Growing Your Own Food
A look at the shopping carts corning out of any modern supermarket makes it hard to imagine rural families, not many years ago, growing everything they ate except coffee, sugar and salt. Here are glimpses of what it took to raise or grow the food, process and preserve it, and prepare and serve it.
WE RAISED IT
L. G. Glover- Joey Gimenez, Interviewer
When I was growing up, we didn't have telephones, ice-box, or ice. We didn't have automobiles, we didn't have radios, we didn't have TV. We had to make all of our toys and everything we played with. And, then, I rubbed clothes all day long on the rub board. Ten children in the family and I'm the oldest. When I was ten, twelve, fifteen years old, I'd help Mama wash.
We'd pick cotton, we'd raise cotton, corn, cattle,
and hogs. Everything that we ate, we raised it, except coffee, sugar and
salt. Daddy'd buy a barrel of sugar, a barrel of salt, twenty-five
pounds of green coffee. Mama would put it in a pan and parch it in the
oven, and then grind it.
We didn't hire; there was no hired work done. If you lived neighbor to us, when you got in a tight, we would go over and help you, pull you out of the mud. In thrashing
season, the thrashers would finally come in, and we would help one another all up and down the Paluxy River, swap work. We didn't have any money, nobody had any money. And the government didn't send you a check every month like they do now.
We raised pinto beans, soup beans, butter beans, and all of our fruit. When those beans would dry on the stalk, we'd pick them, lay them on a sheet and take a board and beat them. On a hot, sunny day, they'd just pop open. Then the wind would come up. We'd hold them up in half a bushel, leaves would blow out there, and your beans would fall down here on your sheet. That's the way we'd clean them, "wind 'em out," we called it.
Where we lived is in black land or sandy loam, and we could raise corn, excellent corn. Four miles from us, they couldn't raise corn. We'd swap a bushel of corn for a bushel of sweet potatoes, or a bushel of corn for a bushel of peaches. And that's the way we had it.
There wasn't any meat market. We didn't have fresh meat, didn't know what it was. All right, a farmer from up or down the creek would butcher a yearling, say, 200 pounds, and he'd peddle it, brought it to your home, and your family would buy some. The next family would buy some and they sold that out. About twice a month, that was how we got our meat. And everybody killed their own hogs. They had their own meat, their own lard, and their own milk and butter.
We'd raise wheat, and take it to the mill. That was one of the great things in my life, going to the flour mill with Dad. We'd go down one day and come back the next, twelve miles. Can you imagine? Twelve miles. That was wagon and team, you see. They'd walk twelve miles over there, stay all night, sleep in the wagon yard, and go out the next morning to a little cafe and get a breakfast, maybe, and a bowl of chili at dinner for a dime. That was the high points of my life.
99% OF IT CAME FROM THE RANCH
E. C. "Pete" Bouffard- Bobby Deaton, Interviewer
I would say ninety-nine percent of the food came from the ranch. We had a three-acre garden, and we got permission from the neighbor ranch, the D. B. Wood Ranch. There was a spring back in there about half a mile from where we lived, and we put up a little dam and then cut a diversion ditch from that dam and let the water, gravity flow, 'til it got to our garden. It was on the upper side of the garden, so we had all the water we wanted to water our garden with, free of charge. Just control it, that's all we had to do. We raised everything you could think of in the line of vegetables.
Mother was real good at canning. She could can just about everything you could think of. We had a cellar that was separate from the house, but it was about eight feet below ground level. It had a concrete roof over it, homebuilt, but that kept the temperature down pretty nice, and canned goods would preserve real well there, keep real well.
Dad always had lots of cabbage sauerkraut, and he made turnipkraut, very much like sauerkraut, but made from turnips. I didn't care much for it, but, then, when you're hungry, you'll eat it.
We had a small mill where we could grind our own corn for corn meal. We raised some wheat and ground our own flour.
We always killed some four, five, six hogs, cured it, smoked. Once it was cured, we'd prepare it for table use. The bacon we'd slice; the ham, we'd cut it in chunks where you can cook it in roasts, the sausage was always stuffed in casings. We'd cut it in servable chunks and pack it in gallon jars or bigger. The hams and bacon we packed in crocks, and covered it with hot grease, regular old hog lard. When it cooled, it made a complete seal over everything.
I kept bacon, ham and sausage two years in the cellar. It kept perfect; if you kept it cool enough, it wouldn't get rancid.
