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) · Newspapers.com –  

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.

Any Family Memories of the Great Depression?

The 1930s were a long time ago, so not many people have firsthand memories of those. Some of us whose parents grew up during the Great Depression have family stories or learned behavior that traces back to the privations of that era.

I asked my friends how they felt it affected them or what family stories they remembered. Here’s a sampling of those.

Chuck shared this story, “I have two uncles who are brothers that lived through the great depression. A few years ago one of them decided to raise rabbits to eat. His brother would never eat any of the rabbits because, he said, though it is a bit of exaggeration, that all he had to eat during the Depression was swamp rabbit. They were hard times, but I know a lot of people who were made stronger from having lived through those years.

Phillip felt that we haven’t learned what we should have from that time of hardship. “The Great Depression was a lesson in greed that has been forgotten apparently. My grandparents wouldn’t talk about it because they lost everything and had to start over. I worry that my son might have to do the same.” His comment referred to the banking crash and how that happened again in 2008 and the effect of that on his family.

Kathryn had this to say, “I am one fascinated by this topic, as I think it is so applicable today. I grew up hearing the older folks talking about the Great Depression. I had some older relatives who saved everything in their sheds and attics, never throwing anything away after going through the Depression.” She said that her grandmother was a teenager at the time. Her family was not hit as hard as many because they owned a feed store, and people continued buying grains for their livestock and seeds for their gardens. “We could learn a lot from the generations before us.”

 

Bella felt her family was fortunate, “My grandfather had the brains to sell his stocks before the crash of 1929, however, he had several rental properties and suffered losses because the tenants could not pay their rent and he was too kind to kick them out. So many felt the pain of the 1930s.” Her comment reminds us that a rising tide raises all boats, but in the case of the 1930s, it was the opposite. When the people become too poor to pay their rent or shop for goods, then those at the top suffered as well.

Ady felt that the 1930s represented a simpler time that some people were nostalgic about.  “There seemed to be closer bonds between family, neighbors, and friends.” My thinking on Ady’s comment is that people might want closer family bonds but they certainly wouldn’t want to lose their jobs and money like most did during that era.

Here are some memories from my mother who was a child in the 1930s: Gail and the Great Depression. Please, share in the comments any family stories that you might remember that go back to that era.

The Good Old Days???

Our guest blogger today is Monte Manka. He grew up in the 1930s like Gail Lee Martin did in Central Kansas. They met later in life through their writing when both were in their eighties. Monte writes poems and lots of nostalgia pieces. He just had his 91st birthday this week!
 I went to the grocery store today and got a half-gallon of milk and it started me to thinking—

In the good old days, I would get up in the morning in the early A.M. and set under the Holstein or Jersey and pull on those warm teats and get my milk. With my head buried in her flank, I could tell if she was going to kick me or not and I could get out of the way. (was not always successful though.) I loved to be hit in the head with a tail full of cockle burrs or in the winter time a tail with frozen urine on it. The feeling was the same, a bump on the head. When it was 100 degrees in the shade or 27 degrees below zero those critters had to be taken care of, come rain or shine.

cream-separator-pixabay

An old style cream separator.

Then those calves would come along and you had to train them to drink out of the bucket–more problems–they seemed to get something wrong with them and you had to doctor them, more problems. When you finally got the milk into the house and separated, you had to wash the separator. This was another chore of mine. One part had 123 disks on it and they were numbered. The disks went in numerical order. The buckets had to be washed and by that time it was time to do it all over again. BAH TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS ???????  – BREAD

While at the grocery store I also got a loaf of bread and it started me to thinking again.
In the good old days, we took our wheat to the mill at Cedar Point and had it ground for flour, cracked wheat for breakfast food, and then took it home. Mother made bread from the new flour. The old wood stove felt good in the wintertime but was hot in the summertime.

