Welcome.

November

November

If this were November 29, 1792, right now you'd be chopping up your pumpkins and hanging them to dry from the ceiling.

 I have carefully adjusted this picture to look like it has been in a photo album since 1988.

I have carefully adjusted this picture to look like it has been in a photo album since 1988.

Same with your apples. And your walls would be lined with vegetables.

 Decorative!

Decorative!

And sadly for your pigs, you'd be slaughtering them and smoking their meat. In the early frontier days, pigs would be left to roam free in the forest through the summer - so no one had to worry about feeding them - and then rounded up in the fall.

 It doesn't  look  good, but it  smells  good.

It doesn't look good, but it smells good.

This would have been the time of year when your stomach would've been the most consistently full. The spring, when the stores were running out and the garden hadn't started producing yet, would've been a bit lean. You'd have eaten a lot of corn meal mush. Yes, corn meal mush is a real thing. It is made of corn meal, water, and salt, cooked until smooth. In the spring, at least, you'd have maple sugar to put on it.

 THIS IS A GIANT BLOCK OF MAPLE SUGAR!

THIS IS A GIANT BLOCK OF MAPLE SUGAR!

Maybe you'd also be dreading the winter, which would likely be pretty boring and would use up a whole lot of firewood, which would mean a ton of work. There's a reason there aren't a whole lot of diaries and novels and visual art from the frontier. Surviving left no spare time for frivolities!

On the other hand, traveling was in some ways easier in the winter. Since the ground was frozen, there was no mud. Before pavement, mud was obviously a widespread issue. So many travel accounts of the Genesee Country mention how tough-going it was that the first section of Under a Bravery of Stars used to be kind of like the opening of Bleak House, but with mud instead of fog. I scrapped that because it was stupid. Anyway, mud was a big part of life and made travel difficult. But in the winter, you could use a sleigh. In the winter of 1795, after the Treaty of Canandiagua was signed and all the white settlers felt assured that the scary scary "Indians" were leaving the area, vast numbers of them decided to come to the frontier - and not only did the winter weather not stop them, it enabled them. On February 28, 1795, five hundred sleighs passed through Albany, headed east. So maybe you wouldn't be dreading winter - maybe you'd be looking forward to visiting your neighbors and comparing recipes for dried ceiling-pumpkin and corn meal mush!

When life seems hard in 2016, I think of the 1790s, eat a banana, and feel extremely grateful.


This installment of Back In The Day brought to you by (1) my memory, and (2) photos from where else but the Genesee Country Village & Museum.

The one actual fact about sleigh travel in 1795 is from Clayton Mau's interestingly titled The Development of Central and Western New York: From the Arrival of the White Man to the Eve of the Civil War. Dansville, NY: F. A. Owen Publishing Company, 1958.

And in case you haven't read Bleak House lately, here's just a small sample of the fog part:

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

Insane, incurably insane

Insane, incurably insane

Actual factual!

Actual factual!