I 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
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
Huckleberries Not Quite Ready for the Picking
Huckleberries Ready for the Picking
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 Ripe for the Picking
Elderberries in the Sun
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??!