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Our Bread and Meat
    by Barbara Levorsen (Volume 22: Page 178)

MRS. LEVORSEN, who spent her childhood in Wells County, North Dakota, has written a fascinating autobiographical account to which she has given the title "The Quiet Conquest." One chapter of this unpublished work, "Early Years in Dakota," appeared in volume 21 of Norwegian-American Studies.

K. O. B.

DURING the early years, bachelor homesteaders in Dakota had to endure the monotony of their own cooking and housekeeping. Living at least a day’s journey from town, they seldom tasted fresh meat, fruit, or vegetables. They have told me that the craving for meat was the hardest to bear. No wonder we heard stories about bachelors trying to cook even badger meat — and being unable to eat it. One man said he made a big kettle of oatmeal in the morning; he ate some then, more at midday, and the rest in the evening. Some became fair breadmakers and I knew one who could make very good lefse. Whatever I heard, after the turn of the century, about their culinary difficulties is almost forgotten. Often, when Mama was washing dishes, one of these neighbors would tell her that she should follow his system. After [179] he had finished a meal he would turn the plate upside down over the knife and fork, place the cup, bottom up, alongside them, and — presto — the dishes were ready for the next meal.

Housekeeping in a soddy with dirt walls and floor would seem impossible today. This was certainly the time and the place where the saying applied, "What cannot be cured must be endured." This enduring was perhaps one of the reasons why bachelors were said to drown their sorrows in whisky.

They did not lose their sense of humor; or perhaps I should say that they made light of their problems, as the following story shows: Anton went to see his neighbor, Karl, arriving just as Karl was eating. Now, Anton was a dedicated tobacco chewer. (I well remember the stream of juice that he could eject at any moment.) Karl was quite aware of this habit and when he asked Anton to sit down, he warned him that the pail on the floor contained salted herring; Anton just couldn’t spit in it! On the table was a large wedge of cheese; the men were cutting slices from it when a mouse came out of a hole in the sod wall and ran across the table toward the cheese. Karl put out his knife to keep the mouse away from the food, at which it sat up on its hind feet and showed fight. It was a tame mouse; this was its home, and it would eat, too.

At our house, menus varied little over the years. I suppose they were about the same in 1899 as in 1909. I would say that we ate remarkably well; after all, we were at the source of supply, just as the distant village store was, in another way. We had all the milk, cream, and eggs we could use. We had fresh homemade butter to eat and sell. If we had lived nearer town, we might have sold milk and cream also. I think back with real longing to the heavy, rich cream that Mama skimmed from the top of the milk crocks.

In summer, people started work at daybreak and it was customary, even necessary, for them to eat five meals a day. At breakfast, at morning lunch and afternoon lunch — if these were eaten in the house — there was always a bowl of cream on the table. We would spoon the cream generously over [180] slices of Mama’s light homemade bread, add dark syrup, and eat our fill.

Next day there was more fresh cream. What was left from yesterday’s skimming had gone into the tall earthenware churn. Every day Mama would keep adding to the cream in the churn until there was enough to make butter. From the time when I was able to force the dasher up and down, I helped with this task. Mama had a large, wide wooden bowl into which she heaped the newly churned butter. There she kneaded it and worked it over with her hands or a wooden paddle, stopping every few minutes to pour the buttermilk back into the churn. The secret of good buttermaking, she said, was to remove all the liquid. Finally she would bring cold water directly from the well to rinse out the last of the buttermilk. Then she added salt, and again she kneaded it thoroughly. When she had finished, she had pounds of rich yellow butter.

The buttermilk was good to drink. It was useful for baking, especially for "fry cakes," as we called doughnuts. What we could not use in the house was carried to the pigs and chickens. Not a drop went to waste. It was the same with the skimmed milk. Mama had large earthenware milk crocks. Often when these were carried up from the cellar, the milk had soured and was as thick as pudding. Mama used her wooden twirler or beater (turn) to whirl the milk about in the crock until it was smooth again. We drank it this way, cool from the cellar, and thought it very good. Some of the skimmed milk was used in making cottage cheese. Without refrigeration it could not remain cottage cheese very long, so it became gamrnelost (aged cheese). Mama added caraway seed for flavoring and kept it in a container with a tight cover. The older it became, the stronger the taste and odor. Mama and I did not care for it, but Papa and other men seemed to like the vile-smelling stuff very much.

