D Is for Dandelion Wine

Mom submitted this “recipe” to a book of Butler County recipes of the 1920s and 30s. The title of the book is Grandmother’s Legacy. She emphasized that this was a just for fun recipe and not actually for consumption.


Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Gail Lee Martin said, “This is an oil camp kid’s memories of making this wine. There was never a shortage of dandelions.”

Pick 5 cups of dandelions. Keep only the yellow part of the flower and discard the green part. The green part makes the wine bitter. Always wash and drain the petals. Put the petals and a gallon of water, more or less, into an empty glass gallon jar. Stir in 1 pound of sugar.

Put the lid on tightly and bury the jar. Oil camp friends are needed to help dig a big enough hole. Of course, they would be in on the taste testing too.

Gail and friends in 1930s

Kids at the oil camp in Greenwood County, KS

After two or three weeks, the mixture should be dug up and taste tested. If needed, add more sugar to suit taste.

“This recipe is for historical purposes and reading enjoyment only,” Gail said.

I’m amazed that back in the 1930s that her mother would let her have a pound of sugar for what definitely sounds like an experimental project. When I looked up real recipes for dandelion wine, they call for additional ingredients like lemons, oranges, and wine yeast.

You could go to the Commonsense Homesteading blog to try her recipe for dandelion wine. It appears to be adult tested, at least.

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.



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.

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, Gail McGhee and little Carol McGhee.

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

Gail and the Broken Glass Chimney

At Home on the Prairie by Gail Lee Martin

My daddy worked for Phillips Petroleum Company back in the twenties and thirties. All their employees were furnished housing complete with natural gas heat and lights. I remember Mother lighting kerosene lamps but there was a gas light fixed high on the wall in each room. They all had glass chimneys that tended to get smoky inside no matter how low you turned the flame. The gas light made a hissing noise and Daddy always had to light it as Mother was too short.

One of the first chores I remember getting to do was washing the glass chimneys because my hand was the smallest. I had to be careful so as to not drop and break them. That made Mother unhappy. I recall one time I did drop a chimney. I tried to pick up all the pieces quickly so Mother wouldn’t know about it.

In my hurry, I cut my hand bad. Mother had heard the noise and knew just what had happened as mothers seem to. The scolding I expected turned into an expression of concern about where all the blood was coming from.

I can still trace the scar on the palm of my hand. I have another long scar on the same hand but that is another story to tell.

Gas Lamp Card
Gas Lamp Card by Sloppydesigns


(This story is published online at Gail Martin’s stories on the Our Echo website. You can read more of her stories there)

Gail’s Advice on Picking Wild Berries

(Another article by Gail Lee Martin that she wrote for eHow) During my childhood in the 1930s we picked wild berries along the Cottonwood River in Kansas. It was fun for me, but it also put food on the table. Here’s how to go berrying.

  •  Locate a wild area that you can access without trespassing. We had permission to camp on a farmer’s land by the river. He didn’t want to bother with the wild berries so they were free for the picking.Catfish for dinner
    We would gather mulberries and gooseberries on sunny summer days. These made a good dessert when cooked together to go with the fish that we caught in the Cottonwood River.
  • Be sure the area is free of pesticides or chemicals. If it is next to a farmer’s field, there might be some sprays drifting onto the wild plants.
    Wild blueberries
  • Don’t eat pokeberries!!Don't eat pokeberries!!

    Learn which berries are edible and which are not good. Ask someone to show you which are the right fruit to pick or check in a wild foods book. I’ve provided a link below to find books like that.

  •  Learn when certain types of berries ripen. It changes slightly with the weather, so you may have to check several times to catch the raspberries at their peak. Mark it on your calendar so you’ll remember to check around that time next summer.

  • Poison ivy – keep away from it

    Wear long sleeves and even gloves if you’re picking thorny fruit. Watch out for poison ivy and snakes. Don’t forget the hat and sunscreen.

    Poison ivy - keep away from it

  •  Take a lightweight bucket and start picking. Enjoy lots of cobblers, jams and other berry delights. They are tasty just to snack on too.

Comments on the Article:

momose said on 9/19/2009 – We always carry a “beating stick” for our blackberry picking forays – to beat the bushes a bit first to roust out any rattlesnakes that might be lurking. I’ll bet you have done that, Gail! Five stars for your berry picking tips!

bjs1979 said on 8/21/2009 – mmmm fresh berries. Recommended you and rated 5 stars! Keep writing great articles!
Mindee Lee said on 7/10/2009 – Nothing is better than snacking on a handful of wild berries. Teaching children identification of berries is a crucial point not to be discounted. Thanks for these great and important tips!
kittycooks said on 7/10/2009 – OOO, I love wild berries. So flavorful!  A good tip to watch out for poison ivy!

Gail’s Pet Badger

A Pet Badger

I’d never think to have a pet as ferocious looking as a badger. They have fearsome claws and are noted for their digging. My mom was given a baby badger back in the 1930s and she raised it and kept it as a pet.

She tells some remarkable stories about what it was like to have a pet badger. Here’s more information about the American badger and more about her pet badger.

Mom took this photo at a museum. She said it reminded her of her pet badger, Jolly.

Mom took this photo at a museum. She said it reminded her of her pet badger, Jolly.

An Unusual Pet – An American Badger

Young Gail McGhee in front, center. The shed in the background might be the wash house that the badger lived in, where he dug tunnels in the dirt floor.

Young Gail McGhee in front, center. The shed in the background might be the wash house that the badger lived in, where he dug tunnels in the dirt floor.

Baby Badger

Gail Martin describes in her book how they raised the badger as a baby. This video shows a European baby badger, but it would have looked pretty similar to this.

Great Video of a Badger 

Note that it has a harness. It also digs just like my mother described her pet badger digging in their potato patch. A collar didn’t work for the badger as it would just slip off over its head.

Ironing in the Good Old Days

This old iron would have been what Gail’s mother, Ruth McGhee, used to press the family clothes in the early 1900s. Even when electric irons came into use, she didn’t get one for a long time. They didn’t get electricity as soon as people in the towns did.

old iron

Photo by Virginia Allain

In the oil camps in the Kansas Flint Hills, they were still using oil lamps in the 1920s. The company housing for the oil workers was too far out in the hills for luxuries like electricity.

Consequently Ruth ironed her clothes with heavy irons like this. They were heated on the surface of the wood cook stove and then pressed against the clothes to remove wrinkles. You would have one getting hot, while you used the other one.

Irons Heating on Stove Greeting Card
Irons Heating on Stove 

You still see these around, but people tend to use them for bookends or for doorstops now. I sure wouldn’t want to iron with one.

Eventually the electric iron became available and simplified the ironing chores of housewives.