Sarah, the web editor for Capper's Farmer, sent me an email about submissions for a cookbook they were needing to send off to the publisher and mentioned I had said I had my mother-in-law's box of old recipes. I do not remember saying that, but there are a lot of things I don’t remember – especially when I am very busy. I am almost afraid to think about what that may include some days.
So I started going through those old recipes to see if they would be what ‘most’ people would consider ‘comfort food’ and realized some of them weren’t even what I would have called ‘comfort food.' We were raised in different eras and areas of the country so, who is to say what the term ‘comfort food’ entails?
To me comfort food brings back my mama’s beans and dumplings, or homemade pies. She made the best pumpkin pie! I know I am slightly biased; she was my mother. You know, years later she owned up to lying to me. She hadn’t been baking pumpkin pies for me when I was a kid. She had been disguising squash as pumpkin. And I couldn’t even tell the difference! Now I know everybody has their story about what mama made them eat without them knowing it, and that is where my mind derailed for a little bit.
If we can be so easily tricked by our mothers into eating something that we are adamant about hating, what more can we be confused about. (Now we all know where those seeds of distrust started, huh?) You know I actually just found out last year that my mother never really made ‘dumplings’ either! She just whipped up a batch of baking powder biscuits and dropped them into her beans, or beef noodles, or whatever she was making. Cook 15 to 20 minutes and carefully roll each one over and cook another 15 to 20 minutes. It works every single time. Unless you are one of the people who likes their dumplings real heavy. These are light and fluffy!! Delicious! And this brings me back to the conundrum about comfort foods.
Comfort brings memories of ease and being stress free, soaking in warmth by a wood heating stove. Comfort to my husband is having central heat going in the winter and a small bowl of ice cream while he sits in front of the computer. My cousin thinks comfort is not worrying about anything and having everything you want. (I kind of like that one a little myself.) So I started really looking at the recipes, thinking about the area she was raised in and where she had raised her children. There is not much of a difference in some things – casseroles are always good. Hot, fresh from the oven pies and cakes by our mom and grandma are probably the best.
I was more than a little surprised when I ran upon the recipe below. Read it carefully. The Beverly Hillbillies had nothing on this old gal from Alabama. The recipe is for ‘coon’!? And if you continue reading just below that almost straight line it says ‘possum’! Neither my husband nor his younger sister recall her cooking them any of those delicacies, but wouldn’t that be a hoot if they get to heaven and ask her, and she answers ‘yes’? His sister did tell of a story his mother recounted about one of her younger brothers feeding her coon when she was a girl and not telling her until after she had eaten it.
I have come to the conclusion that, like everything else in life, comfort is different things to different people and ‘comfort food’ is just another memory like ‘the good old days’. I really do like those good old days and comfort foods, though.
When my brother was growing up, our mom and dad owned a peach orchard in the Lewiston Orchards, Idaho. (It was actually called that then, too.) This picture shows him when he was still young helping them in the orchards by carrying the weeds – and probably pulling them, too. At that time it wasn’t against the law for children to help their parents.
I was at my cousin, Emery Taylor’s, house last year and we were talking about some of the old picture’s my brother, Ron, had given me. I mentioned the one above with Ron carrying the weeds and the one I have of my uncle’s and my dad building a house in the peach orchard for one of the uncles to live in. I guess there weren’t a lot of regulations or building codes back then, either.
Emery started giggling and told me about the time he had been sent over to my mom and dad’s to stay with them for a couple of days because his mother had gone into labor. His parents didn’t feel it was appropriate for a young boy to see a woman giving birth.
This one particular day Ron and Emery were out in the orchard playing and my dad had turned the water on to irrigate the peach trees. As he walked along the bottom of the ditches making sure there was nothing blocking the flow of water to the trees, he came upon this one ditch that was bone dry. There was no water flowing in it at all. He walked up the ditch trying to locate the obstruction so he could get the water flowing again.
