Summertime – and the livin’ is delicious!
By Kate Butler
Haliburton Highlands Museum
If you’re reading this on a Tuesday in Haliburton, you’ll no doubt be able to see all around the village evidence of residents and visitors loving local food. Our local farmers’ markets have become a phenomenon – one which can link us to our history. For early European settlers, it must have been so gratifying to see months of hard work paying off in the form of food that could provide not only meals for the summer, but also security for the winter ahead.
This summer, we are presenting a program at the Haliburton Highlands Museum called Living History Tuesdays. Some weeks we focus on industry, some weeks on craft and some weeks on delicious historic food. Certain foods which we consider to be iconic summer treats, fresh berries for instance, would have been familiar to 19th century residents of the area, but others would have been considered much more exotic. Today, we pretty much take lemonade for granted, but imagine it in a world where both the sugar and the lemons had to travel thousands of kilometres, in an era before airplanes, automobiles and trucks.
Ontario’s cottage country is known for its ice cream, but even it wasn’t that easily made during a Victorian summer. In a time before modern refrigeration and freezers, where was that ice to chill it going to come from? Certainly residents would have had ice houses and the ice which they “harvested” off the lakes in the winter was preserved as carefully as possible with the help of sawdust, but likely little would be left by summer. For that reason, ice cream was favoured as a holiday treat in December, and usually flavoured with jam rather than fresh fruit.
So, if lemonade and ice cream fell into the realm of the exotic during a Victorian summer, what else was part of the list of everyday pleasures? How about fresh butter? Many people in Haliburton had at least one cow and the local dairies were known to purchase milk to help with their production. Dairy products were known to be at their best during the summer months, though they could be obtained year round.
The secret to the extremely delicious summer dairy products lay in the diet of the cows who at that time were grazing on green fields filled with chlorophyll, which benefited both the flavour and colour of the products produced. While milk, and by extension other dairy products, could be obtained year round, the quality could be so lacklustre that attempts might be made to preserve butter in a cold cellar until the winter, sometimes wrapped in a cabbage leaf. Nothing would compare with the flavour of summer butter on fresh bread though.
Want to find out more about the science and art of cooking in the Victorian era? Stop by to visit with us on a Tuesday afternoon and watch history come to life! In the meantime, take the time to support all the local food producers in Haliburton whose hard work and talent pays tribute to those early farmers of the county, who worked to carve agricultural land out of this landscape. And while you’re at it, make sure to have some ice cream – it is summer after all!