On the farm, food for the family was mostly home grown and preserved by the farm wife. The garden was started as soon as the ground dried out and warmed up a bit; it had been plowed the fall before. The potatoes were the first thing in the ground. Eyes were taken from sprouted potatoes in the bin in the cave, or later we purchased seed potatoes in 100-pound gunnysacks. Radishes, onions, lettuce, peas, beets, carrots and spinach were planted for early crops too. It wouldn't be long until the ground warmed up and the little weeds started making their appearance. Out came the hoe to keep them under control-no motor-powered tillers in those days. Later the corn was planted when the hedge leaves were the size of squirrels ears. Beans, cabbage, green peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and melons were planted when there was no longer a chance of frost. Turnips were sown the 25th of July, wet or dry.
The first green onions, radishes and lettuce were the very best tasting. Our summer meals consisted mainly of the garden produce that happened to be ready at the time. The job of canning and preserving for winter was just beginning. You canned everything that you didn't eat fresh, as your summer work was the basis of most of your winter meals. Somewhere along the line I read a saying, "Eat what you can and can what you can't." I don't remember a time my mother didn't have a pressure canner, but before she did she "hot-water bathed" peas, beans and corn for several hours on a wood stove in the wash house. Thank goodness for the wash house as our house would have been a steamy tomb to try to sleep in at night with no fans or air conditioner.
Cucumbers became sweet, dill and bread-and-butter pickles; cabbage became kraut; tomatoes were juiced and whole tomatoes were canned for winter vegetable soup and chili. Fall brought time to dig the potatoes; Dad dug and the kids picked them up. After they were sorted they were stored in the "tater bin" in the cave for the winter. We always kept out the smallest ones to use first, as they would soon shrivel and be almost impossible to peel.
There was always a big strawberry patch. Along with the berries came the job of standing on your head in the hot June sunshine, picking them every couple of days as long as the season lasted. Despite the hard work of pulling and hoeing the weeds, we enjoyed many meals of fresh strawberry shortcake or just strawberries and cream. Strawberry jam was also put up for the winter; some berries were canned for fruit sauce but they never had the taste of fresh ones. There was an apple tree for fresh and canned applesauce and spicy apple butter. Fall apples were stored in the cave in boxes for winter use, along with buckets of carrots and turnips and beets, which were stored in damp sand. There were also pumpkins and squash for pies.
When the old hens quit laying and the spring pullets were put in the laying house, the old hens were killed and dressed and canned for chicken and noodles, cream chicken and biscuits or hot chicken sandwiches. If the beef was butchered some of it was also canned for later use-nothing tastes like home-canned beef.
We picked blackberries, wild raspberries and gooseberries in the timber and along the fence rows. Most of these were eaten fresh or in pies; if they were really plentiful some were canned or made into jelly. A trip to the timber with a picnic lunch to gather walnuts and hickory nuts was a fun outing for the whole family on crisp fall days. The trip supplied the nuts for creamy fudge or spicy homemade oatmeal cookies or anything else you would chock full of nuts for more flavor.
During the summer when you were preserving for the winter, there were weeds in the garden to keep under control, the usual meals to prepare, laundry, cooking for hired hands, ironing and taking care of the kids. By doing all of this work, the wife helped out with the family farm.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.