A World Without Ice Makers

Writing historical novels, romances or otherwise, it’s important to have a bit of research done so you don’t look like a total noob. In Romance, there’s a fine line between total accuracy and boring technicality. We can bend the facts a wee bit, but always explain in a note to your readers what you have done.

I am writing a story with a bunch of people escaping Napoleon’s soldiers. They have packed up whatever provisions they have that will last a four day journey. Cheese and honey, ale, some bread to be eaten in the first few days, hard breads after that. Fruit, wine, and vegetables, supplemented by eggs from the chickens they are taking, and milk from a nanny goat.

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They will be catching some rabbits and game birds for meals, but there is no way to keep meat fresh longer than a day. Or is there?

Dried or smoked meats were typical staples throughout history. But the process took time, and had to be prepared in advance of a journey. Salting meats and sugaring or honeying fruits (known as curing) no doubt happened year round, and such items as hams or jellies could be available to pack for the trip.

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Foods could be pickled, either by fermenting or using a chemical bath like vinegar. Lye was not widely used as a preservative, but certain northern cultures liked their fish this way, and some eggs are kept in lye. Canning was carried out using mostly glass or clay vessels, but Napoleon did invent or cause to be invented the use of tin cans. http://illinoistimes.com/article-permalink-7361.html But the process and product were costly, so it was not something refugees would have.

A popular method for keeping meats was jugging, in which meat was cut up and placed in an earthenware jug. The jug was cooked with red wine often added to the meat, and sealed. Like canning, most organisms were eliminated and the food stayed healthy.

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Root veggies like potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and so on could be preserved by simply keeping them out of the light and heat. A cellar often had barrels of these things to keep them fresh. These could easily be collected to take along. Burying some items for long periods of time was another method of preservation, but again, not something that would be availabe to take on a sudden urgent trip.

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Looks like the menu for the trip will be game stew, with cabbage and potatoes, cheese, bread at first, ale and spring water. Breakfasts would be porridge and fruits, with fresh goats milk. Tea may be available. Midday a light meal of cheese, nuts, pickled vegetables, eggs, and any left over bread with ale to wash it down. And so on. Not too bad, and never having had ice cream, they wouldn’t miss it at all.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.

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