The 7 Memory Challenge

Here’s a short exercise for you. Take a piece of paper and write seven sentences about your childhood. Each sentence must start with “I remember.” You might be surprised what comes to your mind.

Here are mine:

  • I remember how excited we were when our cousins sent over a batch of their outgrown dresses.
  • I remember hanging clothes on the clothesline on freezing winter days. The clothes froze stiff and were hard to carry into the house later.
  • I remember learning to iron, starting with handkerchiefs. Eventually, we worked up to ironing blouses with sleeves and those gathered skirts on shirtwaist dresses.
  • I remember pretending we were ice skating on our frozen creek, even though we didn’t have skates.
  • I remember the horror of seeing our dog, Tippy, hit by a passing car. We were waiting by the highway for the school bus.
  • I remember churning our own butter in the glass Daisy churn.

    Daisy Churn_edited

    I browsed around on eBay and found this picture. It’s exactly what our churn looked like.

  • I remember learning to make muffins back when they were like a bread, not the cake-like kind they make now.

I hope you will give it a try. Date and save your memory page to share with children and grandchildren later.

 

 

Potato Cakes – A Heritage Recipe

frying pans

Gail and Clyde Martin used these cast iron frying pans a lot.

In 1999, Mom started sending recipes to an online site called Kitchen Happenings and More. She proposed that they add a section for heritage recipes and she would supply them with recipes and the stories that went with them.

A Heritage Recipe June 10th, 1999
Margaret, publisher and editor of Kitchen Happenings and More wrote, “Gail Martin shares another of her favorite recipes from yesteryear.”

Mother’s Potato Cakes
by Gail Martin
One of my favorite recipes handed down from my frugal mother, who never let a bit of food go to waste, is potato cakes. She used a cup or more of leftover mashed potatoes, with two farm fresh eggs, 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and a dash of salt and pepper. Then mixed all together and dropped by the spoonful on a greased, hot, iron skillet. She would reduce the heat and fry until brown, turn them over and brown the other side. Mother used a dab of plain lard or bacon drippings to fry the small cakes. Of course bacon drippings add to the flavor.

The eggs Mother used were from her own New Hampshire Red hens. This breed of chickens laid large, brown shelled eggs and Mother’s chickens ranged on the open prairies of Greenwood county, Kansas where they ate grasshoppers, bugs and Bluestem grass. If you haven’t experienced the joy of fresh farm country eggs you are in for the treat of your life. In the summer time the yolks will be a brilliant orange globe. No comparison to the store bought eggs that have been in cold storage for who knows for how long.

My daughter Cindy says she always peels an extra potato or two when she is making mashed potatoes so she will have leftovers to make Grandmother’s potato cakes.

Ruth feeding chickens

Ruth Vining McGhee with the family chickens in the early 1900s. This is before the Rhode Island reds.

Mom also posted the story and recipe on the Our Echo website with this comment, “When this was published on June 10th I was so pleased as that was Mother’s birthday. I couldn’t have planned it better.”

I thought of this story and brought it here for more readers after my sister Cindy mentioned potato cakes today. “Using up the leftovers is part of the after Thanksgiving tradition: I fixed fried-potato-patties for breakfast this morning with the leftover mashed potatoes. They weren’t as good as Mom/ Gail used to make but I tried,” she said. Cindy said she adds a dash of garlic powder when she makes them.

Mom’s sister, C.J. remembers, “Ah, how this takes me back! Our Mother’s potato cakes were a sumptuous repast from the gods, and I’ve never been able to duplicate the taste. Not surprising since I only have access to store eggs, but perhaps not having Mother’s hand on the spoon has something to do with it!”

 

 

Old Dead Bird

My dad always made some remark at Thanksgiving or Christmas about the “old dead bird.” Well, our turkey fits that status now. He’s been stuffed and roasted and sliced and served.

Dad is carving the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Lil Cat looks on hopefully.

Dad is carving the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Lil Cat looks on hopefully.

After the feast, it gets totally dismembered. When it reappears tomorrow, it will be as turkey soup.

We don’t eat our holiday dinner until around 5 pm, so at noon I start chopping the onions, celery, and apples to mix into the dressing. Hubby cooks some sage sausage on the stove top to add. I throw in a few other things like raisins and dried cranberries. Combined with a package of seasoned stuffing mix (I apologize to any Australians reading this), and many cups of chicken broth, it goes inside the turkey.

By the time the 15-pound turkey is in the oven, I face a massive clean-up project. The whole kitchen reeks of Lysol when I’m done. I make sure that the faucet, the sinks, the counters, and even the kitchen cabinet knobs have been sanitized.

