A Great Life – Unplugged
No electricity was needed to power my wonderful boyhood years.
Our barnyard, back when we lived on the old home place.
Courtesy Kenneth S. Woodruff
I feel lucky that I grew up in the late ’30s and ’40s when everyone in the family played a part in running our farm in upstate New York. We learned responsibility very early, for we each had loads of chores to do. When I was 5, one of my jobs was keeping the wood box by the kitchen stove filled so my mother could cook the meals without interruption. At one end of the stove was a reservoir to heat water. Above the stove top were two compartments for keeping food warm, and beneath, a good-sized oven. In summer we started up the stove early in the morning, cooked as much of the meals for the day as could be done ahead, then let the fire go out during the heat of the day.
I remember well my parents making ice cream in the old hand-cranked freezer for Sunday dinners during the warm summer months. My mother made and cooked the custard mixture on a Saturday night. The next day, after we children came home from Sunday school, my father crushed a block of ice and put the chips and the right amount of rock salt all around the metal canister in the wooden bucket. He attached the crank to the top of the canister and kept adding ice and salt as needed while he cranked. My dad also had to make sure the salty water could escape from the bucket when it reached the drain hole drilled at the right height in the bucket. If the hole plugged up, the salty water would seep into the ice cream where the top fitted over the metal canister. We knew the ice cream had become firm enough when it became too hard to crank. How we enjoyed “licking and spooning” the dasher after it had been pulled out of the ice cream!
We also needed ice to keep food cold in our old ice box. Though electricity arrived in the community when I was 3, we continued to use the ice box until I was 5. The top lifted up to reveal a compartment where we put the blocks of ice. A pipe ran down through the ice box to a drip pan on the floor beneath to catch the water from the melting ice.
In addition to making cheese and churning butter, my mother and my two sisters, both older than I, did a lot of canning. We had no freezer at the time – nor did anyone else in the community. When the sweet corn was ready for picking, my father arose early to pick 300 to 400 ears, which he brought to the back lawn. Two neighbor women, whom my mother always invited to share in the bounty, arrived early to help with the canning. We took two tables to the back lawn where the women and my sisters cut the kernels off the cobs and placed them into large pans. When the pans were full, the women packed the corn into quart Mason jars and placed the jars in water baths. The jars steamed in the baths on the stove for a few hours until all the tops were sealed. At the end of the day, the quarts of corn, enough to last the winter, were equally divided among the three women. Later in the fall, we all picked crab apples for making jelly.
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