Friday, July 12, 2013

A heifer: the perfect wedding gift

I've been reading a book called Making Ends Meet: Farm Women's Work in Manitoba. Yes, I know you've been dying to read this book.

This is part of my ancestry, so I'm interested. I'm also interested in how other women lived. What I read today was fascinating, and it made me appreciate my dryer and washing machine.

This section I just finished reading was about what women did in the era of subsistence farming. This would be before 1870, when Manitoba was still a possession of the Hudson's Bay Company. The settlers who went to the Red River area faced a live of never ending work.

Women used wood stoves for cooking as well as for heating water for doing laundry. The water was brought in with pails from outside, so laundry wasn't done more than weekly, and because many of the garments were made with rough homespun fabric, sometimes, articles of clothing took a week to dry. They made their own soap, which was a labour-intensive process. I don't imagine it was anything like a bar of Dove, considering animal fat and ashes were involved.

In addition to daily cooking, cleaning, and caring for huge families, baking was done weekly, as was cheese-making. This production of dairy products was an important contribution to the household economy. Making cheese and butter was a process that required skill. Too much heat or too little heat, too much waiting or not enough, and they had a mess rather than cheese or butter. I don't think they got their recipes and advice for such tasks from Pinterest. This is when knowing how mother or grandmother did things would have been invaluable. I liked this passage here:
Milk, butter, and cheese provided largely by women, were crucial dietary supplements in Red River households. With the exception of butter, they were protein-rich foods and supplied high-quality animal protein without any precious livestock having to be killed. Moreover, women bartered dairy products at the Hudson's Bay Company store for household necessities and farm supplies. Just how important dairy products were to Red River settlers is demonstrated by the fact that upon marriage, a cow or heifer was usually given to the bride.
The author comments later:
Subsistence farming called forth a division of labour in which men and women had complementary responsibilities and in which a high degree of task sharing took place.
Now, that's a kind of complementarity I don't think I've thought of lately.
Imagine walking into wedding reception and finding a heifer among the toasters and blenders.