In the early days many of these chores were drudgery. All drinking and cooking water had to be carried from the well. A large barrel was used for catching rain water from the roof for all other requirements. Doing the weekly wash was hard work and time consuming, from kindling the fire to boil the whites, through hand washing, scrubbing, rinsing, wringing, drying and ironing. Irons had to be heated on a stove.
Some chores depended on the time of year, and the daylight available. In the short winter days feeding and watering the animals kept inside was a priority. Eggs were an important part of the diet so the hens were not forgotten. Taking in peats for the fire, or oil for the lamps was all part of the daily routine.
Winter was used for making or mending fishing gear or any of the implements used round the croft. Much use was made of straw for ‘kishies’ and ‘flackies’ (a pad for a mare’s back) for instance. It often made a make-shift mattress when the girls went to gut herring during the summer season.
Simple ingredients would have been oatmeal, flour,’ tatties and neeps,’ kale, eggs, milk (including buttermilk) butter, meat, both fresh and salted and fish of various kinds. Much use was also made of the nutritious fish livers. In fact nothing was wasted. Oatmeal, fruit and black puddings were a special treat.
Cooking was simple, especially when it was all done over an open fire in a pot or kettle hung in a crook over the flames. Many of the meals would have been ‘one pot’ efforts. Baking was almost a daily task. Sometimes girdles were used or bannocks could be baked on a ‘brand iron’. For a while the ‘Dutch Oven’ was used with good results.
An important part of the household chores was the preserving of food for winter. Jam, especially rhubarb, was made, and any meat that could not be used fresh had to be salted and sometimes ‘reested’. Fish could also be salted and dried. Extra eggs could be preserved in ‘water-glass’ which was handy for baking. Salted herring was always popular.
The Big Change
In the mid fifties two things happened in Unst which revolutionised how people lived. The whole island got a piped water supply and a Power Station was built for the new RAF Station at Saxa Vord. The benefits were enormous.
Bathrooms were added, washing machines took the drudgery out of the laundry and animals could be watered as necessary. Another huge benefit was the preservation of food with the advent of the deep freeze, besides the luxury of instant light and heat source. Oil lamps were set aside ‘just in case’ but on the whole folk were only too glad to welcome the new way of life.