The following information is from a book
A MAINE HAMLET by Lura Beam
The author related her life as a girl in Maine during the years 1894-1904. Her father was a sea captain and could spend a year or more away from home, so her mother often sent her to stay with her grandparents.
Much of the following could apply to earlier times and other regions of the country also.
4 am breakfast
Oatmeal with heavy cream, fried ham and eggs, fried potatoes, biscuits,strawberry jam.
A typical winter breakfast could be…..oatmeal with cream, eggs, blueberry muffins, applesauce and coffee. Dinner might be…….fried ham, mashed turnips, baked potatoes, tomato chow-chow, apple pie and tea. Supper could be…..fish cakes, cole slaw,
biscuits, ginger cookies, strawberry preserves and tea.
Variations could include….roast or salt pork, salt fish, venison, clams, kippers, chicken (on Sundays) , stuffed baked fish, vegetable stews, baked beans and baked peas. Sweets included mince, apple, pumpkin, squash,custard, berry and lemon pies.; gingerbread, ; chocolate, banana or whipped cream cakes; sugar and molasses doughnuts; hermits with raisins and nuts; jellies and sweet and sour relishes.
Occasionally in winter dinner would be a dish from her grandparent’s childhood from 1830’s & 40’s…Indian corn boiled in milk or cornmeal mush served with cream.
Toast was unusual except in times of sickness. Cornbread and brown bread were made weekly. Oranges, pears, bananas and candy were eaten as evening snacks. Butter was abundant.
Milk would have been plentiful, but the farm children hated it and it was usually given to the hogs and chickens. I had an elderly neighbor who recalled carrying pails of milk home as a child. She hated drinking milk. She didn’t care for the taste or for the flies and other insects that got into it on the walk home.
Lamb roast beef, turkey, sweetbreads and kidneys were not served and veal was unusual. The meat that the farmer brought from town when he could afford it was steak, cut thin, and served well done with brown gravy.
People did not eat a lot of meat. In August they might have a meal of potatoes, assorted vegetables prepared in various ways, pie and lots of hot bread. Fish was abundant because of the closeness of the sea.
In winter the only fresh fruit were apples, but stewed fruits were served at most meals.
Meals were served punctually, using white or red and white checked cloths, silver, glass and heavy white china. Table manners were strictly enforced. Children had no incentive to hurry through dinner, since they had to remain at table til the adults were through.
Only children drank water. Adults in this family drank tea, having aquired a taste for it during the Civil War when coffee was scarce.
The mother would cook 3 meals a day, since the family always came home for the noon meal. She would bake hot breads 2 or 3 times a day, cookies, cakes and pies every other day.
Please note that the kind of cakes we are accustomed to today, layer cakes with frosting, were not often baked. Most cakes then were more in the line of coffee or fruitcakes, or plain cakes topped or filled with fruits or preserves or custards or whipped cream.
Mother peeled vegetables and stewed sauces daily. In cold weather she fried doughnuts, sugar, molasses or cinnamon, -weekly. Most of her cookware was of iron. In summer she went down to the cellar several times a day to get food. The rest of the year it was stored in various cool portions of the house.
How well you ate in winter depended on how skilled the housewife was at canning, preserving, drying, pickling, and jelly making. Butter and eggs had to be prepared and stored away for winter, as cows went dry and hens stopped laying. Butter was made twice a week in summer. Soft soap and yeast were made at intervals.Dyeing of cloth was a part of remaking clothing into new ones, quilts and other household furnishings.
Washing and ironing was heavy tedious work. Blankets, rugs and quilts had to be washed by hand, clothes were covered in frills that were difficult to iron. The irons were really made of iron and heated on the stove, several had to be kept going at once. The ideal was to have the washing on the line by 8 am.
At this time many women still made all the families’ clothes, sheets and pillowcases.
It was during the winter that they did much of their sewing and knitting. The younger wives of this era didn’t care as much for a lot of the home made household contrivances. They tended to primarily sew mainly their children’s clothes or just the mending.
Herbs were gathered and prepared not just for cooking, but to be used as medicines. The housewife had to know what cured which symptoms. There were herbs that were injested,
and others that were used in poultices or flannel bags, or ointments, etc.
Families were getting smaller, and since there was no longer an older child to care for each younger one, the mother took on more child care herself.. She would teach her children to sing, memorize poetry, she’d build the parlor fire so the child could practice his or her organ or piano lessons.
Free time between seasons was spent “clearing up” .The lady of the house would clean out the house room by room and “get at the wood chamber” .
The man would spend time clearing rocks out of fields.
In summer dust in the roads could be 8” deep, spring mud in spots could be knee deep.
