How sweet it is; honey and the Shakers

In A Simple Murder, Lydia Farrell is a beekeeper or apiarist. The Shakers regularly used outside contractors for certain jobs and I thought it logical that a former Shaker, ejected from the community, might stay on, especially if she possessed a useable skill. Photographs of Shaker communities, obviously from later in their history, sometime show the recognizeable white hives.

Honey is the oldest known sweetener; cave paintings from 10,000 years ago show people collecting honey. Sugarcane was grown on the Indian subcontinent and became a trade item when someone discovered how to extract crystal sugar from the sugarcane juice. It traveled by the trade routes to the Middle East and from there the Crusaders took it home to Europe and the British Isles. Christopher Columbus is commonly named as the one who brought sugarcane to the New World. Sugarcane is another crop, like cotton, that had a tremendous impact on the United States. It was grown in the south and since it required tremendous amounts of labor for the cutting and processing it necessitated lots of slaves.

The Native Americans made and used maple syrup as a sweetener.

Sugar came in cones and each piece had to be chipped from the cone. Most people in the early United States used both maple syrup and honey for sweetening, especially on the frontier. Most of the Shaker communities kept bees both for their honey and the beewax for candles.

Since this was before the age of petroleum, paraffin was not known and tallow, a substance made from animal fat, was sometimes used for cheap candles instead of beeswax.



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