Pioneer Potluck: The olden days in England

  • By Grannie Annie
  • Tuesday, July 1, 2014 4:32pm
  • LifeFood

This article was sent to me several years ago by my cousin Jim Nelson in Kansas. If you have the slightest interest in history or words saying origins, this is an article for you.


England in the 1500s and later:

Houses had thatched roofs, thick straw piled high with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the dogs, cats and other small animals such as mice, rats and bugs lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes animals would slip and fall off the roof, hence the saying, “it’s raining cats and dogs.”

There was nothing to stop things from crawling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings really messed up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

They cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while, which brings us to the rhyme, “peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.”

Sometimes they would obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up the bacon to show it off. This was a sign of wealth that a man could “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off little bacon squares, to share with guests and would all sit around and “chew the fat.”

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach into the food causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes so for the next 400 years or so tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Most people did not have pewter plates but had trenches, a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Often trenchers were made from stale bread which was so old and hard that they could use them for quite sometime as a bowl. Trenchers were never washed and a lot of times worms and mold got into the wood and the old bread. After eating off wormy, moldy trenchers, one would get “trench mouth.”

Bread was divided accordingly to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf. The family got the middle and the guest got the top or the “uppercrust.”

Next time you’re washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn’t just how you like it think about how it used to be, here are some other facts about the 1500s.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of nice warm clean water, then all the other sons and men. The women next and finally the children and last of all were the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in and, hence the saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good. By June however, they were starting to smell slightly so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor.

And now that is more than you wanted to know … huh?

A visit to Aunt Alma Webb

Last Thursday, Susan and I made a trip to Sterling, Alaska, bringing Aunt Alma two beautiful bright pink petunia hanging baskets that Susan had planted at Fireweed Greenhouse and wanted to share with Aunt Alma.

It was raining so I had my rain jacket on and pulled the hood over my head. As I lifted out a basket from the car, my hood fell over my eyes and when I looked up at Susan and asked her to push my hood back, she burst into laughter and well, you know the rest — we had a big giggle about it. No harm came to the baskets of flowers, but it took lots of concentration!

We sat visiting with Aunt Alma and her granddaughter, MerryAnn and her husband David (Doc). I had not seen MerryAnn since she was about 5 or 6 years old when she and her brothers lived with Grandma Alma in La Porte, Colorado. A little later, listening to a deep conversation, I looked down at my shoes. To my complete surprise, I had on a black shoe and a brown shoe! I poked Susan and stuck my feet out. She did good to suppress a giggle that time — but I had to try really hard not to laugh out loud so as not to interrupt Aunt Alma’s conversation.

After photos and hugs, we left with the promise to come back soon and telling MerryAnn how glad I was to see her and meet her friendly husband. You can bet I will have matching shoes on the next time!


We hope you have a safe and happy Fourth of July! Pease do not forget why we celebrate this great day!

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