Tuesday, June 25, 2024
Chris Judd

We almost forgot

When we were told to self-isolate, the schools and colleges closed down, and many business closed, a lot of folks lost their jobs indefinitely. Panic buying began immediately. Soon the store shelves were bare of toilet paper, tissue paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer and wipes, milk, bread and bottled water.
At one local store it was reported that the police were almost called when two shoppers scuffled over the last roll of bread on the shelf. As a semi-retired dairy farmer, for the first time in my life we had no milk in the fridge. We always drank our own milk fresh from the farm but after stopping her seven day a week job milking, Jeannie started buying milk with the other groceries.
Once Keena found out that we were out of milk, she promptly arrived at the door with a three quart jug of ice cold milk from the farm. Our milk consumption had dwindled down to a pint every two days when we started using store bought milk. For an old dairy farmer the milk bought at the store just tasted flat. Once we got our second jug of milk from the tank, our milk consumption quickly rose to three quarts every day. Even though milk from the tank averaged four per cent fat and our milk consumption went up more than ten times, the scales tell me I’ve lost three pounds. That’s the end of the low fat, no taste is good to keep the weight off theory.
After reports came in about store shelves being partially empty, I began to think about how our grandparents survived 75 years and four generations ago while WWII was in full horrible force. Toilet paper was never seen in the two-hole’r out beside the grainery, only a box of old daily newspapers with a few family heralds, farmers advocates, and Eaton and Simpsons’ catalogs there to finish the job with. The family heralds, advocates, and catalogs were there just for educational purposes because that shiny paper wasn’t very effective. Even years later we only noticed toilet paper in the two-hole’r when the preacher came to visit.
Hand sanitizer and wipes were never seen on the farms 75 years ago. Lye soap was homemade as needed. Extra grease from the frying pan and fat skimmed off the gravy was collected in a can next to the wood stove. Although every household made lye soap, recipes were seldom written down. I know that animal fat, lye, water, a little fragrant oil and sometimes ashes from a hardwood fire were blended. The soap was cured a week and then the mix was poured in to a flat pan about one and a half inches deep. After a week to dry and cure, it was cut into bars the size that the Mrs. liked.
Dairy farms never ran out of milk. No, it wasn’t pasteurized or homogenized but grandpa always said if a farmer cannot drink milk from his farm, he shouldn’t be allowed to sell it.
Every wife in the country knew how to make bread and buns. I still remember the tin flour and sugar barrels in our pantry. We bought Robin Hood flour and Redpath sugar in 75 five pound bags at the feed mill. The barrels in the pantry held two bags in each.
It still amazes me that in a country with twice as much fresh water as any other country in the world, we buy bottled water. Our ancestors got fresh water at a spring, from a quick running creek where a hydraulic ram that was powered by water flowing over it, pumped water up to a second storey in a house or a big tank in the loft of the barn. It then flowed by gravity down to the kitchen or to water the animals.
There was a root cellar on every farm. There you stored a year’s supply of potatoes, carrots, turnips, apples, a barrel or two of homemade sauerkraut and a barrel of salt pork. When a beef was killed, often the meat was divided between neighbours and family and in the winter was stored buried in the oats in the grainery. When the weather got too warm or in the summer, beef was canned and stored in glass sealers for future use. Moose and deer meat was also canned and stored in sealers.
Although many farms made their our butter, we were close to the creamery and traded cream for butter. Cheese was made in several local cheese factories in summer when there were lots of cows milking. Cheese was made into large wheels about six inches deep and 16 inches across. These wheels were stored four deep in round cheese boxes that could be stored or aged for later sales. All year around, there was always a wheel of cheese on the counter at the general or country store.
Basement walls in farm homes were lined with shelves. These shelves were loaded with dill pickles, icicle pickles, bread and butter pickles, beet pickles, pickle relish, all kinds of fruit preserves, jam, and jellies, citron preserves, gooseberry jam, rhubarb and crab-apple preserves, and hundreds more items that our grandmothers canned away with a summer abundance of gardens and fruit trees growing along fence rows.
When city cousins notified grandma a couple hours before arrival, grandpa chopped the head off a rooster, cleaned and plucked it and a roasted chicken dinner complete with gravy, fresh biscuits and a full course meal was waiting when they arrived. This was a signal that we would get chicken and dumpling the next day. With food rationing invoked during WWII, coupons were distributed to each family according to the size of the family. Rationing included: gas, butter, cheese, all meats, all canned goods that could be shipped to our troupes, sugar, boots, and almost everything except vegetables and fruits. Farmers were lucky that they had their own milk, meat, eggs, butter, cheese, grains (flour) and only had a hard time getting enough sugar. Many farms had farm helpers who got ration coupons at home but ate two meals each day at work on the farm. Farmers and their helpers worked hard and loved their sweets for energy. Grandma was always swapping butter and egg coupons for sugar coupons.
So our children and grandchildren are at home for who knows how long during the pandemic. They are all learning to do housework, cooking, baking, cleaning, doing the wash, etc. Some are learning basic architecture, engineering, mechanics, pipe cutting and threading, carpenter work, painting, milking, how to analyse and deal with other people and animals, (psychology) and to look after your elderly or shut-in neighbours. Our seven-year-old is busy with 10 new puppies. Their bed has to be cleaned, the puppies have to be cuddled and get used to kids and the warmth of your body and the sound of a human heartbeat. Puppies must learn that kids and people are kind and their friends. Kids learn the responsibility of caring for and understanding little things.
We all learn that we can cook a pretty good meal at home. We quickly learn that nature and people are more important than things. We have learned that the we really haven’t forgot.

Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations. gladcrest@gmail.com

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