Pandora’s Party Box–The Father of Our Country

Hello, again History Lovers!

In honor of President’s Day, I am posting a trivia quiz about George Washington that was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women February 1922. The answers can be found at the end of the post.


The Father of Our Country

An enjoyable memory about the great man whose birthday we celebrate this month will be found in the following questions:

  1. In what state was George Washington born?
  2. In what year?
  3. What was the maiden name of his mother?
  4. What was his father’s profession?
  5. Did George attend any college?
  6. What nobleman was his early patron?
  7. Who sent him on his famous journey through the wilderness?
  8. What position did he hold under Braddock”?
  9. Whom did he marry?
  10. How did he act when first complimented on his military services?
  11. What year was he made Continental Commander-In-Chief?
  12. Where did he spend the winter of 1777?
  13. When was he elected president?
  14. How long did he hold the presidency?
  15. Did he leave any children at his death?
  16. Where did he die?
  17. Did he hold slaves?
  18. Did he approve of slavery?
  19. What became of his slaves after their master’s death?
  20. By whom was he called “First in war, first in peace, etc?


Flags can be made of heavy paper for this game with the questions written on the back. A suitable prize would be some standard (flag or banner) of the Life of Washington, with a chocolate hatchet for a booby prize.

Answer Key

  1. Virginia
  2. 1732
  3. Mary Ball
  4. Planter
  5. No
  6. Lord Fairfax
  7. Gov. Dinwiddie
  8. Aide-de-camp
  9. Mrs. Martha Curtis
  10. Blushed, stammered, and could not speak
  11. 1775
  12. Valley Forge
  13. 1789
  14. For two terms of four years each
  15. No
  16. At Mount Vernon
  17. Yes
  18. No
  19. They were set free
  20. By the House of Representatives


How We Keep Christmas: A Veteran’s Family’s Burned Out Christmas 1922

Hello Friends!

The final story in my How We Keep Christmas series has given me much food for thought. The challenges faced by this young family in 1922 have made my heart ache yet filled my heart with an extra measure of gratitude for the blessings my family and I enjoy. While pondering I have wished for the “Paul Harvey’s Rest of the Story” version (for those of you old enough to remember his weekday radio broadcasts) telling us that this family lived happily ever after. Sadly that version doesn’t exist except perhaps with their descendants.

Wishing everyone a blessed and healthful Merry Christmas.

A Veteran’s Family’s Burned Out Christmas 1922

WE HAD been burned out about a year before last Christmas, losing our home and also nearly everything that we possessed. So that winter found us living in a miserable little un-plastered homestead shack, twelve by fourteen feet in size, on land adjoining our own, all we could rent until we could get on our feet again. There were four of us to occupy this gloomy, cold, little shanty, Daddy, the two boys, and myself. We had no visible means of support except to chop and haul wood. Prospects for “a happy Yuletide” were not a bit cheerful. Yet we determined to keep Christmas.

Daddy’s health was quite poor and we did not know but that he might have to go to the National Soldier’s Sanitarium and leave us on our own resources. Then a few days before Christmas, he sprained his ankle. He had a few unfilled orders for Christmas trees which had to be delivered in town seven miles away. It was miserable cold with considerable snow on the ground. Our older boy, William, aged ten, helped me to hitch the team to an old stone boat and we two hauled those Christmas trees to town. We got back long after dark, a hard cold trip down close to the snow.

While we were gone, Daddy and the younger boy, Donald aged five, had crawled out in the woods at home and cut a pine tree for our Christmas. He dragged this to the house and had it there when I arrived.

It was a question where to set up a tree in a twelve-by-fourteen house which already held two beds, a table, cupboards, a cooking stove, and a trunk. On the trunk at the foot of our bed was the only place we could set it unless we put it on one of the beds!

When both boys had drifted off to sleep,” the job of setting up and trimming the tree began.

We crowded the limby-pine through the door and succeeded in making it stand nicely on the trunk. Distant relatives in other states had mailed us small Christmas packages. These were opened and their contents hung on the tree. A friendly merchant and his wife, in town, had given me a box saying it was the “the boys.” This box proved to contain a lot of nice toys. When it and the other packages were opened and all the things they held were placed upon the tree, it made quite a display.