Dad had a recipe, I don't remember it, that, when we killed the last bunch of hogs in the middle of the winter, we'd always kill a beef and he'd make some jerky and the rest of it was what he called summer sausage. It was a hard, cured sausage that we ate in the summertime. Most of this was served to us out in the field whether we were picking cotton or hoeing, or whatever. We didn't take time to go home. There were springs along the edge of the field, where we had good, cooled drinking water, good shade, so we just put our cotton sacks down and went to the spring, and sit in a circle and talk and eat and drink cool water, and go back to the field. The field was long, almost a mile long, a long ways to walk home. So Mother would just bring the food to us.
Of course, we always had cows for all the milk we could use, and butter. Mother could make about two or three types of cheeses from the old clabber, soured milk. We had our own chickens and eggs were cheap, so we ate lots of eggs; raised our own frying chicken, and living out there on the river bank, there was a lot of squirrels. They're good. Rabbits, swamp rabbits, jack rabbits, cottontails, even young crows are good to eat, a lot of dove and robins. Now, a robin is just like a dove. It's exactly the same only it's a smaller breast. In real cold winter time, I had my old twenty-two that I used shorts in, little bitty short shell. It didn't pop very loud, and the robins and doves would be roosting in the trees. They hover in the trees in the cold weather. I'd go along and shoot the heads off of them and then pick them. Mother would not cook a fowl of any kind that had been skinned. She said the taste was in the skin. Pick it [the feathers].
Of course, we saved the fine feathers for the pillows and she made a feather bed, because the old house we had was just a single wall house. A fireplace in one room and a heater
in another room and that's all the heat we had, and we children slept in the attic. It was a big attic. In the middle, it was ten feet high. Plenty of room, but very little ventilation, which you didn't need in the winter. In dry weather you could see the stars through the roof at night. In wet weather, the old shingles would swell and the holes would close. It was interesting, and it's about like sleeping outside, just a little better, but you need lots of cover. Them old feather beds felt pretty good when there's snow on the ground, I tell you right now. Of course, we had our own firewood and our own water. Very, very little we had to buy. Matches and coffee and sugar, and so on, and that was about it.
Usually Dad went to town about once a month unless the chickens were laying lots of eggs and we had a whole lot more butter than we could use. You couldn't sell milk or cream in those days. Of course, trying to carry cream to town in a wagon, or a buggy, five miles, that was a little bit out of the question. We made it into butter. We got butter ahead, we'd take it in and trade it for groceries.
In order to cure hog meat, you have to have weather below forty degrees the first forty-eight hours. Then, after that, it's a matter of handling it. The first night after you kill it, you spread it on the shelves in the smoke house and apply coarse salt to it. The next morning, you stack it, rind side up, so it can drain blood or any liquid that the salt has drawn. The salt would draw the liquid out of the raw meat. Then, on the second night, you spread it back out and put smoke-flavored salt on it. That gives a better taste to it. After two nights in the cool weather like this, if it turned pretty warm, you could stack it in a box and coverthere, just made out of plain scraps. The old saying was that the people who came from Europe, back then, when they killed hogs, the only thing they threw away was the squeal. That's about right, too. It was something else.
We usually killed about a four or five hundred pound beef along with that. Of course, in the summertime, we killed goats. We raised Spanish goats. We had a standing thing going with the neighbor. There was nine in our family, Grandma, Mother and Dad, and six children, and the neighbor had about the same type of family. They were cousins. My daddy would kill a goat, like this weekend, and Saturday afternoon, cut it in two and give half of it to the neighbor, because there was more there than we could eat. So the following Saturday, the neighbor would kill a goat and give us half of it. Swap it. You didn't have no refrigeration.
Beulah Yearwood Irvine - Frank Leffingwell, Interviewer
Cracklings was the skin of the hogs. Dad killed the hogs, and they hung them up and scraped them to get all the hair off of them. Then, they cut up the meat, and that skin was cut off of the meat and put in a big iron pot and boil that. Cook it until all the grease would come out, and you'd get the skin and the grease and put it in the press and turn that. It came out a round cake, what we called cracklings. Those cracklings were good to eat, but you can sure get tired of them if you had them too long. Mother even made crack-ling cornbread. Then she'd save the lard. We didn't buy Crisco and things like that. We had cans of lard at home from the hogs.
That was a big day. I know we always got home from school in time to wash up all the greasy things that were used to butcher the hogs. You had to heat the water. You didn't have running hot water. We usually used lye soap Mother made. No, it wasn't fun, but Mother and Dad and the work hands and my sister, the oldest one that was usually home then, had a hard day, so it was always right that we kids go in and clean up the mess.