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Farm Milk During the Depression Era

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By Capper's Staff | Feb 27, 2012

Old folks do a lot of looking back to how it was when they were young, especially during the depression era. Life was not at all like it is today, and the difference affected the “well-to-do” along with the poor. City life was somewhat different from life out in the country, even then.

You think of indoor plumbing and electricity. Well, city folks didn’t have those luxuries either. They had coal oil lamps and outdoor toilets too, but they had one distinct advantage. Their milk was delivered to the door in glass bottles. The bottles had to be washed and returned but that was a small inconvenience. Out on the farm milk wasn’t so easy to come by.

Every farm family had a milk cow. And she had to be milked twice a day come what may. At the crack of dawn and again at sundown somebody had to take a bucket to the cow pen and milk the cow. The cow usually had a calf in a small pen nearby and the calf was turned in with its mother to nurse enough to sustain it until the next milking time, then a little rope was put around the neck of the calf so he could be dragged unwillingly back to the pen. After that the cow was milked, making sure you got it all because the last part was where the cream was. Cream was churned into butter daily for the family table. There was no margarine in those days.

I’ve never understood why there wasn’t more illness caused by such lack of sanitation. The cow had calf slobbers on her udders after the calf drank but it was ignored. It was important to milk the cow quickly while she had her milk let down.

Once to the house, the warm milk was strained though a cloth flour sack to hold back any trash that might have fallen off the cow while she was being milked, or any cow pen dirt that fell into the bucket when the cow tried to kick you.

The strainer cloth would be rinsed in cold water and pinned to the clothesline in the sun so it would be “clean” and ready to use at the next milking time. On Mondays this cloth was rubbed on the washboard and boiled with the white clothes in the big black wash pot in the back yard. Every woman saved soap grease to make her own lye soap for laundry and dishes as well.

Disposable milk filters were considered a great luxury when they became available. You could drink all of your milk then, instead of leaving the last bit in the glass because that was where the dirt settled.

When a farmer worked in the field until dark his wife usually milked the cow for him. Milking in the dark posed a problem because nobody had a flashlight back then. We had to light the kerosene lantern. Kerosene lanterns gave barely enough light to tell a cow pattie in the trail from a coiled up rattlesnake, but they sure beat nothing. They were used on the front porch for summertime visiting and were sometimes hung on the back of the wagon for a taillight when the family went to the annual nighttime school play.

On a blustery night in the springtime, light from the kerosene lantern led the way to the storm cellar, too. The only electricity was up among the clouds. Still, that way of life didn’t seem so bad to us. Nobody had heard of the modern conveniences we have today.

Maxine Blackburn
Blanco, Texas

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.

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