We squeezed out enough money from the sale of wood and Christmas trees to buy a few presents, a little candy and nuts, and some Christmas candles. It was late in the night and we were considerably tired by the time the tree was all trimmed. But we went to bed with a satisfied feeling of having done something for our boys.

Early next morning, Dad built a fire, pulled down the shades, and lighted the candles. Then he came back to bed and called to the boys. They awoke with a start and the first thing they saw was the great bright tree in all its splendor. I am sure no greater light of happiness could come into the eyes of the richest or wealthiest children on earth than that which shown in our two boys’ eyes.

For a moment, they stared in delighted, happy wonder; then there was a mad scramble for the tree. Santa Claus had been here indeed!

Our younger boy, Donald, likes engines and Santa had brought him a pretty nice big one the year before. But it had grown rusty and old-looking. So, I painted it green (a job for which Santa was given the credit) and gilt the wheels and it looked quite nice backed up under the foot of the big tree. Of course, he made for that first. William found gifts which were for him and soon each lad had an armload and were both trying to look at everything at one and the same time.

How much better Daddy and I felt than if we had followed our earliest impulse and let Christmas go by without celebrating.

We shall never let the Christmas spirit die in our home no matter how poor or hard-up we are. To be without Christmas would be like being without a home! —Mrs. Freda Klock, South Dakota

How We Keep Christmas: For Dear Old Ladies 1922

Hello Friends!

The second installment of the “How We Keep Christmas” series is a story that was shared by Mrs. Mary Buttner of Ohio. In 1922 she and her family wanted to do something to make Christmas special for “someone who truly hungered for a little Christmas spirit.” After running an ad in a local city’s newspaper “for a homeless old lady to spend Christmas” with them, the Buttner’s invited five of the loneliest ladies who applied. She reported that it “was the happiest and most wonderful Christmas” her family had ever had. Their guests were equally joyful.

Wishing you and yours a Christmas season filled with joy!


CHRISTMAS is always to us the most beautiful time of the year, the one time when we strive to make peace and contentment abide within our four walls. It has always seemed so much a children’s day and we always make the little one’s hearts happy and we as a family are happy. Last year, I wished particularly to make someone who truly hungered for a little Christmas spirit, happy too. So, I advertised in the daily paper of a nearby city, for a homeless old lady to spend Christmas with us. We were simply deluged with answers. How many unhappy lonely old souls there are in a city hungering for a little affection and love! Instead of just one, I took five of the loneliest, homeless old ladies, I ever met. Two of them lived in rented rooms in town and three were inmates of an aged women’s home.

Women’s Winter Gloves 1927

I had the house decorated with loads of evergreen, gay bright tissue, and a wonderful Christmas tree, and instead of spending my Christmas money on my friends and relatives, who did not need it, I spent it on lovely needle cases, nice gloves, and pretty stationery for my adopted Grannies, and hung each present on the tree in the prettiest Christmas package I could contrive.

Swift Premium Ham Ad 1920s

We had a real “farm” Christmas dinner and what a wonderful time our guests had helping get it ready!

Truly it was the happiest and most wonderful Christmas we ever spent. Those old ladies were as enthusiastic over and truly delighted with their gifts as any child. Their thanks were not the conventional expression of grateful friends but was the true spontaneous expression of happy hearts.

To prove to you what a success it was, we are planning the same kind of a Christmas this year, only we are going to add a few Grandpapas to the list if we can find them. –Mary E. Buttner, Ohio

The article above was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, December 1922; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

How We Keep Christmas: Grandmother’s House 1922

Hello Friends!

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.

Letters From Our Farm Women–Celebrate the Holidays

Celebrate the Holidays

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

DEAR Folks:

 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

Chocolate Cream Cheese Truffles

Even before Pinterest, my mother was masterful at creating engaging, budget-friendly activities for me and my siblings throughout the Christmas season. Baking cookies and simple candy making were some of our favorite activities. Each child would participate at their level — the older children would do the measuring and mixing, while the younger ones might only add sprinkles or do the taste-testing. It was always a team effort. And, of course, the end results were very tasty.