I spent time plowing, disking, harrowing and drilling the wheat. This was always in the hottest time of the summer when you would either thrash or combine. I always missed the Rodeo at the Countryman Ranch at Cassoday. After sitting on the tractor with the heat from the tractor motor blowing in my face, and the combine engine blowing hot air on my back, I was well done by the time the day was finished. Then to the milking again.

leslie and monte manka wheat fiels south of house 1934

Monte L. Manka and his brother Leslie in the wheat field – about 1934

That wheat, that seems easy to raise is a gamble-one year it was a disease called RUST, the next it was a hail storm, the next it was too dry, the next it was too wet, the next it was the grasshoppers, that year was a plague about 1931, the corn on Teters farm east of El Dorado a couple miles, had no leaves left on the stalk after the grasshoppers visited them. I think you have better odds on the crap table in Las Vegas. One year Dad got a check from Kansas, City Grain for $2,000.00 for a carload of wheat, we took turns feeling it. Out of six years, we had one good harvest. The good old days- Yeah sure

THE GOOD OLD DAYS?????? – MEAT

While at the grocery store I was told to pick up some pork chops and that started me to thinking —–
We had a mean old sow. She bit my uncle on the leg and put a couple gashes in it. He did not quite make it over the fence.
Now, this sow was the ugliest thing you ever saw and I could never see what the boar saw in her. She would have the most pigs and the healthiest pigs of any of the good-looking sows. These hogs would have to be watched closely to keep them free of screwworms. More work more worry.

Once we had a bout with cholera and we lost 50 head that was ready to go to market. Needless to say, we had a big barbecue, too bad that we could not eat the meat. My uncle would give my brother and me a pig to sell if we would help him take care of them. One year we got $3.00 for our effort a few years later we got $6.00 then the market started to rise and no more free pigs. The good old days Phooey.

pig in nb

 

A Few Good Things about the Good Old Days

There were some things that were good like the filling station on the corner. Nufer’s gas was 18 cents a gallon but you got your tires checked, windshield washed, oil checked, a smile and a thank you. The good old days, Yeah.

When you came to town on Saturday you could take ten wrappers from ten Golden Crust bread loaves and get a free pass to the Eris and see the latest Ken Maynard western. I do not remember what the popcorn or soda was then, probably ten cents. After the matinee, we would go home and milk those stupid cows, and start another week of fun. Yeah

Ken Maynard 1926 vintage portrait card
Ken Maynard 1926 vintage portrait card

Another good thing-a handshake was as good as a signed contract, Not now it seems like the honest people are getting fewer and farther between. Out here you had better have twenty signed contracts, even then someone will break them all, and you are stuck with a lawsuit.

I always hear someone saying “Oh for the good old days.” I think back and no TV, no VCR, no microwave, no late model car. My gosh, I wouldn’t trade today for anything.

Written by Monte L. Manka

Halloween in the Good Old Days

Back in the 1920s and 1930s when Gail Lee McGhee was growing up, Halloween was celebrated in a simpler way than today. Since she lived in an oil field camp in the Flint Hills of Kansas, there was no door-to-door trick or treating. A community Halloween party was held at the Teterville School with adults and children wearing costumes.

Gail wrote about her clown costume that her mother made for her and her sister and about the fright she had when she saw her mother and father in gypsy costumes. The party games included bobbing for apples. You can read her story of that 1930 Halloween on the Our Echo website.

Bats and Girl Halloween CardBats and Girl Halloween CardView DetailsVintage Little Witch and Black Cat Halloween CardVintage Little Witch and Black Cat Halloween CardView DetailsGhost Jack O Lantern Pumpkin Child PostcardGhost Jack O Lantern Pumpkin Child PostcardView DetailsJack O Lantern Pumpkin Ghost Child PostcardJack O Lantern Pumpkin Ghost Child PostcardView DetailsHalloween Retro Vintage Children's Costume Party PostcardHalloween Retro Vintage Children’s Costume Party PostcardView Details

Decorations from the time included carved pumpkins and black cats. There was none of the zombies and gory costumes that are seen today.

Retro Black Cats Can Be Scary or Cute

Many people collect vintage Halloween items. They make great decorations for a Halloween party or for the Halloween season. They show up on eBay and if you’re the lucky bidder, you can decorate with Halloween cats too.

The designs have been reproduced on tote bags and t-shirts as well. I’ve collected a sampling of the best here for your review.

Vintage Halloween CardVintage Halloween CardView DetailsHalloween Greetings Card Cat with PumpkinHalloween Greetings Card Cat with PumpkinView DetailsSalem Witch & Black Cat CardSalem Witch & Black Cat CardView DetailsBoy Wizard Halloween Costume CardBoy Wizard Halloween Costume CardView DetailsMoon and Girl in Halloween Costume CardMoon and Girl in Halloween Costume CardView DetailsA Jolly Halloween, CardA Jolly Halloween, CardView DetailsOld Paper Invitation PumpkinOld Paper Invitation PumpkinView Details

A Collector’s Guide to Vintage Halloween Items

There are many Halloween collectibles dating back to the early days of the 1900s. Besides black cats, I’m partial to the sturdy cardboard jack-o-lanterns. Once in awhile you’ll find some of these at an estate sale or maybe in your grandmother’s attic. Check out the background on these and the value with these books.

