Dales Plants and Gardens 1900-1960: growing food
Storage inside and outside
Everything possible was picked and killed at the last moment. Cabbages, parsnips, turnips, sprouts and leeks stood in the ground through winter, gathered as needed. Where space and walls allowed apples were grown. These were usually dual purpose, first cookers then eaters: Ribstone Pippin, Newton Wonder, and Flower of the Town. They were used from the trees in succession over as long a period as possible before those that were left were stored fresh wherever space could be found.(Listen to DG's oral history here)
Potatoes were dug up and used as needed until October. The October potato-picking holiday was a village event, a time to earn good money, and catch up on gossip while working along the rows. The farmer dug up the potatoes with a machine and people followed behind picking them off the ground. Children, some as young as eight, worked at picking potatoes. During the 1940s and 1950s, the Ministry of Agriculture formalised the previously random absences from school by declaring it a two-week holiday. Each child was given a card to be signed by the farmer and returned to school after harvesting and potato picking.
At home the potatoes were either dug up to be stored in a tin lined with soil before being replaced in the ground, or stored in paper and hessian sacks and stacked wherever space could be found. Pigs and rabbits were also used as live storage units. Rabbits were either reared and sold for a bit of extra money, or better still taken with ferrets and terriers from the wild.
Pigs were killed in succession and shared around the hamlet in turn. Plates of fresh fry (offal) were taken on dishes to neighbours, who returned the favour when they killed their pig.
Few herbs were grown to flavour food. Mint sauce made with sugar and malt vinegar was ubiquitous, as mint was easy to grow.
Hens are sensitive to daylight length: as the days grow shorter the number of eggs laid decreases. To ensure an adequate supply of eggs in the winter for baking they were stored either in waterglass or bran tubs over the summer.
Many people remember the seasonal qualities of milk: in spring so thick and creamy that it almost needed a spoon, the best cheese made from it to be matured for Christmas. Milk from sheep and cattle that fed on ‘fog’ (the grass left standing through the winter) was thin and made poor cheese. Butter could be made all year round: rich gold from meadow plants in spring and summer, and paler in winter because the animals feed on hay.
In the summer everyone shared in the glut of fruit and vegetables, nothing could be saved fresh, although plums were bottled in kilner jars. Eating could at last be for pleasure.
Few people were able to be completely self-sufficient in what they grew. Vans selling all manner of items including food traveled around the Dales. Farmers went to weekly markets to buy and sell livestock, catch up on the local news, buy food for the animals and the family, and hire men from the groups that stood in the market place. Several people remembered vegetable shops with a piece of land out back from where rhubarb was pulled and vegetables picked as customers came in and asked for them. (Listen to Tony Dykes' oral history here)