Welsh Social History (continued)

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Butter was made on most farms and smallholdings weekly, and then stored in casks ready to be taken every few weeks to market. Large quantities were made in the spring months for the old farmers believed that calving should be limited to April and May. Milk was poured into a slate or wooden trough and allowed to stand in the dairy, so that the cream could be skimmed off the surface. Since churning usually only took place one day a week the milk could be slightly sour before it was converted into butter. To make butter cream was placed in the churn and the handles grasped and the vessel rocked to and fro; this method was slow and laborious. There was also a plunger churn which had a near conical, coopered container, anything up to three feet tall, with a vertical plunger, equipped with a perforated metal disc at the bottom, passing through a central hole in the churn lid. Whilst most barrel churns were hand operated, dog wheels and horse turnstiles were used in some districts for churning.

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The skimmed milk was usually fed to calves, but it was also used to make cheese. In some parts sheep were also milked after the spring lambing and their milk was mixed with the skimmed cow's milk. The usual recipe was:

1 gallon ewe's milk
4 gallons cow's milk
calf's caul; or rennet (two tablespoons)
The milk was heated in a brass pan to blood heat, and then removed from the fire, the rennet added, and the mixture allowed to stand for a few hours. A wooden spoon or implement was used to cut it up and the whey poured away. The curds were then mixed and pressed with bare hands and salt was added, and then the curds were placed in a cloth ready for pressing. The cheese presses were of wood, stone or metal. The cheese had to be pressed for two days and turned three times each day: for the first two turnings holes were bored in the cheese to allow the whey to run out. Usually the cheese was kept for a couple of years before it was considered fit to eat.

In some households the whey would be used to make a dish known as gwyneb maidd. About 3 gallons of whey were heated to near boiling point and fresh milk and buttermilk were added. The milk curdled and bread was added, and the dish was then eaten, usually with bread and cheese.

In communities near the sea fish provided variety. Herrings were popular, especially in the Lleyn Peninsula and the south-west. In the autumn it was the custom to buy a 'meise' of herrings, consisting of 500 fish, and salt them. The herrings were placed in a cask in layers with layers of salt between, stored in a dark, cool place for a couple of months. When the salted herrings were required, they were taken out of the salt and washed and allowed to steep in cold water overnight. Next day the fish were hung on sticks, in the chimney space to dry.

In some riverside communities salmon was preserved by smoking; it was not regarded as a luxury, merely as a last resort to preserve fish that could not be sold on the open market. The cockles gathered by the cockle women of Pen-clawdd, in north Gower were popular. These were boiled, or fried with laver bread (a form of seaweed gathered from certain beaches).

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To produce the essential ingredients for so many rural foods, every locality in Wales had a corn mill. In 1923 the county of Cardigan had 77 working corn mills, Brecknockshire had 44, and Pembroke 54. All these mills were water driven, but in some areas - Anglesey and the Vale of Glamorgan in particular - windmills were very common. In other districts, notably in the Milford Haven area, tide mills were known.

Corn milling was undoubtedly the most widespread of all rural industries, for there was hardly a river or stream in Wales that didn't have a mill along its banks. Considerable quantities of cereals were grown in Wales, for not only may the remains of corn mills be seen in the fertile valleys suitable for cereal crops, but they may also be seen in the narrow valleys of the moorland, for even the moorland sheep farmer grew his quota of oats, rye and barley to feed both man and animal, even though the land may have been completely unsuited to tillage.

The quality of millstones is of vital importance to the miller and both the fixed stones and the running stones have to dressed at regular intervals with a special hammer known as a 'mill bill', deep grooves of a regular pattern had to be cut into the stones to ensure the grain was milled efficiently and distributed the flour to the edge of the wheel. French burr millstones were preferred for milling barley. But for milling wheat and oats, millstone grit stones were used.