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The houses ….., parlor, often a sitting room, dining room, kitchen, 3 or 4 bedrooms, un unfinished attic and woodshed, sometimes a summer kitchen. Barn, sheds,wagon houses, privy, poultry houses were all attached to the house.
Furnishings were abundant and a mixture of old and new.
A brand new upholstered chair would sit side by side with an old pine settle
The average home had a pump in the house or dooryard. A rain barrel stood by the back door of each house. Each wash day water would be dipped out of it, carried to the stove to heat, then carried to the washtubs. In this village of 200 odd people there were about six houses that had no drinking water except that which was brought from the spring. These families would keep the tea kettle and stove tanks full and hold in reserve 2 -12 quart pails.
The author’s grandparents had a well for a while, but it caved in and after that the grandfather would bring water to the house up the hill from a spring. Rainwater was saved and used for washing.
The head of the family provided wood for his home.He either owned wood lots and cut on his own land, or traded labor to neighbors for the privilege of cutting on theirs. The stoves used an enormous amount of wood. The ones in the kitchen and sitting room would burn all day in winter. Those in parlor and bedrooms would burn at intervals, and
one in the cellar would be fired up in the coldest weather.There would be a wood bin the size of a trunk by each stove, and it had to be filled each morning and evening.. The stack of wood piled in the woodshed for winter could be as large as a typical ranch style house of today.
Hand made rugs or storebought carpets covered the floor.Rugs would often be laid down over the latter. Kitchens often had a large braided rug in the winter.
Sofas popularly had silk or velvet patchwork pillows.The chairs, plush or cane, had crocheted tidies with ribbons drawn through them. Surfaces of tables, etc. ,were covered with vases, shells, dried grasses, pottery, stereopticons, albums, books and pictures.
If walls had pictures they would be hung in profusion.
Lura Beam’s grandparents’ house contained….
Rockers, table with cloth,sofa, Franklin stove, a hanging bookcase, seashells, religious motif pictures, rag rugs, and a hand drawn oilcloth rug.
Gray carpet, hooked rugs in flower and geometric designs, walnut and haircloth furniture, lace curtains, an organ, marble-topped tables, Victorian lamps, a mirror set between 2 windows, and sea grasses in silvered glass vases.
Low slanting ceilings, white walls, double size white beds, rag carpets, white curtains and counterpanes, a bureau, a commode, and several chairs. Parents and guests would have feather beds, children straw tick mattresses.
DOWNSTAIRS MASTER BEDROOM
Maple fourposter, bureau and chiffonier (1850 period )
There were stoves in all the rooms.
Faced east, painted white. All of the rooms in this house were painted white.
Windsor chairs, a hard sofa covered in chintz, a clock, a huge woodbox and stove, an iron teakettle on at all times.
The size of a two car garage, served as storeroom and food preparation area. Flour and white sugar barrells and a smaller brown sugar firkin were closed off behind a door. Gray stoneware jugs with blue designs held molasses and vinegar under the shelves.Wall cupboards held the best dishes(blue Stafordshire, goblets, pressed glass preserve dishes) and everyday heavy white earthenware. Milk was kept in yellow earthenware dishes
on shelves set aside for milk alone. Cream was held in stoneware crocks for the weekly churning. In summer everything that had to do with milk was moved down to the cellar.
Was attached to house behind kitchen. Wood piled to ceiling, enough to fill a good sized living room of today. Piles of kindling on the floor.Meal, corn, oats, feed for animals in barrels and chests. Kerosene and tools on shelves. In summer washing was done here. In winter, sausages, head cheese, smoked hams and dried herbs were hung from the ceiling. Root vegetables were stored in the cellar. Above the woodshed was the family storage area for old cradles, outgrown toys, baggage, etc.
Roses, old lilacs, bleeding heart, lad’s love, sweet-William, phlox, petunias, pinks, pansies, ragged-ladies.Syringa, weigela, pink moss-roses, hollyhocks, sweet peas, marigolds, nasturtiums, mignonette, dahlias, tansies.
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Both sexes were held in line by codes and taboos, which were heavier for women.
She could not go to Town Meeting to vote, and since this was a rough masculine affair, it was felt that she shouldn’t even go there to serve lunch. Within town she could walk for
miles to go berry picking or calling, but if the family had a horse she should never walk to town. That would cast a reflection upon her husband who should be able to keep a horse and drive her. She should not work in the fields, unless there was an emergency weather situation.
A man had to be concerned with his image as a provider. Any noticeable self-indulgence before marriage would get him “talked about”. This would damage his ability to get a good job, and his standing in the community. Any misdeeds of his own combined with shortcomings of his ancestors would never be lived down.
