Pioneer Lifeways - Preserving Foods for Winter


Painting - "Reflections - Dan Lawson Place" - Terri Waters 

     The scene was ordinary in a mountain home years ago: beans and peppers drying in long strings against the cabin wall, a crock of bleached apples, tightly covered in a cool corner, and the springhouse, with crocks of pickled vegetables against its dampened earth. There were other fruits and vegetables beneath the cabin, stored in dark earthen cellars for the duration of winter. The foods were used as needed throughout the cold months, and by springtime were usually depleted. 

     The stoneware crock was a valuable preservation tool in pre-canning days. In it were prepared sulfured apples, pickled beans and corn, kraut, and sweet apple butter. The crock was used for storage as well, preferably in a cool springhouse or cellar. The heavy brown crocks came in a wide range of sizes, from a half gallon to ten and twenty gallon capacities. 

     Apples, a plentiful fruit of the Smokies, were commonly preserved in crocks by sulphuring. The method was simple; using a ten gallon crock (or barrel), two gallons of apples were peeled and quartered, then layered inside. A cup, filled with sulphur, was next placed in the crock and lit with a match. After covering with a thick white cloth for three hours (until the sulphur had burned out), the fruit preservation was completed. The process was repeated until the crock stood full of the whitened apple slices (bleached apples). These were then eaten raw or cooked, as desired. The best apples for sullphuring were said to have been sour varieties, especially winesaps, and the finished product was usually stored in the crock. 

     Vegetables, such as beans and corn, were frequently pickled in crocks for winter use. Three gallons of cooked green beans and two gallons of corn (boiled and cut off the cob) were carefully measured into the crock. Adding two cups of salt, the vegetables were stirred together and the crock covered by a white cloth. Seven days were required for the pickling; the mixture could be canned, or stored in the crock in a cool cellar. 

    Another popular preserving method is drying. Dried beans are called "leather-britches" beans, and any type of string beans may be used. Using a needle and thread, string the beans in a long row and hang in a cool shady area. After two weeks, drying should be completed. 

     Drying is a simple process that can be done almost anywhere because it involves no artificial preservatives, sugars, or salt. Drying has been a continuing part of our mountain heritage, a way for our ancestors to preserve their crops and a time-honored tradition. It gives us a tangible link to a past, an annual ritual performed through changing years by many different hands.