Using Every Part: Meat Preparation in the 1850s

P1040993Located in the downstairs kitchen of the Manse, a square wooden box with an upward turning handle and two metal hinges sits adjacent to the large cooking stove. This object is a replica of a meat grinder possibly used in the Wilson household during their duration in the house from 1855 to 1857. The primitive design was invented in the early 19th century by German inventor Karl Drais. The machine worked by lifting the top of the box and inserting meat, most likely beef, in the entanglement of blades and nails. Once inside, the operator of the machine began turning the foot long crank on top of the main compartment to move the meat causing the meat to slowly shred and ground down.

P1040995Performing the task of operating the meat grinder was most likely done by one of three servants leased by the Presbyterian Church in Staunton. The presence of a meat grinder indicates two inferences about the Wilson family during their stay in Staunton. First, the presence of a meat grinder indicates obviously the presence of meat. In a world before refrigeration, meat was rarely transported. Historians infer then that the Wilson family possibly owned a cow or other large livestock of their own or had a regular supply available possibly sold from downtown Staunton. The second inference made from the presence of the meat grinder speaks for the economy of the time. The invention of the meat grinder provided an alternative option for the consumption of the non-glamorous cuts of beef. Though this indicated a variety in meal preparations, one can infer still that the Wilson’s and many Americans at the time worked to consume the entirety foods harvested or grown, allowing little to go to waste.

Post written by WWPL intern Brendan Dodson

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