Bean Soup on Wash Day

Laundry was a big chore with eight people in the Martin family. The wringer washer  and the washtubs for rinse water moved to the middle of the farmhouse kitchen on wash day. Baskets of wet, heavy clothing, as well as sheets, and towels were lugged out to the clothesline, hung up with the wooden clothespins, and later brought back inside.

On freezing days, it was difficult to gather the stiff, contorted clothing, shaped by the Kansas wind. We thawed them inside, but of course, they were still damp. Actually, the dampness made them just right for ironing.

Since wash day was such a process, Mom opted for a simple meal. Often it was a pot of navy bean soup. She soaked the beans overnight, rinsed them, then let them simmer all day long. For supper, freshly baked cornbread slathered with butter accompanied the hearty bean soup.

This all came to my mind today as I made a huge pot of bean soup using the ham bone left from New Year’s Day dinner. I use a package of 15 kinds of beans. Here’s my 15 bean soup recipe. I’m sure Mom would have loved it.

Virginia Allain's 15-bean soup

Virginia Allain’s 15-bean soup

Decorate for Christmas the Old-Fashioned Way

Gail Lee Martin first published this article on the eHow website some years ago.

Here’s how to celebrate Christmas just like a prairie family in the 1930s.  If you want a Christmas with an old-fashioned feel, just try the steps below.

 Things You’ll Need:
  • a cedar tree
  • cranberries
  • popcorn
  • thin cardboard
  • silver foil
  • a magazine
THE TREE: The arrival of our Christmas Tree was the beginning of the holiday season for my family. I remember the first time I experienced the thrill of going with Daddy to locate an appropriate tree for Christmas. On a nice sunny Sunday after a heavy snow and shortly before Christmas, Daddy would have us bundle up warmly in four buckle overshoes, hand knitted mittens, stocking caps and long scarves wrapped around our necks. Then we would follow in his footprints as he trekked through the snow-drifted Bluestem grass to a canyon in the fold of the hills almost a mile from our home.
2008-08-20-gail-and-ks-photos-066
Scattered along the rocky sides of the canyon were many cedars of all sizes. We would select a well-rounded tree about my height. After scraping the snow from around the tree, Daddy dug out around the tree roots. The snow kept the ground from being frozen solid, so the digging went well even in the rocky soil. Daddy carefully packed the tree in a container and placed it on our small sled. We would take turns pulling our treasure home. This living tree stayed on our front porch until the day before Christmas.
Clarence McGhee pulling toddlers on a sled. Kansas Flint Hills.

Clarence McGhee pulling toddlers on a sled. Kansas Flint Hills.

CRANBERRY CHAINS: When the Christmas season neared our home on the snow-covered prairies, our house would take on a cheery atmosphere as we began making lustrous long, red garlands using fresh, whole cranberries. We would thread a large darning needle with string from Mother’s string ball. Our mother saved string through the year. Every time Daddy opened the hundred pound cotton sacks of flour or chicken feed, Mother would unravel the string that the sacks were sewn shut with, to add to her ball.

POPCORN STRINGS: Stringing cranberries and popcorn took many long hours to get the strands long enough for a big tree. But the evenings of family togetherness around the living room stove were lots of fun as we enjoyed big bowls of popcorn drizzled with golden home-made butter. Daddy was in charge of popping the corn, that he had grown and as we munched, we would carefully thread unbuttered kernels into white garlands to drape in contrast with the ruby-red cranberries.

SILVER STARS: Then we made bright silver stars. We would go to Mother’s hoarding drawer and get our small supply of foil we’d saved from spearmint chewing gum wrappers. Back then each stick of gum was in a foil and wax paper wrapper and we had to carefully peel them apart. With the resulting thin silver foil we covered cardboard stars cut from the backs of our Big Chief writing tablets. The first one we made was a large star that went on top of the tree each year. We covered smaller stars to hang here and there on the tree. With the darning needle, we would poke a tiny hole in one point of each star to thread a piece of string to hang them with. Each year we were able to make a few new ones.

