Wednesday, July 6, 2011

COOKIN' AND EATIN' IN THE "OLDEN DAYS"


Nellie Witt Spikes (1888-1977) was a true pioneer woman and the wife of a West Texas plains farmer. For two decades spanning the thirties and forties, she wrote columns for several small town newspapers in Texas, under the title “As a Farm Woman Thinks.” These days, she might be called a blogger. In July of 1942, she wrote the following:

“Well I must get dinner ready for the men in the field. Would you like to put on this bonnet and go with me? First we will get the chicken. Look how wary that young rooster is of crumbled bread and the wire hidden behind my back. Just a jiffy and he will be dressed and cooling. It will not take long to pick some string beans; better get a few cucumbers and onions, and three or four beets, we like them buttered. After the beans are strung and on cooking, we will go to the smokehouse for a hunk of bacon to boil with the beans. Next, to the potato patch, where some small potatoes can be gotten. They are pretty easy to scrape while the skin is so tender. You may beat this bowl of cream for butter. I will make a peach cobbler. Syrup sweetens peaches now as well as it did for our grandmothers. It is so nice to have milk and butter in the refrigerator instead of in the well. Yes, we have walked a good piece, several blocks if we were in town. Meals are so scattered this time of the year, but how nice it is to pick your own.”

This short column says it all about what life was like for women in rural West Texas during the thirties and forties and even the fifties. What a lot of work for just one meal! This passage reminds so much of my childhood, it’s almost painful for me to read it. I cannot count the number of times I tagged along after my grandmother out to the chicken pen around mid-morning, both of us wearing our bonnets she had made. There she would pick out two pullets and wring their necks. No wire to use as a garrĂ³te for my grandmother! She had too much to do to be inconvenienced.   She would then bring the chickens back into the house, clean them and cook them for dinner, which on the Texas high plains, was the noon meal. When chickens are dunked in boiling water to loosen the feathers, a distinct odor meets the nostrils. To this day, sometimes when I cook an egg, that smell comes back to me. I contribute that to the sense of smell being our most ancient.

Of course we grew a garden and had an orchard, which called for spending the summer of every year canning and preserving. We had no microwave and for a long time, no refrigerator. With the exception of flour, sugar, syrup and spices, everything we ate, we grew. And my two grandmothers cooked it from scratch every single day, including cornbread and biscuits. I can remember thinking sliced bread was the ultimate in sophistication....And in the middle of all of that, my grandmothers and my old aunts did quilting.

It’s hard to believe the changes in eating and food preparation that have occurred in my lifetime. Giving it some thought, I think I’ve just answered the question of why our society has an obesity problem. Eating is too easy nowadays.

Anna

5 comments:

  1. Fascinating, Anna! I love reading diary excerpts and personal articles like this. You really get a visual for what life was like then, and can almost hear the person talking. At times we focus so much on the big events of history that we forget the day-to-day work that went into just plain survival for families -- like preparing meals or fetching water if you don't have a well or source of water nearby. Great post! ~ Ashley

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  2. Anna, your post brought back memories of when my grandmother lived on a farm. She moved into town when I was six or seven, but I treasure the memories of visiting her on the farm. And talk about a smell you NEVER forget, scorched chicken feathers is the oen! Yuk! But I still remember the smell of her petunias along one side of her house. She loved flowers, but those she grew were simple ones like petunias, batchelor buttons, zinnias and larkspur that reseeded and didn't need a lot of water or tending. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I love this post as it brings memories of my Danish grandma to mind. She used to make her own butter and I was surprised it wasn't yellow. :) I know I am not a strong enough person to pull feathers off a chicken. YUCK! I had to do research for one of my stories and the smell alone would have me out the door. I do so love the modern kitchen. :)

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  4. Anna,
    My mother made everything from scratch. Gravies, sauces, everything. But since she grew up in the Depression here in Oklahoma, I think she was just so GLAD to be able to have the things she needed, once she married and left home, to be able to cook for her family. And believe me, she was a wonderful cook. I remember as a child, going to my grandparents' when it was time to gather in the corn, okra, and beans. I hated it! Of course, us kids got stuck shucking corn all day or shelling peas, and my grandparents did NOT have an air conditioner. Hot has ...well, you know. LOL Anyhow, we always brought home a ton of okra, which I ended up having to clean and cut. I still love okra, but I buy it ready to fry up, now. Oh, my husband will not eat fried chicken to this day, because he grew up on on a farm and had to kill the chickens and pluck them.

    Great post--I enjoyed this--brought back memories.
    Cheryl

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  5. Anna--I, too, grew up on the Texas High Plains, and although Mother could go to Piggly Wiggly and buy whatever she wanted, she planted a big spring and autumn garden, and we raised baby chickens--100 ordered every spring from Sears and Roebuck--and before they were quite grown, Mother and Daddy killed them all, spent an entire day cleaning, cutting up, and putting them in the freezer. I hid in my room.
    But she dragged me and my little sister out to neighboring farms for more produce to freeze and can. I now know she hoarded food, fearful of going hungry.
    Thanks for this--Celia

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