Heritage, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1987 Page: 28
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washed in polluted streams could carry typhoid.
Also, diarrhea associated with
overeating ripe fruit had the symptoms of
the dreaded cholera. Finally, fruits and
vegetables tended to ripen in the warm
months, when epidemics usually occurred.
Many vegetables, especially the
leafy variety, were not widely consumed
because they appeared to yield so little
nutrition in proportion to the labor spent
in cultivation-people tended to prefer
more "hearty" foods.
The use of wild vegetables by the first
settlers is seldom mentioned, but undoubtedly
they were part of the diet.
Prickly pear fruit, wild plums, persimmons,
blackberries and the like, along
with nuts, were all seasonally available.
Neither do pioneer accounts refer to
vegetable gardens in the first years on the
frontier. Certainly there would have been
a problem protecting them from wild animals,
livestock, and poultry. When Big
Foot Wallace attempted to buy some
vegetables from a pioneer woman, she
had only "cowcumbers" (cucumbers) and
"mushmillions" (muskmelons) because
"the dratted varmints are so uncommon
bad on 'em."
Of the vegetables grown in Texas, the
sweet potato was probably the most
widely used. It apparently grew better
than the Irish potato in the southern climate.
Many settlers grew pumpkins between
corn rows, as they required no extra
work. Travelers' accounts suggest that
a wide variety of vegetables were being
grown in Texas, although perhaps not extensively.
One individual listed cabbages,
radishes, onions, asparagus, spinach,
watermelons, okra, eggplants, and tomatoes.
This was a period when people
were just learning to eat tomatoes. Often
called love apples, tomatoes are a variety
of nightshade and were thought to be poisonous.
Traditionally they were used only
to make sauces such as catsup.
Along the coast and in established
settlements, one found a greater variety
of vegetables and citrus fruits. Mary Austin
Holley commented on the "olives,
oranges, lemons, figs, peaches, and grapes
of many varieties." Mary Maverick had
pomegranates in her San Antonio garden.
Since there was no refrigeration and
sugar was often unattainable or expensive,
fruits and vegetables were eaten
fresh, often between meals, as opposed to
being preserved or made into wine, cider,
or brandy. Although settlers dehydrated
This was a period when people
were just learning to eat tomatoes.
Often called love
apples, tomatoes are a variety
of nightshade and were thought
to be poisonous.
and pickled meat, there are very few accounts
of preserving vegetables and fruits
in this manner.
Texans probably acquired seeds through
catalogs, and the variety of seeds available
in the 1830s and 1840s is surprising.
One of the most well known was the Gardener's
Manual, first published by the
Shaker Society in 1836. Their catalog of
garden seeds included six different varieties
of lettuce, and everything from asparagus
Most food preparation took place in
the kitchen. It was often detached from
the main house, not only for fire protection,
but also to keep the heat out and to
prevent smoke and cooking odors from
filling the house. Cooking around a fire
was extremely hazardous, especially in a
floor-length dress and petticoat. In this
period, more women died from injury by
fire than ever died in childbirth or from
disease. The survival rate for bum victims
was low, not so much because of the se
verity of the burn, but due instead to the
An important component of food
preparation and processing was salt. As
early as 1826, Asa Mitchell opened a salt
factory at the mouth of the Brazos. Salt
springs, marshes, and salt "lagoons" were
found in many sections of the territory.
The early nineteenth century reflected
a period of tremendous innovation in
food preservation. In 1809, Frenchman
Nicholas Appert invented vacuumpacked,
hermetically sealed bottles to
help supply Napoleon's army, and in 1825,
American Thomas Kensett took out the
first patent for tin cans.
Texan Gail Borden also made significant
contributions in food preservation.
The inventor of condensed milk, Borden
also worked extensively on other products.
In the 1850s he set up a factory in
Galveston to produce a dehydrated meat
biscuit. The business had eight employees
and sold $40,000 worth of finished products
annually. His partner, Dr. Ashbel
Smith, promoted the product and even
went to London with the biscuit for the
1851 World's Fair. There it won a gold
medal and attracted worldwide comment.
Scientific American called the product
"one of the most valuable inventions that
has ever been brought forward." Yet, the
biscuit was never a commerical successit
simply did not taste good; in fact, it
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1987, periodical, Summer 1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45437/m1/28/: accessed June 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.