Today begins a new series–How We Keep Christmas. Each Sunday between now and Christmas, I will post a story submitted to The Farmer’s Wife by farm women from the 1920s telling how they and their family “kept” Christmas. Some stories are nostalgic, some are filled with the spirit of giving and others tell of humble, even destitute times, but all are heartwarming and brimming with the true meaning of Christmas.
Today’s story tells of a four-generation celebration at Grandmother’s house where not only family members receive a gift, but the young adults of the family get to take the car to distribute gifts to some of the less fortunate. I’m sure fun was had by all. Happy Reading!
CHRISTMAS! Ever since I was a tiny girl with dreams of a full stocking showing a doll’s head at the top, that word has meant to me the happiest time of all the year. And now with my own little girl just old enough to begin to learn the Christmas story, it is going to mean more and more to me.
I had the good fortune to marry a member of a large family. Each Christmas we all arrange to be together and what better place could there be than at Grandmother’s house? On Christmas eve, each married son and daughter bring in their family. The younger boys and girls are home from college. The twins—the youngest daughters—have a Christmas tree all ready to receive the gifts though no one is allowed even a peep until “Santa Claus comes.” Then we are invited into the parlor and what “Oh’s!” and “Ah’s!” of delight burst from the seven little granddaughters. Everyone gets something from the tree, from Bobby, the youngest baby, to her great-grandparents
As we are all farm people and some live several miles away, no one goes home that night. The next morning before breakfast the entire family gathers about the piano and through such songs as Holy Night and Hark, The Herald Angels Sing, we call to mind again the Christ Child who came to bring peace on earth, goodwill to men.
Then grandfather, still vigorous and young at heart though eighty-two years old reads us the Christmas story. As we kneel and hear him pray, we realize what a wonderful Christmas gift we all received so many centuries ago.
After breakfast, the younger sons and daughters take the car and distribute gifts which Mother has thoughtfully prepared for those less fortunate than ourselves: baskets filled with dressed chickens, canned and fresh fruits with here and there a personal gift.
Then comes the big dinner. Usually, another family or two of relatives are invited in for there’s turkey and cranberry sauce for all.
All too early evening comes, each little tot is bundled up and we are off to our own homes, each one of us feeling very much like one of the little girls did last Christmas when she said, “Mother, isn’t Christmas just a beautiful time?” –Mrs. Joe Shirky, Missouri
The article above was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, December 1922; Web Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.
The hard economic times and food shortages brought about by World War I were the impetus for a small Kansas community to launch what would become a years-long tradition — a Community Thankfeast. Demonstrations of industry, generosity, reverence, patriotism, compassion, and hospitality accompanied the overarching sentiment of gratitude as folks, young and old, gathered for not only a Thanksgiving banquet but also for a patriotic program put on by the school children. Supper (Yes! an additional meal of the overabundance) followed by music and dancing through the evening wrapped up the day. Guests from out of town were welcome and in some years the attendance swelled to twice the population. Donations of 35 cents per person–for those who could pay–were collected and donated to the community church and school.
I hope you enjoy this heartwarming story.
Kansas Folk Get Together
In our rural town of about 220 inhabitants, we host what we call Our Annual Thankfeast. About two weeks before Thanksgiving, the women of the community, meet and elect a captain who appoints important committees and has charge of the affair. A soliciting committee composed of several groups, canvases the town and surrounding country for edibles of all kinds, to be served at the community feast on Thanksgiving Day. These are donated. Things are prepared as far as possible at home although the dinner is served in a large hall, where fully a dozen efficient cooks are busy warming up meats, cooking potatoes, dumplings, gravy, coffee. These cooks, decorators, and table arrangers meet in the afternoon preceding the dinner, stoves are arranged, tables spread, vegetables prepared, decorations completed and everything made ready for a glorious morrow.
Come rain, come shine the town is full of guests throughout the following day. There is also a large church attendance. Before the dinner is served, thanks are offered up to the Bountiful Giver of all things. The charge for the dinner is 35 cents.