PAPER CHAINS: Mother showed us girls how to cut magazines ads and turn them into glossy, paper chains. We would cut many rectangles, one-half by five inches long, from the colorful ads. Then we would start by making a loop by lapping the ends and sticking them together with paste, we made from flour and water. Next, we would loop another strip of paper through the first loop, then pasted the ends and so on until the gleaming chain was the length we wanted. Draped in scallops on the tree or across the windows they were eye-catching.

DECORATING: When he brought the tree inside and placed in the living room corner, the day before Christmas, we would transform it into a shimmering dream with all the scallops of red berries and white popcorn and little silver stars. In between, we arranged the glistening paper chains. At the very last, Daddy placed the large star at the top and our plain old Kansas cedar tree was a sight to remember. Best of all, it didn’t cost very much, just the cranberries had to be bought.

AFTER CHRISTMAS: The week after Christmas we removed the stars and stored for another year. Then Daddy moved the tree to the front yard where we could watch the brave winter birds feasting on a banquet of popcorn and berries. Each year Daddy replanted our Christmas trees to make a much-needed windbreak and shelter for the birds.

Here are some comments from when it was posted on eHow:  “This is enchanting! I was there with you, munching the buttery popcorn and sliding the cranberries onto the string . . . I just love the way you recount the simpler times of days gone by. Thank you for sharing. Five well-deserved stars!”

Here’s another comment – “I loved this article. The glimpse of your life in those days was so interesting and wonderful. What a contrast to the commercial holiday of today.”

Susan H on 9/2/2008 – “This article is so precious and wonderful. My brother and I made paper chains every year for our tree. We would put them on the tree and our mantel. I echo JMKnudson when I say, ‘Please keep writing’.”

Another comment on 9/1/2008 –  “What beautiful memories you have. I will be adopting some of your traditions this Christmas season.”

Make Salmon Patties

They say to eat more fish. Fresh salmon can be expensive. Here’s an easy way to add fish to your menu plan without a lot of expense or trouble. These salmon patties are made very much like potato cakes.

Can of salmon (photo courtesy of Amazon)

Can of salmon (photo courtesy of Amazon)

Instructions

Things You’ll Need:

  • can of salmon (pink is OK and cheaper)
  • saltine crackers
  • 2 farm fresh eggs
  • dash of pepper
  • iron skillet
  1. Put the canned salmon, including the bones, skin, and liquid, into a bowl. Stir it to separate and fluff it. Use a fork to crush the small bones that are in with it.
  2. Beat the two eggs with the fork, and mix them in with the salmon.
  3. Crush some crackers and mix with the salmon and egg mixture. The amount to add depends on how soupy it is. The crackers absorb the excess salmon broth and eggs.
    Once it thickens enough with the crackers, form it into patties.
  4. Heat up an iron skillet on the stove top so it’s sizzling. You can grease the skillet with a butter wrapper to use up the remnants of butter or margarine. It’s OK to use a cooking spray instead, but it won’t have the same flavor.
  5. Start the salmon patties or cakes to cooking in the skillet. Reduce the heat and cook until they brown on the one side. Turn them over and brown them on the other side.
Gail Martin's frying pans

Gail Martin’s frying pans

Tips & Warnings
  •  Keep canned salmon and a box of crackers in the pantry so you can make this at any time.
  •  You can substitute other kinds of canned fish for the salmon. Cod fish is available in cans.
  •  Be careful not to splatter yourself with hot grease when putting the cakes into the skillet.

Comments from the eHow Website

Parollins said on 3/12/2009 – My Mom makes these and now I do. I make them with potato pancakes and it’s the best. I add dill to mine too. Love this article.

Wordstock said on 1/17/2009 – I love salmon patties, but didn’t know how to make them. Thanks!

