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Ancestral Cooking Forum

My Mother's Recollections

Several months ago, I asked my mother to dictate some of her memories so that I could post them at her GeneBase site. She was born right after the Depression, and things were vastly different than today. As some of them pertain to food, I will quote them here:

Ohio Childhood Recollections May 21 2006, 04:37 pm

My daughter was reading Giuliangela's recent blog, and wanted me to post some of my rememberances from my childhood in Ohio. The thing that stands out the most in my memories was canning foods in the summertime. Mostly we canned peaches, apples, tomatoes, green beans, prunes, and pears. We had our own grapevines, so we would also pick, wash, peel, and cook the grapes to make jelly. Most of the things we canned came from our own garden or our grandmothers. There were bushels of them. I don't know which I hated the worst--the picking or the peeling. I think it was the peeling. It was worthwile to have all those canned goods come wintertime.

Washing clothes in a tub was the next chore I remember. We had to boil the water, and we used handmade soap. We also used a scrubboard, and that chore took about two days. We had a large family by today's standards( two parents, 8 or 9 of the 13 children at one time, plus the two elderly great-aunts or distant cousins), but not at the time. Your back would ache afterwards, from the bending. Also, the scrubboard would hurt your knuckles. We'd also use a hand wringer, to get out the excess water.

After the washing, the clothes had to be hung to dry. In the winter, the clothes would freeze on the line. Next, we always had to look forward to all the ironing that would then take place. We did this with a flat iron heated on the stove. We'd sprinkle the clothes with water, and individually roll each item. Then, by the time it was ready to be ironed, each item would be evenly dampened. White shirts took extra care, as they also had to be starched. We made the starch out of flour and water.

Back then, pretty much everybody had lace curtains. After they were washed, they would be stretched out on a frame to dry. That way, they'd dry evenly and maintain their shape. These thin nails that the curtain would be stretched on would prick your fingers just about every time. Momma would take in other people's curtains to do for extra money. She also took in laundry to do, so we had something to do just about every day.

I vaguely remember us making our own lye soap on the back porch. It contained lye, glycerine, some kind of animal fat and some other things I can't recall. One ingredient was some kind of scent to take the odor away. After it cooked and cooled, we'd cut it into bars. We would use this soap to do our laundry.

Both the girls and boys would bank the fire at night. This chore was the last thing done at the end of the night. It was also to get ready for the next day. We'd take all the ashes out, and then replace it with wood and coal and paper. We'd survive through the night on the warmth that was already in the house. We'd heat bricks on top of the stove, and wrap them in old rags to keep under the covers to keep our feet warm. Typically, there would be two or more of us to a bed. By banking it at night, we didn't have to get up quite as early to start it in the morning.

The morning chores would consist of getting the fire started, both in the kitchen and for the rest of the house. The kitchen fire was first because Momma had to get up and cook. We'd boil water for bathing. That water would go in white porcelain pitchers to take to the rooms to get "washed up" before we went to school. We'd make up our beds and straighten up the rooms. As the oldest girl, one of my chores was to babysit the younger children while Momma cooked breakfast. Breakfast might consist of hominy, potatoes, eggs, coffee for the adults, sometimes biscuits, sometimes brains and eggs (my daughter is making a face!), sometimes sausage which we made ourselves, and sometimes bacon or salt pork.

We didn't have a freezer back then, so our food was kept in an icebox. We always had to have ice, so the food wouldn't go bad! We would take our lunch to school in either brown paper bags or in the leftover bread wrapper. Weekday lunch might consist of bologna on bread with mustard, or peanut butter and jelly. Generally, there were no leftovers to take to school.

We had butter because we churned it ourselves from what we skimmed off of the buttermilk. We'd churn for hours. It was good butter, though; far better than today's! When we didn't make our own, we'd buy margarine. That margarine, though, had no color. It came with these soft orange pellets to make it yellow. We'd knead it into it so it would look appealing.

We kept chickens, so Sunday dinner would be fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, biscuits or homemade rolls (for special occasions). Dessert would usually be peach, blackberry, or apple cobbler. Sometimes, Momma could bake a cake--generally a yellow sheetcake or round cake with fudge icing. Momma also made fruitcakes for herslf, and hide them. They were her only pleasure. Daddy made dandelion wine in the bathtub. He'd keep some and sell some. I suppose he was a bootlegger. I'll think about what I want to write for next time.


I have already asked her to work on the next installment.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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