... This is part five in a series. Please see the initial post for explanation.
The Lee Family at Silver Creek, Nebraska
Lottie Mae Lee Houston
Mrs. Andrew Houston
The New Land
The Nebraska soil was very new and very fertile in places, but spotted in the Platte Valley, so that some farms were all sand. Gardens did well on loam soil and with plenty of water, but dried out quickly on sandy soils. People soon learned where to pant. Wells were shallow, as the water level at that time was easy to reach. There were two water tables, on about ten feed underground, used for stock and gardening, and one at a depth of about twenty feet which was used for drinking. Both veins were soft water, good for washing. We had a windmill with a pump, and a hose, and we watered garden much as people do now. When Dad came home from the store on a hose evening he would turn the hose on the roof, porch, etc., to cool off the house.
The men and boys in our family looked after the vegetable gardens, mostly, while the women looked after the flowers. None of our women worked in the fields, and were shocked to see women working in the grain or hay fields, as some did. Of course, no women wore overalls or slacks. The "foreign" women in the fields wore heavily dark calico or chambray dresses, with long plain skirts. They usually tied three corned scarves over their heads.
Mother always raised flowers, both indoors and out, and we girls helped. Some years it was so dry that not much grew, but usually we had lots of colorful annuals and perennials, and always she had blooming geraniums, cactus, and other plants for winter, on window sills in the kitchen and in the bay window.
Our mother always set a good table, and we had a big family. Besides Dad, MOther and the children we usually had a hired girl, sometimes a hired man, sometimes someone who clerked in the store. To feed all these required much planning and cooking. For breakfast we always had either oatmeal or graham "mush", cooked a long time, often started to cook the night before. On it we had cream from our own cows and usually brown sugar, as it was cheaper than white. Mother made all our butter and we always had homemade bread. Often for breakfast we had "gems" (muffins) made with our milk or cream, soda, eggs from our chickens, and graham flour. Sometimes it was pancakes, cooked on a large griddle. The men always had eggs and perhaps bacon or ham. The children could have these too, but only after finishing our oatmeal! Four our noon meal we had meat, potatoes, a vegetable, bread and butter, milk and some dessert. We had lots of sornstarch puddings, bread puddings, custards, cooked dried apples and occasionally pie or cake. We always cooked and planned with supper in mind also, so that we did not have to begin all over again with getting a meal in the evening but could have sliced meat, creamed potatoes, etc. For Saturday night we almost always had cornmeal mush with milk and often corn syrup or molasses or sorghum. We raised sorghum.
We rarely saw oranges, and apples were also a luxury. Dad always sent to Michigan every year for a barrel of apples and a supply of maple sugar and these were a great treat. We had little apple trees, but so far as I remember they did not bear when I was a child, and later on they were small and usually dry. We probably did not know hot to care for orchard trees. We picked wild plums, wild grapes and choke cherries along the creeks and the Platte River. We made grape jelly, plum jam, etc., and used the fruit in steamed puddings, cobblers and for sauce. Berries were a great luxury and we did not raise any except strawberries. Years later we sometimes saw fresh raspberries or blackberries which were shipped in to the store, but they were usually nearly dried up.
We dried or salted food for winter use, but except for jams, jellies, preserves and pickles, we did not can, when I was a child. We cut corn from the cob and dried it, and that was a job! We spread clean, old sheets on boards or screens, placed the cut corn on this white surface and put mosquito netting over it to keep off flies. This corn had to be turned by hand at least once a day, and as I grew older it was often my job to reach under the netting an turn it. The hot sun and dry air dried it thoroughly, and it was very good when soaked and re-cooked in winter. Sometimes we parched it, after it was dry.
We raised fine popcorn, and often popped corn on the kitchen range, in a wire popper. The kitchen would be full of children and we poured the fluffy white corn into a big dishpan and poured melted butter on top. This was usually on Friday nights, and Mother often made molasses taffy to go with the popcorn. Sorghum molasses made especially good taffy. She would cook a batch and then give each child some to "pull", and the excitement would be very great. We each ate what we pulled, in whatever condition it turned out.
Dad had gathered nuts every fall, in Michigan, and he especially prized hickory nuts. He always had nuts sent from relatives in Michigan, hickory and black walnuts, usually. We cracked them with a hammer, on an old flat iron, and they were very good. Mother had a silver nutcracker, kept for best, which I still have have. We made other kinds of candy, besides taffy, sometimes using nuts in it. We used brown sugar, molasses or honey for sweetening, often, although we could get white sugar at the store. As new grocery products were developed by the wholesale houses, we learned about them and tried them, almost as soon as in the cities, because of our father's business in the store.
The store carried "boughten candy", but we children were never given candy there. We could buy it, if we had pennies, just as other children could. It was kept in wide, clear glass jars, with glass covers. There was one jar for long stick candy, one for peppermints of each color, on for lemon drops, and these different jars looked very inviting. I can remember when I was very small, standing in front of the counter, gazing up at those jars of colored candy The stick candy was striped, or plain red, or plain white
flavored with lemon. There were licorice sticks, too. Most of the candy sold for a penny a stick, and children saved pennies for these purchases. Our father occasionally gave candy to some child who never could buy any, but usually he gave out ginger snaps to children, from a big barrel or box where the supply was kept. Children loved ginger snaps, and there was more food in them than in candy.
We always had good meat, usually from our own farm. We kept chickens and usually also turkeys, geese and ducks. We raised pigs and fattened steers. Butchering time was busy and strenuous. The pig was scalded, scraped and dressed in the yard lot and hung up to cool. I twas then laid on planks and cut up. Hams and bacon were but in brine and afterward smoked. Side meat was salted down in big barrels, chops and roasts were used fresh or else roasted and put down in lard. the fat was "tried out" by cooking it over a slow fire in a large black iron kettle. We usually did this on the kitchen stove, but many people did this out of doors. When it was melted, a large peeled raw potato was dropped in and cooked in the hot fat until it attracted the bits of blackened meat, and so clarified the fat. The melted lard was then poured into big stone jars or tin pails, and kept covered. The jars and tubs were kept in the cellar, where they would be cool, or if the season was winter they might be stored in a big out building.
Beef halves were hung high to keep dogs from getting the meat, and were often left to freeze in a cold building for weeks. From time to time a piece of meat was cut off for cooking. We also made our own salted dried beef at times. We had little seafood or fish. Dad was not much of a fisherman. Sometimes after high water in the Platte, there would be fish which could be caught, and we had some occasionally.
...to be continued...