All that work is worth it, as we’ll have turkey re-run alternating with turkey soup for the next seven days. It’s amazingly cheap meat as stores sell it at a loss to get shoppers hooked into their store. Besides that, it’s a lower-fat meat. It’s quite versatile, easily transformed into turkey salad sandwiches, stir fries, all sorts of casseroles. Tastes good too.

My husband makes the turkey soup on the day after Thanksgiving. (photo by Virginia Allain)

My husband makes the turkey soup on the day after Thanksgiving. (photo by Virginia Allain)

We should eat it more often, but skip the umpteen side dishes that make the holiday meal so fattening.

(originally published on Bubblews by Virginia Allain)

Note from Mom

I looked back on an early blog post I wrote and found this comment from my mother on it.

November 7, 2008 at 6:53 pm

I started writing with a pencil and a big chief tablet with lines across the pages. Now I am writing on a computer and posting online. In between, I advanced to writing with pen and ink, ballpoint pens, typewriters, improved typewriters, and a Cannon Starwriter 80-word processor. I wore out at least three, so the repair tech said.

I began to receive requests to teach others my writing ideas. What a thrill! I also had five daughters who gladly critiqued my ramblings. Now I’m on my 4th computer with grammar, spellchecks, and a grandson who keeps my computers doing what they are supposed to do. What writer would ask for more!

Mom

Gail L. Martin

big-chief-table

The image of the Big Chief changed over the years.

Here’s my 8-year old post that she was commenting on:

My Mom keeps busy writing family memory essays. At age 84, she’s not running out of material. Her essays posted at Our Echo make for great nostalgic reading. Take a look at them and leave comments for her. She loves hearing from anyone reading her work.

gail-salina-libraryLately, she’s started recording some favorite recipes and articles on how to live thriftily. You can read her recipes, crafts and thrifty tips at the Squidoo site (username: Gail Martin).

Update August 2009: Mom’s family memories have just been published in a book, My Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s Kansas. You can read an excerpt on her webpage and be sure to click on the link to preview fifteen pages of the book.

Make Molasses Taffy

This old-fashioned candy recipe is one my mother-in-law, Cora Martin, made back in the 1920s. It takes two people to pull the taffy after it’s cooked. You can even make a party of it. Here’s how to make it.

Things You’ll Need:

  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • egg sized lumps of butter
  • vanilla (to taste)
  1. Mix all the ingredients, except the vanilla in a pan (molasses, sugar, vinegar, butter).
  2. Bring it to a boil on the stove top. Boil for 10 minutes. Stir frequently. She always used a wooden spoon for this.
  3. Add vanilla to taste.
  4. Remove it from the burner and allow it to cool enough to be handled.
  5. Coat your hands with butter, then pull the taffy with each person holding an end.
  6. When the taffy becomes light in color, it has been pulled enough.
  7. Twist the candy, then cut it into small pieces.
ren_martin_family__summer_1925

Cora and Ren Martin with their children in 1925.

My folks had taffy pulling parties when my older sister, Melba, was in her teens. There was so much fun and laughter as we paired up to pull that yummy stuff. Then we cut the taffy into strips to eat. The pulling and the togetherness made this a wonderful winter treat.
1938_pauline_bolte_melba_mcghee_twila_yeager_carol_and_gail_mcgheel

1938 – Pauline Bolte, Melba McGhee, Twila Yeager, Gail McGhee and little Carol McGhee.

(Article previously published online on eHow by Gail Lee Martin)

After reading Gail’s memories and the family recipe for taffy, I did some research using Newspapers.com. I found a similar description of the family having fun together making the sticky, stretchy candy. This clipping is from a Kansas paper, The Collyer Advance02 Jan 1930, ThuPage 2

What’s became of the old-fashioned watch party on New Year’s eve? Remember how we used to congregate at some neighbor’s home, eat pop-corn and apples (and sometimes drink sweet cider) until a midnight hour and then all join in singing a welcoming song as the new year opened before us? Some years when the cane was exceptionally good and there was an abundance of sorghum, we’d have taffy pulls. My, how good that taffy tasted, especially if it was seasoned with black walnuts!
There’s another thing, too, that we remember in connection with the taffy pull, and that is how clean our hands would become after we had pulled and stretched our wad of candy (and had dropped it upon the floor a half dozen times) and had twined it around our fingers. No matter how dirty one’s hands were they always emerged from a taffy pull as white and clean as tho they had been given a scouring with Lewis lye.
The Collyer Advance, 02 Jan 1930, Thu, Page 2

The Collyer Advance, 02 Jan 1930, Thu, Page 2

Here’s a slightly different recipe for cream taffy from a 1930s Kansas newspaper.

taffy recipe from The Hutchinson News  (Hutchinson, Kansas) 10 Jan 1930, Fri  • Page 11

The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kansas) 10 Jan 1930, Fri • Page 11

Back to Work on Family History

I need to buckle down and delve into my mother’s genealogy notebooks. The first year after her death, I didn’t have the heart to start working on them. Over the last couple of years, I’ve dipped into them now and then, but haven’t really worked on them.