No amount of expense or culinary art in the individual homes could provide the variety of choice foods which in this way are served to the public. Then there is the delightful companionship, the intermingling of old and young, the gaiety and reverence for the occasion.
After dinner, while clearing away and washing the dishes, groups have a social good time visiting; others go out-of-doors where contests are put on for small prizes.
About three in the afternoon the children, who have been well trained by the teachers put on a creditable, patriotic program. They are equipped with caps and streamers of red, white and blue, and march through the street. When they reach the flag pole, the flag is hoisted with appropriate honors, while the crowd listens to a brief oration and joins with the children in singing The Star Spangled Banner. Supper is then served on the long tables arranged to seat as high as 250 guests. Sometimes five or six hundred are fed during the day.
Later, there is dancing for those who wish. Others listen to the music and visit.
The entertainment is sometimes free; sometimes ten cents is charged. Funds not used to pay expenses, go to either church or school. Poor and rich fare alike. Those whom it is known cannot pay are served free of any charge and engage in the festivities of the day with their neighbors. It is a democratic gathering, where superiority and wealth go entirely unnoticed and true worth is extolled. It is a gala day of thanks, joy, solicitous endeavor, pleasure, and happy contentment for this rural community. The happy custom originated during the war when foods were scarce and prices high and has been successfully carried out since, making a joyful community day for all.
The article above was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine for Farm Women November 1922, Webb Publishing Company, St Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.
Over the weekend, I did some Cooking With Ida, this time exploring stuffing recipes from a hundred years ago. Mrs. Allen’s book Cooking Menus Service (1924) was my source. The heading of the Meats and Meat Dishes section restates Ida’s primary focuses in her cookbooks–economy through self-reliance (cooking with what you can produce and preserve yourself) and zero-waste. This section includes several inventive/frugal stuffing recipe options. Each recipe includes bread, however, bread is not the main ingredient.
Sage and Onion Stuffing
The first recipe, Sage-and-Onion Stuffing, begins with familiar ingredients–bread, sage, poultry seasoning, and onions–six large onions! The onions are to be boiled in water until tender then finely chopped. Two cups of bread that has been soaked in cold water for one hour then squeezed dry is combined with the onions and seasonings and is then stuffed in the bird.
Giblet Stuffing, a common stuffing even today, is to be prepared by simmering “one set” of giblets until tender and chopping them. Two cupsful of bread are prepared (similar to the recipe above) by soaking the bread in water and squeezing it until “quite dry”. The moist bread is then tossed with two minced apples, two minced onions, prepared giblets, poultry seasoning, and salt and pepper.
Corn Stuffing, not to be confused with cornbread stuffing, is another option. One cupful of canned corn or dried and stewed corn (evidently including the liquid) and poultry seasoning is heated with two tablespoons of butter or butter substitute (think salt pork or bacon fat). Two cups of crumbled stale bread, minced parsley, and “scraped” onion is stirred into the warm corn mixture. It is then ready for stuffing the bird or to be baked as a side dish.
The recipe that I chose to prepare was Ida’s Potato Stuffing. The reason for my choice was twofold. First, the recipe was made up of three cups of mashed potatoes and one cup of stale breadcrumbs with minced onion and seasonings. I love mashed potatoes, and so does my husband, so I knew he would be on board as a taste-tester. We also raised our family on meat and potatoes, so leftover mashed potatoes were always in the fridge. Following Ida’s zero-waste philosophy, mashed potatoes as stuffing would have been a natural fit for my family.
The recipe calls for three cupsful of hot mashed potatoes, and since mine were leftovers, I reheated them in the microwave. My leftovers had been seasoned with salt, pepper, melted butter, and sour cream. However, that is not what the original recipe was calling for, but it definitely elevated the final dish! For the breadcrumbs, I used one cup of panko because that is what I had in the pantry. I sauteed the minced onion in a half cup of butter instead of salt pork or bacon fat. I also sauteed a heaping cup of chopped celery for texture, even though the recipe didn’t call for it. An egg tossed in at the end to bind the ingredients together might have been a luxury a hundred years ago as hens lay fewer and fewer eggs as fall progresses. I baked the stuffing at 325 degrees for about 35 minutes in an uncovered casserole dish just until the edges started to crisp up. My kitchen smelled like Thanksgiving!
