Monday, February 7, 2011

The Tropical American Frontier Circa 1830: Food And Water In Pioneer Key West

A visit to Key West's Oldest House offers you a glimpse into the life of an early 19th Century American Pioneer. Think Wild West in the tropics – but without fresh water. Life on an island closer to Cuba than the mainland United States. Water collected in a cistern for drinking and cooking.

There’s a backyard Cook House (above), a small outbuilding with a beehive chimney and a large hearth, to keep the fire safely away from the house. Servants awaken early to stoke the fire; it takes 8 hours to get hot enough to bake bread.

The family of nine, a ship’s captain, his wife and seven daughters, awake to the smell of eggs with corn cakes or grits. If a ship has been in port, the cakes are slathered with molasses.

Fresh snapper, grouper or turtle steaks on the dinner table. Turtle eggs, a great delicacy dug from the sandy nests on the beach are an occasional treat.

The soil, a scant six or 12 inches of sandy dirt on limestone supports little but some fruit trees; sea grapes are abundant, the settlers plan Spanish limes and exotic fruits.

Ships do call, and with rice, coffee, cornmeal, apples and root vegetables could be ordered, but their delivery is uncertain. Sugar and molasses comes from New Orleans or the Caribbean and spices and coffee arrive from Mexico.

Occasionally there’s a shipment of beef from Abilene, Texas or Jacksonville, Florida. Key West’s salt ponds provided plenty of salt to preserve the meat, but food often spoils, and stomach complaints are common.

I learned what Key West's early residents ate for today's V7N Challenge: Learn Something New Every Day!

Key West's Oldest House is open 10-4 except Wednesday and Sunday.
Oldest House Website
322 Duval Street
Key West, FL 33040-6510
(305) 294-9501
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