Mama and other pioneer women did not have egg beaters in the early years. They used homemade wooden twirlers [181] when cooking mush and for beating other foods. These twirlers were well known among older people from northern Europe. They were made from the tops of young pine trees. These trees often put out four or five branches in a circle about the main stem. The young tree was cut so that the branches were less than an inch from the top; the branches were cut back to about one and a half inches. The handle was made any desired length, the bark was removed, and the piece whittled and rubbed into smoothness. The cook rolled the handle back and forth between her hands and the twirler worked beautifully. Egg whites were beaten with a table fork in a plate or shallow dish.

Mama’s small flock of hens provided us with fresh eggs. Sometimes she served them scrambled over fried salt pork, but mostly she boiled them. An egg with Mama’s homemade wheat bread and butter was a treat indeed. The coarse flour she used was ground at Uncle Ole’s mill. It was real cracked wheat; nothing was taken from or added to it.

Mama always had a small garden where she raised carrots, onions, beets for pickling, and a few heads of cabbage. We grew a lot of potatoes. There had to be enough for our table for a whole year and for next year’s seed as well. I detested potato raising. First the potatoes were cut up for seed; we all took turns at this. Then came the day of planting. With two horses on the walking plow, Papa turned the furrows. Mama and I followed with the seed in pails and set the potatoes a certain distance apart in the furrow. Always I had to see to it that I pressed the cut side of the potato down against the soil. Soon my back began to ache from the stooped position in which we worked, and from carrying the heavy pail. After the plants came up, they had to be hoed and tended all summer long. Fortunately the potato bugs had not found their way out there yet. All too soon it was time to start digging. This was backbreaking work, too, but somehow I did not mind it so much as the planting.

When I complained of being tired and "backachy," Mama [182] reminded me how well I liked lefse and that without plenty of potatoes there could be none. Lefse is a bread that is well known wherever people of Scandinavian ancestry live. It is made from mashed potatoes, a little cream or shortening, salt, and enough flour to roll out the dough like piecrust, only much thinner. This dough is then baked right on top of the stove — or was, in those days, on the old-fashioned cookstoves or ranges. How were these big round pieces handled? We had (and I still have) very long, thin, wooden sticks over which the lefse was rolled, lifted onto the stove, and unrolled. Good bakers would make the piece eighteen to twenty-four inches across. When it had cooled—if we could wait that long—it was eaten with butter and meat. Some like it with sugar and jam. There is no better food than rib steak, sylte (head cheese), or home-ground meat made into meat balls, rolled up in the lefse.

In summer we seldom had fresh meat. After a trip to town we might have bologna for supper and enough meat for a meal or two later. This Mama would fry as soon as it came into the house. The trip from town took two hours, a long time for a meat package to lie in a wagon box, warmed by the summer sun. After the experience of some neighbors, Mama was doubly cautious. The elderly couple came home from town in the early evening. They were hungry, but the cows had to be milked, eggs gathered, and other chores performed before dark. It was dusk when they finally sat down to bread, butter, and a ring of bologna they had brought from town. They ate heartily and drank cold coffee left from breakfast. Then they went to bed and slept well. The next day, the woman took out the remaining bologna and opened the wrapper. There were maggots in the package. They knew that they had eaten some of them the evening before, when their food had tasted so good!

Salt pork was our usual summer meat. We bought salt herring in pails of brine. Supper was often herring, cold boiled potatoes, with cream and bread or with prune sauce, and cold [183] milk to drink. Mama often put in a full day in the field, and when she came home she had the milking and other chores to do, indoors and out.

We buried cured hams deep in the oat bin. This probably was to keep the flies from the meat. If there was some other supposed advantage in storing it there, I have forgotten what it was.

