Checking back two hundred years, it appears the English crop production was very good. I even learned some new agricultural terms.
The New Monthly edition of September, 1818 reports it had been a dry, warm August and so an early harvest of many crops was permitted. Wheat, barley and oats production was high, particularly in the North. The by-product of these grains–straw–was therefore abundant as well, benefiting other industries like thatching.
Turnips, apples and hops were also in abundance. One observation of the potato harvest noted the singular appearance of the tuber in that year–“rough on the coat from being randed.” Near as I can figure, this means they grew so numerous in the ground as to be practically woven together. Once dug up, the potatoes appeared rough, or randed by such close growing conditions.
There were many Regency-era recipes devised from potatoes. If you had enough, Cook might be persuaded to make that attractive side dish of mashed potatoes formed into a collar surrounded by balls. After baking, a sauce would be added:
“..half a pint of white wine, sugared to taste, add the yolks of three eggs beat, and a little nutmeg; set it on the fire and when thickish, pour it on the dish.”
— The Frugal Housekeeper’s Companion, Elizabeth Alcock (1812)
The harvest of beans and peas did not fare as well, however. The stems of this produce, called the halm, and used for thatching and bedding, was also lessened as a result.
Summer fallow, that is, those fields that were deliberately rested in 1818, were seen to be “more forward in their culture.” A fallow field is one allowed to rest for the year–a feature of crop rotation farming since medieval times. The ‘culture’ that takes place during the rest period is the process of breaking down left-over vegetation, especially in ideal weather conditions, which renews the soil’s nutrients. The more forward the process is, the more ready the field is for growing a new crop the next year.
And next year will be here before you know it.
Very interesting — and the potato balls sound yummy.
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I know, right? And if you were especially dexterous, you could make all sorts of shapes out of mashed potatoes. Theoretically.
I grew up avoiding eating turnip greens as often as possible when visiting my grandparents in the south, but I did enjoy the “little potatoes” mixed in with the green. Imagine my surprise – as an adult, no less – to learn those were turnips, haha. Now a transplanted Southerner, I enjoy making mashed turnips, and cream of turnip soup. I like to think, at least I could have blended in at the Regency dinner table.
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Oh, the things you can do with turnips–or not. When I was a kid, it seemed like there was always someone coming to those southern potluck suppers with a bag of raw turnips. What the heck?