Halloween Collectables : A Price GuideHalloween Collectables : A Price GuideView DetailsVintage Halloween Collectibles -Third EditionVintage Halloween Collectibles -Third EditionView DetailsHalloween in America: A Collector's Guide With Prices (Schiffer Book for Collectors)Halloween in America: A Collector’s Guide With Prices (Schiffer Book for Collectors)View DetailsTimeless Halloween Collectibles: 1920 to 1949, a Halloween Reference Book from the Beistle Company Archive with Price Guide (Schiffer Book for Collectors)Timeless Halloween Collectibles: 1920 to 1949, a Halloween Reference Book from the Beistle Company Archive with Price Guide (Schiffer Book for Collectors)View Details

Kansas Memoirs of the 1930s

Post by Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain

Since helping my 85-year-old mother put her memories into a book, I’ve been fascinated by Kansas biographies of the Great Depression. The era of the 1930s was a tough one and there is much we can learn from how people survived the economic hardships of the Dust Bowl era.

 

dorothy rose and edna mae laird

Gail’s school pals, Dorothy Rose and Edna Mae Laird.

Join me in reading the best of the Kansas biographies from the Depression Era. While others may take light fiction for their summer beach reading, I’ll be reading memoirs written by Kansans who lived through the Dirty Thirties.

My mother was fortunate that her father had a job all through that decade. Her childhood memories show a simple life on the Kansas prairies, yet a happy time for her.

Here are some titles to get you started:

Ducks Across the Moon

My Flint Hills Childhood

As I Remember It by Esther Imhof

The Other End of the String

Addie of the Flint Hills

Sod and Stubble

Here’s a short video to give you a glimpse into the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.

Gail and the Great Depression

Back in 2009, I kept sending article ideas to my mom (Gail Lee Martin). We were both writing short how-to articles on the eHow site. Here’s how one of those exchanges went:
Me: There’s a lady on TV named Clara who has a cooking show called Depression Cooking with Clara (she’s 93 years old).  Anyway, it’s a big hit.
If you wrote an article about Depression Cooking (the kinds of meals to feed families on a budget) then it would come up when people are looking for Clara.  Anyway, you would get lots of viewers (and maybe some money). We could put links to your articles on breaded tomatoes, and other recipes.

Gail Lee Martin: Boy, I’m having trouble with this one. First I was only five when the banks went broke in 1929. Secondly, Daddy was working for Phillips by that time so he had a good job that furnished housing and gas heating and lighting.

If Daddy lost any money from the bank closing I never heard of it.  My folks had a milk cow, raised chickens, and a garden plus we gathered things that grew wild, even wild onions and garlic. We heard that some people ate possum and rattlesnakes but we never did. They did barter with neighbors and family that had other food that we could trade for with our eggs, milk, and butter.

Now Clyde folks lost what money they had in the bank but his Dad had just paid cash for a new car as well as a new tractor, so there probably wasn’t too much money in the bank. Clyde remembers being told that Ren decided to raise Angora rabbits. Clyde just remembers the house that Ren built for the rabbits. Since the first four children were girls, Dorothy remembered working in the fields along with her Dad.
Ralph Martin and ducks

Clyde’s brother, Ralph with the ducks. The Ren Martin farm in the 1930s.

Both families keep eating as they always had, being self-sufficient. Worked hard and made do.  I do remember Mother stretching canned stewed tomatoes by adding a jar of them to cooked macaroni. Her macaroni and cheese didn’t taste like ours does. Probably the difference in cheese. Rice was used as a cereal or pudding.
We ate a lot of potato soup with onions cooked with the potatoes like Clara cooked hers. Mother would make a white sauce and add it as a thickening or made dumplings with flour, baking powder, salt and an egg. Then she dropped them by the spoonful on top of the potato soup covered with a lid and had a low fire until she thought they were done. She would never let me lift the lid for a peek.