Threshing came much later in the fall than it did in after years — in September and October, I think. There had to be plenty of fresh meat for the men. The neighbors often arranged that one would butcher a beef and another a hog, and then they divided the meat for the threshing season. Later, when cold weather came, others would butcher and pay back the meat they had borrowed.

The kitchen became a busy place when threshing time drew near. A girl came to help Mama, and this in itself was a diversion to a child like me who was alone so much. No doubt I watched her every move — and corrected her if she did the work differently from Mama.

When the threshers came, there would be about twenty men to feed five times a day. How long they remained would depend upon how heavy the grain was, and also upon the weather. They might finish in a day and a half, or remain for two weeks if there were showers. Grain in shock was far more exposed to rain damage than stacked grain; thus shock runs had to be threshed first. Papa always stacked his grain because this method required fewer men and teams with the machine. The farmers had to hire men to haul their grain from the threshing machine, and Papa exchanged work with them.

Whenever last year’s grain was sold or used for seed or feed, the boards on one side of the bins were taken down. Now the bins were cleaned and the boards replaced. In the gable ends of the building were two windows with a strong platform before each. The granary man would stand there and, as the hauler lifted the sacks up to him, he poured the [184] grain in through the window opening. We had the same granary man year after year. He was very nice to me, and he always brought his big yellow dog, "Ring," who could fetch sticks — for his master, not for me — and do other tricks.

Mama dug a sack of potatoes with my help. When the meat for the threshers arrived, or when it was butchered right there on the place, the big grinder was brought down from upstairs. It was not used often. It was bolted to a board long enough to extend from one chair to another, with room between for a big dishpan underneath to catch the meat. Both beef and pork were used for meat balls. Good meat — no heart, liver, or kidneys — was ground twice. It was a job for two people, one turning the grinder and the other putting in the small pieces of meat. Turning was heavy work, so the two workers sometimes changed jobs. Occasionally I had to stuff in the meat, and then there was a steady stream of teasing and admonition lest I put in my fingers and they be added to the meat balls! Spiced and fried, sometimes served in rich brown gravy, they were delicious, and not to be compared to those made of butchershop hamburger.

The table was lengthened so that it stretched across the end of the room, leaving only enough space in back for the men to get to the places set at the far side. The "thresher cloth" — a roll of oilcloth four yards or more long — was carried down from upstairs and spread out.

Dishes long unused were brought out. The baking began. Pans of bread — brown bread and white bread —came out of the oven. Their crisp, brown crusts were rubbed with melted butter and they were set away to cool. Later the loaves were carried down to the cellar and stored in large earthenware jars used for curing pork. Molasses cookies, sour cream cookies, and batches of golden-brown doughnuts were made. Meanwhile beets for pickles were boiling in Mama’s biggest kettle, and a huge cast-iron skillet gave forth the enticing odor of frying meat balls. Mama and the girl were beating and stirring so happily that I suddenly felt I had to make something, too. From the table I took a cup with some coffee grounds in it, [185] added a teaspoon of milk, and took a pinch of flour and added that. Then, cup and teaspoon in hand, I crawled underneath the table, sat down, and stirred as hard as I could. It was an oddly satisfying moment until the others heard me and I was forced to come out and show them just what I had dragged underneath the table.

When, at last, the threshing rig was on its way to our place, I was so excited I could hardly wait. I was hiding in the trees near by when the steam engine emitted a shrill whistle and came chugging toward me. It was free of the machine now, and the "chuka, chuka" was terrifying as it came nearer. Living the year around in the prairie quiet, I found the noise deafening and ran to the house for safety.

Papa came racing home to do the last-minute jobs. He and the threshers had already decided which setting they would work on first. There was always a setting of four or six stacks right outside the pasture fence near the farm buildings, and the wind had to be from the northwest so that it would blow straw into the pasture. When the workers were starting at this spot, Papa had to have the barbed-wire fence ready to be laid down while the cumbersome rig went into the pasture and turned. Then the separator and steam engine could be put into position between the stacks, with the blower pointing into the pasture.

