My Morning Do . . . Down on the Farm — II

~~ by tkbrown —

27 November 2020 — One of my Daddy’s favorite stories to tell of my childhood was a day we were all outside, gathered round bunches of corn that had been allowed to harden on the cob. This corn was used for grain to be fed the chickens and other animals. I remember, Daddy kept a huge wooden barrel outside the fence of the pig sty. When we were fattening a hog for butchering, he kept sour-mesh in this barrel. The sour-mesh stunk–oooooohhh, did it stink–due to the fermenting process taking place. At the time, I did not understand the reason behind that odor. I just knew it stunk. Some of the corn we had in the midst of our circle on this particular day would later make its way into one of those barrels of sour mesh.

I was about four years old, so all but a couple of the older siblings were still at home. We, along with Mama and Daddy, were outside, circled around a pile of corn with the shucks still on. We were shucking corn. One of the neighbors drove by enroute to see someone further down the road. As he was driving back toward his home, he noticed we were still engaged in the shucking process, so he pulled into the drive, got out and ambled over to where we were gathered. As he talked, we continued with our work. After a while, I looked up at him for a bit, then back to the cob of corn I was shucking. After repeating this observation process several times, Daddy said I reached into the pile of corn, pulled out two cobs, one for myself, and the other I handed to our neighbor. I told him, “Everybody works at our house,” then continued with my work. Daddy said our neighbor continued talking, looked at me briefly, then shucked the ear of corn, made his excuses and left.

One of my chores during these early years was to feed the chickens. During evening chore time, I would meet Daddy at the feed house, and he would give me a bucket of mixed grains and pellets. I would take the bucket to the general area where we fed the chickens and commence calling to them. “Heeeeeerrrreee chiiiiiccccckkkeeeeee. Heeeeeerrrreee chiiiiicckkkkeeeee.” I would begin slowly taking handfuls of feed and dribble it over the ground as I walked in odd-shaped circles. The chickens came running. By the time I dropped the last of the feed from the bucket, most of it had already been consumed. Those chickens obviously relished this treat at the end of the day.

Then, Daddy–or one of my older siblings–would go round the farm with me looking for eggs. There were some places where the hens laid their eggs regularly. Occasionally, one of the hens would strike out on her own in an attempt to find a place to lay a bunch of eggs and set on them. These settin’ hens wanted to raise a brood of baby chicks. Most of the time we would find them, shew them off the nest, and get the egg(s). The hen would continue to lay and try to set on the eggs. Sometimes, she would move her nest and finally succeed.

During calving season–when the cows were birthing babies–as the calves reached weaning age they would be fed with bottles. At this time, the cow would return to being milked with the other milk-cows. They ate their grain while being milked. Milk was taken from the bulk for the calves until they were placed on a special feeding formula which was mixed with water to replace the milk in the bottles. This continued until time to either take them to the sale barn or to mingle their feedings with the haying of the general non-milking herd.

When the weaning process began, the calves were separated from the general herd so they would not feed on the mother’s milk. They would pasture in a different area during this time. As the calves grew older, we would oft have to go find them at end of day as feeding time neared. Usually, they roamed the pasture together, so it was not typically difficult to find them. A few years later, after I had started school, it became one of my chores to find the calves and bring them in for feeding.

During these early years, we cooked on a wood cookstove. So, it was also my responsibility to help carry in kindling and wood to fuel the fire while we cooked. In winter, when we also heated with wood, I was to help carry in heating wood too. At the time, I did not realize it, but this method of cooking is truly an art–especially as it pertains to baking. The oven on a wood cookstove has a temperature gage on the door. The fire in the fire box has to be kept at a steady burn to keep the oven temperature constant. This burn in the fire box is managed by feeding wood into the fire and by manipulating the damper on the pipe which exits the house via the flue.

When one grows into the cooking process in the presence of someone who manages the fire for cooking, it becomes second nature and is not viewed as requiring particular skill–but skill it does indeed require. Looking back on those years, I can see what a talent this would take. As I learned to cook on that wood cookstove, I thought nothing of it. By the time I was nine, I was quite adept at baking in that oven and tending the fire to keep the temperature constant.

So, by the age of seven or eight, growing up on a farm during the mid-twentieth century, I had learned to help with the gardening and with preserving the produce in whatever form it would be needed at a later date. That corn we were shucking earlier was also shelled from the cob so it could be bused as grain for the animals without having to stop and shell it then. I had learned to feed some of the animals, to gather eggs from the chickens and to bring in kindling and firewood for the cookstove and for the heating stove during colder months. Thus, my comment to the neighbor was never meant to be rude. It was the blatant honesty of a four-year-old who had been taught everyone works together when living on a farm.

My Morning Do . . . Down on the Farm — I

~~ by tkbrown

19 November 2020 — From time to time, I begin to think anew upon the days when I was young, the things I did, the things I learned–things most folk today would have no idea how to do. I am thankful for those days, and I have fond memories of the learning, the doing, and the being a part of . . . whatever process was taking place.

I grew up on a farm in the middle of Brown Hollow in the heart of the Ozark Mountains–Southen Missouri, USA. We worked eighty acres–the back forty belonged to us, and the front forty belonged to my uncle. My uncle’s forty acres had an old clapboard house that served as our home. Life was not easy on the farm. We grew most of our food, herded cattle, sheep, a pig sty, rabbits, chickens, ducks, turkeys, guineas–you name it, we probably had it at some point in time–not really, but it often seemed to be the case.

