Anchor's Up, Laptops Open and Minds Full of Ideas
       [email protected]

Come Sail Away with Us to Where Beautiful  Words Flow Like Wine​​


Food on the farm was never scarce. We always had plenty to eat even during the peak years of the Great Depression. Life on the farm changed very little after the stock market crash. Money was tight, but it had always been tight.  Mom and dad were older and had paid for the farm in full. They were actually able to buy another farm in 1936 through one of Franklin Roosevelt’s programs.

In January, we slaughtered three or four hogs that we had raised from young pigs. Most of the meat was preserved by salt or smoke. Very little was thrown away or wasted. All the organ meats went into the sausage or the scrapple kettle. That evening mom would usually have spare ribs and vegetables. No one had ever heard of BBQ ribs.

We had a small “Smoke House” at the edge of the yard. Probably ten feet long and eight feet wide. An old coal burning chicken house stove was in the center. All the meat to be smoked was hanging from the low ceiling. This would be where the hot smoke collected and also prevent mice from nibbling on the meat. Dad started the fire with a minimum of coal. He added green twigs and small limbs from sassafras and hickory trees. He didn’t want open flames. He wanted a smoldering fire that produced a maximum of smoke. The old timers would use nothing but hickory. This went on for at least two weeks.

Half or more of the hog meat was salt cured. Dad bought a hundred-pound
 bag of a special curing salt made by Norton Salt Co. Two inches of salt was spread on the bottom of a large wash tub. Hams and shoulders were placed in the tub. Two more inches of salt covered the meat. The salt drew out the blood and moisture. This formed a crust of bloody salt on the meat. Every day Dad had to remove the meat, knock the crust off, remove the crust from the bottom, replace the meat on fresh salt and cover again. This also went on for two weeks.

Fried eggs were the breakfast staple. Dad liked his fried hard, so everyone had hard fried eggs, either with scrapple, bacon, sausage or ham. We usually had a dozen or more hens scratching around in the barnyard, so rarely did mom have to buy eggs. Excess duck eggs went into egg salad or deviled eggs.
About once every two weeks we would have buckwheat pancakes with King-Po-T-Rik syrup or molasses.

Our large garden was practically non-existent in January, a few turnips, kale and mustard greens were all that was left. White potatoes and redskins were stored in small man-made caves. A small ten-inch-deep hole was dug, five feet in diameter.  Straw and pine shats (dry needles) were packed into the hole. Potatoes were carefully placed on the hay/shats mix, then covered with the same mixture. Then the soil was shoveled onto the mix. A nice mound was made to allow rain to seep off without reaching the potatoes. Uncle Mickey Parsons did the same thing with red apples.

Hunting season was over. No more delicious fried rabbit. The muskrat season was ending. Brother Frank had about fifty traps set in the big ditch and mill pond behind our home, mostly on our property. Muskrat pelts at the time were four or five dollars apiece. About one out of ten would be black instead of the normal brown. The black hide brought twice as much.

The meat went for about a quarter. Nothing better than a muskrat fried in lard. Mom would usually have a muskrat for everyone at the table. Most of the time with mashed potatoes and brown gravy.

During this late winter period, the boys would usually suffer from boils. Mostly on the back of the neck and forearms. They were probably from a combination of diet and hygiene. We didn’t have electricity or running water at this time. The hand pump was in the pantry. Every night in cold weather it had to be “dumped.” Every morning it had to be “primed.”

Spring was fast approaching. The garden was the first area to be plowed. Dad hooked the two mules to the single plow. The garden was always in the same place; west of the house and toward the woods.
Sweet peas and other “cole” crops were the first things planted. Some like the peas, carrots, beets and etc. were planted as seeds. We used cabbage plants and onion sets. That was Lois and my job. Dad would use the empty corn planter to run out straight rows. Lois and I on our knees planted the cabbage and onions. No cauliflower, broccoli, or brussel sprouts.

Marvin at this time was working on a fish pound boat for Uncle Tom and Uncle Joe Elliott. These nets were stationary and attached to pilings driven into the ocean bottom.  Fish swam in the net and couldn’t find their way out.
Mom would pack lunch for him in a lunch box. When he came home in the late afternoon, the lunch box was full of fish.  The fish were left over after the last box was filled or the fish could be a species with no market value. Most of the time they were hardheads (croaker), trout, bluefish or mackerel.