Toward Christmas, as cold weather set in, came butchering day. If a pig was to be slaughtered, it meant a busy morning for Mama. As early as possible she put the wash boiler and kettles full of water on the stove to heat. Someplace out in the yard, Papa would dig a hole deep enough to hold a large barrel set aslant against the stoneboat or some such flat surface. The big knives would be sharpened and ready when the neighbor who did the butchering arrived. But first he and Papa must sit down and have some hot coffee and lunch before they went to their cold work. If the water on the stove was near to boiling, they went over and killed the pig and dragged it to the dressing place. Hot water was poured into the barrel and then they pushed the pig in. [186] Holding onto its front feet and ears, they pushed it up and down in the barrel while the water sloshed around it. After this they put the pig on the clean platform, and with their sharp knives proceeded to scrape off the bristles until the skin was smooth and clean.

I do not remember if it was blood from pigs or from beef animals that we used for making blodklub (blood dumplings), but I remember being told to keep stirring the glowing red liquid as it ran into a pail. The others added clean snow to it while I stirred. Mama made the dumplings large and boiled them. Then, whenever she wanted to use some, she put milk and cream into a skillet, cut the dumplings into small pieces, then let them come to a boil in the rich liquid. I thought them wonderfully good then, but I never want anything made from blood again.

The last butchering chore of the day was Papa’s. In the evening he would sit beside the stove to watch over the pig’s feet. One by one he stuck them, toes first, in under the stove lid so that the horny parts would get hot and he could shuck them off. He then scraped and cleaned the feet, to be boiled later with the pig’s head for pickling.

The head was boiled with added lean pieces of pork and all of it then cut up small; this, with spices added, was placed in a strong white cloth. Mama pulled the cloth as tight as possible around the meat and tied it with cord. It was then put away in brine with a weight over it so that it would become solid enough to slice nicely. This pressed meat was called sylte and, eaten with lefse, it was a Christmas delicacy. The sylte did not have much in common with the head cheese sold in markets today. We had the best pork obtainable. Besides corn, the pigs were fed skimmed milk, table scraps, oats, and barley. The pork ribs were cut so that there was plenty of meat on the bones. Browned and roasted in the oven, they were far too good to have any strong, spicy sauce poured over them.

We butchered our own young beef also. A small building back of the house, sometimes used as a summer kitchen, [187] served for storing meat in winter. This had been the flaxseed granary in early years.

Once every winter Papa and some of the neighbors would send to Duluth for hundred-pound sacks of fresh-frozen Lake Superior herring, as advertised in the Norwegian newspaper Decorah-Posten. These fish, browned in heavy cream, preferably sour cream, as Mama could do it, were very good. Papa kept them in a hole in the deepest snowdrift. I know why he put a heavy cover and stone on top of this storage place, but I do not know why the fish were not kept in the shanty with the meat!

Every year, long before Christmas, we bought another kind of fish — the dry, hard lutefisk. It had to be soaked again and again in water to soften it and remove the lye used in preserving it. Before putting it to soak, Mama cut off several strips of the skin. She cut them into three-quarter-inch squares and threaded them on a string, which she hung in the pantry. To clear boiled coffee, she would drop a few pieces of the fish skin into the pot. No one ever used eggs to clear the coffee in those days. Good lutefisk should be white and quivering after it is cooked. Served with boiled potatoes and lots of melted butter for both, it was very good, and was considered indispensable for celebrating Christmas properly.

In winter Mama had more time for baking, so she made both lefse and flatbrød (flat bread) often. Flat bread was a crisp, simple wafer made from flour, salt, and shortening, with corn meal sometimes added. It was rolled out very thin, baked on top of the stove for a bit, and then finished in the oven. With pieces of meat or cheese between the thin pieces, it was tasty indeed.

Before Christmas Mama made several batches of cookies called fattigmand (poor man’s cake). The dough was rolled thin and cut in diamond-shaped pieces, then fried in deep fat, as doughnuts are, and sprinkled with sugar. Papa served a hot alcoholic drink when people came during the holidays, and these fragile cookies accompanied the punch.

