Preserving Meat in the 1800s


Our ancestors met the challenge of preserving meat without modern refrigeration by curing, drying, pickling, salting, or packing in snow.

Fresh beef had to be consumed in two days during summer to prevent spoilage. Sprinkling the meat all over with pepper kept the flies away.

Tainted meat could be saved. After rinsing with cold water, use strong chamomile tea to wash it. Sprinkle with salt if the meat will be eaten the next day. Rubbing roughly-pounded charcoal over the meat removes the taint.

Meat lasted for weeks during the winter when packed in snow.

spice-370114_960_720Curing ham was a long process. Rub a mixture of salt, brown sugar, saltpeter, cayenne pepper, and allspice all over the ham and place in a barrel. After a week, cover meat with a brine of water, salt, and sugar. Wait four weeks then remove the ham from the brine and hang to dry another week. Then smoke the meat using hickory chips or corn cobs.

Salting was another way to preserve pork. A layer of salt covered the bottom of a barrel. The meat was sliced into strips then placed over the salt. Another layer of salt was added, then meat until all the pork was packed inside. A boiling hot brine then covered the pork. A weighted lid went on top.

Beef tongues marinated in a pickling brine for two weeks. Cooks then dried or smoked them.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery, Applewood Books, 1877.

Hale, Sarah Josepha. Early American Cookery: “The Good Housekeeper.” 1841, Dover Publications , Inc., 1996.