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In a land famous for its temperance leaders of the 19th and 20th C., one of the oldest institutions that ever existed was a distillery that operated for a few years between 1887 and 1905. This as established at Frongoch, near Bala, in Merioneth, a town that was notable centre of Calvinistic Methodism and all that implied. A certain R.J.Lloyd thought that Wales could become as important a centre as the Scottish highlands for the distilling of whisky. After samples of water from various rivers in north Wales were analysed, that from the river Tairfelin was chosen as ideal. A Scotsman named Colville was engaged to run the distillery project and production started in 1889. Despite the good intentions the campaign for Welsh whisky did not thrive. It was the fish in the river that suffered after a decade of flourishing on a mixture of barley and warm water that emanated from the distillery.

There is not any particular Welsh national drink, though in some areas cider was made and drunk. In 1934 a certain Calvinistic minister preaching at a sasiwn at Trefeca described Brecknock as a 'cider besotted county'. Cider making was practised on many farms until recent times, and orchards containing such varieties as Golden Pippin, Redstreak, Old Foxwhelp, Perthyre and Frederick were well distributed throughout the border countries. Many public houses had a cider house containing milling and pressing equipment.

Although beer making was widely practised in Welsh households in the past, the impact of temperance leaders and a number of religious revivals between 1859 and 1904 put an end to this traditional domestic operation. In rural Wales, temperance sprang from the experience of the 18th cent, revival, whose leaders taught people to sacrifice all worldly pleasures and seek the spiritual ideal. The 19th C., its revivals and puritanical outlook on ethical and sexual problems, strengthened and deepened the austere pattern laid down by the early Methodist leaders. Until recently in many parts of Wales, total abstinence from alcoholic drink was regarded as the kingpin of correct social behaviour; until recently too, Calvinistic Methodism, the most widespread of Welsh denominational affiliations, still required an affirmation of total abstinence from all its newly elected elders.

In some districts, notably the Gwaun valley in Pembrokeshire, the temperance movement never caught the public imagination as it did in the major part of Wales, and domestic beer brewing has always been important in that remote valley.

The basis of good beer is malted barley, in the past the malting of barley on the farm, or in special malt houses, was widely practised. In Haverfordwest in 1870 there were ten maltsters and in Pembroke there were eight: in addition, the art of malting was well known to many Welsh farmers. Malting usually took place in winter; the barley after being steeped in water for about five days was drained and spread evenly on a dry perforated tiled floor for a period varying from twelve to forty-eight hours, where the malted barley was dried over a wood fire. Depending on the temperature, small roots emerge from the grain. From that stage, great care had to be taken; the temperature controlled and the sprouting grain had to be turned at frequent intervals with wooden shovels and rakes. No one was permitted on the floor unless they had bare feet, in case the barley was damaged. The green malt was then taken to the kiln, placed on perforated tiles and gently dried by the wood fire lit in the chamber beneath. The heating arrested the growth and gave the malt the characteristic 'biscuity' taste.

To make strong beer, eight or nine gallons of clean spring water was required for each bushel of malt, but for a weaker brew drunk at corn or hay harvest, the amount of water was increased to fourteen or fifteen gallons. The water was boiled and poured over the malt in the wooden brewing vessel. A bunch of gorse or wheat straw was placed over the bung hole at the bottom of the vessel to act as a filter when the liquid was drained. The mixture covered with a blanket was allowed to stand in warm place for at least three hours. More water was added, the liquid was transferred to a boiler and a half pound of hops and six pounds of sugar were added. After cooking overnight, two ounces of yeast were added, and the beer left to ferment for a couple of days before being bottled or casked.

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Oddly in many parts of Wales mead did not join with beer as one of the deadly sins and in those districts mead was made in late summer. The ingredients of mead were honeycombs with the honey removed, cold water, hops and yeast. Cold water was poured on the honeycomb, and the mixture allowed to stand overnight. On the following day it was strained through a fine sieve into a boiler to be boiled very slowly. The surface was skimmed frequently. A handful of hops was added and after boiling for another quarter of an hour the liquid was allowed to cool to blood temperature. A pint of brewers yeast was added and left for some hours. Usually the mead was bottled in stone jars that had to be buried in a marshy field for at least six months before it was considered fit to drink.

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