biscuits.
Rub into a quart of fine flour, about an ounce of butter or lard, and a little salt: mix with cold water into a stiff, smooth paste; roll it out, and strew dry flour on the paste. Work this flour well in with the rolling pin, fold it together, knead it and roll it again, throwing over it more dry flour, working it with the rolling pin until the flour is incorporated. Do this several times, or as long as you can kneed it smooth. Break it into small pieces, and roll in your hand, about the size of a large walnut, then roll with the pin into thin biscuits. Prick them with a fork, and bake on a flat pan in a brick oven. If the oven be cool, they will be tough. The more dry flour you can work into the dough, the better will be the biscuit. These are useful if you have no cake at hand and are good for the sick; rolled fine, make capital pap for weaned babies.