Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cooking, Sewing and doing Laundry in the Dust Bowl Days

Note from Ernie's daughter, Becky Jamison: In 2007 Harold J. Rutherford published his book "Dust, Wind and Tears: Life on the Great Plains in the 1920's, 30's, and 40's". It's a collection of personal accounts from the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Ernie contributed his story to the book. It was published by Ten Mile Publishing, 9740 Peacock St., Federal Heights, CO 80260-5749. This post is an excerpt from Ernie's story.


I remember those oblong baskets that we bought concord grapes in. Every year Mom made jelly from several baskets of grapes. We had to buy Sur-Jel to make the grapes gel. We kids had to wash our feet and then we put the grapes in large 8 gallon crocks and stomped the grapes 'til they were all mashed up. When we got out of the crock, our feet were purple for quite a long time. 

There were several mulberry bushes and trees by the windmill. We used to climb in them and pick an eat the berries. We picked wild plums that grew along the riverbank ann mixed them with mulberries and made wild plum jam. We made sauerkraut out of cabbage in 8 gallon crocks.

We bought Karo syrup in 1 gallon and 1/2 gallon buckets and used some of them for lunch buckets. They really worked great!

When we went to the store to buy commodities that we couldn't raise ourselves, we took our own jars and buckets to put the food in...foods like dried peas, corn, and various kinds of dried beans. Much of the food at stores was sold in bulk' most of the fruits and vegetables were dried. Mom, however, canned fruit, vegetables, pickles, and watermelon rinds in glass jars. She also canned tomatoes in half gallon Karo syrup buckets and sealed the lids on with a hard canning wax that melted with heat and dried hard when it was cold. When we opened the buckets, Mom took the hammer and broke the wax to get the lid off. After it was opened, we couldn't store food in the buckets until it was resealed again, as it would quickly become poisonous. We bought peanut butter in large jars and by the time we got to the bottom of the jar it was sometimes not too good!

Mom made her dresses and shirts for us kids. She also made our underwear on the sewing machine that was operated by a foot treadle. Mending was an ongoing thing. Many times Mom spent the evening sitting by a kerosene lamp mending out clothes or darning our socks. We kids wore bib overalls and Mom kept the old ones to make patches to mend our newer pants. 

We had a small building called a washhouse where we did all our laundry. There was a small cast iron stove that would hold a big black iron kettle where we heated the water to do the washing. A little pile of corncobs and some coal were kept in the washhouse to heat the water. We ran our washing machine with a gas engine. Mom also used a washboard and scrubbed the extra dirty clothes. She then rinsed them in a tub of cold water, used a hand-turned wringer to get the water out of the clothes, and hung them on a line outside to dry.

The black kettle was used to make soap when we butchered a hog. We made the soap by cooking pork fat down to cracklings and mixed them with powdered lye.

Pork was a staple at many farm homes. Sausage patties were fried down and put in 8 gallon crocks and covered with lard. It kept very well then covered with lard. We ate a lot of pork. I especially liked spare ribs. Years later when my mother's brother died in Longmont, Colorado, his son said he died from eating too much pork! 

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