The lovely prairie autumn was going swiftly by. The cottonwood trees had changed from their rich green leaves to that autumn yellow, unique to cottonwoods, and all of a sudden they stood naked, their leaves swirling on the ground.
Winter was coming to Baca County, Colorado, where my father and mother, Alfred and Eva Meltabarger, had claimed land in 1913 and where they raised 12 children. Food preservation was crucial to our survival.
Cucumbers in a five-gallon jar of salt brine, strong enough to float an egg, would make delicious pickles – pickled cucumbers – for jaded appetites through the winter. Beets sat red in jars ready for a Sunday dinner. Only two green rows, the upper leaves nipped by frost, showed where plump carrots and fat turnips were waiting their turns to take the monotony from winter meals.
The shuck beans and dried corn hung in sacks in the back room. The corn had been cut from the cob in the roasting-ear state and spread thinly on clean flour sacks to dry on top of the shed. A sheet was stretched over the grain, a large rock on each corner holding it taunt and making a little tent to keep out dust and insects. Every hour or so, my sisters and I were given big spoons and sent to the shed roof to lift the sheet and stir the corn; this continued until it was perfectly dry.
Now it was time to dry pumpkin rings. Earlier my brothers had hauled the pumpkins to a bin where the broomcorn seed was stored, in a rock building where they wouldn't freeze. I lifted the pumpkins from the box, handing them to my sisters. The firm ones were put in tubs for Mother at the house; the ones "going soft" were stacked for my brothers to take to the hogs. We girls broke a couple open for the chickens to pick.
In our dugout, Mother sliced the pumpkins in thin rings. I was big enough to peel the rings without breaking them; my sister Wanda cut the pulp from the inside; and sister Iva cubed rings accidentally broken too badly to hang on the wire. The broken pieces were put to cook; they would be made into butter or pies.
A single slash thru the ring let us hang the pumpkin on a wire stretched behind the kitchen stove. A towel was spread over the rings and they were left there until they were dry.
The dried pumpkin went into sacks to join the corn and beans in the back room. Thru the winter the rings were broken into pieces to be soaked overnight and cooked for butter or pies. Dried pumpkin had a slightly different taste from fresh pumpkin, but it certainly did brighten our winter and early spring meals.
Evallee Myers Forpahl
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.