From the Store to the Kitchen
Food availability and preparation changed significantly in Victorian times. This change was especially noticeable in the towns, where food supplies were increasingly made available in grocers' and dry goods stores. As time passed, more grocers sold fresh produce such as eggs and butter, and fruit such as strawberries and gooseberries. In the countryside things changed more slowly but by the end of the Victorian era going into town for food shopping became more usual.
Whilst more items became available in tins and packets quality was an issue and brand names that came with a recognition of quality became household names - some survive to this day such as Lipton's Teas and Bird's custard powder. Bird's Company also produced baking powder, which was a boon to the home baker resulting in well-risen cakes instead of heavy flat ones.
Packaged yeast made the chore of bread making much easier and less prone to failure. Before packaged yeast, bread was made using leftover dough from the previous day's baking as the yeast source or from a starter created some days before. Unfortunately, this could result in inconsistent bread if the yeasts in the starter failed. Packaged gelatine made jellies easy to make.
In Lunenburg there were many grocery stores recorded in the Lunenburg gazette of businesses printed in 1888. Here are some of these premises.
View of the inside of a typical grocery store from 1895.
However, even though it was now easier to buy packaged and tinned goods, there was still the necessity of producing everyday meals and of ensuring that the larder or pantry was full of cordials, jams, chutneys, pickles, and preserved fruit and vegetables of all kinds.
The picture below shows a grocery list from J.M. Anderson & Co., Grocers dated July 10th 1890.
Note that it contains many references to vinegar, salt and sugar — essential ingredients when making preserves.
Many of the ingredients for making jams and chutneys were grown in the home garden, picked in the local countryside or bought at the town market where local farmers would bring their produce for sale.
Many grocery items were delivered to the door, especially milk, bread and ice. As more households acquired an icebox, buying ice from the iceman became a necessity as many homes did not have access to their own ice store. Whilst food could now be stored for much longer, it was still necessary to shop frequently for perishable items. The next page shows an early refrigerator with icebox.
One of the most significant changes in the kitchen was the advent of kitchen stoves. After the middle of the 19th century more and more housewives no longer had to cook on an open hearth but had installed a cooking stove or an iron cooking range which included an oven. Upstairs stoves replaced open hearths in the parlour and dining room.
The picture at right shows a cooking stove manufactured by Stewiacke Foundry Co. NS 1871.
This picture shows men cutting ice near Lunenburg in the days before refrigeration. Note the oxen in the background.
This refrigerator was made of pine, painted in imitation oak and had an inside box to contain the ice with zinc lining and shelves.
The cooking range still required much work, as they had to be cleaned out everyday before a new fire was lit and the outside polished with stove blacking and every now and then with fat to stop any rust.
Stoves were produced in foundries and many foundries existed in Nova Scotia from the 1830s. The Lunenburg Foundry opened in 1896 making stoves and ranges. Prior to the opening of foundries in Nova Scotia, stoves and ranges were imported from the USA and Great Britain.
As well as making large objects such as stoves, the foundries produced many smaller useful kitchen items such as cooking pans, muffin tins and iron kettles that sat on the stove all day keeping the water hot.
However easier these cooking stoves were compared with an open hearth, no stove came with any reliable temperature controls or thermometers so the housewife had to devise ways of judging the temperature before putting the cake into the oven. Tests such as these were used:
- Place a small amount of flour on a tin plate. If it turns yellow in 5 minutes the temperature is correct.
- Another test was to hold your hand in the oven count to 12. If you can't do this, the oven is too hot.
Recipes and Recipe Books
The recipes that were used in the kitchen at that time came from a variety of sources. Many, like today, were handed down from mother to daughter or were recipes belonging to the local community, such as sauerkraut which is a typical Lunenburg dish. Another local dish was Solomon Gundy, also known by its German name "Salmagundi".
Recipe books were also produced by local community groups such as the Church. However, there was an increasing demand for more professional cookery books, and in response to this demand publishers produced books such as The Home Cook Book printed in Canada in 1877 and the New Galt Cook Book produced in Toronto in 1898.
As well as locally produced books there were also imported cookery books from the USA and Great Britain. For example, copies of Mrs. Beeton's Book on Household Management, originally produced in Great Britain in 1861, were in use in Nova Scotia homes. A copy of this book is on display in this exhibition.