The results of our taste test revealed that it was delicious, however, we really missed the texture of bread stuffing. The chopped celery that I added helped texturally, but I should have chopped it more coarsly. In a tight economical situation, I can see using this recipe as a substitute for bread stuffing, and being proud to serve it.
Good luck in your Thanksgiving preparations and/or travels. Check back on Wednesday for a heartwarming story of a Community Friendsgiving from 1922.
In the following grocery ads from 1921, we not only find traditional Thanksgiving ingredients such as canned pumpkin, oysters, celery, and cranberries but there are great prices on enamel roasters that “make the old hen taste like a spring chicken” as well as aluminum cake pans, pie plates and measuring cups. For something a little fancier for the holidays, there are glass baking and serving pieces available at Johnson’s Hardware. I hope things are coming together for your Thanksgiving feast.
Johnson’s Hardware, Preston Times, Preston Minnesota, November 1921
A letter published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine for Farm Women in November 1926 tells of a group of recent high school graduates who pooled their time, effort, and money to found a library association in their rural town. In order to purchase books they “got up” entertainments of every type within the community. Little by little, these young women generated enough money to purchase books and a bookcase which was housed in a corner of a store in town. Each girl took her turn as volunteer librarian. They kept regularly scheduled hours but happily made accommodations for folks who only came to town on Sunday. In time, they were able to purchase a brick building in which to house their growing library. They met with great success and the library quickly became a gathering place for young and old alike. Happy Reading!
Dear Friends: I am eligible for this letter-writing symposium (it seems like that rather than a “contest”) as I am a farmer’s daughter and for some years had charge of our farm, so am familiar with problems of country life.
How did I find books to read? The very first thing, after leaving school, fifteen of us girls started what we ambitiously called a Library Association. We each gave a dollar toward it. We “got up” entertainments. Our first was a concert by local talent, with tableaux and charades. We charged ten cents admission and made eight dollars. Next, we gave an “Antiquarian Supper.” At Christmas time, a cantata brought us enough so we could order a hundred books and have a bookcase made with doors that would lock. We kept this bookcase in a corner of the store and one of the girls acted as librarian, opening the bookcase two afternoons each week. Our pastor helped us select the books as we desired to read the best.
Then came more entertainments of one kind or another. As it was a small town with scattered farms, we did not make much money at any of them but we succeeded in raising about a hundred dollars a year for books. These were loaned to “outsiders” for five cents a month or fifty cents a year.
At length, a small brick building was offered for sale and we bought it, pledging ourselves to its payment, fifty dollars a year for six years. We bought no new books that year as we had to furnish the building. We had eight book stacks made. We had a table given us, also a chair and we found a second-hand stove. Not very elaborate but we felt so proud of our library.
We made candy that year, selling it to the few “summer people” who passed through and making enough to add three magazines to our list. We loaned these as books after they were a month old.
We now kept the library open two afternoons and two evenings of each week, from three to five, Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, from seven to nine, Wednesday and Saturday evenings. For some who only came in to church Sundays, we would take four books from the library and by systematic exchanges supply a dozen families.
Of course, it took time to accumulate a library—for at no time were our earnings much over a hundred dollars a year but by careful buying, at the end of ten years, we had our building paid for and a thousand volumes on the shelves.
The library was a favorite gathering place for young and old, during the hours it was opened. Of course, all library service was freely given. How we did enjoy working for it as well as reading the books. W.P. California
In preparing this post, I have gained a great appreciation for rural farm women from the 1920s. The effort required to get a turkey butchered and processed for Thanksgiving dinner is labor-intensive, not to mention the time, effort, and expense of raising the bird, to begin with. The text regarding processing turkeys comes from Ida Bailey Allen’s cookbook, Cooking, Menus, Service 1924. The fact that this detailed information was included in her cookbook tells me that it was very pertinent for its time. The photographs of the processing come from the website Ask A Prepper (HERE). They are very helpful in understanding the whole process. The most surprising fact that I learned is that every turkey has a parson’s nose (aka pope’s nose). I hope you enjoy reading this post. It has given me one more thing to be thankful for in 2021–my turkey is fully processed and waiting for me at the grocery store!