Cake, as we think of it, was unknown in Norway in Mama’s [188] youth, and she never liked making layer cakes or frosting. Her "fry cakes" were famous. Many asked for her recipe; she would reply that she took "a little of this and a little of that." This was an unsatisfactory answer, and the women thought that Mama did not want to share the recipe, but I know she was telling them exactly what she did. Some good cooks are still doing just that — taking "a little of this and a pinch or two of that."

She used cream, sweet or sour, for making molasses cookies or white cookies, and they were of a generous size. She made molasses and "everyday" white loaf cakes. The only pie she baked in the earlier years had a custard filling that I did not like. It was too rich, or maybe just tasteless.

The stove was fed soft coal, and the only oven thermometer was the baker’s hand. Mama learned to judge the heat of her oven and to keep the temperature even. Big pans of bread and of soft white biscuits with golden-brown crusts came out of the oven to send their wonderful fragrance through the house and yard. I never saw a measuring cup or measuring spoon so long as we lived there, at our house or anywhere else. Every cook learned by trial and error how to handle the oven and what size spoons and cups were best suited to her needs. So when bread, layer cakes, and all manner of other baking came out of the ovens done to a T, as the saying goes, it was a tribute to the skill of the baker.

Company who came on Sundays had to get home in time to do chores, and this might mean driving several miles with team and wagon; so they needed a substantial lunch before starting out. Mama would boil some eggs and open a tin or two of red salmon. She would place the salmon on a platter and the hard-boiled eggs, cut in half, around it. Unless she had enough dried-apple or prune sauce on hand, she would open a can of sliced peaches. A plate was heaped high with yesterday’s bread. A bowl full of cream, and butter and cookies, were also set out, and there was coffee for all.

A queer custom of the age was for the men to eat first, then [189] the women and infants. (I have seen many a mother chew food and put it into her baby’s mouth.) Children had to wait until last, watching hungrily while the goodies disappeared. Then, most of them having been sternly lectured at home, they had to seem to hesitate and need coaxing to go to the table, even though they were already devouring the food with their eyes. I knew one little boy who was so shy that he would not go inside anyone else’s house. The hostess would put some food on a plate and take it outdoors. He would not take the plate from her, but if she set it down he might come near and eat, after she had gone in. Thinking back, I find it strange that the child’s mother made no effort to help him.

If we children piled more food on our plates than we could finish, we had to put away the plates until the next meal. Then they had to be emptied before we could partake of the freshly prepared food. After this happened once or twice, we learned our lesson.

We often had milk mush (grøt) for supper. We ate it like pudding with sugar and cinnamon over the top and cream or milk added. Cream mush (fløtegrøt) was a delicious dish but one Mama seldom made.

Lutefisk with melted butter, meat balls with brown gravy, roasted rib steak, lefse and flat bread, fattigmand cookies, and mush were all dishes Mama had learned to make in Norway. We had very few vegetables during the winter, just an occasional can of corn or peas from town. As we had few cows, we were probably out of butter sometimes; I recall with what relish I ate bread with a mixture of dark syrup and pure white hog fat spread on it. We had chicken soup with dumplings but never a roast chicken. Mama boiled all the chicken in the soup kettle and browned some of the pieces with cream afterward. We seldom had jelly, jam, or fruits.

A trip to town was planned for days ahead. It took most of a day with team and wagon. If a load of grain was to be hauled in, we filled the grain sacks the day before. I would hold them for Papa while he filled them with a pail. I learned [190] just how to tie the twine around the top of the sack so it would not come open and spill the grain. Usually there were butter and eggs to sell, too.

I was very happy that Papa wanted me with him on these long trips, and climbed up the wagon wheel and into the spring seat with alacrity. Nor do I recall ever being bored as we rattled slowly along over the prairie trail. Sometimes we stopped at "Farbror’s" (Papa’s uncle’s place) to ask if we could do some errand for the family while we were in town. Beyond there, we rode a lonely trail between meadows and fields for many miles. Then suddenly we were on the ridge above the "Jim" (James) River. Then we dipped steeply down to the river while Papa tugged at the lines and shouted, "Whoa, whoa!" as the horses strained to hold the wagon in check. Rocks were everywhere down near the water, but the horses splashed noisily through and pulled us slowly up onto the bench above the south side of the river.

