By The Light of the Candle
Candlelight was a precious thing for a family before the days of electrical power. In early days, candle making was an arduous task that took a full day to complete. Most candles were made from animal fat called tallow. The tallow was melted in a large pot over the fire. A family would need to make enough candles to last them a long time, preferably all winter Wicks were made from cord and sometimes strands of flax. The wicks were usually suspended from a stick and dipped over and over again in the hot tallow. Each dip would add another thin layer. When the build up of tallow on the wicks was sufficient, the candles would be suspended on a pole to harden. It was necessary to complete the job in cool weather to ensure the tallow would harden properly. The wicks would then be trimmed. Candles were used for lighting especially in the long winter evenings. The routine of getting up and out to work in the early day light hours was a practical form of day light saving time. Going to bed when darkness came was a way of sparing the precious candles at night. Women would measure baking times by how much candle had burned. They knew from experience how much of the candle would be consumed while bread was baking in the oven. As time passed, fragrant herbs and berries would be added to the candles to sweeten the noxious smell of the animal fat burning.
At Christmastime, the candles would be burned in celebration for a short time in order to preserve them. Lanterns with glass sides illuminated the candlelight. Reflective metal shields were attached to the candle holders to reflect and amplify the light. Tiny candles would be fastened with clips to tree branches. These candles would be lit for a brief time and then extinguished to guard against fire.
The Middleville and District Museum has many examples of lanterns and candle related artifacts. Be sure to check them out when the Museum re-opens in the spring.
Wow. Light is taken for granted now. That precious tallow was needed for soap too. Not sure if lots of people made there own soap back then. I guess it depended on access to lye.
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This journal is written, researched, and maintained by the volunteers of the Middleville Museum.