We all know who the great old-timey cooks were. They were the women who knew how to make anything taste good. They grew up during the lean times of the l920s and 30s on rural farms. Their day started at 5 a.m. with chores done by lantern-light, meals cooked on the wood cook stove, food refrigerated in the spring house and water carried to the kitchen in buckets.
The wood cook stove was the signature for cooks who toiled for hours cooking, canning and keeping the family fed. When gas and electric ranges became available, many put them alongside the ever-faithful wood stove, not trusting yet to give up the very center to every family kitchen.
Of interest are the remedies, folklore, weather predictions, and superstitions that evolved from the kitchens of that era.
In the cake lore category you heard: Always bake a cake while the sun is going up. (Or it will fall.) Don’t throw away the egg shells until after the cake is baked. Stop the clock while the cake is baking.
It was thought that anyone born while the mulberries were ripe had a good chance of being red-headed. Other direct pieces of advice were: A fat kitchen, a lean will. Don’t fall out with your bread and butter. A rotten apple spoils its companion.
Then there were the vegetable insults. His family is like potatoes, all that is good of them is underground. She rattles around her house like one pea in a pod. He’s too lazy to shuck corn if you gave it to him.
Using bread for weather forecasting was undoubtedly as accurate as anything used then or now. To take the last piece of bread on the plate foretells rain. If you drop a piece of buttered bread upside down on the floor, it will soon rain. If, handling a loaf of bread, it breaks into two parts, it’ll rain all week.
Folk remedies were often worse than what they were intended to cure. For baldness the cure was to consume the gall of a lizard, fresh mouse meat or mole’s blood. To prevent a cold, tie a big red onion to the bedpost. A good spring tonic was anvil dust mixed with cream.
Necessity is the mother of invention and also the source of the many “mock” recipes that sprang up during the depression. Finding themselves without money or access to needed ingredients birthed the mock cherry pie made from cranberries and raisins.
Mock turtle soup was created using cow’s tongue and soda crackers were substituted for macaroni. Mock coconut macaroons used rolled oats and almond extract and mock honey was created from sugar, oranges, eggs and butter.
The only thing harder than all the cooking done in that era was the laundry. A recipe for doing the laundry, as written by a West Virginia grandmother, gave a 12-step chronology for the job. It began with “Bild fire in back yard and het kettle of rain water.”
Step three instructed “Shave one hole cake lie sope in biling water.” After the clothing sort, the scrubbing, boiling, “renching” and spreading items on the grass and fence to dry, the “rench water” was poured on the flower bed and the porch was scrubbed with the soapy water.
Step twelve was advice we can all use today. “Turn tubs up and dress-smooth hair with side combs. Brew cup of tee, set and rest and rock a spell and count blessings.”
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.