However, I do not believe he was prepared for the obstruction he found. Two boys with dump trucks and cars and logging trucks and everything! Yep, you got it! My brother, Ron, and my cousin, Emery, were playing cars and had built a really nice little town complete with a lake. And, they had built a dam across dads’ irrigation ditch to fill that beautiful little lake with water.
Now they were having a ball, but dad didn’t think it was funny at all. Mind you, this was in the 1940’s when it was still legal to spank your kids. Especially when they were messing with your fruit trees! If that was this day and age, it would have been a virtual town, with a virtual lake and virtual cars – drawn on a computer in other words. Of course, they wouldn’t have gotten a whippin’ either. And on that particular day Ron and Emery’s punishment wasn’t virtual, either. He said it took a while for mom to let them live it down, too.
I am sitting here watching all the Yellow Jackets outside our windows and I remember wondering last winter if the bugs would be worse this summer because we did not get cold enough up here to kill them off. Guess what? That is exactly what happened. We have had the worst year for Yellow Jackets and Wasps in ages – plus they are meaner than ever. I have been stung twice, and my husband has even had them chase him down and sting him on the riding lawn mower, my dog has been stung two or three times. The first time was up by her eye and her eyelid swelled shut and we had to take her to the vet. They are nasty this year!
Knowing how ill tempered Yellow Jackets can get makes me wonder how in the world people ever used this old smoker. I mean, they had to have something in there to produce the smoke. And that meant it was going to be hot. Plus, they were probably using this in the summer time when it was already hot. A couple of questions here, now. What if the wind turned and blew the smoke into your face instead of the bees? No fun there! And, these Yellow Jackets are smart. They have probably figured out where all that smoke is coming from and are now after you. (That is how I got stung the second time. They knew who was spraying the hive with that smelly insecticide!) Could you outrun a bunch of angry wasps? But, this was the technology of the day.
Now, please, do not get me wrong. I am not out to kill bees. Bees are very beneficial, but when you have a full nest of Yellow Jackets (Wasps), which are not as beneficial, living as close as some of these things are – they need to move! We have one in the ground in the front yard, one in the corner of the house by the driveway (where we have to walk past it twice a day), one in the small composter by the old chicken coop, and one in the old chicken coop! I mean in the walls of the old chicken coop. It was time for them to go.
This photo shows my cousins May and Sally (first and second from the left, respectively) and Sally’s husband, Larry and last, but not least is May’s husband, Bill. This particular bee smoker belonged to Larry’s grandfather. (Larry is the guy third from the left.) We get a good idea how old this particular piece of equipment is now, since Larry is almost 80. (Hopefully that didn’t sound as bad as I think it did.) Larry’s grandparents moved up here to the Moscow, Idaho area in 1909, and when Larry graduated from high school his parents moved up here from Pomeroy, Washington. When they moved here they purchased an old farm and worked the land like most everybody else. After Larry’s grandparents and father had passed away, his brother came up to do some work on the old house for their mother. Larry and Sally finished up the new sheetrock and Larry’s brother and wife helped sand the drywall joints. Needless to say that makes a huge mess.
Sally, and everybody, was cleaning up the dust from the sanding one day and Sally got to the point where she was wiping the dust off the staircase going upstairs. Every time she tried to clean this one step it would move. Being the inquisitive person she is, Sally pulled on the stair and the top slid out revealing a hidey hole just big enough to hold a twenty pound bag of sugar. As it turns out, during World War II when the country was going through all the rationing, the farmers got pretty ingenious when it came to hiding their stuff. It was not uncommon to find hidey holes such as this because the military would make routine searches, especially during canning season, and they would confiscate sugar and other valuable commodities from the people. Not wanting their stuff taken, especially sugar as it was quite expensive, the farmers hid it. In this case the hidey hole didn’t hold any sugar, but it did have Larry’s grandfather’s bee smoker in it. That was an extraordinary find in itself!
It is harvest season around here and has been for about a month or so. And every time I see one of the newer harvesters, or other huge pieces of farming equipment, I think about the ones my grandpa Henry Parker used in the early 1900’s. It is hard work now, but it was really work back then. In fact, story has it that is how Grandma Parker eventually ended up losing the farm out by Culdesac, Idaho. Grandpa Parker is the fifth person from the left in the photo below, and my father is the last person on the right side of the picture, who is holding onto Grandma Parker's hand.
