Overview

A settler woman’s day started very early and continued until all members of the family were in bed. Her tasks included anything that was remotely related to the kitchen and food preparation. The amount of work depended on the time of year.

In the Spring, families planted large gardens that would provide some of their food for the year. At harvest time there was a large amount of food preparation. Harvest time was the time for preserving fruits and vegetables from the garden in preparation for the long winter months.

A mother and her three children are sitting down by their car to have supper in the field during harvest time.

This Mennonite family is delivering supper to the field while the father works and they eat picnic-style.

Garden

The homesteaders planted gardens. They had to grow enough food to last them through the long winters. They planted corn, cucumbers, beets, beans, peas, onions, turnips, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, rhubarb, and herbs. Herbs were used for medicine and for flavoring when cooking. Some herbs that settlers would grow are basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, mustard, garlic, horseradish, and dill.

This illustration shows a woman digging potatoes out of the garden using a pitchfork.

The homesteaders planted large gardens that were a lot of work to maintain.

Here are some of the garden vegetables that settlers would grow.

A man and a woman are next to the large garden that they have planted behind their house.

This family had a large garden in 1940 behind their home near Melville, Saskatchewan.

Food Preservation

The fresh food had to be prepared to last the long winter. Common methods of preserving vegetables were pickling, canning, drying and storing in a root cellar.

A child in playing in a garden with various vegetables including tomatoes.

A family grows a garden in 1947.

Pickling is a method where vegetables are cooked in a mixture of water, vinegar, spices and salt then put in jars. Cucumbers, beets, cabbage, and onions were pickled.

Fruit was often preserved by canning. This method involves boiling fruit with sugar and water and putting in jars to store. Some homesteaders picked wild berries, while others grew strawberries and raspberries.

A woman is holding a basket of vegetables that were grown in the garden.

Homesteaders had to grow enough food to feed their family all year.

Apples, herbs, vegetables (beans, peas, and corn) were hung from the ceiling or near the fireplace and dried.

Vegetables like potatoes and turnips into the root cellar so that they would not freeze in the cold winter months.

This illustrations shows shelves hanging in the root cellar that are full of jars that have pickled garden items in them. There are also baskets full of veggies too.

The family would pick the fresh fruit and vegetables and preserve them for winter.

When an animal was butchered for the family, the meat was also preserved. Sometimes it was dried and salted or smoked dry so that it would last longer before going rotten. Many homesteaders made sausage as that would last for a long time. Sometimes meat was also canned in jars.

A family of eight people are sitting around a dining table for a meal together. The table is set with dishes and tea.

This family is eating together at the dining table.

Storage

Most settlers had root cellars for storing food. The cellar was a cool dark place usually located under the kitchen. A trap door with a ladder led down to the cellar. Sometimes the entrance to the cellar was from a door outside the house. Some cellars were also built into hillsides.

This root cellar is built into the side of a hill with stones and a wooden door.

Some root cellars were built into hillsides.

Fruits (apples) and vegetables (cabbage, potatoes, turnips, and carrots) were kept in the cellar. Smoked meats and fish were hung from the ceiling. Jars of canning were also stored here. Other foods that needed to be kept cool were milk, butter, eggs, and cheese.

This root cellar has shelves for jars, baskets, food containers, and eggs. There are also food items that can be hung in root cellars such as onion, garlic, and smoked meats.

Root cellars were used for storing many food items.

The root cellar kept vegetables and other foods just above freezing temperatures in the winter so the foods would not freeze and spoil. In the summer, the cellar was cold enough to keep foods from spoiling in the hot temperatures.

Some homesteaders did not have root cellars. They dug pits (holes) for storing vegetables (potatoes, turnips, and carrots). The holes were filled with straw so the food would not freeze. Then the vegetables were buried so the food would last through the winter.

This illustrations shows shelves hanging in the root cellar that are full of jars that have pickled garden items in them. There are also baskets full of veggies too.

The inside of the root cellar has shelves to store jars and baskets of foods.

Settlers did not have fridges and freezers, but they found a way to keep food frozen during the winter. There were companies that would cut huge blocks of ice from frozen lakes and ponds to sell to people, restaurants, and other businesses to help keep food frozen. They would use scrapers and a team of horses to clear the snow off the ice. Next, they would use a hand saw with sharp teeth to cut into the ice. The pieces they cut were large and heavy to lift out of the water.

Often, the ice companies were run by local families, butchers, or dairy farms to help keep their own products cool or frozen.

Two horses are pulling a scraper over a frozen lake to remove the snow so ice blocks can be cut out.

Horses pull a scraper to clear the snow off of frozen lakes before ice blocks can be cut.

Three men are using hand saws with long blades to cut ice blocks from the frozen lake.

Ice blocks are being cut from the frozen lake with hand saws.

Cooking

Before settlers owned stoves, everything was cooked in the fireplace in iron cooking pots and kettles. Some pots hung from a hook attached to an iron bar called a ‘swing crane’. Some pots had legs so the pots could be placed on the fire and hot coals. Soups and stews were cooked in iron pots and pans. A long spoon was used for stirring.

A women is standing in her kitchen, next to a stove with an apron on while she turns a coffee grinder.

Women spent many hours in the kitchen.

A fire is lit inside of a fireplace. The fire is used to cook food, heat water in a kettle, and dry clothes that are hanging on a clothes line. A mom is working to cook food, while kids play closeby.

Before settlers owned stoves, everything was cooked in the fireplace.

An illustration shows a woman standing next to an iron stove, while cooking sausages on a frying pan.

Stoves were used to cook with and to heat homes.

Baking Bread

Once a family had enough money, they bought a stove. A few loaves of bread could be baked in the oven. Breads with yeast in them were made once or twice a week, so 6 to 12 loaves were made at a time. First the dough was kneaded and left to rise in a large pan overnight. Then the dough was shaped into loaves, put in bread pans, left to rise once more, and then baked.

An illustration of a bread is shown.

The house got very hot in the summer if bread was baked indoors so bread was sometimes baked in outdoor ovens.

Bread could be baked in an oven that was built into the side of the fireplace, if the settler had one of those fireplaces. Otherwise, a Dutch oven was used to bake bread in the fireplace. A Dutch oven was a cast iron pot which was placed on hot coals. More hot coals were placed on the lid. The bread dough was heated from the top and the bottom.

Two women are using a separate oven on the side of the fireplace to cook bread inside of it.

Bread was baked in an oven that was built into the side of the fireplace.

This woman is making bread in an early settler kitchen.

Making Butter

Settlers milked cows to get milk and cream. They made their own butter.

These are the steps settlers used to separate skimmed milk from cream.

These are the steps settlers used to make butter.

Some of the butter was made into one-pound blocks to be sold or traded for goods at the store. Some butter was salted and packed in crocks for winter use. The crocks were kept in the root cellar.

Two hands are milking a cow. Milk is skirting out into a pail.

Before a farm wife could make butter, cream or milk, she would have to milk the cows first.

Butter churner

Women made butter using a churn.

This woman is showing the process that settlers used for making butter.