Shelling Peas & Snapping Beans

peas pixabay

Perfect for a recipe of new peas and baby potatoes

Little things trigger your memories. Someone passed around a meme titled “Snapchat – the Old-Fashioned Way.” The meme’s picture showed a grandmother on a porch swing with a lap full of string beans. She was snapping the beans into the right size for cooking.

Next to her on the swing sat a grandchild who was also snapping beans. Several more children sat on the nearby steps as they listened to their grandmother tell a story. Their hands were busily snipping the ends off the beans and breaking the green beans into short pieces.

My aunt Cj Garriott commented, “Oh, this brings back great memories! Mother and I also hulled peas, sitting on the back steps. Occasionally, one or more would pop out on the sidewalk. Our dog Tippy would snap them up! Then one day mother caught him getting some off the vine. Daddy had to put a fence around the peas.”

string beans-pixabay

We didn’t need a knife if the bean were fresh and crisp. We also didn’t make the pieces this short.

Putting all hands to work was necessary if the family grew a large garden. Preparing enough beans for canning was quite a bit of hand labor. Over the winter months, we were glad to have Mason jars filled with vegetables for the eight hungry people around our big oak table.

P is for Potatoes And Chocolate?

Here’s another of those vintage recipes from my mother’s stash. It’s a cake made with potatoes as an ingredient. Nope, I’m not talking about potato cakes or potato patties. This is actually for a chocolate cake you can serve as a dessert.

chocolate potato cake, not gail's

I’ve added in a few clarifications on the soda and chocolate. I’ve also added some details in the notes from similar recipes, but think of yourself as a pioneer on this one. Follow your instincts.

Chocolate Potato Cake

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 cup sweet milk
  • 4 eggs (beat separately)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (baking) soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves (presumably ground cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups chocolate (unsweetened baking cocoa)
  • 2 cups flour

Dissolve the soda in just a little water. Just before adding soda, add a teaspoon of vinegar to it. This will prevent the soda from smelling in the cake. Pour in the soda and vinegar while foaming.

NOTES: These are my “best guess” on the way to make this cake since it doesn’t give us the step-by-step directions that we are used to in modern recipes.

Before starting, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. I presume that all the dry ingredients, except the soda, get mixed together first. Then the beaten eggs, milk, and mashed potatoes are stirred into the dry ingredients. At the end, put in the foaming soda and vinegar.  

Pour it into 2 cake pans. Bake at maybe 350 temperature for 25 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it as the temperature and time are guesstimates.

O is for OKRA

Gail and Clyde Martin liked experimenting each year with a new plant in their garden. Okra was one they liked well enough to keep. The plants grew quite tall and sturdy, had lovely flowers similar to a Hibiscus or Rose of Sharon.

The edible part was a green pod, quite seedy and somewhat slimy inside. People use it in soups where that helps with the thickening. At first, Mom tried just cooking the sliced okra for a side vegetable but the texture put us off. Next, she tried it in a coating and fried in a skillet or deep-fried. It was a hit.

Today, I order it for a side vegetable in country-style restaurants where they fry it that way. Brings back memories of Mom’s home cooking. I don’t fry food at home, so we don’t have it there. My husband started making gumbo and using it for that spicy concoction. We buy the okra fresh at the farmers market or get the frozen gumbo-vegetable combination at the supermarket for convenience.

If left on the plant, the pods get quite large and eventually dry. You can save the seeds. Mom liked the seed pods to create striking accents in mixed bouquets of dried, autumn wild plants like the one below. The subtle browns, tans, and silver colors of the dried arrangement were quite pleasing.

Dried wild flower - photo by Virginia Allain

Dried wild flower – photo by Virginia Allain

L is for a LESSON in Bread Making

Sometimes with emails, the intent gets lost in transmission. With a phone call or face-to-face, a misunderstanding can be corrected on the spot.

From: Gail Lee Martin
To: Ginger Allain

One of the granddaughters wanted to know if Dad would maybe show them how to make bread from scratch.

white-bread-homemade pixabay
So I started out by telling her why you can’t make bread like Clyde’s Mom did from scratch anymore because the ingredients aren’t the same anymore.  Not even sure lard isn’t a different texture. The flour is too refined and the yeast is not like the ‘starter’ that Mom kept on the back of the stove where it was always warm. Even salt is different and even some brands are different than other brands.