Family Photo Around 1910
I decided to go through the old pictures my brother had given me and was amazed – again – by how hard it must have been for them to accomplish what they did on the farms and still sell it for what they sold it for. I, like most other people, am unhappy about the prices of the staple items in the grocery stores now, but I remember my mom telling me about buying fifty pounds of flour for less than ten dollars. According to her they didn’t package in little five pound bags. If you wanted less than twenty or fifty pound bags, you had it weighed out for you. (Yes, just like in the western movies and TV shows.) She remembered when they didn’t have regular grocery stores in the smaller towns. They were still called mercantiles. And they carried everything. Kind of like a grocery store, hardware store, fabric store and five-and-dime all rolled into one. I can only imagine the wonders kids found to marvel at then!
Combine on the Old Parker Ranch
On Grandpa Parker's Ranch - Old Steam Tractor
Grandpa Parker's Stationary Thrashing Machine
Reeper Steam Tractor and Thrashing Machine
As you can see in the above pictures, working the land then was a long, hot, hard, back-breaking business, one that took many men to do. In those days families worked the farms for a reason. The first picture is one of an old horse-drawn combine. Could you imagine standing on that thing all day long? Not just the standing, either. One had to make sure the horses were doing okay and not overheating in the sun. It would have been in the mid to high ninety’s out there in the sun. Maybe even hotter. It is August and September time frame.
The second picture is an old steam tractor that Grandpa Parker had on the farm, and the third picture is a stationary thrashing machine. I could not even have begun to imagine how all those things worked together, but they made it happen. And the fourth picture is the steam tractor and stationary thrasher hooked up and working together. You can see all the steam and dust rising from the machinery and the wheat. (I would not want to have been doing their laundry, especially since they didn’t always change their clothes every morning! After all, they were only going to go back out into the fields!)
The story I heard was that it was one of these pieces of machinery that killed my Grandpa Parker. He was working on one of them and a counter weight fell, hitting him in the head. He had a good enough name in the community that the bank had loaned him some money against the farm, and he had just put a mortgage against it so he could expand. I guess that’s where the phrase – lost the farm – comes from. In this case it was true. Grandma Parker was able to keep the farm going for a while, probably with help from the other men in the family, but eventually it proved too much for her. It would be interesting to find out all the details instead of bits and pieces from different people here and there.
Harvesting is a dirty job.
Palouse Traffic Jam on the Kendrick Grade
Spring in Troy
One tire is the size of my truck.
These are the monster machines they use now. But it is still dusty, dirty, hard work, and knowing how far the industry has come makes me appreciate all the ‘normal’ things families still have to do without sometimes to make it work. Things like dinner at a regular hour, or with loved ones. Regular play dates with your kids on the weekends during planting or harvest seasons. Or, getting off work at five! I have a very healthy respect for these men and women who keep us fed, because not everybody grows a garden or grinds their own flour anymore. Farmers and ranchers truly are the backbones of this country. A hearty ‘Thank You’ to every single one of them!
I will bet there are a whole lot of people out there who remember every single one of these jars! Am I right, ladies? I know there are some guys who do, too, but most of the time it was the ladies that did the canning, so I am targeting them a little bit here.
How many of you remember these jars?
My cousin’s husband gave my husband and I several boxes of old jars he had stored out in a building he calls the ‘little barn.’ That’s the old metal building where he stores all the junk he doesn’t want my cousin to know he still has. They live in town now, but he still comes out to fiddle around with stuff and take his old Swather up to another piece of land he owns so he can play around like he used to when he still farmed outside of Troy, Idaho where they live. To avoid a little confusion – my husband and I are staying in the ranch house where they raised their kids. My husband and I are convinced he won’t sell the place because it gives him a place to go play, and he doesn’t have to listen to my cousin. Enough of that history and back to the jars.
My cousin had already told us we could have all the canning jars she had upstairs, and that is where I found the metal bands for sealing the Economy jars, but neither one of us ever figured I would find the jars.
