Thursday, April 02, 2009


Now that we are in the midst of a Recession that some call a Depression, my mind goes back to our days of poverty on the Farm. Of course, we had the food that we grew, but that doesn't put sugar and flour on the table. When I was younger, Pop raised pigs and there was pork and bacon that lasted all winter, but as I grew older, he stopped raising pigs and limited the animals to cows for milk and horses and mules to pull the plows.

We had no cold storage for food in the winter, though Mom did dig a hole outside for apples. It's easy to store apples in a hole in the ground. Just wrap them in newspaper, place them in the hole, then cover it with crumpled newspaper or leaves. Make sure the hole is a few feet deep. It doesn't hurt to place a flag of some sort in the ground beside them, lest you lose the place that you have stored apples when the heavy snows cover the ground. Potatoes will also last this way, but it takes a big hole.

I have joked about Mom's meatloaf, but she used to feed a tribe of people by mixing it up. She would start with a small amount of hamburger and put in enough other ingredients to stretch it into a huge loaf. She added bread crumbs, oatmeal, onions, a few diced carrots, and any vegetable laying around. She would then stir up the woodstove, add wood, and wait for it to reach the desired heat.

In the summertime, the heat from the woodstove made the kitchen unbearable, so Bud and Herman would set up what Mom called the "coal oil stove." Actually, it ran on kerosene and the fumes were enough to take your appetite away for a week. We were all afraid of the Coal Oil Stove, for lighting it meant a flare-up that endangered the hair of anyone standing nearby. It also emitted waves of heat, but not as much as the woodstove.

Pop stored potatoes in the cellar each year. You have to have "winter potatoes" to do this, as you do apples. Many vegetables will last throughout the winter in a cool place, including squash, cabbage, or anything with a hard skin. Some people build a storage box, made of heavy wood and lined with newspapers. This box, placed on the sunny side of a house where the heat inside filters outward, will keep vegetables for a good part of the winter and cut down on the grocery bill.

At every meal, we had biscuits and gravy, breakfast, dinner and supper. No meal was called "lunch," because hardworking farmers had to have a heavy meal in the middle of the day. Mom would put as much food on the table at dinnertime as she did at suppertime, using all the leftovers as well as the newer food she had cooked for that day. Always, gleaming golden from the iron skillet and hot to the touch, were the biscuits that were served every meal. She made them from scratch, and she could whip up a "batch of biscuits" in just a few minutes. She never used a bowl, but mixed them on the top of the flour bin, adding the ingredients carefully and mixing them with the flour, patting each one into shape and laying it in the hot grease to give it that golden crust. When they had fried to the right crispness, she would place the pan into the oven. They were always served with bacon grease gravy, made with milk and flour.

Sometimes, because of my unruly relatives, our meals became rowdy. With a large number of people seated at the table, manners were often forgotten. One of the biscuits would be tossed around like a football, with everyone catching it and tossing it on to someone else. Connie instigated many of these games and soon everyone joined in. Mom would shake her head and not even bother to halt this group of hooligans. She was a hard-working, no-nonsense woman who had the misfortune of being surrounded by this great brood of giggling fools, so she remained silent as Hubert prodded Harry on the bottom with a fork and Harry reciprocated by aiming mashed potatoes at Hubert's nose.

Bud, like our Mother, didn't approve of this kind of foolishness. "Come on, now," he'd admonish, "Let's eat!"

So we'd all settle down and busy ourselves with the task of eating, with only a giggle or two coming from Connie's corner as she tossed a biscuit at Bud. They had a long and productive marriage but the old saying that "opposites attract," certainly held true for them. Where he was sometimes too serious, she was often zany and playful. He was steady and resourceful, but in their personal relationship, she was boss. He pampered her and loved her and his devotion was reciprocated. When both of their children grew up and settled down in other states, they clung to their life in their beloved home, visiting their children whenever they could, and filling their days with visits from friends and relatives.

After these meals, Sis, Norma Jean and I made sure we made it up to the attic, lest we be caught in the dishwashing chores. We could hear the womens' voices from the kitchen. "Where did those kids go?" one of them would ask. We would stifle our giggles and keep up our post by the stovepipe, which conducted their voices upward to us like a telephone wire. When it was safe to go downstairs and the dishes were put away, we would make our entrance, saved once again by our ingenuity and skill.

After the meal, folks would gather in the living room, chatting together and often bringing out the guitars. Hubert and Gerry would sing a duet and sometimes we could convince Hazel to sing. My sister, Hazel, had the voice of an angel, a soaring, sweet voice that sent ripples down your spine. She would sing all of the old songs, the hymns that Mom loved so much, and her voice would fill that old farmhouse like the ringing of angelic bells!

When everyone had left to go back to their homes, the farmhouse was like an empty cavern. It was empty and lonely and the fun of those meals were just an echo in the silence of the house. It was then that I would go out the door to visit the orchard, taking the longer route away from the cows, who would stand by the fence in a cluster of bovine curiosity, watching me as I made my way down the path.

Once in the orchard, I would climb into an apple tree, scraping my skin on the gnarled old bark, bark that peeled and fell to the ground in large black strips, as the old tree groaned and swayed in the wind. From my perch in the tree, I could survey my Kingdom, the horse barn, the cow stables, the weathered old barn. I could watch my father as he walked out to the shed, that old brown fedora perched on his head. I could hear my mother as she threw scraps to the dogs and hear them barking in anticipation of their meal. I could sit there until sunset and watch the sun leave its magic on the horizon, a glorious array of color no artist could attain.

So, what is a Recession Menu? It's heavy on the vegetables, the starches and lean on meat. It's meatloaf made with mysterious ingredients and homemade food that had never seen the shelf of a store. Most of us don't have farms to use to grow our food and rely upon chain stores to provide us with nourishment, but we can all learn from those meals at the farm, where simple food was put on the table and family fun was the daily fare. If we can keep our senses of humor and keep our noses to the grindstone, we can make it through this, just as my parents made it through their lives. Keep your family intact and your hopes on the future and we can walk together through these harrying moments of worry and stress!

Blogger rcarre said...

Hi Herma,

I am teaching a U.S. women's history class in Wisconsin. I ran across the letter you sent to Redbook back in 1960 and I use it to get into the topic of Betty Friedan's "The Feminist Mystique." My students, who are all women seemed to appreciate your experiences and perspective. I googled you and found your blog. My students also think it is cool that you are still writing. They would love to hear how things have turned out for you since those days. If you are inclined to fill in some of the blanks we would be most interested and grateful.

All the Best,


1:06 PM  

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