Clyde’s sister Helen said one time that when she tried to make homemade bread, she decided she needed her Mother’s hands to knead it properly! She also said she couldn’t even make macaroni and cheese like Mom did.

Kristy emailed back that she had meant the machine bread that Dad made, not thinking about how it was done before that. Mom said she had to laugh when she realized how at cross-purposes their messages had been.

Kristy’s grandfather made bread with his specially adjusted recipes in seven machines on their enclosed back porch. These sold well at the local farmer’s market and to customers who dropped by their home to buy freshly made bread.

K is for Kids’ Cards

I found a bundle of handmade cards from school children. Mom had saved these thank you notes dating back to 1994. The notes, decorated with colorful, childish art, thanked her for visiting their classroom and telling them stories.

kids cards to gail

The most popular story was about a snake apparently and some children even drew pictures of a snake. I knew she must have told them about chasing rabbits with her dog and getting bitten on the cheek by a rattlesnake.

cards to gail

The occasion for her visit was to promote reading and Kansas authors on Kansas Day. Here are some of the notes:

  • Dear Mrs. Martin, You’re a great speaker. One of the best speakers I’ve had. Thanks. I had fun, learned a lot, and was stunned. You’re an interesting (spelled enter resting) woman, a fabulious speaker, and such a talented changer. Sincerely, Crystal
  • I hope you can come again to 5th grade Lincoln. Sincerely, Candice T.
  • Thank you for playing the part of Margaret Hill McCarter. The magazines, the calendars and the newspapers were interesting. And the snake bite story was great! I hope you come again. It was very fun having you here. Sincerely, Jessica
  • Dear Gail, I think it is great that you write stories about your history. I also wanted to thank you for coming and sharing your stories with us. My favorite was the one about you getting bit by the snake. Thanks again! Sincerely, Laurie M.
  • Thank you for insperting (inspiring?) my writing. I hope you like my writing couse (cause) I like yours.
  • Thank you for coming to our rooms for telling us about Kansas long ago.

more cards to gail

I puzzled a little over the “such a talented changer.” Mom would dress in pioneer style to demonstrate her wagon wheel rugs and would dress up with a flowery straw hat to talk as Margaret Hill McCarter, a Kansas author that she admired. Perhaps she switched persona and made a wardrobe change by swapping out pieces of clothing during her talk. I’ll have to ask my sister if she ever saw Mom perform for the school classes.

Gail Martin Portrays Margaret Hill McCarter

Gail Lee Martin visits local schools with Margaret Hill McCarter presentation.

More Notes from the Children

  • I think you and Margaret are very good actors and very good people. I liked listening to you and Margaret. I’m sorry about hearing that you got bit by a snake.
  • You gave a good story. It was funny. I like your book collection. It must be worth some money. I like to read books, but I don’t read books that big. Oh, when it comes around, I wish you a happy 70th birthday. Sincerely, Billy C.
  • Thank you for coming to our school. We really enjoyed reading your stories. All of your stories are good. I would really like for you to come to Lincoln School again.
  • Dear Mrs. Martin, Thank you for coming to our school and telling us about the author. I also enjoyed you becoming her. That was very interesting. Not many people do that. The things you told us about were neat. Sincerely, Janna L.

She visited even the kindergarten class and the teacher had each child put their thumbprint on a card and write their name. Each thumbprint had bunny ears or rabbit ears added and a tail. This was sent to Gail after her visit and she saved it.

card to gail - thumbprint

J is for Just Shopping

The Sepia Saturday inspiration photo shows a shop and an automobile filled with a happy family. My match for that is my mother and her cousins in Teterville, Kansas, at the grocery store.  It looks to be about the same era.

There’s a vast difference between the urban shop in Europe or England and the one in rural Kansas. Let’s learn more about my mother, Gail Lee McGhee, at this time in her life.

Here’s a better view of the grocery store in Teterville. It was actually called The Moore Store. Her father worked in the oil industry and Teterville was an oil boomtown in the 1920s and early 1930s. Many of Gail’s uncles on both sides of the family (Vinings and McGhees) were there working as well.

teterville store photo from eureka museum

Photo from the Eureka Museum of the Moore’s Store in Teterville, Kansas (maybe 1950s)

Scott Store, Velva Ruth, viola, LaVerne Redlinger & cousins

Scott Store – Velva Ruth, Viola, LaVerne Redlinger & cousins

I’d thought of this photo as being in Teterville and perhaps it was the store before the Moore’s took it on. Now, I’m not actually sure of that.