We were on the flat prairie again. Only now it was one vast wheat field as far as the eye could see. If it was early summer, the wheat springing from the rich virgin soil was a glowing, living green. Later, as the stems grew taller, the wind began to stroke them back and forth in waves. As we saw them from the wagon seat, far across the fields and near at hand, the stems dipped and rose, dipped and rose, now gray, now green, green and gray-green in the stillness. Perhaps a meadowlark offered his liquid melody, or a prairie bird cheeped; otherwise there was no sound save an occasional jingle of harness, or a thump as the wagon wheels struck a stone in the narrow trail. Soon now we could see the roofs of the grain elevators that rose above the town. Slowly we passed down one side of a cemetery, turned a corner, and continued down another side. This cemetery was the loneliest place I knew. The woven-wire fence, against which the Russian thistle and the tumbleweed had flung themselves, was fast disappearing under the winddriven sand. Wind from another direction would send the thistles wheeling away again, but enough remained to catch [191] the drifting sand. Beyond the cemetery we soon came to a road with telegraph lines running along it. I listened curiously to the loud hum of the wind in the wires and wondered if it could be possible that words could travel along them, as I had been told.

Flocks of sparrows flitted about the wires and down into the road for the grain that had fallen there. Up and down they went in a continuous flutter of wings. Sometimes we saw the train speeding westward — the engine, a passenger coach or two, and freight cars. I could not tell one from the other then, but I was fascinated with the speed of the train and with the billows of smoke that poured from the smokestack and hung for a time against the clean blue sky.

Here was Hunt’s pasture, usually full of cattle, for Hunt was the butcher. Here was the row of cottonwoods behind the barns, and once past them we turned the corner and were soon before the lovely Hunt house, with its bay window full of flowering plants. An ornamental fence and gate separated the little yard from the street, a sidewalk led up to the front porch, and stiff lace curtains hung at the windows. We passed more houses and swung into Main Street, and here the wooden sidewalks began. In some places they were two feet or more above the ground. In summer they were lined with luxuriant growths of pigweed, gray, dusty, and bedraggled if there had been dry weather, but green and vigorous after rains. Country children loved the long board sidewalks. Before the stores were iron rings, so customers could hitch their horses there, but Papa took our team to a vacant lot, and tied them back of the wagon. There they could eat the hay he had brought along for them.

Much has been written about the country store, and ours were no doubt very much like any others, but fascinating to a child who seldom saw one. If Mama was along, she first sold her butter and eggs. There seemed to be a hard and fast rule that the butter and egg money should pay for all grocery purchases except hundred-pound sacks of flour. Eggs were down [192] to 10 cents a dozen and butter to 10 cents a pound — even less at times — so they could not have bought many groceries.

People living in town were dependent on the surrounding farms for butter and eggs. Sometimes a family had a cow or some chickens of its own. Thora, our nearest neighbor, and Mama made fine butter and had special customers. Mama gave good measure. I remember how carefully she rounded off the butter on top of the jar. Then she dipped a piece of cloth in water and placed it on top before covering the jar with several layers of wrapping paper; next she tied the paper securely, and last of all she took the scissors and trimmed the edges neatly.

She had a special pail for bringing eggs to town, a wide tin one. In it she first put about three inches of oats; then she set the eggs on end in the oats. When the bottom layer was finished, she added more oats for another layer, and so on, until the pail was full. On this bed the eggs rode safely, even though the wagon wheels bumped over stones, ruts, and frozen ground.

Mama made few trips to town, but she had to go in to buy winter clothing. I had a painful time while I was wearing shoes at least two sizes too big for me. They had to be large enough so that I would grow into them for some time! There were long, heavy, fleece-lined union suits to keep me warm on the way to and from school. Mama would buy outing flannel for winter petticoats, calico for everyday dresses and aprons, and cotton batting and prints for quilts. Since she tied the quilts with bright-colored wool yarn, she had to have a stock of thread, buttons, and needles on hand all the time. Our towels were of coarse, tan linen; we had a few huck towels for special guests. Turkish towels and washcloths we never saw. We used real sea sponges for washcloths; these could be bought at the store in many sizes. How I enjoyed squeezing water through them!