Both chicken and turkey are sold picked in city markets.
In the country, this usually is done at home and merely consists of picking the feathers from the bird. Chicken may be picked wet or dry, the dry picked being the best. Wet picking means that after killing the bird has been plunged in boiling water to loosen the feathers that they may be extracted more quickly. Wet-picked poultry does not keep as well as dry picked.
All pin feathers must be removed one at a time, either with the fingers or with a pair of nippers for the purpose.
The long hairs on poultry must be removed by singeing. This is done either by holding the bird over a flame until the hairs are singed off or by applying a light twist of paper or a lighted wax taper (candle) to the flesh until the same results are obtained.
Wash the turkey or chicken after singeing. Wipe carefully, remove the head, and if the sinews or tendons are to be removed make a lengthwise cut through the leg under what might be termed the knee joint, pick up the tendons one by one on a strong skewer and pull them from the drumstick. There are seven tendons, and if they are removed the drumstick will prove as tender as any other part of the bird. The butcher can do this readily by making the same cut, then putting the tendons over a hook, giving one twist and a pull, then they all come out together. His usual method of preparing a bird, however, is to chop off the legs at the joint, leaving the tendons in the drumstick.
Removing Crop and Giblets
Remove the crop (food bag) from the neck opening. Make a cross-cut at the vent, keeping this as small as possible, and remove the intestines, gizzard, heart, and liver, being careful not to break the gall bag which is attached to the liver; if broken, it spreads its bitter contents on every part of the bird which it touches. Pull out the windpipe after the intestines are removed, then take out the lungs, which are closely attached to the inner side of the backbone. Discard the intestines and windpipe, but keep the liver, gizzard, and heart to be cooked, minced, and added to the gravy. The inner part of the gizzard enclosed by a very tender skin must of course be removed, for this inner part is where the food is ground up and contains particles of stone and pebble.
Removing Oil Sack
Turn the bird over and cut out the oil bag which is found at the tip of the “parson’s nose” (the tail)—this is a little sack containing a thick yellow deposit strong in both odor and taste.
Wipe the inside of the bird with a damp cloth, stuff as desired, and sew or skewer up the vent before trussing.
To Skewer a Vent
Stick four or five wooden toothpicks through the skin from side to side of the vent then take a piece of white thread and fasten it cross-cross fashion, as a small boy fastens his shoelaces, tying it at the end. After the bird is cooked the toothpicks can be drawn out; the thread will come with them, and there will be no cord to entangle the knife of the carver.
To Truss a Turkey or Chicken, Duck or Goose
Trussing is a very simple process and is done to keep the bird in shape while cooking. Cut the neck as close to the body as possible (it may be added to the giblets and stewed for gravy), draw the skin of the neck over to the back, and secure with a skewer. Press the legs close to the sides of the bird, the knucklebones against the vent, tie them there and run a skewer through them, or fasten with a heavy thread carried right through the body of the bird by means of a trussing needle. Press the wings down toward the back of the bird and fasten theses also with a skewer or with the trussing needle. If any tying is done let it be under rather than over the body, as the marks of the cords will show if allowed to cross the breast.
The Roasting of Poultry
Allow twenty-five minutes to each pound. Begin the cooking in a hot oven—400-425 degrees—reduce it after the first then minutes, that the meat may cook gently.
Most people cook poultry breast uppermost; this, however, causes the juices to flow away from the breast, making it dry. The bird should be laid on its side during the early part of the cooking, then turned breast uppermost to finish.
There are roasting “saddles” on the market in which poultry can be suspended so that the breast does not have to lie in the fat in the pan. As with all meats, season when partly done, baste thoroughly and frequently to keep the flesh juicy and dredge with flour when beginning to brown to assist the browning and to give a rich thickness to the gravy.
Poultry may be stuffed if desired, both in the crop cavity and in the body, or the stuffing may be baked in a separate dish or pan and served as an accompaniment.