I watched a video of that Depression Cooking with Clara online just now and she was cooking peas and pasta. I don’t recall cooking pasta until recent years. Still not a favorite of ours.  More later, Gail

Me: Thanks, I may be able to put together something with this.
You might want to elaborate on the family memories and put those on Our Echo.
I’m in the writing mood tonight, so will get going after supper. Love, Ginger

From Gail’s Bookshelf – As I Remember It

Esther Imhof was born in 1914 and recounts her family’s efforts to turn virgin Kansas prairie into a productive farm. Her memories are preserved in As I Remember It.

Their hard work brings some success until the drought and dust storms of the 1930s come along. The memoir contains fascinating details of daily life of a farm family with activities like hog butchering, wheat threshing and raising chickens and eggs for a cash crop. (review by Virginia Allain)

Ray Imhof encouraged his mother, Esther, to write her memories which he compiled to make this book. Esther Imhof died in 1996. I wonder if my mother, Gail Lee Martin, met Esther or her son, Ray. Esther and Mom would have had a great time talking about the old days.

P is for Pancakes

Cora Joy Martin shared some of her recipes with her daughter-in-law, Gail. She raised eight children and when the crops were ready, Cora fed a whole harvest crew. One of the recipes that Gail Martin inherited from her was her hardy sourdough pancake recipe.

You need to plan ahead to make these. The night before, you mix the milk, flour, salt and sourdough starter. Leave that in a warm place overnight. Check out the rest of the ingredients and instructions below.

Art Deco Glenwood Stove Poster

Art Deco Glenwood Stove Poster by Vintage_Obsession

Hearty Sourdough Pancakes Ingredients

2 cups milk
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup active sourdough starter
2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
3 tbsp melted lard
2 tbsp sugar

Mix the first 4 ingredients and let stand overnight in a warm place. In the morning, remove one cup of the mixture, to replenish the sourdough starter. To the remaining mixture,

pancakes-white plate pixabay

Pancake photo courtesy of Pixabay.

To the remaining mixture, add the baking soda, the eggs, lard, and sugar. Mix well, then bake on a hot frying pan or griddle that has been greased. This serves 6 people.

Sourdough Starter (Cora’s Version)

1 cup milk, 1 cup flour

Let the milk stand at room temperature in a glass bowl for 24 hours. Do not use a metal container. Then mix in the cup of flour and place it in a warm, but not hot place for 3 or 4 days. It is ready when it begins to smell sour and bubbles.

After that, keep it in a cool dark place when not in use. Stir twice daily. This was used before packaged yeast was available.

eggs bowl pixabay

Eggs in a bowl – photo from Pixabay

You can make the sourdough starter another way. Below is the recipe passed down to Gail Lee Martin by her mother.

Kansas Sourdough Starter (Ruth McGhee’s Version)

1 potato, peeled and grated
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
3 cups flour

Combine the grated potato, sugar, water, and flour. Let stand in a gallon crock, lightly covered with a cloth for 3 days. Every time you remove a cup of starter for a recipe, add 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/2 cup flour to the starter.

Gail Martin shared these recipes when the Butler County Historical Society collected 1920’s and 1930’s recipes. They were published in the cookbook, Grandmother’s Legacy. 

Older Than Dirt

My aunt, CJ Garriott is our guest blogger for today. She is Gail Lee Martin’s youngest sister. She’s sharing memories that were triggered by an internet questionnaire.

Well, what can I say? I’m older than dirt! A few I didn’t experience: Milk was not delivered to our house because we always had cows! and as for ice, we lived in company housing, and had electricity and refrigerators by the time I was in 1st grade, long before farmers and others did. I DO remember the day we got an inside bathroom (when I was in high school), and no longer had to use the outhouse. I thought we had truly arrived.

 In looking back, I’ve realized how good we had it in the Depression Years. I was born in 1934, and my Daddy not only had a job (oilfield pumper), he had a job that came with a house! We always had cows, chickens, and a big garden. We bought baby chickens that we had to collect from the post office, and when they were fryer size, Mother “harvested” them, and froze them in cardboard cartons filled with water. Never had freezer burn; always tasted fresh.
My oldest sister bought block ice for their icebox. I don’t remember if Gail did that too, or if they had electricity when she married?
IceBoxAndFan083114 copy.png Postcard
IceBoxAndFanPostcard
by ShroudedLake
All this certainly brings back memories–since we lived in a rural area, we weren’t able to have newspapers delivered. This doesn’t mention listening to the radio–I hurried home from school to turn on the radio and listen to Tom Mix and The Shadow Knows. And we had (and used) a record player that you cranked! Enjoy this trip down long-ago memory lane! CJ/Carol

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.”