Our great-grandmothers had it easy, right? They weren’t expected to work out of the house. In fact, it was largely frowned upon. They were expected to be stay at home moms, and homemakers. Sweet!
And look at us today. Super-moms. We rise at 6:00 a.m.and get ready for work. We get the kids up and get them dressed, teeth brushed, hair combed. Pop a few sausage bisquits in the microwave, and hurry to the car. Drop the kids at school, make sure to give them lunch money. Grab a $4.00 cup of coffee and a scone at the drive-through, and be at work by 8:00. Lunchtime finds us grabbing a salad at the café downstairs, ordering Chinese from the place that delivers, or popping a small, flavorless frozen lunch into the microwave. Dash out the door at 5:00 pm to get toYoga class. Pick the kids up from the sitter, grab a roasted chicken and a bag-o-salad on the way home. Eat dinner, and have the dishes put away by 8:00. Move this morning’s wash load into the dryer, and a load of laundry into the washer. Help the kids with homework, get their teeth brushed, get them bathed, and snuggled into covers by 9pm. Tidy up a few things, crawl into bed, watch the evening news. Try to sleep, but how can you with such a restless mind….Sheesh. So much to do, so little time. How do we do it? It must have been much simpler back in the day…
Great-great grandma Emily rose at 4:30 a.m. and started a fire in the wood stove—only a lucky few owned those fancy, new-fangled, gas-powered cook-stoves….She went outside to gather a few eggs from the hen house, while her husband milked the cow. Just what they needed for the day—no more, no less. Like most people, they didn’t have an icebox. At5:00 a.m., she started the bisquits, and sliced some bacon. Fried it up in the cast iron skillet, and cooked the eggs in the bacon drippings. When the eggs and bacon came out of the skillet, leftover coffee went in. Red-Eye gravy meant nothing went to waste. While the kids ate, she made their lunches. Yesterday’s bread, some butter and jam, and a few boiled eggs. Out the door, they had to hurry—it was a three mile walk to school. Fifty years later, these kids who will become your great-grandparents will tell you that it was uphill coming and going……
Emily poured the cream off of the sweet milk, and churned it into butter, putting it into a butter press to remove the liquid whey. Sweet milk was what fresh milk was called before it curdled in the heat of no refrigeration. She started the bread dough, and set it to rise.
In the garden, she found the ripest potatoes, peas, and carrots. Since the plums were getting a bit too rip, she would have to make them into jam today, so that none are wasted. After an hour spent cleaning and preparing the fruit, it was mashed into the pot with sugar. It would have to boil for quite some time, so more wood was added to stoke the fire. While the fruit boiled, she would have a few minutes to darn the children’s socks, stitching closed the holes that have been worn into the heels and the toes. Once the jam was cooling in jars, she started the day’s laundry. Churning it around in the washtub, and putting it through the wringer was hard work in the summertime, and very hot. At least it was done outside, where a breeze might be blowing. She had become very efficient at hanging the clothes to dry, and she pinned them to the clothesline with great speed. With that out of the way, she would be able to knead the bread dough, and set it to rise a second time. While it rose, she had time to sweep the floors, and shake out the rugs. Then the bread would bake.
The kids would be home from school now, and starting their chores. The animals would need to be fed, and the cages and stalls cleaned. Water must be drawn for supper, and for evening cleaning.
Now, a bit of pastry would be made, and would cover the fresh vegetables and a little meat to make a pot pie. Hot bread with a bit of fresh butter and jam will round out the meal. On Sunday, maybe a simple cake of ground wheat, eggs, sugar, and the morning cream that soured. Any scraps for the day would be taken outside and fed to the hogs.
As the sun set, the kerosene lanterns were turned up. She read the kids a bible passage, and then a story. Full baths happened on Saturday, so this night they would wash up by lantern light, using rags and a pitcher of wash water. After the kids were nestled into their beds, Emily would sew what needed sewing, knit what needed knitting, and clean what needed cleaning. She would climb into bed, and her husband would tell her about the news he heard during the day, while he was in town. She would tell him how she got the plums put up for the season, and how she would pickle the ripe vegetables tomorrow. She fell asleep fast.
It is undeniable that modern inventions have improved our quality of life. Refrigeration has allowed us to store food in a safer manner, and for long periods of time. Electricity and indoor plumbing have made cooking, washing, and basic living easier, faster, and more comfortable. And we smell better–there’s air conditioning and daily bathing. In the hot, humid South, that alone is evidence enough that there is a God.
With all of these efficiencies, we have more time to spend with our kids, and our husbands, and at Hatha Yoga….These days we also have leisure time—unheard of to our great-great-grandmothers—time to go shopping, watch TV, go to the spa, write on our blogs, tweet our friends, and paint our toenails.
Still, there is much we have lost to this lifestyle. Like the satisfaction that comes from making things with your own hands, and the feeling of security that comes with being able to survive from the land, rather than the supermarket. Somehow, we have lost our love of simple things in favor of easy things–bread from a bag, butter from a box, and jam from a squeeze bottle.
Try a few of these old-school simple basics, instead of grabbing the easy version at the supermarket. The recipes utilize modern technology, so you don’t have to go build a fire, grind your own wheat, or milk a cow. But you will love the deliciousness that comes from the simplicity of the dish, rather than from exotic ingredients and hard to pronounce techniques. You won’t need to chiffonade or Sous Vide anything today.
4 cups all purpose flour
2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
4 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup shortening
2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs, beaten
The Easy Way: Using commercial pectin……
Adapted from the Sure Gel website
**processing jars after filling: Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches; add boiling water if needed.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 min. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)
Yield: 4 pints
- 4 lb. fully ripe plums (any variety or combination)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 box SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin
- 8 cups sugar, pre-measured into separate bowl
*Prepare jars as described above.
Pit plums. Do not peel. Chop roughly. Place fruit in saucepan; add water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 5 min. Measure exactly 6 cups prepared fruit into 6- or 8-qt. saucepot. Stir pectin into fruit in saucepot. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.
**Ladle into jars and process as described above….
Old-Fashioned Plum Jam
Yield 4 pints
- 4 lbs plums, your choice, or mixed
- 6 cups granulated sugar
- juice of 2 lemons
*Prepare jars as indicated above.
Slightly mash plums into bottom of pot with a potato masher. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once simmer is attained, cover the pot and cook for ten minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Turn to medium-high heat, and boil until mixture comes together and appears to “gel”. At this point, begin testing it every few minutes by dropping a small drop on an ice cold plate from the freezer. When you tilt the plate at a 45 degree angle, if the jam runs, it is not ready. Put the plate back in the freezer and try again in 5 minutes. Once the drop does not run, but remains in place when you tilt the plate, the jam is done.
**Remove from heat, and follow the above directions to can and seal the jars.