Following suit, one of the simplest and most engaging kitchen activities that my children and I have enjoyed is making Chocolate Cream Cheese Truffles. The inspiration comes from a recipe in a Philadelphia Cream Cheese holiday cook booklet from the 1970s. Calling for a few simple ingredients — cream cheese, powdered sugar and melted chocolate chips — the candy is easy to prepare (adult supervision is essential when melting the chocolate). Once the chocolate is incorporated into the other ingredients and chilled, rolling little balls of chocolate in a variety of colorful holiday sprinkles creates a gift-worthy confection. Whether staying indoors due to the weather or because of Covid, this activity is sure to keep little (and not so little) hands busy. Enjoy!

Chocolate Cream Cheese Truffles

  • Servings: 3 - 4 dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 (12 oz) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted OR half semi-sweet and half milk chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract*
  • Assorted sprinkles



  1. In a large bowl using an electric mixer,  cream powdered sugar and cream cheese until smooth.
  2. Melt chocolate chips in a glass bowl in the microwave, stirring every 45 – 60 seconds, until smooth and glossy.
  3. Blend melted chocolate into cream cheese and powdered sugar mixture a little at a time.
  4. Cover and refrigerate candy until firm enough to hold its shape, about one hour.
  5. Shape into one inch balls and roll in sprinkles.

*Note: Alternate extracts and flavorings such as almond, peppermint or cake batter flavoring can be substituted for the vanilla. 

Recipe Compliments of

Christmas Eve Oyster Stew

An Irish Christmas Blessing

May you be blessed with the spirit of the season

Which is peace,

The gladness of the season

Which is hope,

And the heart of the season

Which is love.


The Tradition

While preparing oyster stew for my family some years ago, I called my mother and asked why we served oyster stew on Christmas Eve. She said that she had simply followed her grandmother’s tradition, besides it was easy to make on what was the busiest night of the year for a mother with young children. That was reason enough, but I was curious about the genesis of the tradition. A little research suggested that this nearly two-hundred-year old tradition was the result of Irish immigrants adapting recipes from their ancestral home to America’s indigenous foods.


The Genesis

In the 1800s, even before the renowned potato famine of 1845–1852, Irish immigrants ventured to the United States for a chance to build a new life, bringing with them their culinary traditions and their Irish Catholic customs. In their island homeland, fish was a major part of their diet. Ling fillets (a type of cod), preserved with salt and dried in the open air, were a centuries-long staple of rural fishing communities. Following the Catholic dietary custom of abstaining from eating meat the day before a religious feast, the traditional Irish Christmas Eve meal consisted of a simple stew made of dried ling, milk, butter and pepper. In America, wild oysters made an acceptable substitute for ling with their briny flavor and slightly chewy texture. Oyster stew quickly became popular along the northeast coast of the US where oysters were abundant, easy to harvest and inexpensive. For folks living farther inland, commercially canned oysters were widely available as early as the 1840s. Fresh oysters, however, were only available during the winter months when they could be packed in seaweed, straw and ice and carried by railroad to larger mid-western cities or by steamship to southern ports, arriving just in time for Christmas.

oysters to railcars

Thick or Thin

Through the twentieth century, oyster soup recipes were as popular as oysters themselves. Whether using fresh or canned oysters, soup recipes can be divided into two types — thickened and unthickened — with unthickened soup being the most common. A recipe found in The American Woman’s Cook Book 1966 titled Oyster Stew – Unthickened (below) is representative of recipes from the first half of the century (and very similar to the way my mother makes oyster stew). An adaptation of the same recipe is thickened with a roux and seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika (the way I make oyster stew):


While researching, it was interesting to note the various methods used in thickening an oyster stew. Of course, a blonde roux, as in the recipe above, was common, as was a reverse roux where a cold paste of butter and flour is stirred into the hot milk and brought to a simmer to thicken. Some soups were thickened with a flour and water paste or a flour and milk paste, but the most unusual thickening agent was tapioca, included in a recipe from General Foods Cook Book 1932 (below). I have used tapioca to thicken stews, but never one with a milk base.


