November 13, 1852

Turnip

Sat Nov 13th  Have cleaned the parlour

but did not take up the carpet

gave it a thourough sweeping and

washed the paint  Miss Alger has

been here and given the girls their

eleventh lesson  Mrs Oliver Ames

has been to Boston  got Helen a cloak

 

Evelina stayed indoors today, perhaps envious that her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames was shopping in Boston. Sarah bought her daughter Helen a cloak. Do we imagine that Evelina might soon head for the city to buy one for her daughter Susan?

Old Oliver, meanwhile, was still busy outdoors on several fronts, including the harvesting of turnips, as he reported: “this was a fair day but pritty chilly we got in some [of] our turnips to day*”. Turnips were an important vegetable crop that kept well over the winter, making it a staple in most households. Botanist Judith Sumner notes that “as early as 1609, colonists […] cultivated turnips. […] Cold weather improved their flavor, so it may not be coincidental that a November 1637 letter from John Winthrop to his wife instructed her to harvest their crop while he was away.”** Native Americans adopted the vegetable themselves, preferring it to other edible roots that they had previously gathered.

Turnips were still standard fare at the 19th century New England dinner table, typically prepared just as Sarah Josepha Hale suggests:

Turnips should be pared; put into boiling water, with a little salt; boiled till tender; then squeeze them thoroughly from the water, mash them smooth, add a piece of butter and a little pepper and salt.***

Surely there would be mashed turnips served at Thanksgiving.

 

 

*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection

**Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, Portland, Oregon, 2004, p. 30

*** Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841, p. 74

 

2 thoughts on “November 13, 1852

  1. Interesting that you quote John Winthrop’s letter to his wife, as this afternoon I will be attending a program which features the book “John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father” and its author, Francis Bremer. The early chapters concern the life of the Winthrops back in England, including where and how the young John would have learned about all the aspects of farming, including turnips. His father often left on month-long trips, leaving John’s mother in charge of things, so the Winthrops had confidence that their wives could handle the farm and whatever other obligations arose. Winthrop’s spiritual diary, a separate work, which is online, contains some heart-rending passages on the death of his second wife, who preceded the one getting the missive on the turnips.

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