Roast chicken and turkey, being somewhat dry-fleshed, can be garnished with curls of bacon or with sausages cooked in the pan.
Clean a turkey according to directions given in the Roasting of Poultry, fill with potato, giblet, egg bread, chestnut, or oyster stuffing. Place on a rack in the dripping pan and cook according to general directions for roasting, allowing three hours for a turkey from eight to ten pounds.
Make plain or giblet gravy as directed, and serve the turkey with or without a garnish of sausages and cubes of cranberry jelly.
I came across a recipe for Raisin Cake in a narrow column of advertisements in the October 1926 issue of The Farmer’s Wife magazine. The recipe was sponsored by the Crescent Manufacturing Company of Seattle, Washington, makers of the wildly successful imitation maple flavoring branded Mapleine. Growing up my mother always made homemade pancake syrup using Mapleine which was the product’s most widely known “back of the box” recipe. I was interested in trying Mapleine in a different application so I tried the recipe printed in the advertisement. The cake was amazing!
½ cup shortening
1-1/3 cups sugar
2 eggs well beaten
1 cup seedless raisins
1/3 cup walnuts
1 cup hot applesauce, strained
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
½ tsp Mapleine
Sift flour, spices, and soda. Cream shortening beat in sugar, eggs, chopped raisins, and nuts. Add flour alternately with the applesauce. Bake in greased layer pans in a moderate oven.
¾ cup sugar
3 Tbsp cold water
1 egg white
½ tsp Mapleine
Put sugar, water, and unbeaten egg white in a double boiler, place over boiling water and beat with an egg beater for six minutes. Remove from fire; add Mapleine. Beat until thick enough to spread.
My Take on the Recipe
I followed the recipe as written except for using butter instead of shortening and I added a half teaspoon of salt. I even heated up my home-canned applesauce – a curiosity of this recipe (more about that later). I also substituted pecans for the walnuts. I baked the cake in nine-inch round pans and set my oven at a moderate temperature of 350 degrees.
Once cooled, I began preparing the Mapleine Icing–which failed. I’m not sure why but it never became a fluffy frosting consistency. It stayed at a runny sugary stage. Perhaps it was because I used an electric mixer instead of the prescribed egg beater. Ha! So, I decided to try a different icing recipe all together—Coconut Pecan Frosting (recipe below)—a mid-century recipe that I typically use for Oatmeal Raisin Cake. It was a match made in heaven!
Now a word about hot applesauce—Why? Perhaps it was thought that the cake would rise higher or have a lighter texture if the applesauce was warm. Or maybe the cake would bake faster because it was warm when it went in the oven. I don’t know for sure, but with some research, I found only one other recipe that called for hot applesauce (below). Most vintage recipes just called for applesauce.
Going in the “Tried and True” Recipe File
In the end, I ended up with a moist moderately-dense raisin cake that was very flavorful. The cake recipe for Mapleine Raisin Cake is going into my “tried and true” dessert recipe file alongside the Coconut Pecan Frosting recipe because I will be making it again soon! Below I have created a printable recipe for both cake and frosting. I have included the salt measurement that I used as it balances the flavor of the batter. –Enjoy!
Grocery Ads this week offer various sweeteners from granulated sugar, sorghum syrup (similar to molasses), and maple-flavored pancake syrup. Cake flour and all-purpose flours are on sale just in time for holiday baking. Langlie’s meat department has several pork products in their ad. Dolva’s Cash Grocery has sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving and the North American Grocery has citron, lemon and orange peel for holiday fruit cakes and puddings. Cheese lovers will find cream cheese, brick cheese (probably an American-made cheddar), and Limburger available at The Independent Grocery. Other essentials such as coffee and tobacco are on sale this week as well. The final ad titled Saturday Specials is a collage of products and businesses that advertise weekly in the Cannon Falls Beacon.
It is interesting to note that the grocery stores represented here are independently owned “mom and pop” businesses, but in the 1920s America was on the cusp of serve-yourself shopping and grocery store chains.
