Continuing my theme of the hard-working pioneer, the lady pictured here is baking bread — at the age of 90. Once the habit of hard work is established it cannot be broken.
Family lore holds that in the early years, she’d lay her baby in the shade of a tree with an older child standing guard while she picked blueberries. Then she’d carry the baby and the berries a half-mile to the house and set about making pies. As the years passed and the family grew, she routinely put up ninety quarts of wild strawberries every summer. Note, those are wild strawberries, tiny little things no bigger than the tip of your baby finger. Picking ninety quarts is a mind-boggling task, never mind preserving them in jars sterilized and processed on a wood-burning stove in summer.
Of course, picking and preserving fruit were extra chores. Her regular days consisted of baking bread, churning butter, washing clothes on a scrub-board, scrubbing pine floors with lye soap. Then, when the children were in bed, getting out her sewing machine and making the children’s clothes. She also spun the wool from her own sheep and knitted mitts and socks for her brood.
So many of the tasks we look on now as hobbies or crafts, were necessities of life to the pioneer woman and she did it all without electricity or running water, or store-bought aids, like soap.
There is another story of her husband being annoyed because she’d been put to extra labour to entertain some visiting men while she herself was still recovering from a bout of pleurisy. In her words “I was recovering because I was in active service. There was no one to take my place.”
While her offspring like me are aghast at the mountains of work she accomplished, she didn’t complain or sigh. In fact her memoirs are filled with descriptions of happy times, like the annual Fall Fair, and her pride and excitement when a horse or cow from their farm came home with a blue ribbon.
Her life revolved around her family, her faith and the farm. She nursed her children through whooping cough and scarlet fever and ‘flu. She sent one boy to the Great War in 1914 and another to WWII in 1939, then welcomed them home when the conflicts ended. She lived a very long life, saw the world go from horse and buggy to a man on the moon. Through all these momentous changes, she kept her focus — family, faith, farm.
Not a bad recipe for a good life.
Here is her recipe for hand soap.
Have grease rendered.
Take 9 cups of grease and put in crock. Heat to lukewarm.
Put 1 can Gillette’s lye in 6 cups soft cold water. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Lye will heat the water. Put 1/2 cup borax, two table spoons ammonia and stir, leave it to cool until lukewarm. Pour lye in with grease and beat (by hand!)for 10 minutes or until it looks like honey. Bake in layers.