Each summer, we grew a ten-acre garden and a small (probably an acre or so) kitchen garden right behind the house. Five acres of the main garden were dedicated to vegetables of various sorts. Each year, this section included some new vegetable. My Mama loved trying new vegetables–most often chosen from the Henry Fields Seed Catalog, the Burpee Seed Catalog, or from a brother or some neighbor’s son who were selling seeds as an FFA Project (Future Farmers of America). Through her venturesome nature I got my first exposure to Kohlrabi, Rutabagas, Peanuts, Beets, and learned of the many and varied types of tomatoes, green beans, etc. When it came time to plant or hoe, those rows seemed to never end. The remaining five acres were planted in corn and potatoes. The corn was mainly used to feed the stock during the colder months, but part of it was put into the freezer or canned to be eaten with family meals.

The potatoes were one of our staples. Our evening meals almost always consisted of cornbread and potatoes along with other filling, stick-to-the-ribs type foods–i.e., beans of some sort. The potatoes were typically boiled–with or without the jackets (peels)–mashed, fried, or creamed. We never had fancy food, but what we had was prepared and served with love. Since I was the seventh of nine living children, we all pitched-in and helped cook and clean up afterward. Teaching us how to cook took much of Mama’s time, but she made it seem like we were learning on our own–I still have not figured out how she did that.

My earliest memories of cooking began around the age of four. We had an old round oak, pedestal table where Mama did most of her biscuit making, and other baking preparations. When family would come from out of state or out of county, they always asked for her hand-slung biscuits. Each was about three inches in diameter and about three inches high. In a 9 x 13 baking pan, she would cook twelve biscuits–four rows of three. Mama was famous for her biscuits.

We had an old empty lard can big enough to hold about forty to fifty pounds of flour. With nine people to feed, that did not last long. Many breakfasts boasted Mama’s biscuits with eggs or gravy–or both. During the winter, we usually ate oatmeal with those biscuits.

When seh was prepping food to cook, I would sit on the lard can–which also served as my seat at the dinner table–and watch her prepare those biscuits. She would let me dip the flour out of the can for her to sift, and as I learned the process, I was allowed to sift too. When she made short-bread or cornbread, I could help stir. I have no doubt this was the beginning of me loving to cook. As I was learning to cook, I took the experience outside and blended it into playtime by making mudpies and all sorts of goodies to be served to a make-believe family at a make-believe table. As I grew older, instead of mudpies, I made cakes, pies, cookies, coffee cakes, etc. which were eaten at my real-family mealtime. I became known in the community for my cakes. There were those who would make a special trip to get a piece of cake if they knew I was baking. This was quite a feat in a rural community with very few telephones. This says even people from the community encouraged skills which were above average. Cooking has been a hobby of mine since that time.

I remember when I was four years old, we were preparing for an especially difficult winter when the money was tight. Daddy went to the old smokehouse and brought-out an old, old, hand-grinder for corn and other grains. We used it to grind corn for cornmeal. The grind was very coarse, more like grits than cornmeal, but it worked. It was an interesting learning experience for a four or five year old.

The old smokehouse was built using 1/2 inch x four- or five-inch boards about seven feet long. These were nailed side by side onto the frame. The roof was aluminum colored tin sheets nailed to the trusses which were cross braced with 2 x 4s cut to fit. The wood was very porous from age and weathered to a gun-metal gray. When Daddy was a child (during the early twentieth century), the old smokehouse was truly used as intended–to smoke meats. It was one room with a flue in the roof which allowed the smoke to escape. I seem to remember, when I was very young, the door was attached with straps of leather. At some time during my early years, those straps were replaced with long, angled, black-looking steel hinges attached to the outside. During my childhood, the old smokehouse served as a storage shed for tools and other items that were beloved but no longer used. This is also where we kept the gardening tools–i.e., hoes, rakes, spades, picks, shovels, etc. Gardening was hard work, but the fresh produce was wonderful. I loved it.

The eggs we had for breakfast were most often laid by hens on the farm. They were grain fed, free range. We found laying nests in some of the strangest places, and the eggs were delicious. Sometimes, they were quite large. Once in a while, we would get one that had two yolks, These were typically a bit larger than the regular fare. When there was an excess of eggs, Mama would break enough for a meal of scrambled eggs into a plastic freezer container and freeze them. In wintertime, when the hens were not laying many eggs due to the cold, we would use those eggs–usually on the weekend.

Mama and Daddy would purchase two or three flats of baby chickens each year. We would tend to them as they grew. When they were about six weeks old, they were good to eat as fryers. We would kill, pluck, clean, cut and freeze enough to last most of the summer. During the fall, we would repeat the process with older hens and roosters which were used for chicken soups, chicken and dumplings, and fried chicken during the colder months.

We had a small herd of beef cattle and a small herd of milking cows. Daddy and my brothers would milk the cows each morning and night. We took out what we needed for the family, and the rest was stored in ten gallon cans which were kept in a cooling tank. The milkman would come twice a week, pick up what we had in the cooler and leave the empty cans for more milk. The cream on this milk ranged from an inch and a half thick on top of the milk to three inches thick. We skimmed most of the cream off to make hand churned butter. We often kept a gallon or two in the freezer. When Mama made grape dumplings in the winter months (using the half-gallon jars of grape pulp she had canned the previous summer), this frozen cream was scooped out and served atop the dumplings. Mmmmmm!!! This was some good eatin’ on a cold winter night.

There is so much more I could tell, but this gives a general synopsis of life “Down on the Farm” when I was young.

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Photo Above: by Gabriel Jiminez @ Unsplash.com.

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