Matthew, I've always been interested in how people used to do everyday things before electricity. My interest is from a nutritional and self-preservation standpoint - if there was another Carrington-level event (look it up, it's really interesting) that knocked out our grid, what would I do?
I've collected several cookbooks from the late 1800s to early 1900s and the description of the way people ate then may be of interest to you. Below are the main points from the book, keeping in mind I'm not a historian and have not thoroughly examined this topic. I'm a casual investigator in this instance.
I'm looking at Miss Parloa's New Cook Book and Marketing Guide from 1880 right now and here is a general idea of what's in it. Several other cook books have similar information. My impression is that this book was intended for the fairly well off people that were cost conscious, but had enough money to buy staples such as grains, meat, sugar, etc. I think it still has value in seeing what people found to be necessary for eating year-round.
- Storage cellars were a given. The railroads had started moving produce around the country but it was expensive, so most people ate what they could store over the cold months. Refrigerators were very new, expensive, and not very good.
- From pg. 48 "those to be bought (for the winter) are onions, squashes, turnips, beets, carrots, parsnips, cabbages, potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, all of which, except for the first two, should be bedded in sand and in a cool place, yet where they will not freeze. Squashes and onions should be kept in a very dry room." Sweet potatoes were purchased from the South and stored over the winter. They weren't in her list, but there are a lot of receipts/recipes for them.
- The other vegetables eaten fresh were: spinach, asparagus, dandelion, cauliflower, tomatoes (also canned for winter), green beans, celery, some lettuce, mushrooms, green corn (their term for sweet corn), cucumber, radish, chicory/endive, and herbs. Salads were eaten, but the preference was for the pale inner leaves and not the tough, green outer leaves. These were eaten in season even though some greenhouses produced lettuce off season if you could afford to buy it. There were many non-lettuce types of salad recipes given that included other vegetables, meats, eggs, seafood, etc.
- Dry beans were used extensively
Meat: Mostly for people with money. Pork was the main preserved meat. Beef, lamb, mutton and poultry were eaten fresh. Beef and mutton/lamb could be held for a couple of weeks in a cold room. Beef was corned/brined for storage. Fish could be either salted or fresh. Venison was common and eaten fresh all year. Rabbits were eaten fresh.
Fat: Butter and animal fats (lard especially) were the primary ones used for cooking. Salt pork belly was used to "lard" other meats before cooking.
Grains: wheat, dry corn (used a lot), rye, oats, rice
Fruits: Jellies and jams were used extensively to preserve the harvest. Sugar was purchased for this.
Fruits and vegetables were either fermented or treated with spices, salt and vinegar for extended storage and additional flavor.