Today’s post is a letter written by a resourceful farm woman with several young children. She shares her ideas on how to keep away the winter doldrums by allowing her children to plan a bit of fun for special days. Even today children can while away the long hours of a winter afternoon doing simple (low-tech) creative projects. Enjoy! –Elaine
Most all mothers of small children dread winter. I have found that by celebrating the holidays as they come, we always have something to break the monotony and keep the children interested.
We start with Halloween. Even the tiniest tot wants to be a witch. If no pumpkin can be found small enough for him, we use a squash. The children do the planning and decorating with as little help as possible.
Directly following this holiday comes Thanksgiving, then Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, Washington’s birth, and Easter with All Fool’s Day to end the winter.
Each day has its own set of preparations. Each child is kept busy for days at a time with simple decorations for the Christmas tree or valentines. My task is to see that they, first of all, understand the significance of the day we celebrate and learn all they possibly can about it, to see that the jokes and games are not too rough for the smallest and appropriate to the occasion.
The children make the preparations. It will not always be just right but they are learning. Most of the pleasure anyway will be looking forward to or backward upon the holiday. The holiday itself is only a day (with the exception of Christmas).
Besides these holidays there are birthdays and special days for celebrating, such as if one of the family has been ill for several days and is sitting up again, or away from home and returned, or if John or Mary receive some merit in school—much is made of it at the evening meal when the sick one can come to the table or the absent one returns or the little one receives extra praise for good work. It may be nothing more than a favorite dish served or a pair of bright candles lighted and placed on the nicely-set table or a seat of honor designated by a bunch of flowers at the lucky one’s plate.
We never let these opportunities pass. I find my children to be happy and contented and good company and they often surprise me with their original ideas. Let them try plans you know will not work out all right. Next time the plan will be different. –Mrs. J. C.C., Iowa.
The article above was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife—A Magazine For Farm Women, November 1926; Webb Publishing Company, Saint Paul, Minnesota
They have a place--
Singly--they mean little.
Part of the whole--they have the same attributes.
O crumbs from the Rich Man's Table, what are you that we have not?
You are not air, full and free.
You are not water, clean and pure.
You are not sunshine.
Often you represent foolish desire--Waste, envy, or jealousy.
Why live or think in terms of crumbs?
The penny is a dollar's crumb.
The crust a part of the loaf.
The scraps part of the roast.
The wasted gas, part of the bill.
They are worth thought for what they can be.
Not the Rich Man's Crumbs.
Let me gather up my fragments
And make them whole.
This post begins a new series within my blog titled Cooking With Ida. It is inspired by the works of cookbook author Ida Bailey Allen.
Ida was born in 1885 in Connecticut. As a young woman, she studied domestic science and nutrition in New York and Massachusetts which led to her life’s work. Considered one of the most prolific cookbook writers in American history, Ida Bailey Allen published her earliest cookbook in 1916. Throughout her lifetime she would write and publish over fifty books including her final work Best-Loved Recipes of the American People in 1973, the year she died.
Drafted by the US Food Administration during WWI, Ida became an influential educator and lecturer on nutrition and home economics. She was an active food writer and subsequently became food editor for Good Housekeeping Magazine.
In 1928, Mrs. Allen began hosting a regular daytime radio show. Her show became so popular, it was extended from a one-hour time slot to two hours. In time she branched into television becoming the first female cooking show host. Ida Bailey Allen eventually reached national celebrity status as “The Nation’s Homemaker”. Today her cookbooks are highly collectible.
Using Ida Bailey Allen’s book Cooking, Menus, Service published in 1924 as reference, I will share the recipes and procedures that were required for rural homemakers of her day to prepare a meal for their family. The poem at the top of this post is from this cookbook and accurately represents Ida’s kitchen philosophy — thrift, economy, zero waste, and good nutrition according to the science of her day. The “Crumbs…are worth thought” mindset helped Mrs. Allen guide homemakers through food shortages of WWI, the agricultural depression of the 1920s, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the food rationing during WWII.
With Thanksgiving in mind, next week Ida will coach us through preparing the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. See you then.