Saturday, December 23, 2023

Merry Christmas

 Wishing each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas.

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, I pray that all of us might find peace as well as joy in these troubled times.

I will be away until after the New Year.  Stay safe and may God truly bless you all.


Monday, December 18, 2023

Blueberry Picking Time

Northern Minnesota has lots of wild blueberries.  Some grow in wet areas called blueberry bogs and some grow in the pine forests.

Many years ago, when my kids and I lived in that part of the state, I spent hours in the middle of summer, out in the pine woods, picking blueberries.  I was lucky enough to find an area that held a wealth of berries and that nobody else knew about.  Blueberry picking areas were jealously guarded by those of us who wanted the berries.

My family ate some of the berries fresh.  I canned blueberries in a simple syrup, made blueberry jam and froze the rest.

My Dad's family picked blueberries, but used a different method than I did.  Keeping in mind I had only four kids and there were nine of them.

When the berries were ripe, my Grandpa and his sons would load a cast iron, wood burning stove onto a hay wagon.  Added to that were crates of canning jars, large stock pots and a goodly amount of sugar and enough food for a couple of days.  They hooked up their team of horses, everybody piled onto the wagon and off they would go to a blueberry bog several miles from their farm.

Everyone had their job to do.  A couple of the boys gathered dry wood to burn in the wood stove.  The rest would head out with pails to fill with berries.  Dad once showed me a homemade blueberry picker he used that made quick work of filling his pail.

Grandma and a couple of the girls were in charge of canning the blueberries.  They cleaned the sticks and leaves out and washed the berries.  The jars were filled and the berries covered with a light sugar syrup and water bath canned.  They didn't go back home until all the jars were filled and canned.

If you have never eaten wild blueberries, you are missing a treat.  Store bought blueberries are tasteless by comparison.  It was worth every minute of time and effort to pick blueberries.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Our Frugal Ancestors

I am not a totally frugal person.  I like my conveniences, little luxuries and the occasional cheeseburger that someone else cooks.  But what if those things were no longer available and we had to live without, like my Dad's family back near the turn of the century.

When you can't just run to the corner store or the supermarket for groceries, you figure out how to get what you need in other ways.  My ancestors did get some items they couldn't produce themselves, but those items were usually obtained through barter.  

For instance, the family had a few milk cows.  After each milking, fresh milk was run through the cream separator that stood in the lean-to by the back door of the house.

My uncle Kenneth did the milking.  He would carry pails of milk from the barn up to the house and pour milk into the large bowl on top.  Then he would work the crank.  I have no clue how it worked, but the cream flowed from one of the spouts and the milk - minus the cream, flowed from the other.  Grandma made butter from most of the cream and that was used to trade for flour, salt, etc.  The milk didn't last long with a family of nine kids.

There was a bucket in the kitchen, set in an out of the way corner, that held food scraps.  If Grandma shelled peas for supper, the shells went into the bucket.  Scraps like onion skins or corn cobs went into the bucket.  Cooking scraps went into the bucket.  And when the bucket was nearly full, it was dumped into the pig trough.  The pigs acted like they had just been served a fine, restaurant meal!

The family grew rutabagas.  Some were for human consumption, but most were stored in the root cellar and cut into smaller pieces for an addition to the regular animal feed.  

My Dad was the youngest of the nine children.  From maybe 9 or 10 years old, he had a tendency to get himself into a bit of trouble.  Nothing serious.  Just enough to annoy his parents.  He told me about his mother's form of discipline when he acted up.  She handed him a kitchen knife and pointed toward the root cellar, where he spent a considerable amount of time cutting up rutabagas.  :)

The family used every method at their disposal to save.  They were cash poor, but rich in their love of one another.  And in my opinion, that kind of rich is worth more than anything else.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Harvesting Ice

 Everywhere I look I see dire warnings about the possible collapse of our country.  I'm never quite sure if there is truth in it or if it all is just fearmongering for clicks.  Whatever the reasons, perhaps it might be a good thing to know how those who came before us managed without all of the modern conveniences we have today.

My paternal grandfather died before I was born.  But with the help of my grandmother's sons, she stayed on the northern Minnesota farm until her death in 1955.

Grandma's house had electricity by the time I knew her.  But there was no plumbing or running water.  The bathroom was an outhouse several yards from the house and water was provided by a hand pump just outside the kitchen door. 

Her kitchen boasted a very large cast iron wood burning stove used for cooking, baking and sometimes, heat.  Grandma didn't have an electric refrigerator, but still used an icebox like this one.

The icebox needed blocks of ice to keep food cool.  The method Grandma's sons used to get ice would not work in a warm climate but was perfect for northern Minnesota.

About February, Grandma's sons would hook up their team of horses to a large hay wagon and off they would go to a nearby lake that was frozen over.  Armed with axes and saws, they would cut large blocks of ice from the lake, load them onto the hay wagon and take them home.