Also in the boxes of jars she gave us were three or four fancy square jars that say ‘Reliance Wide Mouth Mason’ that have one piece metal lids with the seal already in the lid. I proudly display them in my pantry. As you can see, they work great for beans and black eyed peas and such. I even have one that is square like the Reliance jars, but it says ‘Presto Wide Mouth Mason.’ Who would have thought there were that many different brands of canning jars? Then we were given the boxes of jars in the barn, and we started going through those boxes and cleaning those jars. Heaven! Sorry, I do get a little excited sometimes.
Square Reliance Wide-Mouth Canning Jars that I Use in My Pantry
The boxes her husband gave us are even more special, not just because of their age, but because these are jars his mother used when he was a child, and most of them are half gallons. When we started digging through all these jars – honey, you would have thought I had just won the lottery! Needless to say, all the jars are probably more than forty years old. And then to see the old jars that didn’t have screw bands and they said ‘Economy.’ I never figured my husband would ever understand that. To say he doesn’t understand anything like that would be wrong, but there is just something about the word ‘antique’ he cannot fully comprehend. Part of the time the stuff is just really great (tools), and part of the time it is just junk (dishes). Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the tools part, too. (Maybe even as much as he does.) The knicky-knacky stuff, however, is a completely different animal for him. I guess it’s one of those ‘man’ things. Until we moved up here and started canning, that is. Now, these jars are almost as priceless to him as they are to me. Back to my story, again.
When I saw the first jar with the magic word – Economy – I was so excited because I knew I had the bands to seal those jars with! I couldn’t remember where they were at the time, but I knew I had them. Alas, I do not have any of the old lids, but I used one of our new fangled lids as an example so you can see how they would have worked. The next big discovery was the ‘Self-Sealing’ jars by Kerr. Obviously there is no way any of these are going to be used for anything except conversation, or in my pantry to look pretty. Then we found the jar with the handle. I have no idea if that jar was intended to be reused, but the lid that is on it fits perfectly, and women in the days before convenience reused everything! The jar with the handle is the one where my husband drew the line. There was no way he was going to let me have all this neat stuff, so he laid claim to it. I can’t complain, though. We have a lot of history in our pantry. Family history.
Two Kerr Brand 'Economy' Canning Jars - a Pint and a Half Gallon
A Basic Idea of How the 'Economy' Canning Jars Were Sealed
A Jar With a Handle and Metal Lid With Reusable Seal
A Sample of the Different Rings Including the Seal on the Inside of the Lid
I remember my Aunt Wilma as a very vibrant and happy person. She always seemed to be laughing when I saw her. I thought she was so pretty, and I still do. She is in her 90’s now, but she still has the same sort of sideways smile and laughs so easily. She made the decision a couple of years ago to move into an assisted living apartment because she was “beginning to forget things.”
I was looking through all the old photos and pictures of the signs from the war effort from GRIT and Capper’s Farmer on Facebook, and it reminded me of all the historic things this woman has seen in her lifetime. And even though she thinks she is “forgetting too many things,” there are so many things she still remembers.
My Aunt Wilma many years ago.
My husband and one of my cousins were visiting with her one day and talking about things that had happened when she was raising her children. Little things, that at the time were probably very big deals, all seemed so funny now. We talked about raising children and gardens, and about canning and cooking, and all the work that girls do not need to know about now and all of a sudden she says, “I made ketchup once, and by golly, I’m not going to do that again!” It made me wonder how much more work there would be making catsup than baking bread. Or maybe, the difference between making a quilt, or just sewing a dress together. The only one of these three activities I have not accomplished is the catsup part, so I do know there is some work in putting a quilt together and baking bread.
I still wondered how hard it would be. (After all, I do make my own tomato sauce.) Most of the work to that is watching the tomatoes boil away on the stove. So I decided to ask her why it was so hard to make “ketchup.” She only smiled and shook her head before she giggled. She explained about all the work it took to take care of a house and try to work while you did all that “in those days.” She told more stories about moving across the state with her young son in tow, and how she managed to just “stop at the right place at the right time” and landed herself a job when she arrived in her new home town. But, you know, she never did explain to me what was so hard about making catsup. I did get her to tell me how she made dill pickles, though. And if that was any indication of how she made her “ketchup,” I think I understand a little.
