Henry our pet rooster

We had a large pecan tree in our pasture, and after frost in the fall most of the pecans would fall off and we would pick them up. For the ones that hung on too long we'd take long light poles and club the branches and shake them loose, put them in burlap bags and store them away for the winter. I was never without a pocket full of pecans in the wintertime. I'd just put two together and crack them in my hands. I had very strong hands from milking cows every day. The pecan tree was near the road and below the hill north of our house, and when the pecans were ready in the fall, sometimes someone would sneak in and using long poles, club them all down and steal them. This happened a couple of times. In a good year the tree produced maybe 200 lbs. or more. We sold some for 10c a lb., but most of them we used ourselves.

We had an apple orchard to the north of our house, and on the crest of a hill in our pasture. The trees were large in those days and produced a lot of fruit. We had maybe 10 trees. There were New York Imperials, a good winter apple that Dad packed in barrels of oat grain and stored in the hayloft in the barn. They were a good keeper and mellowed and didn't freeze packed in the oats. We would dig them out a basket at a time and always had apples all winter.

We pressed some and put the cider in wooden barrels for sweet cider. Then it became hard cider with some being put into a large barrel that already had a "vinegar mother" in it, and the year's supply of vinegar was developed. If you don't know what a vinegar mother is, it's a large gelatin, ugly looking mass of a special bacteria, that causes apple cider to become vinegar. A five gallon jar was found last year by the roadside in St. Louis Co. At first it was thought to be a fetus. After some publicity in the paper and no one being able to identify what it was, it was said to not be human. There were rumors that it was Alien. Finally someone came forward and identified it as a French vinegar mother. There are different strains of that bacteria it seems, like sourdough bread yeast.

There was a variety of apple we called a June apple. It was a large apple and was ready in June, so this was the apple we used for pies in the summer. I really loved the apple pies that Mother, and later, Hazel, baked. Thin slices of apples with lots of sugar and cinnamon. They would always cut up the extra pie dough into strips, sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon and bake them golden brown in the oven. We had baked apples, too. Also a lot of apples were peeled and put into a outdoor iron kettle with a wood fire under it, extra cider was added along with spices and sticks of cinnamon and slow cooked all day, constantly stirring until it was the right consistency for apple butter.

We also had a big crabapple tree in the back yard to the south of the house. We made crabapple preserves that were really tasty. We also had plum and peach trees and a grape vineyard to the south of the house. Plumb preserves and jelly were always put up in jars and stored with the canned goods in the cellar under the house.

We canned so much stuff every summer, I remember counting the quart jars of canned fruits, vegetables, meat, catsup, pickles one time, and I counted 700 jars.

Mom and Dad always planted a home garden and an extra "Truck Patch" out in the field. The location of that one was shifted every year, with lots of potatoes, watermelons, cucumbers, cantaloupes, tomatoes, green beans and Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans, sweet potatoes and peanuts, and Spanish peanuts. The Spanish peanuts, we had to pull up and let dry for a few days. We used a pitch fork to load them on the hay wagon and they were stored in a part of the hayloft where all winter we would have peanuts to roast in the oven, and Dad would grind them after roasting and mix butter with them. We had very good peanut butter.

Winter Potatoes which were raised under straw out in the field garden, potato bugs were picked off by hand often, but if they became numerous we mixed Arsenic of Lead with water and sprayed it on the foliage. We also used Paris Green on something, it was a copper based poison. There was also Black Leaf 40, a nicotine poison we used for some bugs in the garden. We mostly used arsenic on potatoes. The potatoes were plowed out in the fall with a one horse plow and we would pile them up in large piles, which were then covered with a good layer of straw and then with dirt. When the work let up in the winter, we would dig into the piles, sorting them by size and move them to bins in the cellar under the house. Turnips were a good source for iron and were planted after the potatoes were dug, and many times stored for a time in the same manner as the potatoes until we had time to bring them home and store them in the cellar.

