Oct 4th Sat. Preserved 25 pounds of peaches and 16 lbs
barbaries & about 23 lbs Apples with them. Have
been about sick all day Expect I have taken
the nettlerash from Susan have been troubled
with it three or four days. Called this afternoon
at Augustus find them quite comfortably settled
Harriet trimmed my Bonnet with the ribbon I
wore last fall Charles Mitchell came to see Mrs Mitchell
Evelina hadn’t felt very well for several days and began to feel even worse today. She believed she had “taken the nettlerash from Susan,” meaning that she now had hives, just as her daughter had had a week earlier. It made her feel “about sick” yet she stayed upright and worked in the kitchen most of the day. The fruit they had picked or gathered from friends and family wouldn’t keep, so the cooking had to get done.
In the kitchen, Evelina, probably with significant help from Jane McHanna, put up 64 pounds of fruit. She didn’t make jam, which would have consisted of cooked fruit pulp, nor did she make jelly, which would have been made from fruit juice. She made preserves, which in this instance were pared peaches and apples, the latter mixed with barberries, that were placed whole or in chunks in sugar – lots of sugar – and then boiled down. And because “ingredients in […] loaf sugar are not always very clean,”* most cookbooks of the day strongly urged that the sugar be clarified.
Mrs. Cornelius, in her 1846 The Young Housekeeper’s Friend,* noted that “[t]he chief art in making nice preserves, and such as will keep, consists in the proper preparation of the syrup. All sugars are better for being clarified.”* Mary Tyler Peabody Mann, more than ten years later in her cookbook, Christianity in the Kitchen, agreed with the necessity of clarifying the sugar . The process was labor intensive; even with the help of Jane McHanna, Evelina would have had hours of work if she followed Mrs. Mann’s “receipt”:
“Put half a pint of water to every pound of sugar. Stir in the white of an egg for every five pounds of sugar, and let it boil; when it rises, put in half a teacup of water and let it boil again, and repeat this process two or three times. Set the kettle aside for fifteen minutes, then take the scum from the top. Pout off the syrup; wash the kettle, and put in the fruit you wish to preserve.”**
After sitting at the kitchen table paring the fruit, or standing over the stove clarifying the sugar, or placing the fruit into the stoneware or glass jars, Evelina needed a break. She took a walk to the village to see her nephew Augustus and his family. Even if she wasn’t feeling well, the fresh air must have felt good after the heat and bustle of the kitchen.
* Mary Hooker Cornelius, The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846
** Mary Peabody Mann, Christianity in the Kitchen, 1858