a tale of white light'in

Lincoln's New Salem Village
Making 'shine'

Fall Re-enactment 2001

Much of the text is condensed dialog from the re-enactor.

....Mak'in some whiskey, in Lincoln's New Salem Village, circa 1833, or it could be Hannibal or Shelbyville, MO at the same date, or Fayette and Westfield, IA in 1848.  

...You have just arrived on the frontier and raise a corn crop using a small plow with one small handmade plow-share (the village Smith does this sort of thing), pulled behind one of your two big Belgium draft horses, or more likely an oxen as they are easier to raise and control.

...The corn is planted in small clearings cut out of the hill top woodland, as the prairies are scary places with 8-12 foot grasses, and almost impossible to cultivate just now.

...Once plowed, smoothed out and planted the small fields are generally hand cultivated by the wife and 6-10 kids, while the man of the cabin hunts game.

...In the fall the corn is hand picked by the family, or cut and put into corn shocks until the ears are ready to use.
...On the terribly shallow, acid, nutrient poor forest soil, perhaps 15-20 bushels per acre could be expected.

...The corn crop could be used to feed farm animals or taken down to the mill to be ground into course cornmeal for the family.
...If there was extra corn it could be sold for a few cents a bushel if taken 20 miles on a rutty, dusty or muddy trail into Springfield or another larger village.
...Cart 50 bushels into Springfield, a major wagon load, and one might make a few dollars, a little money to use for a few of the items not "homemade" or bartered for.

...There was another option for extra corn and grains that was often used in the first years of settlement on the Midwestern frontier.


Contains webpage links to various Fayette Co. surnames and history projects.
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Folder contains numerous historic living history albums
Use Microsoft Research Maps for a topo and aerial view of farms, villages, along with Google Earth.

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Angelfire page from 2001, moved to Iowaz.info, Feb 13, 2011

...Since it was fall and there would be a great deal of time during the non-growing season, one could fire up the homemade "still" brought west with the family migration.
...The "folks" out east had been doing this for years, so we know just what the process is from "helping" the men-folk when we were "keeds".

...If we can take those fifty bushels of corn, ferment and distill the by-products into 100 proof white whiskey, it will bring at least twice, perhaps three times the price in Springfield and can be put into two to four small wooden kegs from the cooper's shop and packed in on one horse.

...Takes lots of time, but some of us generally got's  lots o' time.
Need some wooden basins/containers, a fire place or pit, a great deal of cut wood,
...And of course a
copper still, with a copper pipe leading out of the still and coiled into a drip condenser, and a basin to catch the "dripp'en's" 

...Corn grist and water will be mixed and allowed to ferment a few days. Wild yeast is everywhere.

...When a hard crust forms on the surface of the mix, we will tap the crust to break it loose so it settles to the bottom of the wooden bucket, taking all the corn sediments with it, leaving the "corn wine" to pour off into another wooden container and then into the still.
...The still has to be sealed with mortar or clay.


...Corn wine will be about 4% alcohol.
...The liquid will be heated , but not too fast as the natural sugars left in the mixture will burn on the bottom of the still and have to be removed. A terrible job in those days.
..."'Sides, slow heat'en is what brings off the good stuff best."

...The alcohols and other volatile organic molecules will boil off generally between 170 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
...The first lot will be the ketones and alcohol's that make beginners and enemies "loco" when allowed to drink them, which possibly could be quite often.  Enough of the 'first lot' can kill you.
...If you are not dull of mind, you leave the first lot alone. You throw it away.

...How do you know when to start saving the distilled liquid? Well, you just do. You know the first dripp'en's kin make ya blind or kill ya.  You know nothing of boiling points, ketones, methyl alcohol, organic chemicals, but you know exactly what to do, as you helped with this job many times back in the hills of Kentucky or Pennsylvania.

...The first time you distill the corn wine, the product is about 40 proof (+/- 20% ethanol).  Another distillation will bring it up to 80 proof, and a third will bring it to 100 proof.
...That is what the folks in Springfield are "a'speck'tin".

...They will take a little of your product, place a palm of blackpowder into it, ignite the "sqeez'in's" and see if the flame it blue and the liquid burns off, leaving the blackpowder to ignite with a smoky pouf or 100% proof it is good stuff.

...If your "white light'in" is not 100 proof, the powder will be left a wet mess and not ignite, thus no prime dollar for your barrels, and worse yet a terrible reputation for "bad product" and no more sales.

...It is going to take a lot of weeks and tall tails to complete this job, and of course a little sampling of the product now and then.



Folder contains numerous historic living history albums to include visits to Lincoln's New Salem Village.




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