Rural Diets

The following is a description of the lives of people of the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales from a century ago, where the people were described as Britain’s most hard working, thrifty and independent.

The women milk the cows, make the butter, and look after the marketing of lesser products, and work in the field in hay and even harvest time. The men do all the outdoor work, only hiring about, which as elsewhere in Wales is scarce and dear, when absolutely compelled to. Farmhouse fare is of a notoriously Spartan kind all over North Wales, and nowhere more so than here. Fresh meat is rarely tasted. Here, as elsewhere, it is customary to kill the least marketable beast upon the place, a dry cow or a venerable bull, and put it into brine for the year’s supply of meat. Pieces are then cut off it from time to time by the careful housewife, and used to strengthen or subsidise the staple dishes of the table. In nine farmhouses out of ten in Carnarvonshire the menu will be much as follows. For breakfast, barleybread and buttermilk; for dinner, potatoes and buttermilk, with a piece of salt meat from the brine pot; for tea, bread with butter or cheese, while porridge and buttermilk are served for supper when the day’s work is ended. With slight variations, notably the introduction of bacon, this programme would apply to most farms of North Wales.

What intrigues me about this diet, and which seems to be worryingly similar to those of many industrial workers is the absence of any fruit or vegetables. My impression of a traditional diet was one leavened by vegetables grown in cottage gardens, but the above suggests these were sold in markets. Foraging is now becoming a popular past time, supposedly a return to past practices, but there is likewise no mention of it here, i.e. the collecting of mushrooms, nuts, fruit and berries. Did the author not know of this, or had the practice died out? In England, the many Enclosures Acts denied poor people access to woodlands so foraging in many areas became illegal. I do not understand why the above diet was so limited, to the point the country folk should have been suffering a range of vitamin deficiencies, in particular scurvy, from a lack of vitamin C.

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