Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong….

Veronica emailed me earlier today, she’s always interested in hearing about the “good old days,” this request was for what I ate as a child… So here I go, back into those memories.  This one’s for you, V…

First of all, I was privy to more packaged snacks than most kids growing up in the 50’s.  Something i didn’t realize at the time, I just took it for granted.  Since my Mother worked in the drugstore, and that’s where I landed daily after school from second grade until high school, I was a walking encyclopedia on the different kinds of candy bars, chips, pop and let’s not forget comic books like Archie and Veronica, Little Lulu, Baby Huey and celebrity magazines, like Photoplay and Screen Stories.

My snack of choice in those days was one of Mother’s hand chipped iced fountain cokes and a ten cent bag of Fritos.  And if I was in a candy bar mood, it was usually Zero, Hollywood or Payday. But I did love red liquorice whips and jawbreakers, too.   I could write a book on junk food of the 50’s, but that’s a whole other blog entry.

What I ate at home is nothing like what we eat today.  The grocery store was used for staples, Mother grew and canned pretty much everything we ate, supplemented by food that was given to us by my Aunts.http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71W99DARA1L._SL500_AA280_.gif

We always had a big garden, which she plowed with a one wheeled plow.  It was backbreaking work, but she always managed to get the soil turned over early in the spring, and she would rake the dirt, make rows for the seeds and I would walk behind her, dropping the seeds in the furrows.  We would have winter onions that would be ready to eat mid-March, and she would throw lettuce seed down on top of the snow in February, so that we would have an early crop of spring lettuce to make wilted salad with the onions.  We had gooseberry bushes, cherry and apple trees, and a big strawberry patch, Mother worked full time and still managed to preserve food for us for the winter months.  She was really a remarkable woman.http://www.berryhilllimited.com/productimages/27702b.jpg

We always had jars of  pickled beets, sauerkraut, pickles and relishes.  Unless lettuce came from the garden, we seldom bought it at the store, we supplemented our meals with the canned relishes instead.  She would shred heads of cabbage from the garden on a slaw cutter similar to the one in this picture.  Then she would ferment it with salt in 5 gallon crocks weighted down with a brick setting in a plate on top of the crock.  Once the fermentation process took place, the cabbage would turn to sauerkraut and she would can it.  It was quite a process, and the smell was so pungent the whole house would reek of sauerkraut.

My family butchered their own pigs, and there was always Ball quart jars of canned sausage, young pullets (chickens), and my favorite, pork tenderloin, put up for the winter.  We had a smoke house and she would sugar cure hams and bacon in late November.  She would dry rub the meat with salt, brown sugar and spices, and then hang the cured meat from the rafters in brown burlap feed sacks.  We couldn’t put canned food in the smokehouse, because it would freeze, and our house was small, so our canned food was stored under the beds, and every night she would send me in for cans of vegetables so that she could make dinner.  She would go to the smokehouse with a butcher knife, take down the meat and cut slices from  it on a wooden chopping block, then bring it in and fry it in a black iron skillet.

Aunt Idalene would boil the pigs head when they slaughtered the meat, grind the meat from it and make head cheese, and also mincemeat.  I hated both of them, but I loved it when she would pickle pigs feet.  She would also  soak dried corn in lye water, and after many rinses, the outer husk of the corn would come off, and she would boil it and make hominy.  Oh, I loved hominy, , it was so good.  Hubby doesn’t care for it, but when it’s fried in bacon grease with lots of onions, it’s just awesome!

We always had a lot of tomatoes, we would usually can almost a hundred jars of tomatoes in the summer, as well as green beans, corn and those wonderful bird egg beans.

It wasn’t until I got in high school that we had “convenience foods.”  And those consisted  of just a few items.  The first was Kraft Spaghetti, the kind that came in the green box with the seasoning packet.  We added hamburger and a can of tomato paste to the seasoning packet, it made just the right amount for two people.  I really loved that spaghetti, and Jeno’s Pizza, too.  It was a crust mix, a packet of italian herb toppings and a jar of pizza sauce.  We always browned hamburger and put on it also, and then sprinkled it with parmesan cheese and baked it on a cookie sheet.  I used to have friends on the weekend for pizza parties,  we would listen to the Beatles on the radio, eat pizzas and drink Pepsi’s out of bottles.  Some evenings she would bake a Swanson Pot Pie, either chicken or beef, and we would have it with a salad on tv trays in the living room watching Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on the evening news.  This wasn’t until my high school years, though, we didn’t get television until I was twelve.  By this time she was buying more from the grocery store, we loved Wishbone Italian Dressing in the shaker bottle, and would always have that on our salads.  She would cut the lettuce really fine, add celery and onions, and mix it in that big stainless steel bowl that I now have and use daily.

Mother always had a sweet tooth, so there were always cookies,  cake or pie in her big tupperware container.  She had a bundt pan, which she treasured, and would constantly make different kinds of bundt cakes, her lemon bundt was always my favorite.  We always had jellies and jam, primarily strawberry, blackberry and apricot.  My Aunt Mae made pear honey, and we would have pints of that as well.

http://static.grupthink.com/answer/6/60f51814f9474e5c146efd13295de569We would buy sweet rolls from the grocery store, usually Bunny Bread products, raspberry filled danish was one of her favorites, but the boys remember vividly what her very favorite was, bear claws!  We had a toaster oven, that Ryan has now, and it had a little drawer on the bottom, and she would warm a bear claw in that drawer and drink it with coffee in the morning.  I was never a fan like she was, she loved bear claws her whole life.

If you remember me talking about my childhood in earlier posts, you will know that all of this was accomplished with no running water and water heated on the stove in a kettle.  I can remember a time when we didn’t even have a pump in the kitchen, we drew our water from a well.  There was no bathroom, no air conditioning, a coal stove that had to be filled with coal every day and the ashes dumped, and we lived on a dirt road that got so muddy and rutted in the winter that we would have to walk a half a mile to the main road where we left our car parked.

It was really a difficult life, but I didn’t know anything else, so to me it was normal.  When I put it all to paper it does sound a bit mind-boggling, probably a lot of you are thinking that you could never live that way.  You might just surprise yourself, you do what you have to do to survive.  It wasn’t a bad life at all, just different from the way it is now…


  1. Lovely story, Jan. I had forgotten Kraft Spaghetti in a box - I used to buy it too!

  2. Wow, Jan! What amazing memories (and what an amazing life!). I can't imagine living that way, although I can understand that if you don't know anything different, it's just business as usual. But what quality! My grandparents and great grandparents were from Kansas and MO, and they were farmers, so I've heard their stories, just not as detailed (or I wasn't paying attention)as yours. Grandma always had preserves and home canned comestibles in the pantry in the garage and I always loved just opening up the cupboards and looking at all the pretty colors in the jars. It brought tears to my eyes when I read about your mom's sweet tooth....grandma and grandpa always always had a jar filled with cookies, ice cream in the freezer and grandpa kept his little stash of those icky orange peanut shaped candies, some bridge mix and some of those icky (although we always had to sneak a few) chocolates that were filled with different colored "stuff" on the inside. The yellow filled ones were my least favorite, LOL. What a great post!


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