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Pioneer Housekeeping Makes Our Chore List Look Puny!

Food Preservation

Once established in their new homes, pioneer women relied upon their gardens to round out the staples that provided much of their sustenance during winter and to add much-needed variety to a repetitive diet. Tomatoes, melons, beans, and potatoes were much needed sources of nutrients and pioneer women worked very hard to make sure that none of the produce went to waste.

Settlers in front of their cabin in winter.

Settlers in front of their cabin in winter. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections

Using up un-ripe produce, pickling, and canning were essential to keeping the family fed. In The Long Winter, Wilder writes about her mother making a mock-apple pie using green melon and vinegar as a convincing stand-in for the apples they did not have.

Family of pioneers in Arizona during the 1890s.

Family of pioneers in Arizona during the 1890s. Via/ National Archives

Meat had to be salted, smoked or cooked almost immediately, unless temperatures outside were freezing. Fruits and vegetables were often dried, though canning produced a much tastier result. Snow was also used to pack meat in to keep it fresh. Wilder also wrote about using snow to make candy: hot maple syrup was poured onto snow to harden into a wonderful treat.


Settler women with their children, 1880s.

Settler women with their children, 1880s. Via/ National Archives

Burning wood, coal, and kerosene, meant that residue inside the home accumulated quickly. Screens (at times) could be a luxury and it meant that pioneer women were cleaning and wiping down everything on a daily basis in order to keep the home clean. Those settlers who lived in sod houses or dirt floors had a tougher time as snakes, insects, and water were a constant problem to contended with.

Pioneer Sod House

Family in front of their sod house, Kansas. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections

While some goods could be bought at the general store once your settlement had one, there were many families who could not afford these luxuries. Salves, cosmetics, and soaps were often made at home. The mending, butter-making, sweeping, boiling, and stoking filled most of the rest of a pioneer woman’s time. And, she helped out with the farming as needed, too! It’s sometimes hard to imagine how it all got done, compared with today’s modern inventions which save us so much time. But, they were skilled and determined!

If you enjoyed this then you can check out photos of the Old West right here.

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