The first coffee I remember was Arbuckle’s; it came in heavy one-pound paper bags, rose and white striped. Along [193] one side was a premium slip that had to be cut out and saved. Later we bought Palace Brand coffee beans in five-pound pails. Some of the pails were blue, some red. Coffee beans were ground fresh for every brewing. I still have the little coffee mill that Mama used all those years.

Coffee was a luxury, albeit a necessary one. At home it was cooked in a big tin coffee boiler and drained off into a coffee pot. The boiler was set aside until it was needed again, when freshly ground coffee was added to what remained, and all of it was boiled once more. Then Mama took the boiler outdoors, emptied and washed it well, and started all over. I suppose this was to make sure of getting all the flavor out of the expensive coffee grounds.

We used a lot of oatmeal — Mother’s Oats, I think it was. Few breakfasts failed to include oatmeal. When Mama opened a new package, I waited eagerly to see what she would find as she thrust her hand in to bring out the premium hidden there. Usually it was a cup and saucer, a cereal dish, or a sauce dish. Mama welcomed the new dish and I admired its softly colored flower design. I still have a number of these old dishes.

We bought dark syrup in gallon pails, molasses in half gallons, and wedges of cheese from the great round wheel that sat on the store counter under a glass dome; also dry yeast, salt and spices, and yellow soap for washing clothes. The soap wrappers had coupons that had to be cut out and saved, too.

We bought dried apples and prunes in bulk. Both came to the store in barrels, I believe. Crackers were packed in boxes resembling orange crates and were bought by the pound. I still have glasses with handles; mustard came in these. Once in a while we bought jelly, but it was mediocre, even to a child’s taste. There were few cookies for sale and these were far from good, except for one kind that looked like a heavy, five-petaled cream-colored rose! I have never seen them except at this one store. [194]

Once, late in the fall, Papa and Uncle Ole bought a whole barrel of apples. My cousin Anne and I were jubilant about the apples we would be able to eat all winter. However, when it came time to divide them and the barrel was opened, many were badly bruised and had to be used promptly. Apparently they were not the kind of apples that could stand being jounced around on a long, rough ride.

In the fall, when Papa hauled grain to town, he brought home staples for winter use, perhaps three or four one-hundred-pound sacks of flour. Often it was Occident Flour. The lettering on the sacks seemingly was put on with indelible ink, as neither soakings nor scrubbings ever took the markings out. They had to wear out with the cloth.

Papa would bring at least one hundred-pound sack of sugar and a big bag of cut loaf sugar. The loaf sugar was one luxury that we could not do without. A man would pour part of his coffee into a saucer and hold it balanced on his fingertips while he dipped the sugar lump into the coffee with the other hand and sucked it appreciatively. Drinking hot coffee from the saucer was considered proper. Even when lunch was carried out to the fields it had to include a lump of sugar for the last sips of coffee.

Papa had a wooden box of cut plug tobacco set away upstairs. It held many pounds. He had smoking tobacco put away too. When winter set in, no one knew when he could get to town, and what could be worse than being confined to the house in bad weather without tobacco? Cartons of matches, five-gallon cans of kerosene, and many other things were stored for winter use.

Nothing went to waste at home. If Papa and Mama had one outstanding trait, it was thrift. The wooden boxes in which the groceries were brought home were used in the cellar or upstairs to keep things in or on, or for kindling, as there was no wood to be picked up in Dakota.

When the big pails were emptied of coffee beans, their usefulness had just begun. Now they would be used for storing flour, sugar, cookies, or doughnuts in the pantry. [195] Half-gallon pails carried Papa’s coffee out to the field. If the cover was pressed down tightly while the coffee was too hot, there would suddenly be a small explosion and the cover would come flying up against my hand. A similar pail held his lunch and a coffee cup. Most of us carried our school lunches in such tin pails. I took milk in a bluing bottle for some time. I guess it fitted into the pail.

