The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 27, 2001


Treasures of Carlisle's Past: Forerunners of the "Food Processor"

Long before our modern kitchens with all their electrical appliances and gadgets, Carlisle homes were outfitted with grinders, graters and other specialized tools for food preparation. Over eighteen of these implements reside in the historical collections of the town and historical society.

In a dairy farming community like Carlisle it is not surprising to find butter and cheese-making equipment from the nineteenth century. A six-piece cheese press, a tin butter churn, butter spatters and two butter stamps are all part of the collections.

Cheese preparation was an important seasonal task, usually undertaken during the summer. As homes expanded, special "butteries" were often added to provide a cool space dedicated to these operations. Cheese-making involved several steps. The process began with skimmed milk to which a rennet from the cow's stomach was added to curdle the milk. Next, the housewife needed to skim off the whey several times. Then she drained and salted the resulting product and proceeded to "press it" through her cheese press or sieve for a number of days. Finally, she would oil it with butter and wrap it in cheesecloth to ripen.

Jane Nylander, writing in Our Snug Fireside, tells us that Ruth Bascom of Concord started during the end of July 1810 to make her first cheese. By August 14 she had made five cheeses. There are accounts of households producing and selling up to 300 pounds of cheese.

Butter-making was a complementary activity to cheese-making. Often children would assist, working the churn to turn cream into soft butter. The maker would use paddles or "spatters" or her hands to further firm up the butter. The aim was to reduce the buttermilk, which, of course, was used as a drink or in baking. The solid butter was washed and salted for preserving, then packed away, most likely in an earthenware jar, and stored in a cool place.

Nineteenth-century cooks used a variety of grinders and graters to prepare grains, vegetables, herbs and spices. The mortar and pestle, often made of wood, ground corn and other grains to a meal or flour used in many traditional recipes. The Carlisle Historical Society has an interesting green glass bottle, said to have been used to roll and grind mustard seeds. Donated by Alice M. French, it was brought by her grandfather, Robert Gilchrist from England.

The town collection contains a nutmeg grater of Japanned (decorated) tin and a tin grater used for horseradish, carrots and the like. There is also a sugar grinder. Perhaps the owners of the sugar and nutmeg grinders might have made the especially rich drink described in Joyce Carlo's Trammels, Trenchers and Tartlets (p.116):

A Fine Syllabub from the Cow

Sweeten a quart of cyder [sic] with double refined sugar, grate nutmeg into it, then milk your cow into your liquor. When you have thus added what quantity of milk you think proper, pour half a pint or more, in proportion to the quantity of syllabub you make, of the sweetest cream you can get, all over it.

A coffee grinder from the Ambrose Heald house in Carlisle is also preserved in the historical collections. In light of the popularity of coffee drinks and fresh-ground coffee today, it is worth noting that coffee was popular as early as the 1600s. Indeed, until the 1700s it was more popular than tea! Along with tea and chocolate it was imported to the American colonies, by way of English traders, from the Far East. After the British Parliament imposed a tax on tea, coffee again became the most popular drink.

Apple recipes abound in early cookbooks, so it is not surprising that two apple parers/corers survive in the historical collections. Two sausage molds or "fillers" also exist. They would have been used to insert homemade sausage into natural casings (made from pig intestines). Joyce Carlo (p. 98) presents a recipe from a Watertown, Connecticut housewife who would have made her sausage in bulk, then stored it, as it was well-salted, for future use. Her sausage called for:

50 pounds of pork

1 pound and a quarter of salt

10 ounces loaf sugar

4 ounces pepper

1 ounce salt petre

8 ounces sage

Perhaps these kitchen tools look different from those of today, but they met similar needs for specialized kitchen implements to prepare tasty and nourishing foods. From the staples of butter and cheese to the special occasion syllabub, recipes of the past depended upon the food processors of the past, now preserved in Carlisle's historical collections.

+YEAR+ The Carlisle Mosquito