Cherst1031 said, on 9/5/2008 Thanks for the info on Salmon Patties, I have the ingredients, I just wasn’t sure how to make them. Now I will give it a try, sounds delicious and healthy!

Vanillatte said on 9/5/2008 – Oh, Wow! I love salmon patties! Will have to make these soon. Great article!

(this article first appeared online at eHow in 2008 – written by Gail Lee Martin)

Recycle Pill Bottles

Thrifty Tips By Gail Lee Martin (first published on eHow)

Recycle Pill Bottles

Recycle Pill Bottles

Many people take medicine prescribed by their doctors. Soon the pill bottles start piling up. There should be a use for something like these containers. They have tight drip-proof lids and most are also child proof.

Instructions
  1.  To be on the safe side I use tweezers or forceps to dip the containers in boiling water so all medical residue is removed.
  2.  If you are saving money by taking a sack lunch to work, these little containers are ideal for taking mayonnaise, relish or mustard for adding to your sandwiches at lunchtime. This prevents the sandwich from becoming soggy between the time you made it in the early morning or even the night before until you are ready to eat it. Most workplace break rooms have a refrigerator to store lunches.
  3.  You could take a salad to work and place your favorite dressing in a prescription container to add fresh when it is your time to eat. After using the contents just toss the container in the trash or take home and recycle them again.

    IMG_4232

    Carry a single serving of salad dressing in a recycled prescription bottle.

  4.  I use my print shop to make labels for my recycled prescription bottles. They are easy to wash off and add a different identifying label for the next time you use it.
  5. If you need your pills with you to take at noon, use one of the recycled prescription containers for that. No need to buy a fancy pill case.

    IMG_1813_edited

    Prescription pills and supplements to take with your meal.

  6.  I also save flower seeds to share with my friends and relatives. Especially my beautiful perennial sweet peas. These small containers are just the right size storing flower seeds. I label them the same way.

    2015-08-14 2015 august 007

    Save your flower seeds to use next season or to give away.

  7. Another handy use for these is to store your sewing machine needles in them. 

 

I bet Mom would have liked having a label printer like this one.

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!

Depression Era Thriftiness

After Mom’s book came out, a feature in USA Today commented on her memories of feedsack dresses. I’d seen the reporter’s query in HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and put her in touch with Mom. After a phone interview, this was the article published in October 2009.

An article in USA Today by Laura Vanderkam, Grandma's Greener Than You Are.

An article in USA Today by Laura Vandercamp, Grandma’s Greener Than You Are.

It resonated with people, resulting in blog posts like this one by Lisa in Oklahoma.

Here’s the section about Gail (2nd paragraph in the article shown in the clipping above).

Then I read 85-year-old Gail Lee Martin’s recent memoir, My Flint Hills Childhood. During the Great Depression, she reports, companies began selling feed and flour in colorful sacks, knowing full well that cash strapped customers would turn the material into children’s clothes. In her Kansas town “we traded sacks with our neighbors and relatives until we had the required yardage” for dresses, she writes.

Hers was far from the only family reusing what was possible — not because recycling was hip but because the family lacked the means to do anything else. Nonetheless, the result was the same: a lower impact lifestyle than most of us buying organic pajamas can fathom.

Read more about feedsack dresses.

cousins 1937

J is for Junkyard

Tagging along with Dad to the Junkyard

I don’t know why this memory worked its way to the surface this week. Dad didn’t have much time to spend with his children. He worked long hours and often had a long drive to get to that work.

He did his own auto repairs, back in those days before so much became electronic or computerized. When the car broke down, he figured out the problem, bought a used part and put it in himself.

The used parts came from junkyards, so first he had to find a wrecked or defunct vehicle with the right parts in it. Then he removed the part and paid a fee to the junkyard owner. It was labor intensive but probably saved him a lot of money over the years.

A few times, I remember going with him to the junkyards. To a small kid, they were spooky places full of rusting and destroyed autos with the weeds growing up around them.

(previously published on Bubblews October 30, 2014)