Saturday, June 16, 2007

Taters to Parched Corn...Homegrown Food Sure Was Good

Written by my grandmother (and posted on her behalf)

Helping to grow, harvest and preserve enough food to get the family through the long, harsh winters of central Washington was one of the main jobs we kids had each summer. Including Mom and Dad, there were nine mouths to feed.

We grew 3 acres of potatoes and an acre each of beans and corn. In addition, our “kitchen garden” was an acre, and we also had a number of fruit trees. All this meant we children did a lot of weeding, hoeing and cultivating.

What potatoes we didn’t store in our root cellar for our own use we sold to buy flour, sugar, cereal, cornmeal and salt. By the time the first snows came, the cellar was filled with potatoes in bins, carrots and squash stored in dry soil, apples in boxes, and dry onions, corn and beans in the sacks we’d saved from the staples we’d bought. (The extra sacks were used to make clothes, table cloths and handkerchiefs.)

We kids helped Mom can about 800 quarts of fruit, green beans and sauerkraut. For sweets, she made apple butter, apricot jam and dried fruit. There were also beet pickles and two kinds of cucumber pickles—sweet and dill.

Harvesting and drying the corn was the task I liked least. Yet, eating corn in winter was one of my favorite treats. When the ears of corn had filled out with bright yellow kernels, we twisted them off the stalks and put them in gunnysacks. Once the sacks were full, we carried them to the house and removed the husks. The kitchen resembled a steam bath. Mom had a big copper wash-boiler filled with water heating on the wood stove. The corn, still on the cob, was placed in the boiler, then pulled out and immediately dunked in cold water. Next, we cut the kernels off with sharp knives and carried them in pans up a ladder to the shed roof. There we spread the kernels in thin layers on sheets.

While we were doing this, we were constantly battling yellow jackets or wasps. Whenever we were stung, we got down off the roof and plastered mud on the painful little swellings.

Once a sheet was covered with kernels, we spread another over the top and put rocks along the sides to hold it down. We left the kernels there until the sun had dried them as hard as little pebbles. This kept them from spoiling. We then filled the staple sacks with kernels and hung them in the cellar. Later, during the winter, Mom would soak the kernels in water, then boil them for dinner.

Maybe it was just because Mom was such a great cook. . . or maybe it was because we had to work so hard to grow and preserve our own food. But I’ve never tasted anything quite as wonderful as what came out of that root cellar and those 800 quart jars each winter when I was a child!

Submitted to June Write-Away Contest on 16th June 2007.


  1. My grandmother recently wrote this for a compilation of stories for our family reunion. It is particularly dear to me as my children and I volunteer as living history interpreters and protray an 1880s homestead family. Many of the tasks she and her siblings did as a child, my children and I do now 'in play'. I'm blessed that my children and I have the opportunity to experience a different time period, a different style of living. :)

  2. What a lot of work to do to be able to just survive a winter. I had no idea corn was preserved that way. No wonder it tasted so wonderful with all that sweat equity involved. Thanks so much for entering this, I like the different approach to the topic.

  3. That's just amazing. I always wondered how people ate during the long winter. Thanks for sharing :-)

  4. that was an amazing post. thanks a lot! it does give a different perspective on how much easier things are


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