Now enough time has passed that I’m ready to move forward. My online writing on other topics has reached a plateau. That leaves me free time to transfer information from Mom’s notebooks to my tree on Ancestry.com. She worked on the family history before the proliferation of online genealogy information. Now, it’s time to make her research accessible to others through these websites, through blogs and through self-published books.

img_2274

A chart in one of Gail Lee Martin’s genealogy notebooks.

 

Mom collected this information over years of painstaking research that involved visits to courthouses, libraries, and cemeteries. She strained her eyes to read through reels and reels of microfilm ordered from the government. She wrote to distant relatives. She visited ones within driving distance. Then, she carefully documented what she learned.

I have several contacts asking for family records, so that will spur me into researching those requested topics. I also need to contact older relatives for information they may have.

I hope to assemble photos and stories from Mom’s charts and notes into blog posts on our family history site on WordPress. The name of the blog is Then and Now but mostly it is about the past. Drop by now and then to see what I’ve posted recently.

If you have a membership to Ancestry, my profile name on there is vallain159.

Old Letters – Keep or Toss?

I’m determined to do something about the boxes and folders filled with letters accumulated over the years. Actually, I have about 40 years of correspondence stashed in various closets and boxes. There are letters from friends I met at 4-H camp years ago, from college roommates, from friends we made in Maryland, Australia and Texas, and of course, letters from family.

First, I’m gathering all the letters and cards into one room to deal with it. Then I’m sorting by the person who sent them. I have an empty file drawer to sort them into folders.

img_2511_edited

Saved letters (photo by Virginia Allain)

After that, should I read them and then return them to the sender? They might get a kick out of what they wrote so many years ago. In some cases, I am no longer in touch with the person, so guess I should just toss those. Of course, I’ll save my mother’s letters to use with the book we planned about her later years.

She had quite a stash of greeting cards accumulated over the years. At the time of her death, I sorted those and my sisters each took the cards they’d sent Mom home with them. There were birthday cards, anniversary cards, and holidays of all sorts, from Christmas to Easter to Thinking of You. Hopefully, as they looked back through those, it brought back memories of happier times.

In with the cards were  some letters that had been her parents from way back. Those are now safely stored with her genealogy files and family photos.

What do you do with letters? Toss right away? Save?

ink well and pen (821x1024)

Vintage inkwell collected by Cynthia Ross, Gail’s daughter.

Some friends gave me these ideas for dealing with old letters:

  • Ann Hinds – “I just received a package of letters from my cousin. She had saved them all from when we were kids. They were fun to read and I find that I haven’t changed that much. I have the letters from my great grandmother that I will hold on to. Any other correspondence from family, I transcribe on Ancestry.com so if they start looking, they can find it. While it may not mean a lot to me, it is history to those families.”
  • Jacki Garcia – “I know I will never toss my grandmother’s hand-written letter she wrote when she was a young mother to one of her children. Priceless. This is what this internet and computer generation is truly going to miss, the slant of the cursive letter, the faded out pencil marks, the “love” that a real hand-written letter has.”
  • Tracy – “I would just keep the ones that have special meaning and toss the rest. Or, actually, you could scan what you want to keep and toss all of them if you are trying to declutter your house.”
  • Cheryl Paton – “When I was a kid, we saved lots of things. We had scrap books and stamp collections. And then a flood came and all of that stuff became instant garbage. I then became very selective on what I might truly want to save.”
  • Evelyn Saenz – “Listen to what you said about your mother. You are saving hers to help you write about her. Well, that may be true of your children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. They may want to get to know you through those old letters as well. Keep the letter. Keep them all. Letters should never be thrown away. You might consider putting them in old shoe boxes. Cover the shoe boxes in leftover wrapping paper or wall paper. Tie a ribbon around each box and label the box on the end. Then put them all on the top shelf in a closet or up in the attic. It’s not hoarding. It is preserving your family history.” (caution: an attic or garage is not a safe place for old letters where heat, humidity, and possibly insects could damage them)
  • Susan Kaul – “OH No! Save them. Ever so often I look at my saved letters and stroll down memory lane, it is delightful. Don’t throw away your memories.”
  • Barbara Radisavljevic – “I save. Those letters have a lot of my personal history in them. I am going through them and getting rid of those what no longer mean much to me, but special ones, especially from those who are now passed on, I keep.”

(This was originally posted by Virginia Allain on Bubblews November 8, 2013)