Food for Thought Lorinda A. Henry 02/2020There is an old, old saying that

The provident farmer on Candlemas Day

Has half of his wood and half of his hay.

I have been wondering if there was a rhyme for the food put by as well. It makes sense. Candlemas Day (Groundhog Day) has come and gone, meaning winter is going to wane and eventually gardens will get planted, and orchards will be busy with bees, berries will ripen. The whole process of putting up food for the next winter will recommence, but in the meantime, there will be need to rely on what was stored last season.

I don’t know how they figured it all. I can’t always plan for groceries for two weeks, let alone six months. I remember how big the haymow was, and how high the wood was piled in the shed. I recall the potato bin in the corner of the cellar, and watching its contents wane by spring. A certain amount needed to be saved for the coming planting, although I think sometimes Grampy invested in seed potatoes, sometimes choosing a different variety. He preferred Katahdins from Maine, mostly, and I can still hear how he said that (his favorite millet was “Hungarian” and I loved the way he said that, too). But in the fall he had to make real decisions on how many to save for food and seed and how many to sell.

The same with jars of vegetables and fruit – beans, corn, tomatoes, peaches, crab apples, pickles, berries – in the fall there were dozens and dozens of jars, in glowing color like stained glass, even in the rather dim light of the cellar. And there were stores of carrots, turnips, squash, apples, butternuts and I don’t know what all besides. A cow was culled and taken to the meat locker in another town over where it was killed, wrapped, identified as to farmer and stored. Same if a deer fell to hunting in November.

There were eggs and milk even in winter. Dad’s mom put eggs down in a crock of “waterglass” and they kept all winter. I looked this up – waterglass is sodium silicate and seems to be more used by artists now, though I did track down how to save eggs with it, which Amish folks still do. Gram made cottage cheese and sour cream cookies, and just about anything that would save the turning dairy products. And, back in the chicken house old hens were left to be taken out one by one for Sunday dinner.

But we did go to the grocery store, for white sugar, large bags of flour, soft white bread that Grampy liked best (I have no idea why!), cinnamon, yeast, hard cheese, and an occasional bag of peppermints or hard candy. Every summer Gram ordered a whole bushel of peaches to be canned, which we picked up at Mr. Sinclair’s Grand Union. Jar rubbers, salt, pickling spices. We didn’t have a pig while I can remember, so there was lard for pie crusts. (When first married I looked my cookbook up and down to learn how to make pie crust. No luck. I finally found it as “pastry” which no one I had known ever called it).

I started pondering all this the other day while grocery shopping. I am not fond of grocery shopping and I get tired doing it. I started longing for the days we could just go downstairs and find a feast. Then I though further – would I really like to do all the gardening. Picking, plucking, and canning on hot summer nights that Gram did? Really, no. I decided I know nothing at all about getting tired. Grocery shopping didn’t seem like a bad deal after all.

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