Gratitude Journal: National Frozen Food Month

March is National Frozen Food Month

We’ve been steadily expanding our frozen prepared food offerings over the last several years, but especially since March of last year. And while folks were getting tired of doing their own cooking, we were grateful to offer easy, comfortable, pre-prepared meals for dinner in such uncertain times.

Even today we are in a constant state of keeping up with the restock. At any given time, you’ll find Barstow’s homemade soups and chili, chicken tenders, quiche, labor intensive chicken pot pie, handmade pierogi, meatballs, and more. Freezing is the best and safest method for preserving all the nutritional value, freshness, and flavor of food. For example, our Barstow’s farm raised beef is butchered, packaged, and immediately frozen for fresh, delicious, local steaks, patties, roasts, and ground beef. Visit us to see what’s in stock – or give us a call, we are glad to be your personal shoppers!

Keeping it Cool on the Farm

But freezing and cooling was not always the food safety staple it is today. For centuries, people stored their food – especially milk and butter – in cellars, outdoor window boxes or even underwater in nearby lakes, streams or wells. Methods like salting, spicing, smoking, pickling, and drying were used to preserve other foods. Even with these strategies, it wasn’t uncommon for colonial folks to die of “summer complaint” due to spoiled foods in warmer months. And pasteurization wasn’t even discovered until 1862!

Johnson, Clifton, 1865-1940, “Filling the farm ice house,” Digital Amherst,
Thank you to the Jones Library Special Collections for permission to use this image from the Clifton Johnson Collection.

Barstow’s Longview Farm, founded in 1806, used an ice house for many decades to keep the milk from our cows cold and safe for resale and consumption. Part of the long list of 1800s winter farm chores was cutting ice from Russell Cove in the meadow, fed by the Connecticut River. We think the Johnson family did most of the ice cutting labor and neighbors, like the Barstows, would head down with a team of horses to pay for and pick up the ice for their ice houses.

The ice house was dug down into the soil 3 or 4 feet and insulated with sawdust. Sawdust came from the Barstow’s sawmill, also on site at the farm, used to process the trees we took off the Mount Holyoke Range – we owned to the ridge until we sold it to the newly formed Skinner State Park in the 1940s. The sawdust insulation did the trick, the ice lasted well into the summer!

By 1919 we were part of the LaRose Dairy in South Hadley, MA (after several mergers, it is now All Star Dairy). LaRose picked up milk at Barstow’s Longview Farm and other nearby farms, daily. By this time, the farm had graduated to using metal and tin milk cans. After hand milking into a bucket, we’d dump the milk into the 10 gallon can, carry it to the other end of the barn, and place it in a tub of cold water, spring fed from the mountain. Between the weight of the milk and the weight of the can, the haul was about 100lbs per can! When LaRose picked up the milk, they’d drop off the cans from the day before.

Sometime along the way, spring water was replaced by a refrigeration unit. In 1932, hand milking was replaced by manual milkers. In 1961, we installed a refrigerated bulk tank that held 800 gallons of milk. And today, Barstow’s Longview Farm milks 300 cows with 5 robotic milkers into an 8,000 gallon tank. Along with refrigeration tech; food safety, food quality, and the quality of farming have improved dramatically in the last century.

Jim Barstow recalls one of his least favorite farm chores: carrying heavy milk pails to the bulk tank. Steve Barstow remembers when we installed that first tank, he was 8 years old. When I pressed him for more details, he said “You can ask your grandfather and great Uncle John more, but you’ll have to go down to the cemetery.” he joked. Funny how a thing like refrigeration can tie us to our roots.

The milk processed in the LaRose facility was feeding the people of South Hadley, Granby, Chicopee – quite likely your ancestors if you are historically from this area. Amazing to think that those cows from 100 years ago are the many great grandmothers of our herd today! These days and generations later, you can still enjoy local, fresh, milk from our family dairy in Cabot Creamery Cooperative products, processed in West Springfield, MA, just 15 miles south of the farm.

Spring Begins this Month!

And we are looking forward to some upcoming specials and events. Don’t forget, it is NEVER TOO EARLY to place orders for:

This is the last weekend to enter your Farm Love story for a chance to win $50 to Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery and the last few days to enter your name for our little “C” calf! Barstow’s is open daily until 4pm for limited indoor seating, drive thru service, and shopping. See you soon!

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