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Pen Pictures of Early Pioneer Life in Upper Canada


THE families, including the hired help, being usually large, it was necessary to bake large batches of bread. The earliest contrivance for this purpose was the "bake-kettle," an iron kettle, with long legs usually. The dough was placed in this kettle, after which the kettle was set on a bed of coals; more live coals were then drawn over the cover and around the sides of the kettle, a fresh supply being raked on when those first put on had cooled, until the bread was baked sufficiently. In the absence of a bake-kettle, the bread was sometimes baked in the hot ashes. After the bake-kettle came the "Reflector," called by some the "Dutch Oven." This appliance was mostly used for pastry-baking and for roasting meat. It was made of tin, the open side facing the hot fire, the top and back sloping so as to reflect the heat from the fire on whatever was being baked in it. Later on, large ovens, built of brick, similar to those used by bakers, were built outside in the yard or in an outhouse. Sometimes they were built in the house, beside the fireplace and connected with the chimney, and opened out into one of the living rooms. Many of them held two or or three dozen loaves of bread. A fire was built in the oven, and, after it had been properly heated, the burning wood was removed, the oven cleaned out with a scraper and broom, and the lumps of dough placed on the brick floor. It was necessary to allow the oven to cool to a certain temperature before putting in the dough. To ascertain the right temperature some such rule as this was observed The housewife would place her hand in the oven, and if she could hold it there while she counted twenty, the oven was considered in fit condition for baking in. A few of these old ovens are still to be found in connection with some of the old houses, but the modern range, on account of its convenience, has entirely supplanted the primitive oven. These brick ovens were sometimes also used for roasting meat and for drying apples and berries.

Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, the bread, when being raised, was placed in conical-shaped straw baskets. After it had risen sufficiently, it was turned over on a big wooden shovel and put into the oven. This same shovel was also used for taking out the bread after being baked.

The Smoke-Houses.

The hams and pieces of beef, after the butchering, were salted down in big casks or tubs kept for the purpose. In the spring of the year, generally about the first of April, the hams were taken out of the brine or pickle, washed off and hung up in the smoke-house. The smoke-house usually stood in the yard close by the brick bake-oven. Its walls were covered with grease, and had a string odor about them of beech wood creosote. The smudge for making the smoke was got by burning beech or maple wood—a certain amount of oil of smoke was distilled from this confined smoke, which gave the peculiar smell to the place and flavor to the hams, besides, by its antiseptic properties, acting as a preservative to the meat.

When better classes of houses were built by the settlers, these smoke-houses were then built of brick or stone, which made them safer from being destroyed by fire.

The Old Workshop.

Our grandfathers were also practical men with their other good qualities. They always kept a collection of tools on hand for doing any repairing necessary, as well as other kinds of work, while nowadays a skilled mechanic has to be employed to do the same class of work. In the old workshop was to be found a carpenter's bench, with vise, saws, planes, chisels, turning lathe, etc., as well as the old shaving horse, used for shaping shingles and pieces of wood for other purposes, which wooden horse, when children, we were fond of riding. Here in the workshop in rainy weather, or during the long winter days, our industrious grandfathers might be seen busily engaged in making a whiffle-tree, fashioning a plough-handle, repairing their grain cradles, making ox yokes and axe helves, shaping shingles and doing sundry other odd jobs, while our grandmothers were toiling at the loom and spinning- wheel. In many cases part of the workshop was set apart for the weaving and the spinning. Here could be heard all day long the hum. of the spinning-wheel and the rattle of the loom.

The Old Grindstone.

Somewhere on the premises, conveniently situated, stood the old grindstone. It was a veritable instrument of torture to smaller male members of the family, for when the axes, scythes, etc., required grinding, it generally devolved upon the "small boy" to do the turning. If he saw one of the men appearing with a tool in one hand and a basin of water in the other, he knew he was in for a half hour's hard labor. How eagerly he watched, as the edge of the tool was being examined, to see whether it was sharp enough for the word to be given that would release him from the tiresome duty. How his arms did ache as he turned, first with one hand and then with the other, putting forth an extra effort when the tool was being pressed more firmly on the stone, and what a sense of relief and freedom he felt when the job was finished and he could run away and play.

The Corn Crib.

A pen picture of the farm buildings and their surroundings would not be complete without mention being made of the corn crib, which usually stood somewhere on the premises in an exposed place. It was placed on posts, which raised it up from the ground several feet, so that the air could circulate freely underneath. These posts were usually covered with tin or sheet iron, or had an old tin basin or pail turned upside down on the top, so as to prevent the rats and mice from getting at the corn. The sides and ends were made of slats placed several inches apart, so that the wind might have freedom to pass through, and so prevent the corn from heating and getting mouldy, which it is liable to do when kept in a pile. The ears of corn, after being husked, were placed in this crib, and allowed to remain there until needed for use, for feeding the pigs and fattening the poultry for market. The more primitive crib was made by boring holes in the foundation logs several inches apart, and placing stakes in them, on top of which was put a rail, to which the stakes were withed, and sometimes withes were put across the bin to prevent it from spreading. The top was thatched with straw, or covered with boards or hollowed basswood logs.

Saw Mill

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