My memory is that these girls are cousins of my mother. Velva Ruth and Viola Bolte (parents: Charles Edwin Bolte and Lucy Vining) were first cousins of Gail McGhee. I can’t fit LaVerne Redllinger onto the family tree and have no names for the others.

I believe the smallest girl standing in front is my mother, Gail McGhee.

gail and model a 1927, teterville
Thank you, Mom, for labeling the photo. Here’s the actual ID then. The dark-haired person sitting on the car is Gail’s mother, Ruth (Vining) McGhee. If the person in the car is a boy cousin, then it’s likely to be Velva Ruth and Viola’s brothers. So they could be Everett Henry (born 1905), Alonzo LeRoy (born 1908), or Forrest Edward (born 1912).

The 1927 refers to the year of the car, not to the year of the photo. My mother would only have been 3 years old in 1927.


Games We Played

I’m not sure if we learned these games from Mom (Gail Lee Martin) or from other kids at school. You may have played some of these in your childhood. Remember these games: Duck Duck Goose, Steal the Bacon, Drop the Handkerchief, Simon Says, and Mother, May I? There were always the old standbys of Tag and Hide and Seek to play too.

Since there were 6 children in our family and we lived in the country, we had to entertain ourselves. That was enough for some games, but others like Red Rover were better when played with a larger number.

Red Rover, Red Rover

We played Red Rover on the sloping field behind West Branch Country School. You needed a good number of kids to make two teams. Each team lined up and linked hands. One team would chant, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Jimmy (or another player from the other team) over.

Jimmy would leave his team and run as fast and forcefully as he could to burst through the other team’s line. If the runner succeeds at breaking through the line, he/she gets to choose someone from that team to add to their own team.

running boy pixabay

Each team takes a turn calling for a player to come over. Once one team has all the players, they win.

Directions for More Old-Fashioned Games

martin cousins, Karen, Lori, Bonnie, Raymond, I think

Martin cousins playing “Button Button.” Karen, Lori, Bonnie, Raymond.

While refreshing my memory on these games, I ran across a few that were new to me. I don’t remember playing Sardines, Four Square, or Capture the Flag. I found one called What Time Is It, Mr. Wolf that sounded really fun.

I’d love to hear about some games that you remember from your early days. Click on COMMENT and tell me about some.

Faultless Starch

starch adstarch ad Fri, Sep 30, 1898 – 7 · The Lyon County News and The Emporia Times (Emporia, Kansas) ·
I’m not even sure where I spotted this little booklet for Faultless Starch, but I couldn’t resist buying it and bring it home.  You can tell that I’m a true daughter of Gail Lee Martin who had a penchant for accumulating vintage pieces like this.

vintage box starch

I think our interest in history and in the way that people lived in earlier generations is shared by many of my sisters too. This has Kansas City on the cover, so likely I discovered it at a yard sale on one of my visits back home.

I wondered if the little booklet might have been included in a box of starch back in the early 1900s or maybe it was a premium that you sent in a box top and a dime to get. I found an 1899 advertisement in the Emporia Democrat telling that the small book was free from the merchant upon request.

Faultless Starch - 10 cents, book - free.Faultless Starch – 10 cents, book – free. Fri, Jul 28, 1899 – 2 · The Emporia Democrat (Emporia, Kansas) ·

It includes some advertising text and then turns to some stories to amuse the kids.

No Sticking Irons

“Housewives who use Faultless Starch are never troubled with irons sticking and burning or scorching their clothes or linens.

It is not necessary to use any preventive for sticky irons with Faultless. It is already in the starch — so is everything else that is necessary to make it a first-class starch.

Try it just once. Learn what housewives in millions of homes have learned in the last 35 years — that it is a “Faultless” Starch.”

Faultless Starch Company, Kansas City

001 - Copy (5)

The booklet includes a poem, some riddles (called conundrums), and some games.

