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Historic Dayton’s endless bounty ‘put up’ for winter

Ruby McFarland
Dayton Historical Society

I thought I knew much about the Dayton area, but I guess I’m still scratching the surface. Did you know there are edible mushrooms that grow in quantity in Dayton along the Carson River?

Reading Emma Nevada Loftus’ diaries of yesteryear, I found that her son, Chester, and his wife, Helen, gathered sacks full of them. An expression “canners” of our era used when we preserved food items in bottles was “putting them up.” And “put up” is what Emma and Helen did.

They brought home quantities of mushrooms and put them up for winter use. I asked my friends Del Minor and Grace Ricci about the mushrooms and they confirmed there are safe-eating mushrooms growing around some tree trunks along river banks after a fall rainstorm, usually around the end of October and into November. They are tree mushrooms.

Now, I have never seen any, but I know as recently as last month, some were found and shared. I’d love to find some, but since I’m older than dirt, I can’t get down to the river to find them.

I must say, unless you know the looks of this mushroom, don’t eat any mushrooms growing in the wild – eating the wrong variety might be fatal.

Another thing Helen Barton canned was asparagus, which she found in abundance in Dayton. As a matter of fact, she canned a variety of vegetables and fruits. I’m told some of her canned goods still exist. She was a good homemaker, as was Emma. They put up the bounty raised in Dayton, which was an agricultural community until urban development covered much of the fertile soil with houses.

Another thing both women put up was sauerkraut. Emma speaks of shredding a hundred pounds of cabbage at once. There’s a cutting board for cutting cabbage on display at the Dayton Museum. Emma gave sauerkraut to many people in Dayton, who loved it. It’s easy to make, I know, as my grandmother made it often. It’s just cabbage and salt placed in a crock to ripen.

Despite the fact growing fruit in Dayton is iffy due to unpredictable spring weather, Emma and Helen seemed to have had plenty to put up, primarily canning apricots, peaches and pears. Believe it or not, they also had plenty to share with friends and sell in Virginia City.

Visit the museum and see some of the tools women used in their old-fashioned kitchens to put up food in days past.

The Dayton Museum is on Shady Lane and Logan Street in Old Town Dayton. It’s also the location of the Dayton Chamber office. It is open during the week at random hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Check out the Web site: daytonnvhistory.org. Group tours are available. Call 246-5543, 246-0462 or 246-0441.

— Ruby McFarland is a 17-year resident of Dayton, a board member of the Dayton Historical Society and a docent at the museum.