The Seasons: Rhythms of Life on a Family Farm in the 1930s

A Kansas woman describes how the seasons shaped life on her family farm

| Good Old Days

The life of our family farm in the 1930s was a demanding one, revolving around the seasons. Most of our food was grown on the land. Staples, such as flour, sugar, salt, soap, etcetera, were bought in Rochester. We often traded eggs for these items.

Chickens supplied not only eggs but much of our meat. Sunday dinners and other special meals usually featured chicken in some form. The chicken might be fried, roasted, or boiled with homemade noodles. Sometimes a hog or calf was butchered in the late fall. It was possible to preserve meat in a variety of ways-it could be canned, smoked or salted. We were especially fond of canned veal. During hunting season Dad shot rabbits, ducks and an occasional pheasant to supplement our meat supply. Sometimes he even killed a large turtle, which is considered a delicacy, it tastes like chicken. However, I never liked to eat it, as I could not banish the unpleasant image of the turtle from my mind.

We kept a herd of dairy cattle when we lived at Polk's Hill. During the spring and summer Dad put them in a far pasture that he referred to as "the west 40." My sister and I had the job of going to the field in the late afternoon to drive the cows home for milking. To reach this pasture we walked down a winding lane, past two ponds, through the woods, and out into a sunlit field. Many things caught our interest along the way. In the spring we looked for mushrooms or picked wild flowers. We usually left home a little earlier than necessary, so we would have time to swing on a sturdy wild grapevine that hung from a large tree at the edge of the path. Bowser, a tan-and-white mixed-breed dog, ran ahead of us, inspecting all of the rustling noises in the leaves covering the lane. I wish I could say that she was a great help in rounding up the cows, but she was not a working dog. We knew each of the cows and called them by name-Red, Tiny, Bess, Lady, etc. The cows were all gentle creatures and moved obediently along the path toward the barn.

My parents did all of the milking by hand. The milk was poured into 10-gallon cans, which were picked up daily and taken to the Armour Creamery in Rochester. At times we sold cream instead of milk. The milk was put into a machine called a separator, which was operated by turning a handle. The cream was taken to the creamery and the skimmed milk was fed to the hogs. We used raw milk for cooking, drinking and churning butter from sour cream.

We had a large garden and an even larger truck patch. Goose-berry, strawberry, blackberry, rhubarb and asparagus plants grew along the boundaries of the garden. An orchard supplied a variety of apples and plums. An old cherry tree stood in the corner of the yard and produced abundantly each summer. An equally old pear tree also continued to produce small, hard pears that littered the yard each fall. A grape arbor was planted beyond the orchard and truck patch. Mom canned quarts of grape juice, which she used to make jelly and grape pies. Dad bought a grape press and tried, unsuccessfully, to make wine. Wild black raspberries grew in one of the woods on the farm. We loved fresh, sugared raspberries with cream poured over them. Another of our favorite desserts was warm raspberry dumplings.

The entire family was kept busy from early spring, when the seeds were planted, until fall, when the harvest was brought in. Even the children helped in planting seeds, pulling weeds, picking vegetables and cleaning them. The entire summer was spent in preparation for the coming winter, with endless picking, cleaning and canning of fruits and vegetables. When farm wives met they took great pride in telling each other how many jars of each fruit and vegetable they had put up.



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