Other thickeners that caught my eye were dried bread crumbs or crushed cracker crumbs that were added to the hot soup just before serving. Below is a charming recipe written in the home cook’s own words, calling for saltine cracker crumbs. The final paragraph is written by a woman who compiled the recipes and bound them together in a booklet titled Cooking With Grace 1970. “Grace” was Grace Warlow Barr, food editor for the Orlando Sentinel newspaper in Orlando, Florida during the fifties and sixties.



Being fascinated by the recipe above, I used it as inspiration in making a variation of my own Oyster Stew recipe. As mentioned above, I thicken my soup with a roux, but instead of adding flour to the butter, I simply sauteed the vegetables and added the liquid ingredients — half and half, evaporated milk and the oyster liquor from the canned oysters (sadly, fresh oysters are rarely available in our rural area). I then heated the soup to a simmer. After rinsing the oysters to remove any grit, I added them to the hot soup. Just before serving, I ladled the soup into my most “beautiful tureen” (a bright red Dutch-oven) in which I had placed eighteen crushed saltines. Giving the soup a quick stir, I served up bowls of piping hot Oyster Stew. The flavor was exquisite, however, the texture seemed coarse compared to the velvety smooth mouth-feel of soup thickened with a roux. Yet we could not stop eating it. It was that good! In the future I will have a hard time deciding which variation to make (photos of the process below):

Flavorful Additions

Twentieth-century recipes suggested a variety of seasonings to enhance the flavor of oyster stew. The most common being salt, black pepper and paprika. Frequently, recipes called for vegetables and herbs, such as minced onion, chopped celery or celery leaves, or snipped fresh parsley. A few even called for diced potato. Some recipes included bay leaves, celery salt, white pepper, cayenne pepper, or Old Bay seasoning. Liquid flavorings such as lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, or hot pepper sauce were also suggested. The most curious ingredients called for were warm spices — nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ground mace and blades of mace. What in the world are blades of mace? According to Google, blades of mace (available on Amazon) are pieces of a web-like covering of dried nutmeg seeds. The flavor is reportedly milder than nutmeg and is commonly used in savory soups, stews and curries. The blades are typically removed before serving just as a bay leaf would be. Ground mace is the same spice in a different form and is a little less expensive than the blades. I have ordered some blades of mace to add to my Christmas Eve Oyster Stew this year. I will report back.

The following is my tried and true Oyster Stew recipe that is thickened with a roux. Alternately, I have included notations for thickening the stew with saltines. Enjoy!

Christmas Eve Oyster Stew

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


  • 4 (8 oz) cans oysters, (rinse and reserve liquor) OR 2 pints shucked fresh oysters*

  • 1/4 cup (half a cube) butter
  • 1/2 cup finely diced celery
  • 2 Tbsp minced sweet onion
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (omit if thickening with saltines)

  • 1 quart half and half
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • Reserved oyster liquor
  • 1 tsp salt (use a little less if thickening with saltines)

  • Reserved oysters
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 18 crushed saltine cracker squares, if using
  • Paprika for garnish, if desired


  1. Drain oysters reserving liquor. Gently rinse oysters to remove any grit; set aside.
  2. In a six quart Dutch-oven, melt butter over medium heat. Saute prepared celery and onion until limp. Add flour, if using, to butter and vegetables to create a roux. Cook and stir 2 – 3 minutes.
  3. Whisk in half and half, evaporated milk, reserved oyster liquor and salt. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 3 – 5 minutes to thicken, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and gently stir in oysters and saltines, if using. Add lemon juice.  Garnish with a dusting of paprika.

*Note: If using fresh oysters, drain, reserving liquor. Gently rinse oysters to remove grit and bits of shell. Saute oysters in several tablespoons of butter until edges of oysters begin to curl. Add liquor and bring to a simmer. Add to prepared soup, season and enjoy.

Recipe Compliments of

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas. And may the luck of the Irish be with you in 2021. Elaine