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Mama Made Me

Free Is Always Good

DJI used to wonder as a kid how people ever found enough to do before there were printed books readily available or television. I did not have television until I was probably about 12 or 13, but even then I knew that women in ‘the olden days’ didn’t go to school during the winter as I did. So what did they do during the day? And what did the children do when school was out for the summer, or on the weekends? Even I got bored jumping on my pogo stick or playing jump rope. And in winter I couldn’t do any of those activities anyway!

Nature's Free Bounty

Nature's Free Bounty

As is almost always the case, I have grown up and I am doing a lot of the same activities people in ‘the olden days’ used to do, and – guess what – I have discovered what all those women and children did while the guys were out working in the hay field or tending the critters! My husband’s family didn’t do a lot of the same things my family did when he was growing up, probably due to the fact they moved around a lot. His father was in the Army so they didn’t stay in any one place too long, so he has just discovered the joys of doing some of the things my relatives use to do all the time. My mother and I didn’t do a lot of this because she was blind and so was unable to drive, but once in a while I had the privilege of picking berries with cousins. I even had some cousins who had their own Hazelnut trees! I loved going up there and getting the free nuts. It was so awesome!

Perfect Huckleberry Country

Perfect Huckleberry Country

Huckleberries Not Quite Ready For Picking

Huckleberries Not Quite Ready for the Picking

Huckleberries Ready For the Picking

Huckleberries Ready for the Picking

Busy Picking the Huckleberries

Busy Picking the Huckleberries

Since moving to Idaho my husband has learned that Apple trees grow along the side of the road along with Crabapples, and one of his favorites – Huckleberries. He had never heard of Huckleberries before, only the Blueberries from the grocery store. Even though they are from the same family he now knows there is a very distinct difference between the two. He has also learned the easiest way to tell if it’s time to pick the Huckleberries. Once you get to your favorite spot all you have to do is step out of your vehicle and you will smell them! He has also been bitten by the Blackberry bug. There are several thousand Blackberry bushes between where we live and my cousins, and he has learned where almost every one of those bushes are located. He will be scoping out the bushes while I am driving. He doesn’t want to miss one single berry. Another berry he had never heard of is Elderberries. Not as sweet or flavorful as the Huckleberry or Blackberry, he will still scope out every tree he can find on our meanderings around the countryside.

Blackberries Almost Ready

Blackberries Ripe for the Picking

Elderberries In the Sun

Elderberries in the Sun

Wild Plums Along the Potlatch River

Wild Red Plums Along the Potlatch River

Wild Red Plums Along the Potlatch River

Other fruits we have both discovered are the Wild Plums. I didn’t know we had them here in Idaho, but last year we found a couple of trees. This year we discovered that there are not only yellow plums, but red and black plums also. So along a short stretch of old railroad tracks running alongside the Potlatch River we have found Blackberries, Wild Plums, Red Plums and Black Plums, along with Apples and what looks like Crabapples. And we have picked some from all of them!

Here is my rundown on those women’s work load. In mid to late June you start checking out your Huckleberry spot and then pick when ripe. Now you have gallons of Huckleberries to can, make into jam and jelly, and create some of the best fresh pies and muffins or pancakes, coffee cakes, etc., that one can imagine. Then in July you start pulling in from your garden. Depending upon what part of the country you live in and what you have planted, of course. This is also the time you need to begin checking on the plums. They ripen just a tad bit sooner than the Blackberries. August comes around and you have more produce from your garden and now you get to start checking on the Blackberries. In September you can begin watching the Crabapples and Elderberries. Then in October – right after the first good frost – you can start working on the Apples. And, if you are lucky, you can also get cherries, apricots, Italian prunes, pears, and the domestic plum.

Between every one of these cycles you will be canning or freezing your fresh produce and/or fruits and making your jams, jellies and pickles. I even found a recipe this year for pickled green tomatoes so you won’t be wasting any of your tomatoes, either! And the beans, barley, wheat, lentils, and other larger crops are harvested in August and September, also. My lesson from all of this is – no matter what time of year it is there will always be something to do! And this doesn’t include all the housework and sewing and mending and regular cooking they did.

That leaves me with one more question, too. How did these ladies ever survive in those layers of clothes without air conditioning while they were doing all that canning? Especially in the days before they had electric ranges??!

Boys and Girls

DJKeeping oneself busy during the fall and winter can seem like a daunting task for those of us who are used to being on the go all the time. I do believe that is why so many people in the towns and cities of this great country got hooked on television. (Only my opinion.)