The flour sacks, when emptied and bleached, were hemmed for everyday pillow cases, or ripped apart and used for dish towels. The little vests we girls buttoned our underpants onto and fastened our garters to were made from this strong material, and in many cases so were the panties.

There were many uses for the gunny sacking that covered the sugar sacks, but not in the house. The inner bag was cut into squares to be used in the milk strainer, for covering the butter when it was sold, and so on. All packages came tied with cord; it was carefully wound into balls and kept ready for various uses.

Mama made scouring powder from a brick. With a knife she scraped off a fine powder that worked very well for scrubbing pots and pans, steel knives and forks, etc. In every household, even out there, some good dishes, linen tablecloths, and silverware were kept only for company use. So it was at home.

A few patent medicines were kept on hand. There were big bottles of a common liniment that was advertised as "good for man or beast." There was carbolic acid, plainly marked "Poison." Mustard plasters were used. I know nothing about their curative value, but I heard a lot about the soreness and pain they caused! Mama burned sulphur powder on top of the stove in winter — to purify the air, she said — especially if someone was ill at home or some stranger had sat around for awhile. We kept large bottles of peroxide on hand in later years, and boxes of a dark healing salve which was used for the horses and cattle when they had barbed-wire cuts. Such things as aspirin, tooth paste, and tooth brushes were utterly unknown.

In those days the store clerks had a nice custom of putting [196] a little bag of candy in a grocery box. Did they remember us country children when they did this, or was it just a gesture of good will toward the customer? At Christmas time some of the stores gave out plates with their names and the year printed in gold. It was a wonderful practice. I still treasure several of these plates.

Few trees grew naturally in our part of Dakota, but there were thickets of three- to five-foot silver-leaved poplar in tangled clumps. This was no doubt where the coyotes had their dens and where the badgers retreated as they left the fields and pastures. Here and there on the prairie another shrub grew in dark patches. The stems and branches were exceedingly tough and stiff. In spring, pale pink flowers appeared among the neat little leaves and were followed by whitish berries. Near us only one small thicket remained. Mama made good use of these shrubs. She cut stem and all and tied them firmly to an old broom handle and had a fine broom for sweeping the barn. She tied smaller branches to a long pole and Papa used it for sweeping out the chimney. Several times a year Papa had to go up on the roof to loosen the soot in the chimney. It was an all-round dirty job, but necessary. Dried chicken wings were used for sweeping coal particles from the top of the stove, for brushing things into the dustpan, and for other cleaning jobs.

As we have seen, Mama carried pails of milk into the house and carried skimmed milk back to the hog pen, to the chicken feeder, and to the calves. She hoisted water from the well in old wooden buckets and brought it in by the pailful. She carried coal for the stove. These were everyday chores. The water carrying trebled on washdays, at butchering season, and at other times. She made all the butter, baked all the bread, prepared five meals a day, knitted our stockings, sewed her own and my everyday clothes, and often helped Papa in the field.

What did Papa do while Mama worked so hard? Well, he turned the prairie into field, he dug the wells, he laid up sod [197] for the stable, and he tilled the fields diligently so the crops would bring in money for all the things that had to be bought. He tended six to eight horses every day, and hauled hay and straw for them and for the cattle in winter. He cleaned the barn every day — no small job in itself. He fanned all the seed. He made all the trips to town. Oh, there was plenty for them both to do, and it was small wonder that they, like other parents, looked for all the help that a child could give.

It was early to bed and early to rise at our house. We could not put out the cat, as no cat ever set foot in our house; but when Mama reached for the butcher knife and started cutting kindling for the morning’s fire, I knew bedtime was near. Then she wound the clock, the day’s last chore. When morning came, Mama was the first one up, and she started the fire. She was seldom or ever ill through those years, and I doubt that Papa could have started the kitchen stove and gotten the coal to burning quickly so that coffee and oatmeal would be ready in a short time. Such was women’s work

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