A Rotten Apple Spoils the Barrel

15-year-old Helena wrote a hundred years ago today:

Saturday, February 11, 1911. Got up about eight o’clock this morning. Did quite a lot of work this forenoon. Carrie Stout was over a while this afternoon. Nearly all my Saturdays are alike.  

 Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

As I read this diary I want to constantly remind the 15-year-old who wrote it to write about day-to-day activities and routines. For example, I wonder what my future grandmother and her family did on Saturday mornings in the middle of the winter.

Maybe the family sorted through the bins of apples stored in the basement and discarded apples that were starting to spoil. If there were only small bad spots on some of the apples, they probably were put into a pan and brought up to the kitchen for immediate use. 

Or maybe the family sorted potatoes—and selected the damaged or spouted ones to eat first. If there were lots of spouting potatoes the sprouts would have been broken off and then put back into storage. Back then carefully curing, storing, and spouting extended the storage life–whereas today potatoes are often treated with chemicals to minimize sprouting.

Today we talk about local foods being freshest—but in the old days there was also a competing notion that the food that would spoil first should be used first. This particularly played out during the winter months. The practice of saving the most desirable specimens helped ensure that there would be sufficient food for the entire winter.

For example, let’s say that there were 10 winter squash put into storage. A month later someone went to get a squash and noticed that one had a small bad spot on it—whereas the one sitting next to it still looked as perfect as the day it was harvested. The one with the imperfections would be selected—and the bad spot would be cut out of it before using—because that one won’t last as long into the winter as the perfect one.

That said, a hundred years ago people also weren’t afraid to throw out food if it did spoil. More food would be put into storage than could possibly be eaten and it was anticipated that a certain percentage of it would spoil.

I have a friend who won’t shop at farmers’ markets because the bunches, trays, and baskets of produce sold at them provide more produce than her family can eat before it spoils. I always tell her to enjoy the fresh food—and not to worry if she ends up throwing some away—but the waste bothers her and she’d prefer to buy processed foods  and supermarket produce that are less likely to decay.

That said— in Grandma’s day meals were planned to use available foods and whenever possible food was used—or given to a neighbor who could use it.

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