In my household when I was young, even though we lived in town, we didn’t watch television. In fact, we didn’t even own a television until I was about thirteen. So when I started going to Junior High School and High School and the teachers gave us assignments once in a while where we were supposed to watch some documentary relating to history, I would not be able to complete the assignment because we didn’t own a television. Finally, she broke down and got one. Complete with rabbit ears!

Before this I always found things to do to keep myself busy – besides the obvious chores – and often wondered how the other girls found so much time to go to the movies, etc. after their chores were done. That was when I found out that not everybody had the same chores I did.

My most important chore was chopping the wood and bringing it in. You see, we had wood heat, not natural gas or oil. My mother also had a wood cook stove in the kitchen that sat right beside her electric range. She used that wood cook stove in the winter and it would heat up the back part of the house plus she didn’t have to pay for the electricity to use the electric range. She was on a very tight budget so she did what she could to conserve as much as possible. I remember walking home from school and chopping the wood before we ate dinner, or I did my homework. That usually took a couple of hours to make sure there was enough wood cut for the night and the next day, and there was kindling for starting the fire in the morning.

I had a girlfriend whose older brother decided one day that there was no way I could cut more wood than he could. He had never chopped wood before and didn’t know how to tell which pieces would split the easiest or anything. I had been doing this for a few years by then and knew how to tell by looking at it which chunks were dryer than the others and would split the cleanest and easiest. (I guess it was that teenage ego kicking in.)

Anyway, he challenged me to see who could chop the most wood in a specified length of time. I do not remember how long now, but I agreed. I knew I had him beat. I was at their house so we walked on up to my house and I opened the garage doors revealing an almost empty garage. It was early spring by then and so most of the wood had been used over the winter. I grabbed an axe and handed him one and rolled the big old chopping block out into the driveway. Of course, my mother had to come out and see what we were up to. When I told her what we were doing she only shook her head and laughed, and walked back into the house.

He decided to be chivalrous and let me go first. I was the girl, after all! So I looked over a few chunks of wood and chose one that had a nice crack on one side. I knew it would probably split with one or two good hits, if I placed the axe just right. Then I proceeded to split it with one good, solid hit! His turn, now. Having no clue what he was doing, this kid walked up, looked around a second, and picked up a nice piece of wood with no cracks or blemishes of any kind. By the third hit it still hadn’t split. In fact, he had the axe stuck and couldn’t get it out.

I only made it worse by taking the axe away from him and freeing it from the confines of the wood, thoroughly embarrassing him in front of his sister. And my mother. I know she was watching to make sure no one got hurt. After all, he had never used an axe before. Then, I tried to explain to him how to pick the easiest wood to split – and then showed him by splitting another good sized chunk with only one or two hits. I guess that was more than his young ego could handle, because he turned and hurried off down the street.

Neither one of us ever talked about the incident, but I know it bothered him for a long time. In school, he would actually turn and walk the opposite direction if he saw me walking toward him in the hall. This was my first lesson in getting along with boys. I didn’t realize it then, though.

I guess I got my work ethic from my mother!

Mom and her first husband sawing wood.

My mother with her first husband.

Curious Comfort

DJSarah, 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.

Boys In The Fruit Orchard

DJWhen 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.

Ron in Lewiston Orchards, Idaho Blog

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.

Importance of Hidey Holes On Farmsteads

DJI 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!

Antique Bee Smoker Blog

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.

Mary, Sally, Larry, and Bill Blog

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!

Farm Machinery: Then and Now

DJIt 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.

Farm Family in 1910

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!

Old Combine

Combine on the Old Parker Ranch

Old Steam Tractor

On Grandpa Parker's Ranch - Old Steam Tractor

Stationary Thrashing Machine

Grandpa Parker's Stationary Thrashing Machine

Reeper Steam Tractor and Trashing 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.

Modern Farm Equipment in the Field

Farm Livin'

Harvesting is a dirty job.

Harvesting is a dirty job.

Traffic Jam Due to Farm Machinery

Palouse Traffic Jam on the Kendrick Grade

Farm Equipment on the Road in Troy, Idaho

Spring in Troy

Extremely Large Farm Equipment

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!

Who Remembers These?

DJI 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.

An Assortment of Old Canning Jars

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

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.

Kerr Economy Canning Jars With Sealing Tabs

Two Kerr Brand 'Economy' Canning Jars - a Pint and a Half Gallon

How the Kerr Economy Jars Were Sealed

A Basic Idea of How the 'Economy' Canning Jars Were Sealed

An Old Canning Jar With a Handle and Metal Lid

A Jar With a Handle and Metal Lid With Reusable Seal

Inside of Canning Lid Showing Different Seals

A Sample of the Different Rings Including the Seal on the Inside of the Lid