Marriage and children was expected, but the village had enough widows and single folk that people knew that life alone was possible. Single women were admired for the amount
of work they did. They were usually better educated and dressed than the average housewife. Gossip knew why they were single, demands of elderly parents,the limited chances to meet eligible men. The single men in town were said to be “cut on the bias”.
One was a famous walker, one was a tenor and another followed the horse races.
People felt that theirchildren had a better time than previous generations did, with more rights, freedoms, better clothes, and schooling. Their grandmothers had worn “back boards” to keep their figures straight. Their grandfathers slept in icy attics with snow drifting in through the chinks.
Times were changing, as seen by the names they were given. Their grandparents and those before them had English or biblical names, Ruth, Mary, Hannah, Abigail, Keziah; John, William, Ezra, Zephaniah, etc. Newer names were romantic and came from books or flowers, Lily, Blanche, Flora, Ivy, Teresa ; Vernal, Leslie, Percy, Austin, Seymour.
Children were not whipped as they were before, it was always threatened but usually not carried out. Generally a spanking was all they got. The child dreaded hearing Mom say “ I shall tell your father”. Showing off would by punishable by sitting still for a half hour. Destroying clothes or lack of punctuality meant being confined to the yard for several days. A lie sent you up to bed in broad daylight, with only bread and water for supper.
Life was supposed to be full of repressions and inhibitions. Children were repressed because it was felt to be good for them. Occasionally some people were proud of the fact that they had broken a child’s spirit. A girl ground down to total meekness might be admired as being refined.
A lot of the repression was rigorous because it involved safe conduct and caution. Fire and sharp instruments had to be handled on a daily basis. With wood fires going every day, and oil lamps burning several at a time, the village had only 1 fire in 10 years. An oil stove had exploded and caused the fire.
Once they outgrew their baby toys, children were given toys geared to their sex. Boys had stuffed animals when small, then things like wagons, tops , bats and balls. A girl could not have a rocking horse that she had to sit astride. She could have stuffed animals,
but not a toy lion or tiger, they were for boys only. They would both have hoops, sleds, skates and fishing rods and kites.
Boys had few toys, girls had many more. They had dolls, dish sets, toy stoves with cookware, doll furniture with linens to care for, everything a girl needed to learn to fulfill her role in life.
Some girls were never allowed to play with boys. Girls were told they shouldn’t play roughly or climb around. On sleds they had to sit up , no belly whopping. A saying of the day, “whistling girls and crowing hens, always come to some bad end”.
There were 2 school districts in the village, set up so that no child would have to walk more than 4 miles a day. The school year was 20 weeks. One term started in early April and lasted to about July 3rd. The other was from Sep. 1 to Nov. 15th. The only
holiday was Memorial Day.
The men of the family had to be waited on, and must never suffer to be delayed, as everything they were doing was considered important. However, a mother or family that showed a partiality for boys was considered abnormal. It was the norm that boys
and girls received equal clothes, gifts and opportunities.
The entire family worked together, parents, grandparents and children. The old continued to work and took an active part in the life of the community. There was little need for hired help in the village, and the people resisted the idea of being a servant. If the mother
was sick, a widow, spinster or neighbor’s daughter would come over to help. She would live as a member of the household and get @ $2 a week. If the same person went to work in town, she would be careful to be “help” only for an invalid or old couple, and would not take the position unless she dined with the family. Not eating with the family meant that you had dropped in status to “hired girl”.
In winter, after the holidays and the cold weather was established, pleasures came from a break in routine. Recreation for adults was going in to town. A woman went once a week if she felt like it and had the proper clothes. When the sidewalks were icy she wore
“creepers” or spikes on her overshoes. After she had done her shopping she usually had no where else to go and would slowly walk to meet her husband at the post office or sleigh. Many women never went to town at all in winter. A man who had nothing pressing to do might go 2-3 times a week. He might go in to buy the groceries or the newspaper, but mostly he’d prefer to sit in the store and socialize. During the other 9 monthe of the year he had no time for it.
Families used big spyglasses to see what was going on around the neighborhood . A family member might have one trained on the road down the hill and check every team that came along. When the right team was spotted the cook would put on the potatoes for dinner, and guage the serving time. Neighbors had codes. Hanging a red cloth out the
window might mean that a sick person was no better, or a visitor was coming. Some nosy pokes had the glass trained on everything at all times.
On stormy days no one ventured past the barn, nothing went on outside at all, it was dark by four o‘clock .Sleeping, keeping warm and eating were the pleasures of the family then.
In winter people might sleep as long as 9 hous a night. The fires in the stoves would burn down to ashes around midnight. After that they would just lay under the blankets in unheated houses.