Sometimes Marvin would come home with a big part of a drum fish. These fish can weigh up to fifty pounds. What we really loved was when he came home with fish roe. It could be from many species.

The sweet peas came on first in the garden. We would have a big pot of peas with potatoes, maybe one onion and corn dumplings for the mid-day meal. We also called them corn dodgers. Dad would be skimming cream from a basin of milk from the icebox. He would miss half the cream so we were still getting rich raw milk. Later on, Mom would put the cream in a half-gallon jar. She would sit on the porch and gently shake and roll the jar in her lap. Soon butter would form. She had a butter mold with a shock of wheat pattern. She gave it to one of her nieces.
Summer was in full swing. We gradually switched to a vegetable oriented diet.

Scrapple, sausage and the choice cuts were long gone. The remaining meat from the hogs was usually very salty and used mostly for seasoning. Every pot of peas, beans, greens and potatoes had a piece of a shoulder, tongue or hogjaw.

We had four or five rows of Henderson (butterbeans) pole beans, each row at least a hundred feet. Very prolific. A half-bushel basket could be picked in no time.
We had more rows of bush lima beans.  A dozen or more crooked neck and patty pan squash plants. A row a green cabbage. No red cabbage or lettuce. A watermelon patch, cantaloupe patch, a sweet potato patch (usually red) and an acre of white sugar corn. We usually had ten acres of rutgers tomatoes and an acre of bell peppers.

In August dad planted our Fall garden. A dozen black-eyed-pea plants was enough. They are extremely prolific. We had pumpkins scattered around the garden area and the edge of the corn field. Turnips were also scattered around in areas where we had pulled up the old summer garden plants. We ate the top and bottom of the turnip plant. Mustard green and kale were in rows.

Labor Day came and went. The shorter days and cooler nights stunted the tomatoes, peppers and other long day plants. Onions were pulled up and stored for winter use.

Lois and I picked the dry pole butterbeans. They were put into grass sacks. My job was to hit the bag with a heavy stick. This knocked the beans out of the pods. The late potatoes were plowed out. Lois and I scratched them out and tossed them into piles to be picked up later.

Sometime during the late Fall, Dad would raid the bee hives. He would put old rags in his bellows smoker and strike a match. The smoker provided just enough air for the rags to smolder and produce a lot of smoke. Dad wasn’t very well protected, a long sleeve shirt, gloves and hat with netting.

He removed the top from the first hive, squeezing the bellows the whole time. Bees were everywhere.  On the hive, flying in a dense cloud around the hive and on Dad. But the smoke had demoralized them. They knew they could do nothing against fire and they don’t sting. (rarely)

He removed half the honey combs from all the hives, placing the honey in large basins. The bees need the other half to survive the winter.
Mom put the honey, combs and all into quart jars. No need for any preserving since honey is a natural preservative. It would take a while to get rid of bees that had gotten into the house. But we had honey for pancakes all winter.

All this time we were raising four broods per year of ten thousand chickens, Rhode Island Reds variety.  We usually kept them twelve or more weeks and then sold them to a chicken processing plant. Once the chickens reached ten weeks, we started having fried chicken three or four time a week.

At twelve weeks, chicken buyer looked at the flock and gave a bid per pound on the live chickens. They put five empty crates on a scale. Then filled the crates with chickens and weighed the five crates again. There were probably a dozen chicken processing plants in the general area of Worcester and Wicomico counties in Maryland and Sussex County in Delaware: Acme in Berlin, H&H in West Ocean and Delaware, Mountaire in Delaware, Hudson in Berlin, and Showell in Showell plus others.

Thanksgiving came. Mom prepared a huge feast. A range-fed bronze turkey with oyster stuffing. Also a large bowl of oyster dressing on the side. Mashed potatoes, brown gravy, a bowl of greens (either kale, mustard or turnip greens), sweet potato biscuits and a few other items.  Sometimes we had creasy greens, a wild growing green we cut when the corn had been harvested. They were delicious.
Everything was ready at roughly the same time. Nothing ever set on the counter top cooling while something else finished cooking. Marvin always said, “When the coffee had perked enough, the food was done.”

It was hunting season and the slaughtering of hogs was approaching. The cycle would repeat.

1300 words.         9/8/16          Nelson Lynch   1775 words 9/21/16