I have often wondered what our ancestors thought, felt, and experienced on their way to homestead here in Kansas. First and foremost, I shudder to think of what our great grandmothers had to endure, chiefly spending a day walking through grass with long skirts. I really hate bugs, especially ticks. Of course, they had to deal with the bugs and other various and sundry pests in the sod houses. I once heard a story about someone waking to find a centipede had dropped onto their face. It gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.
They had plenty of other difficulties too, especially when it came to finding or producing food, and storing it. I’m going to gloss over the obvious and usually considered plowing the prairie and jump straight to the creepy parts like my grandfather telling me about when he and his brother went to the granary with sticks to kill the rats. It wasn’t so bad, he said, and they were making progress. But then the rats got smart and started to climb the walls and jump at him and his brother.
Even raising livestock had its dangers. Mom tells me that Grandpa wouldn’t let her go out to feed the pig when she was a child, for fear she’d fall into the pen and *ahem* become pig food herself. I’ve heard stories of children going to collect eggs in the henhouse, and reaching under a broody hen to find a snake. I’m so thankful I never had that problem.
Of course, with all the investment in obtaining food, preserving it was of utmost importance. Ever since Adam and Eve changed their address, man has been attempting to perfect food preservation. (interesting side note: food preservation is usually remarkably similar to embalming. Don’t worry, we won’t be making mummies this month.) Desiccation (drying) is an easy way to preserve what you can’t eat on the spot.
Chilling was another option open to some. Cellars could keep items cooler when lined with snow or ice. Beginning in the mid-1800s, home iceboxes became common, giving way to mechanical refrigerators in the early 20th century. The first freezers appeared in 1940 and became common after the Second World War (I think our current deep freeze is of this approximate vintage).
Canning was yet another way to preserve just about everything. It’s usually a hot, steamy process, but well worth it, especially if you have an outdoor “summer kitchen” to can in, so as not to heat the house. These days, we tend to can inside. After all, when you’re already sweating from the hot pepper fumes in the air, what’s a little more sweat?
But, back to the freezer. As a child, I always dreaded being sent to the huge deep freeze in the basement. It was older than I was, WAY bigger than I was, and if I forgot to lock it, heaven help me when Mom found out. I was always convinced I’d fall in while looking for something near the bottom. And there were weird things in there. They were older than I was too, lumpy, misshapen things wrapped in butcher paper and tape, half encrusted in frost. As an adult, we still have a deep freeze. It came with the house, and I think it’s older than the one I grew up with. It refuses to quit, thank goodness. We’d probably have to dismantle the kitchen floor to get it out. And, oddly enough, it has strange things in it too.
Now, mind you, I had a friend that kept dead garter snakes in her freezer. That’s weird. I thought I was at least halfway normal with unlabeled baggies of red sauce, ancient vegetables, and those cleaned chicken feet I always meant to make broth with. Darling Daughter’s Ag class just sent me over the edge.
They had to find bugs for a display. The teacher told them that the easiest way to kill them without damaging them was to put them in a jar in the freezer. So, as last weekend went on, bugs in jars began to take over my freezer. It was pretty benign (the moth, ants, housefly, and crickets didn’t really BUG me, haha) until Hubs found the prize specimen on his chainsaw. Into a fresh jar went the wheel bug. Every time I opened the freezer door to add a fresh specimen, the wheel bug stood up on its hind legs. I could almost hear it hissing. Yikes. Darling Daughter was going to have to stick a pin in this thing for the display . . .would it revive when it thawed? Thankfully, it didn’t. And she got extra credit for a bug her teacher didn’t have yet Yay.
Now pardon me while I clean out my freezer. If you don’t hear from me next month, I fell in. Happy Autumn!