In extreme cold weather, Dad put a kerosene lantern and a bucket of water in the cellar and nothing ever froze. The water was to draw the frost.

We sorted out all the smaller potatoes and put them aside to cook and mix with chicken mash in the winter so the hens would eat more. The hens would almost quit laying when the weather became real cold, so we would cook a large washboiler of potatoes, mix them warm with mash, and the chickens would go into a feeding frenzy over that mixture. Eggs were in the 30 cent range in the winter. Eggs were our main cash crop. Almost all the corn, wheat, alfalfa, and oats raised on our 100 acres went to feed the livestock. Most of it to the chickens. We had about 1,000 laying hens at a time The Montgomery Egg Co. from St. Louis came around every week and bought our eggs, paying a set price per dozen and bringing back a grading ticket the next week. The current market price for all grades of eggs was published daily in the Globe Democrat. Our edition was printed at 3 a.m. and put on a train, and delivered at noon with our mail. At one time I remember in the summer time when we were getting 7 - 30 dozen cases a week, and we were getting 4 cents a dozen for small up to 9 cents a dozen for AA Large. Many of those had double yolks.

We had to keep them collected, take them to the cellar, clean them with vinegar, candle them, (hold them up to a candle) to see if they had any blood spots in them. It didn't take long in the heat of the summer for an egg to start to develop an embryo. It would start as a small blood spot and you could see it if you held it up to a candle. We had to make our mash (chicken feed) with all white corn because people wanted only pale yellow yokes in their eggs. White eggs were preferred so we always had White Leghorn hens. We made our own chicken mash from the grain we raised on our farm and mixed in supplements, like tankage (ground bone meal) bran, and middlin (an extra wheat ingredient).

We had a hammer mill rigged to the drive shaft of the 1915 Ford engine, with the pulley and belt system. Dad had different sized screens that went into the mill for grinding corn, oats & a special one for alfalfa hay that was ground up and put into the chicken mash, a rich vitamin supplement for the chickens. They were being fed all the tempting foods he could devise to keep them laying, and they needed things to keep them healthy. There were no antibiotics in those days.

Dad had made a 55 gallon barrel mixer, and we mixed all the ingredients together to make a big batch of chicken feed at one time. It was geared to hand crank, and all the different ingredients were measured into it and large batches could be mixed at one time. It was canted in a frame like a cement mixer.

We always had a lot of hogs. I remember one time counting 60. They were a cash crop and our main meat supply. We usually butchered about six hogs in the winter, making hams, pork sausage, liver sausage, blood sausage, headcheese, and summer sausage. Slabs of bacon were also smoked with the hams, pork sausage & summer sausage in a special section of the smokehouse. A small smoldering fire of hickory and apple wood and sawdust would be kept smoking for weeks under the stuff hanging on racks above it. This smoldering, smoky fire had to be tended at regular intervals for the weeks it had to keep smoking or the meat would spoil.

Hams had to have special treatment, being rubbed with a mixture of Morton's Tender Quick, pepper and sometimes secret ingredients, several times during the smoking and curing process. Hams were usually wrapped in flower sack material too, for part of the time, during the curing process.

We also packed meat into barrels (salt pork). The brine to cover it had to be made strong enough for an egg to float in it. When you used this meat later to cook with beans and other things you had to parboil it (bring the water to a boil and pour it off several times), to get the salt out before you used it.

Each year during the Lenten season Dad would buy a keg of herring from Holland. It would be cleaned a few at a time, cut up and put into a vinegar, onion, spice mixture. It was part of our food during Lent to replace meat on Fridays. We had oyster stew on Fridays sometimes, and catfish and carp.

Harold was a good rabbit hunter and always had skinned rabbits hanging in the smoke house in the wintertime. One winter when we had very deep snow Harold killed 50 rabbits in one day. He sold some for 50 cents each. We had fried rabbit with gravy or roasted with dressing. I can still smell and taste it now, sometimes.

