I first wrote this back in 2008 and it fits in with what I’ve been reading. Especially Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America. I didn’t realize it at the time but we were building a culture and living within a culture. We knew the land. The people, especially Mrs. Johnson, knew her cabbage like we knew our canner. And she would NOT sell cabbage for kraut unless there had been a frost first. And once we moved to the house on Kelly the kraut was never the same. Whether it was different microorganisms in the house or the switch to electric heat from an oil heater might have made a difference. Anyway I’m resurrecting a couple entries to try and set the scene.Dad worked for Pope and Talbot as a logger and mom ran the house. Part of running the house meant ensuring that there was food in the pantry during the winter. My folks bought two things right after they got married. One was a sewing machine and the other was a pressure cooker. We still have the pressure cooker and it still works.
In a small logging town, actually any small town of the times, that meant keeping track of the garden, canning the produce and keeping an eye on the toddler (me) while you were doing it. Later, as sisters got added to the mix I got drafted into toddler watching duty along with mom. But it wasn’t all work. There was time to read. There was time to check out the dry creek bed down the street. When we moved to another place there was a culvert that ran under the rail road tracks across the street that just beckoned the imagination. There were also plenty of trips to the park at the other end of town on those hot summer afternoons. Oh, and television. Yeah, we had TV. Two channels, black and white, and if it blew a tube between paychecks it might not get replaced for a week or three. Imagine the horror these days. LOL
What we didn’t grow ourselves meant a drive into Eugene/Springfield and trips to the local orchards. The usual shopping list included corn, cabbage, cucumbers, apples, cherries, peaches and pears. The really good thing is that these don’t come on all at once. Cherries first, then peaches and pears, and apples anytime from August to November.
Funny, nowthat I think of it, they go in order of ease of processing. All you have to do is stem and wash the cherries. And they are canned pits and all. Peaches are scald, slice, pit and can. Pears are the hardest. Those little beggers are slippery. Apples will keep a couple of months if you keep them in a cool place. Oh, and fruit you can just do a half hour in a hot water bath. Pressure peaches and you get sauce. It still can behot and steamy work even if you aren’t keeping a weather eye on the pressure gauge.
And the corn, oh the corn. That was a trip. You blanch the corn in boiling water and then you cut it off the cob, pack it with a little salt and process it. We finally got smart and just moved the whole operation out into the driveway. We took the cutting operation outside because it’s a lot easier to hose down a driveway than get all those little corny bits out from under the cupboards. Corn flies.
The cabbage went for sauerkraut. That was usually the last up because the gal we bought the cabbage from wouldn’t sell kraut cabbage until after the first cold snap. Claimed the cabbage made better kraut that way. And who were we to argue. We may still have the kraut cutter. It looks like a washboard with blades.
The cukes went for pickles. I used a fork to poke holes in more cucumbers than I want to think about.
And did I mention that the garden in Oakridge included strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries. They all went into the freezer or the jars. The neighbor kids were welcome to sample as long as they ate the ripe ones and didn’t mess with the green ones. About ninety percent of the time the kids went along with it. That’s good odds anytime. And there was always someplace around the edge of town where you could pick blackberries. With luck more berries went into the buckets than into us. They went into the larder, too.
There was a method to our madness. Once word got round in the family that we made good kraut, pickles, jams etc. guess what got passed around at Christmas? If all else fails, give goodies.
Some years when times were good in the summer the folks would order a quarter of beef. That’s literally one quarter of a steer folks. There isn’t a lot of steak on a quarter of beef but I don’t remember eating a lot of hamburger when we were kids. I think the tough cuts ended up being trimmed, cubed and canned.
You want tedious? Try nursemaiding a canner full of meat. Two hours at ten pounds pressure for each batch. It’s not like you have to watch it like a hawk just make sure it stays above ten pounds. Worth the trouble at the time though. It was fully cooked and ready to use; just open the jar. And most important, it was there in the winter when the budget was usually pretty tight.
Dad had coworkers who’d go to the coast in season and come home with a limit of salmon or other fish. Into the jars it went.
Oh, and the freezer was a full size Kenmore chest style freezer from Sears. Now that I think about it, just about every appliance came from Sears. That monstrosity was about three years younger than me and it was huge. It was really something when I could finally get into the darn thing without having to use a chair, much less get at the stuff on the bottom without standing on my head.. It was big, clunky, and defrosting it was an all day operation.
Not thatyou spent all day on that job. We chipped, pried, wiped and dried between doing other things. I was in my mid forties before that sucker gave up the ghost. Something necessary finally crapped out and we couldn’t get parts for it. Heck, by then my sisters were married, raising their own families and we didn’t need something that big anyway. But, for heavens’ sake never give up on something while it’s still running.
I don’t want to make things sound better than they were. We didn’t get a dryer until Roberta (middle sister) was nearly out of diapers. That means the laundry got hung out winter or summer, sunshine or clouds. If it wasn’t quite dry, it got hung over chair backs and the like until was. If it was too wet it got hung on a laundry rack by the stove. Try drying heavy duty work jeans on a laundry rack. It takes awhile. I think we finally replaced the wringer washer when we moved back to Springfield when I graduated from high school.
There were times when dad’s clothes were so muddy mom had to hang them on the line and wash them down with hose before she could wash them. A fun job in the middle of winter.
Logging is not a life for a man going into middle age. It’s a life that wears you out, and it does it fast. If and when there were discussions about tight finances or fears for the future; and I know there were; they didn’t happen where we could hear them. Nature finally took any decisions or fears out of our hands when one of his knees went out. We moved back to Springfield, dad ended up on disability and mom ended up cooking for other peoples’ kids in a dorm kitchen at the U of O. I’m sure there were times when my sisters’ weren’t sure if I was their big sister or a substitute mom. Somehow we managed to get through it all. We weren’t always smiling about it, but we did manage.
It isn’t and wasn’t a perfect life. It was just…..life. And it has never been boring. And if you were bored? You didn’t say anything where mom could hear you. She had sure fire cures for boredom. LOL Now that I think about it, she still has cures for boredom