The Salting BarrelThis large ceramic barrel, made in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, was used to make and store salted meat and fish. Before fridges and freezers, food was salted, pickled, fermented, dried or smoked to make it last longer than a few days.
Many foods we enjoy today, like cheese and ham, were developed as ways of preserving fresh food. Preserving meat by salting was not difficult. A slaughtered animal would be cleaned and cut into roughly equal pieces. These would then be rubbed with salt to draw out the blood, and left for a few hours.
The barrel was scrubbed clean with hot water, and the “brine” (the preserving liquid) was prepared by heating salt and water over a fire to dissolve the salt. Spices, herbs and sugar were sometimes added to improve the flavour. Saltpetre might have been used to help the meat last a long time and keep its colour.
[caption id="attachment_21543" align="alignnone" width="3648"] Shetland Ewe[/caption]
The pieces of meat were packed tightly into the barrel, and hot brine was poured over them until everything was covered. A wooden board on top of the meat made sure that it remained under the liquid’s surface, and a wooden cover over the top of the barrel kept out flies, birds or scavenging animals. The barrel would be checked every few days. If it became slimy or smelled bad the brine was changed. In this way, meat could be stored for months without rotting.
When meat was needed for cooking, a piece would be taken out of the barrel. It would be washed, and left for a few hours in clean water before being boiled. Halfway through cooking, the water was changed.
The longer the meat stayed in the barrel, the more salty and tough it became. Spices or sauces were often used to hide the saltiness, while tough meat that had been cooked could be cut into small pieces and used in stews or soup. A lot of the food eaten by the people of the township was salty or smoky, tough and grey!
To read more about how they would have eaten and used meat at Auchindrain click here.