While not entirely Albany specific, we thought this article from the Albany Argus in 1862 was a good lesson in what life was like before refrigeration. It’s hard to fathom now what people went through to keep meat “fresh.” This supposed letter (which may just be an editorial contrivance; they were common enough in those days) gives “An Old Housekeeper’s” receipt for curing beef. If you didn’t know, “receipt” and “recipe” are essentially the same word, meaning “receive.” Like a lot of old “receipts,” this is not one we’re anxious to taste.
Messrs. Editors: your receipt for curing beef is all well enough as a “relic of the dark ages” – but I have a mode adopted for many years, which entirely “takes you down.” It is this:–Take a quarter of beef, (say the fore quarter, for that is the most economical for general family use,) weighing from 130 to 150 pounds. Cut is up in pieces of 4 or 5 pounds each, after saving cut your steaks, pie meat, roasting and soup pieces.—After that is done, cleanse the cask, and pack the pieces intended for corning, compactly in the cask, without a particle of salt. Then take from one to two pails of water as may be required and add to it enough of common table salt, as will make a brine, sufficient to bear up a good sized potato, boil the brine, and while hot, add two ounces salt petre, and one pint of molasses. Have at hand, a sheet or table cloth, folded into quarters, and while your brine is scalding hot empty it in your cask – put the cloth over the cask and let it stand and cool. In twenty-four hours your beef is fit for the pot, and remains so. The idea that hot brine will spoil the meat is just as absurd as to take a peck of rock salt to preserve a quarter of beef. This receipt is applicable to the preservation, say, from the first of December until the last of March, at which time, if any meal remains, take it out, wash it in clean water, boil and skim the remaining brine, and if necessary add salt enough to bring it up to the potato standard, pouring it on now, only when cold.
Allow me to say a word about the boiling. Beef intended for eating cold, or for “hash” should always be allowed to cool in the liquor it is boiled in; for the reason, that the juices extracted by boiling, again return to the meat in the cooling. If your housewife readers will try my receipt, they will find their corn beef from the beginning to the end “just right.”
Just remember: always follow the potato standard.