There was a root cellar dug into the side of a small hill near the house.  A wooden door had been put into place to keep critters from helping themselves to the squash and pumpkins and rutabagas stored there.  One side of the cellar was for the ice.  The blocks were hauled down into the cellar and covered with straw.  This way, the ice was insulated and stayed frozen all spring, summer and fall until it was time to harvest more.

The icebox had a compartment to hold food and another to hold a block of ice.  There was a container in the bottom to catch the water as the ice melted.

I suppose the family could have invested in an electric refrigerator, but like most folks of that era, they were a frugal bunch.  Raising a family of nine children on a farm that had mostly sandy soil did not provide great wealth.  But they managed to raise all nine kids and they did a good job of it.  Life was not easy, but I don't remember anyone complaining.

I sometimes think today's young ones consider it tragic if a Starbucks closes.  They could stand to learn from those who coped with hardship on a regular basis.  Not only coped but thrived.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Skating in Duluth Harbor

Once in a while I will enjoy the sight of a huge ship entering the Duluth, Minnesota harbor from Lake Superior, via the Harbor Canal.  There are cameras on 24/7.  It is sort of relaxing to watch the long ships entering or leaving the harbor.  Here is the link for the canal camera.  Duluth Canal Cam - YouTube

Some folks enjoy the lonesome sound of distant train whistles.  I like the sound of the ship horns blowing a salute to the Lift Bridge at the entrance to the harbor.  The Lift Bridge raises the entire roadway high enough for the ships to pass underneath.  The bridge is equipped with a horn that blows an answering salute.

Watching the ship enter the harbor today served to remind me of a story involving my Grandfather, ice skates and the Duluth Harbor.

My Grandfather was born in Chenango County of New York in 1883.  His family moved to Minnesota before the turn of the century.  They stayed for a time with relatives in Duluth before moving to a farm.

Minnesota winters can be cold.  Even a lake as large as Lake Superior can freeze, at least along the shoreline.  

When I was reading some letters written between my Grandfather and his siblings, I found one where he talks about ice skating on the Duluth Harbor as a child.  What caught my attention was his description of skating around the sailing ships that were frozen in the ice along the docks.

What a fascinating time that must have been.  Every few years, Duluth hosts a gathering of 'tall ships' that serve to give us a taste of what life was like back then.

 According to the accounts of life back then, written by some of my ancestors, life wasn't easy.  But neither was it terribly complicated.  

Men were men.  Women were women.   They knew the difference.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Best Laid Plans

 You know how it is.  We make plans.  God laughs.  And sometimes I think He might send that Murphy character just to keep us humble.  :)

Thursday of this week was my grocery delivery day.  It has become a normal thing that the weekly sale ads contain very little that I am willing to spend money on.  But this week I lucked out.

I haven't seen any chicken at a reasonable price in ages.  Yet there it was.  Family packs of chicken drumsticks and thighs for 99 cents per pound.  Average weight per pack/ 6 - 7 lbs.  There was a limit of four each.  I got 8 packs of chicken.

And here is where the plan comes in.  I planned to package the drumsticks in meal sized amounts for myself and toss them into the freezer.  I did.  I planned to stuff the thighs into wide mouth pint jars and can them.  That's when Old Murphy reared his ugly head.  Sale chicken pieces are often odd sizes and that was true with the thighs.  Wasn't working very well. 

So on to Plan B.  Tossed half the thighs into my largest stock pot, covered them with water and cooked them until tender.  Did it again with the other two trays.  Was planning to take the meat from the bones and can it that way.

Murphy wasn't quite done with me.  I am old.  I am arthritic.  I have lots of good days and a few not so stellar days.  The next morning, I found out quickly that I would not be wrestling a large pressure canner.  Luckily, I still had some freezer space, so into the freezer went several pounds of cooked chicken thighs.

The point to all of this is that things don't always work out the way we would like.  In my case, chicken is still chicken, and it was at a good price.  Doesn't matter if it is canned or frozen.  It is food.  And no matter how it is preserved, it is there when needed.

There seems to be silver linings in the clouds if we look for them.  My silver lining in the chicken freezing debacle was that instead of taking the time to do some canning, I was able to use the time to add some information to my genealogy program.  I found that the website "Find A Grave" has a considerable amount of information on those ancestors I am looking up.  I not only find where they are buried, but often I find links to other family members.

My family thinks I am obsessed with my family tree - all branches.  And I guess I am.  I know most of my family has little interest, but my hope is that maybe someday they will want to know about those who went before.

Continuing to prepare is important.  Especially now when a good share of the world seems to be going bat guano crazy.  I also believe it is good to know where we come from.  Don't have to be as deep into genealogy as I am, but if we don't learn from history, we will just repeat it - mostly the bad.

Hang in there.  Keep stacking.  And most importantly, keep praying.