I know...the last century wasn't that long ago. But my grandma is going to be 93 years old in December, and when she was a girl in the 1920s ... well, that was a long time ago by anyone's calendar, even hers.
When we were flying back home from Florida earlier this year, we somehow got to talking about gardening (imagine that!) and she started telling me about how her mother did things. I was fascinated and wanted to hear more. The more I heard, this idea popped into my head about writing it all down and posting it to my blog. This kind of thing was just too good not to share and keep for a family remembrance.
I didn't have any scrap paper, so I looked for whatever blank anything I could find for writing on. Ah, there's something! The flight attendant walked by and stopped at our seats. "Are you writing on our air sickness bags??" Uh, yeah, I was. It was plain white, except for "Patent No. 7,041,042" and I wasn't planning on getting sick anyway, so I used it. But this was Allegiant Air, where you pay for every little thing you use, so maybe I owed them a quarter or something.
I had been telling Grandma about my wintersowing and starting seeds inside. She said her mom used to do that, too - sowing things like tomatoes and cabbage in dishpans. She usually had three or four of those going and they sat in the sunniest windows of the house. She grew geraniums in tin cans on the windowsills in the winter, too.
When she could work the ground outside, she grew peas, green beans, carrots, lettuce, onions and 'Late Dutch' cabbage. She liked to make big crocks of sauerkraut out of that cabbage. She'd put the ten-gallon crock on the porch, fill it with layers of cabbage shredded with the kraut cutter and salt, mix it up really well, then lay a cutting board on top and weigh it down with a rock. Some weeks later, stirring occasionally in the meantime, it was sauerkraut. In the winter, they'd go out and get a scoop of kraut from the crock for eating. It never froze solid, she said, because of the high salt content.
Her mom grew wild horseradish, too. She'd grind it in the meat grinder, add sugar and vinegar and right before serving it, she'd put in the cream. It sounds kind of good...
Her family had a small orchard, where they grew seven varieties of peaches. In Ohio! The best, she said, were the white freestone. They were about the size of walnuts. They also had apples, cherries, strawberries and wild blackberries, as well as a grape arbor. Oh, and gooseberry and currant bushes, too.
There were seventeen kids in that family, so what they grew helped feed them, as was the case in nearly every farm family back then. They canned tomatoes in tin cans, using red sealing wax to seal the lids around the edges. Grandma remembers helping make ketchup too, where she had to take her turn stirring it on the stove. It required hours of stirring before it would be thick enough. Apple butter was another thing they made on the wood stove. They did cold-pack when they canned that. There was jam to be made from the strawberries and blackberries using Certo. Everything canned was kept in an up-ground cellar. I remember Grandma and Grandpa having one of those themselves and I loved to play in that cool place as a little girl.
Grandma said her dad had a truck patch, which was where they grew the 'big' stuff like potatoes and buckwheat. At harvest time, they'd take the buckwheat to nearby Ottoville, where the canal went through and at Lock 16 there was a mill, where it would be ground into flour.
One thing they didn't grow themselves was rhubarb. That, they'd buy from a neighbor, Mrs. Goodwin, for ten cents a bunch. With all the other 'growings on' it makes you wonder why they wouldn't grow rhubarb, too!
While they grew fruits and vegetables to eat, they also had plenty of pretty flowers. Grandma remembers cosmos, marigolds, snapdragons, asters, and zinnias. Heirlooms. They'd grow nasturtiums with the cucumber vines, too, because they were supposed to keep the beetles away.
When Grandma got married and had a home and garden of her own, she had a cold frame made of two-by-fours at the side of the garage. They'd work the ground, get a wheelbarrow load of other soil and add manure. Then they'd mix it all up with a hoe and plant the seeds. It would get covered with an old house window, with a block of wood stuck in there to keep it open just enough for ventilation. When the seedlings reached the glass, the window would come off.
There's much to learn from the older and wiser members of our family. The more things change, the more some things stay the same, and thank goodness. They experienced the same trials and tribulations that we do in our gardens today. And there's wonderful value in it - learning from their experience.
There's also the feeling of kinship - literally - from knowing these common everyday things about your family. I'm glad I've still got both my parents and my grandma here with me from whom to learn.
L to R: My mom, my aunt, and my grandma. Circa 1944