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.

Commodities 

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! 

Entertaining Ourselves on the Farm

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.

Entertainment
We didn't have electricity or radios at our house. Television didn't exist then. We had to entertain ourselves by pitching horseshoes, horseback riding, playing marbles, playing hide and seek, and flying kites when I was small. In the summertime baseball was quite an entertainment, not only for the players, but also for everyone who had gathered to watch the games. Most of the time games were played on Saturday or Sunday afternoons.


My dad and his brother loved to "noodle" for fish. They would wear shoes and bib overalls to swim and go under the water along the banks of these streams. In many places the streams had eroded away some of the bank and some tree roots extended out into the water. Sometimes the holes would go back into the bank among the tree roots and some large fish would go into the holes head first. The fellas quietly slipped up along those banks and, with their hands and arms, reached in to see if they could feel a fish. They tried to grab for the mouth and gills and pull them out. They were quite successful doing this, and would often come up with some huge flatheads (like a big catfish) or even channel catfish. 

I was along one Sunday afternoon when they were all noodling on the Smoky Hill Rover. My Uncle Emil Koleber reached into one of those holes beneath the riverbank, and a snapping turtle grabbed and bit into one of his fingers. Snapping turtles have a reputation of being able to bite hard. Uncle Emil came right out of the water and they had to cut the turtle's head off to free his finger. The first joint of Uncle Emil's finger was disfigured for the rest of his life. 

Life on the Farm in 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.

Life on the Farm
Mom pulled fine feathers called "down" off the breasts of our live geese and made pillows and filled them with the down. They were much softer than our mattress ticks that were filled with corn shucks. Every year we dumped out the old shucks and filled the tick up again with fresh corn shucks.  

In the 1930's it was very hot in the summer during the wheat harvest. We used a header pulled with horses and also used a threshing machine part of the time. We pitched wheat by hand onto the conveyor belts to the thresher that was powered by a steam engine and huge, heavy canvas belts with a figure eight configuration. I was always fascinated by  how it worked. Sometimes I got a ride on the water wagon that hauled water to the threshing machine. We usually had several watermelons floating in the tank to cool. 


Dad used horses and mules to pull all our farm equipment. When the threshing crew went from farm to farm, they traveled as a crow flies. When they came to a fence, they pulled the staples that held the wire fences in place and stapled the wires on the post next to the ground. When they had moved all of the machinery through the fence, they put the fence back where it had been. Sometimes this saved many hours and many miles, moving the equipment directly through the fence rather than on the roads. Every year the same farm hands came to work in the fields. Even their sons and daughters that were married came back for the harvest. It became like a family reunion. We kids had to set out the laundry washtubs with clean water so the farmhands could wash up before the meals. We looked forward to those meals because they had goodies that we usually didn't have.  

Photo courtesy of http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/02/10/695431/-Welcome-to-Hooverville
We didn't have sheds to put our farm machinery in to get it out of the weather, so we parked them alongside the closest field. During the sand and dirt storms, our farm machinery would be completely covered up. The seat and handles usually showed, but sometimes the only way to find them was digging into a mound of sand.

Special Collections, University of Washington. Courtesy, Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, KS
Where the Russian thistles blew up against the barbed wire fences, the sand would drift up 'til only the top wire of the fence showed. Sometimes the top of a fence post was all that showed. We could walk right over the top of the fences where the sand had settled as berms along the fencerows. 

I don't know how many years the dust storms lasted, but some days it would be nice and sunny in the morning, but pretty soon a red cloud would drift in. It didn't blow, it just drifted or rolled in and sometimes black clouds came in from the northwest and it would become dark out by noon. Mom tore old white bed sheets in strips to push in the cracks around the doors and windows. It still got hazy from the dust that permeated the air in the house. 

Most of the time a wind would blow from one direction, then in another direction and the sand and dust covered our cow pasture 'til there wasn't anything left for a cow to eat. The pasture finally dried up and we had to sell some of our cattle to buy feed to keep the rest. Sometimes the sand would cover our Spring crop 'til it was ruined. There were times the soil around our corn would just blow away and leave the roots exposed. 

Many cattle died from the dust. Some people developed dust pneumonia and eventually died as well.   

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Life in the 1920's and 1930's: Our Food Supply




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.

 Our Food Supply
On our farm we raised corn, wheat, milo, cane and cattle. We milked eight cows by hand and that was a chore! We bucketed calves and separated the milk by hand. We made butter out of the cream for our own use and sold the rest of the cream in town and fed the skimmed milk, mixed with bran, to the calves. We made cottage cheese out of some of the soured milk and fed the curd to the chickens and hogs. Each spring we raised 200 baby chicks for fryers and kept 20-30 laying hens for the eggs. As we went to town each week to sell the cream, we also sold a lot of eggs. Our geese and turkeys helped keep the grasshoppers down. Every Fall we sold all the turkeys in town, but we raised the hogs for our own needs.

Fred Michaelis, one of my uncles, farmed north of Susank, Kansas. He had a smokehouse that was about the size of a one-car garage. It really impressed me as a small kid to see hams and other kinds of meat hanging in the smokehouse.

South of the livestock water tank and windmill was our garden. The overflow from the water tank and windmill. The overflow ran down towards the garden along a fence where rhubarb was growing. We grew radishes, lettuce and peas in the early spring before it became too hot. We also raised turnips, sugar beets, carrots, parsnips, red beets, cabbage and tomatoes. Along the ditch that ran alongside the garden, we raised watermelons, pumpkins, cantaloupe, cucumbers and squash. Close to the garden we planted sweet corn for our own use. 

Mom canned about everything, including apricots, corn, meat, pickled watermelon rinds and tomatoes. We pickled lots of the cucumbers and canned them in jars. Some vegetables were pulled and stored in the cellar. The cellar was half in and half out of the ground with dirt on top for the roof. It never froze in the cellar and never got very warm. Most of the winter we could go out to the garden and move the straw covering the carrots, parsnips, red beets, and turnips and have fresh vegetables.  
We stored watermelons in the wheat, milo, or maize in the granary. They'd stay good 'til Christmas! We always had a large pile of potatoes heaped up in one corner of the cellar. They lasted all winter, even with our family of 5. Mom made fine cut noodles and we always had lots of fruit jars filled with cream. Mom used cream in everything she cooked!