Her recipe for pickles went something like this – “Well, you alternate putting your cukes in the jars with the dill. Your jars should already be sitting in the canner in boiling water, but not enough water to overflow into the jars. Then you make your syrup with water and cider vinegar and pour over the cukes and the dill in the jars. Make sure you have the cukes in the jars nice and tight. But not too tight, now! When that’s done you take your jars out of the canner, wipe the rims so as not to have anything on them, and then seal your jars. Just set them aside. You don’t want to cook them any further.”
Well, I decided to try her recipe for dill pickles this year. I have no clue how much dill to use, but hey, I gave it a shot! It’s going to seem like a shame to open them, they look so pretty here.
Aunt Wilma's Dill Pickles
This photo portrays more now than just me as a little one with my father. I can look at the background of this photo and see the tools mom used in raising the garden that is the backdrop. I can see the almost straight rows and the carefully tended plants and wonder – where are the weeds? My garden this year had more weeds than actual veggies, I think! Of course, nothing grew as well this year as it did last year.
My dad, Roy Parker and me in front of my mothers garden.
This photo was so many years ago, I do not even remember it. I don’t remember my mother working in the garden then, either. I do remember, however, her making me go out and help her in the garden when I was older. My father had passed away by then, and I was the only help she had. My brother had married and was living a few hundred miles away raising his family, so he was unable to help as he would have liked to. (I am hoping I am correct in that assumption.) As I grew older, I know I didn’t want to, so there may have been an ulterior motive behind his move.
Once school was out, Mama had a small area beside the garage we would go out and dig up. Mama didn’t have a tiller and wouldn’t have been able to use it anyway being almost totally blind. I believe not being able to see well enough to use one made her just a little bit afraid of them. She knew they could hurt you and did not want to take any chances. I, being young and stupid, did not understand why she didn’t just go buy one. Of course, I didn’t understand why we had to grow a garden anyway. Why didn’t she just go to that magical place called the grocery store and buy them! I remember Mama and I with a shovel, digging up the garden plot, pouring this stinky stuff called ‘steer manure’ on it and digging all that under and mixing it up real good, and then taking the big old garden rake and making sure everything was nice and level and smooth and that there were no big dirt clods or rocks. Then she would take the sprinkler and water it down real good for about an hour. And then it would sit. I was so glad we didn’t have to do anything in that garden again for a few days.
Those days moved way too quickly, though, and then we were back out there. This time she would mark the rows with twine so they were nice and straight. Then we got to run a tiny little ditch and put the seeds into the ground. I always liked that part because it meant I was going to have some really sweet carrots and the juiciest tomatoes in the world to snack on when they finally got big enough to start producing. And beets! Mama made the best pickled beets in the world! I am biased, I know. Everybody’s mother makes the best of whatever it is that is being discussed. That’s probably the best part of it all.
Now, my mother and I were both very stubborn, and I remember one year I decided I wanted her to plant some peas and some green beans, too. She did not want to. As much work as she did getting that little tiny garden area ready for planting, and she wouldn’t plant peas or beans because it was ‘too much work’ putting up the posts and string for the peas and beans to climb on. Go figure! Anyway, I finally convinced her to plant some green beans. But, “they had to be bush beans,” she said. I didn’t care as long as we could grow some beans. I was ecstatic. We were going to grow some beans! And they tasted so much better than the ones from the grocery store. That is a lesson I have learned many times over through the years.
Now, I can’t wait until spring so I can start getting ready for that magic time called planting season. I still do not have a tiller, but that is coming. This year my husband (who has never planted a garden in his life) and I shared space with my cousins about 40 miles away. They have the tiller and the garden space, and we help with the watering and the planting and the weeding, and we share what we get. And it all tastes better than what you buy in the grocery store!