Depression Era: Ice Cream Custard for Birthdays, Cow Chips for Christmas

Kansan remembers getting ice cream on her birthdays and one of her grandfather's favorite jokes.

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I was born during the depression era in 1930 and farmers had very little money then, but my parents always made birthdays and holidays special. My birthday was in January so I was lucky because we would have ice in the stock tank. Dad would chop some ice and put it in a bucket. Mom would make the ice cream custard and put it in a gallon syrup bucket. She would put it in the bucket and we would all take turns turning the syrup around and around. It took a lot of helpers because it made your arms tired. Ever so often we had to open the syrup bucket and scrape the custard off the sides. Then add more ice to the outside bucket and salt. Then turn the bucket some more. It took a long time and the ice cream never got really hard, but when Mom took it out and served it in the long stem sherbet dishes nothing could have tasted better. We always got some small gift. Sometimes a book which was a welcome gift for me because I loved to read. I still have some of my gifts today.

Holidays were special for me, too, but I would bet no one got what we did for Christmas besides our gifts. It all started before 1 was born. My grandfather had come out from Missouri and brought Christmas candy. My Mother wanted to keep it for Christmas so she hid it in the milkhouse under some gunny sacks next to the potatoes. Somehow my two oldest brothers found where it was and started to take a few pieces each day. My grandpa found out so he put some dried cowchips in a sack and took the candy out. He watched as the boys sneaked into the milkhouse and when they reached in to the sack he was peeking through the door. He said they had a funny look on their faces when they reached in the cow chips. He laughed and laughed till he could hardly breathe. He never let them forget what had happened. So from that joke came the custom of havin' a sack of cow chips to remind us of the times over the year we hadn't been good. No matter how hard I tried to be good the whole year, come Christmas I still got my sack of cow chips. Then we would always laugh over Grandpa's joke.

Marie Holzwarth
Saint Francis, Kansas

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.