002 - Copy (3)

004 - Copy (2)

005 - Copy (3)

006 - Copy

faultless starch booklet

The list of state flowers gives us a hint for the date of this booklet. Arizona is not listed and it became a state in 1912. I researched the company history and found this:


I’m not much for ironing and haven’t used starch for years but couldn’t resist checking to see if Faultless Starch was still around. It is, but in a spray can now! Our grandmothers would have loved that convenience.

Easter Ideas From the Depression Era

Easter 1924Easter 1924 Thu, Apr 17, 1924 – 2 ·(This is the year that Gail Lee McGhee was born.The Eureka Herald and Greenwood County Republican (Eureka, Kansas) · –  

Gail Lee Martin’s book gets a mention now and then, which shows the staying power of old-fashioned ways from the Great Depression era. It seems that when times get hard, people look back to the 1930s for how families survived.

“Purchasing dye tablets, powders and craft paints can become expensive. Making your own with natural products can be a matter of using leftover juices from preparing foods, saving your household budget some money in the process, as detailed by the author of “My Flint Hills Childhood,” whose mother managed her home of five on a Great Depression budget.” (article on eHow called Natural Plant Dyes & Activities for Children By Holly Huntington)

Since it’s almost Easter time and people are still in the “stay home” mode, there’s likely to be an interest in coloring your eggs without store-bought dyes.

easter eggs pixabay

You won’t want to sacrifice eggs for some Easter fun with the current difficulty in getting those. I recommend blowing out the contents of the egg and saving those in the fridge for scrambled eggs or for baking. What you have left is a rather fragile eggshell that’s just waiting to be decorated.

Gail’s Memories of Easter in the 1930s

I remember as a child out in the Flint Hills of Kansas during the thirties we colored eggs for Easter. We had to think ahead to that special day because we didn’t have commercial egg coloring back then. My folks raised chickens and kept a few laying hens just for our own eggs. So we would save eggs for Mother to hard-boil and then we would color them in rainbow hues to be hidden on the prairie on Easter morning. Mother’s White Rock hens laid white eggs that were best for coloring.

Mother relied on Mother Nature a lot to obtain colors for our eggs by saving juice from cooked beets to make various shades of pink and red eggs. Yellow onion skins were steeped in hot water to produce a gorgeous yellow shade and the longer the egg remained in the colored water the darker it would get. Wild elderberries provided a juice that was a deep purple and a wet green leaf wrapped around an egg would leave a beautiful imprint on the egg. Mother used commercial blueing in her rinse water to whiten the laundry and we used some of it to make lovely blue-tinted eggs.

elderberry berries pixabay

We also used wax from candles to make designs on the eggs before immersion in the liquid dye. I believe Mother also added vinegar to the natural juices but that might have been later when the little dye tablets came out in stores. We hid and hunted the eggs as a game, with no mention of the Easter Rabbit that is so talked about today. Anyone who has raised rabbits knows they don’t lay eggs of any type. To the children of mid-thirties, the art of coloring eggs was just another sign of Spring in our community.

We also just hid them one time and then made egg salad sandwiches, deviled eggs and put them into potato salad and had a picnic.

To hear this memory in Gail’s own voice, go to the story at Our Echo, then click on the audio link.

A Is For Ads

For the month of April, I’ll be featuring tidbits about my mother’s life. The inspiration will be ephemera (notes, booklets, bits of paper from her files) and newspaper advertisements and clippings. I’ll put my subscription to to work for me triggering topics from A to Z.

 bread graphic from Yeast Foam ad 1923bread graphic from Yeast Foam ad 1923 Thu, Jun 21, 1923 – 6 · The Madison News (Madison, Kansas) ·

My mother, Gail Lee Martin, was born in 1924. I’m sure at that time, her mother was baking bread for the family. They lived in rather remote areas of the Flint Hills in Central Kansas where one couldn’t dash off to the store for a package of store-bought bread.

The woman in this advertisement even looks like my grandmother did in her early years. Below is a picture from our family album of Gail’s mother, Ruth McGhee, feeding the chickens.

Ruth feeding chickens

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

Mom talked about the family trips to town for supplies and selecting bags of chicken feed and bags of flour. They looked for colorful print on the cotton feed sacks. Her mother then used that fabric to make clothing for the family once the sacks were empty.

Singer sewing machine roxio

The Rest of the April 2020

A to Z Blog Posts