We also ate a lot of spring chickens and older hens roasted with dressing. I visited with my friend, Bob Ford, last year and he mentioned that he remembered how good Hazel's fried chicken was. We had Guinea hen occasionally. It was a blueish looking meat, and goose one time that I remember. I thought it was too greasy. We had duck, too, several times; quail, and squab with dressing.

Bread was baked every week. I remember when Hazel baked seven loaves a week for us. All the ingredients had to be assembled, mixed together in a large enameled pan, and then kneaded by hand for a time. Then left to rise for a couple of hours, then kneaded again for a time, divided into pans, left to rise again, and then baked in the oven. She also made cinnamon rolls with pecans.

We used coal in the kitchen range for baking. It made a hotter, steadier heat for cooking and baking. We burned a lot of wood in it, too.

I remember Mom and Dad shucking corn in the cold weather in the late fall. Mom would dress us warmly with pullover caps, gloves and with blankets in the very front of the box wagon, with apples, pears, peanuts & pecans and water. We kept warm and fed while they shucked corn. When I discussed this with Harold he remembered the day something spooked the team and they ran away with us in the wagon and ran through the corn, but Dad caught up to it and stopped them. It was a common thing when everyone used horses, for someone to be killed when they ran in a panic. They would run right through barbed wire fences, turned over wagons or other equipment.

In the summer when the corn was still green but had ears filled out, we would cut a lot of it with a corn knife (a knife like a machete), and make it into shocks that looked like Indian teepees, that left a hollow cavity in the center. We often crawled into these corn shocks playing hide and seek. It was allowed to cure out that way.

When the grass was gone in the fall we hauled in the corn fodder from the fields on a frame wagon and fed it to the cows as forage. The ears of corn were shucked out and fed to the hogs. We also fed the cattle some hay and smaller ears of corn that we had set aside. We called them nubbins. They were immature ears of corn that were not as hard as mature ears.

In later years when I sold whole milk, we fed them a regular dairy supplement that had Black Strap Molasses in it. I think it's a derivative of sugar cane. Down in Louisiana they were feeding the cattle dried sweet potatoes as a dairy supplement. They were cheaper than corn and they could raise a lot more per acre.

Dad planted about an acre of sorghum cane and in the fall we would top it at a certain time, then strip all the leaves off, haul it on a trailer behind the car to a sorghum mill, where for a percentage of the finished syrup the juice was squeezed out of it by running it through a gear that looked like cogwheels. The juice ran out into a metal trough to large flat pans with wood fires under them, where it was constantly stirred with wooden, hoe-like paddles, boiling it down to a thick syrup. It was put into five gallon cans and stored in the smoke house, where we would take out a smaller container as we used it. It was very thick and stiff in the winter time when it was cold. We sold some of this at times, too. It was a prime item because a lot of people didn't want to go through all that work.

We also planted several varieties of popcorn. Rice corn was a good, small grain, and when popped it was so light you could eat it as a breakfast cereal. We also raised a larger grain popcorn of a regular variety. We had Kellogg's corn flakes already in those days and Quaker Oats for oatmeal, and corn meal mush, corn bread with the evening meal. Biscuits that Dad made were the best and were a supper item. They would rise to several inches thick. We'd get him to make biscuits as often as we could. When Elmer and Harry were out with their families for a visit, he would often bake them at their request. He said they turned out so good because he always had to make them in a hurry. He was really good at it and we loved them.

For many years Dad planted and harvested a small patch of tobacco for his brother, Louis. We would harvest the leaves, bind them into bundles, hanging them in the machine shed section of the garage where it cured out. Louis smoked this tobacco in his pipe. When he came out we would always collect a bunch of chicken feathers for him to use to clean his pipe stem. When Gertrude and Harry Krekel came out Harry always wanted chicken feather pipe cleaners, too. Anyway, when Uncle Louis smoked the tobacco Dad grew for him, Aunt Minnie would make him go out to the garage where they lived on Pensylvania Ave. in south St Louis, because it was so strong smelling.

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Last modified: 07 October 2011