Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Walking In The Shoes Of The Women Who Came Before Me

I am proud to come from a long line of pioneer women.  Canning, butchering, gardening, sewing and caring for livestock was their day to day way of life.  Nowadays, with everything available at the click of a button or at a store near our home, our lives have changed.   Of course that’s not all bad – goodness, I’m sure the coming of store-bought sliced bread was like heaven to our overworked grandmothers.

My interest in my ancestors began several years ago when I started researching my family tree, which led me to thinking about their lives.  I wanted to learn how to do what they did.

My mother always had a huge garden and a canning shelf filled with good food.  My father talks of growing up in the thirties, eating their own canned food, eggs, butter, and home baked bread, along with a lot of wild game and fish.  I think it is fascinating that his mother stored meat in a crock.   She covered it with grease and stored it in the root cellar.  Can you imagine no electricity?  No refrigeration other than the ice chunks cut out of the river?  Cooking on a wood stove?  Scrubbing laundry in a tub?

Gardening and canning were my first adventures.  Gardening and I took right off – I can’t help it, it’s in my gene pool.  Canning was a bit sketchier.  My first canning attempt was grape jelly.  Easy, right?   I think I called my mom about a hundred hand wringing times.  Her advice was to get the Ball Blue Book – READ IT and follow it, along with additional motherly wisdom on the importance of cleanliness and following directions (great advice for any beginning canner).  One day I finally jumped in.  Let’s just say it wasn’t a complete success - in fact I threw my little batch away because I was too afraid to kill my husband and myself in the trying of it. Oy!  Knowing what I know now, I am sure that jelly was just fine but so it goes.  Come to think of it, I also threw out my first batch of canned tomatoes because they didn’t look pretty enough so I thought there was something wrong with them; wrong again.  Anyway, now I am much more comfortable canning.  The more you try the easier it is and the more confidence you will gain.  Promise.    

A few canning facts.  Did you know that processing times vary for different altitudes?  You shouldn’t store your home canned goods with the band on, otherwise you might not realize you have a bad seal.  The best way to open a home canned jar according to my mother- in-law is by placing your thumb on the top and using a butter knife to life the lid.  If you ask my mother, the best way is a church key can opener.  Whatever method you use just don’t go chipping your jar, but if you do, do not use it to process in future because it won’t form a seal.
Even though I live in the city, I decided I wanted chickens.  My husband wisely put up with me and built my wonderful chicken house in our back yard.  I know a great many people think of their chickens as pets.  I am one of those chicken lovers.  I don’t raise my chickens to butcher, but rather for their eggs.  I am, however, pragmatic.  I know chickens are for food as well as for eggs and for cute.  My great-grandmother could wield a chicken killing ax like no other and I am determined to master that skill.  While ax swinging itself isn’t for me, a steady hand and a sharp knife work just as well.  My mom tells me she always preferred letting her chickens die of old age.  I tend to be on her side, kinda.
I suspect that our grandmothers would roll over in their graves to think that anyone would want to go back to the hard work and drudgery they endured every single day.  I am not advocating giving up my very nice life with a Safeway just down the road.  However, I love learning to do what they did.  I have a very great respect for them.  Thank you, ladies.

Originally posted on Countryside Magazine.


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