Friday, December 24, 2010

CHRISTMAS GIFTS FROM THE FARM; part 2; by Marion Aldrich

To my brother's wife I sent a small crate of mixed vegetables. She was delighted. I sent them early enough for her to use them for the Christmas dinner. There was a small Hubbard squash, some choice potatoes, onion, beets, carrots, turnips, a cabbage, some apples, a dozen hard winter pears and a little jar of delicious crabapple jelly tucked in.

To our old school-teacher, still striving to teach the young idea how to shoot Ruth and I joined in making a big, rich fruit cake.

To a friend who had a number of small children, Ruth sent half a dozen jars of pure honey.

I don't know how many little jars of jellies and chili sauce and baby pickles and jams and other preserves and condiments we sent along for presents.

To a doctor friend—the one who sent me to inhale the country air for six months—I sent two dozen big, rich duck eggs, quite fresh. On each egg I pasted a tiny sticker, a little Santa or Christmas tree or stocking or something of that sort. I placed these in a wire case which holds each egg firmly, marked them plainly and they reached the good doctor without a break or a crack.

Every year Ruth's great-aunt send her something of value. This great-aunt owns a string of business blocks in a big city and keeps a lawyer busy attending solely to her estate. At my suggestion, Ruth prepared a goose for the oven, stuffed it, sewed it up in a white cloth and packed it in a box, the corners of which she filled with apples and onions for roasting. This she sent to Great-aunt, not without fear and trembling. “The very idea of sending her something to eat,” she gasped, “she'll think it an insult.” she invited a select few in to dinner, she wrote, and boasted of the “home-grown goose straight from my dear niece who lives on a farm,” And all her guests raved.

To friends who had children we sent baskets of native nuts: walnuts, butternuts, hickory nuts, chinquapins and the like. We also made some delicious molasses kisses, wrapped them in waxed paper, packed them with sprigs of evergreen and sent them along.

If you live in the maple belt, you surely have some maple sugar left. If it is black, melt it over and re-cast the cakes. They will be delicious. Or melt them and stir them into the soft maple sugar and let your friends use them for genuine maple fudge.

If you have popcorn, tie up four bunches, six ears in a bunch, with red ribbon and send it as a present. Country pop corn “tastes different,” you know! It does. I've tasted it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

CHRISTMAS GIFTS FROM THE FARM; part 1; by Marion Aldrich

Last Christmas I spent with a schoolmate who lives in the country. I had gone to her home in the early Autumn to board because I had much writing to do and needed quiet. At the same time I needed the sweet, pure country air. When we first began talking of Christmas, fully six or eight weeks before that date, Ruth, my friend, began the old-time plaint: “I know I shall get a lot of pretty things from my city friends and relatives, and what on earth can I get in this old ark that is fit to send them?”

“This old ark,” was the village general store, where we were when we brought up the subject of Christmas giving. “Ruth Preston,” I answered her, “with all the opportunities you have for making the most delightful, unusual and really worthwhile gifts, you should worry about Storekeeper Wiggin's limited stock of cheese and chewing tobacco.”

“What do you mean?” gasped Ruth.

“Well, you never lived in the city, cooped up in an apartment, or in a house in a big town where the nearest woods and nearest garden were miles and miles away? Did you now?” She admitted that she never had.

“Imagine that you did live in such a place. What would you say if you were to receive a beautiful little baby fir tree eighteen inches high, a luscious deep green, growing in a pretty little wooden tub painted deep red? Suppose it came to you carefully wrapped in wet burlap so that the express people could see what it was the keep it right side up?

“It would be pretty,” admitted Ruth.

“And suppose you lived in a big elevator apartment with a tiny kitchenette and a new maid every week or so and all the goodies you had you made yourself or got at a cafe or dug out of cans with a can opener. How would you like to get a great big fat mince pie, packed in a box so carefully that it couldn't crush or break?”

I had set her to thinking. Soon after that we brought up the subject once more. I sent back to the city for two dollars' worth of narrow, red ribbon, holly ribbon, Christmas labels, tags and stickers.

“What are you going to send him?” I asked Ruth one day as she mentioned her very wealthy brother who had lived in a distant city for twenty years.

“Oh dear, Tom has so much money that anything I could afford would look cheap!” she complained. “Neckties are silly and I don't know the latest styles. I'd love to surprise him once---”

“Make fifty of those old-fashioned big sugar cookies, such as your mother used to make for you and Tom when you were youngsters. I know how they taste—want one right now! Wrap each one in white tissue, stick a tiny fancy label on, to fasten the tissue together, pack them firmly in a box and send them along to him.” Watch his mouth water!

Ruth did it and the letter she got from her brother brought the quick tears to her eyes.

Friday, December 17, 2010

PIONEER STORIES; 1872; part 2 of 2

This account was written in 1949 by Mrs. Mary Dostal of Olivia, MN, continued:

On winter evenings, Father would make shoes for us children from cowhide he had tanned himself. He made harnesses, brushes, furniture and even made wagon-wheels.

Mother used to help with the tree-cutting. That was the ever-present, never-ending work. Besides cooking and cleaning, sewing, and child-bearing, Mother would churn butter for market, make cheese, molded candles, cooked soap using lye made from ashes. She would knit for us using yarn she had spun herself out of wool from our own sheep, using a spinning-wheel she would borrow from a neighbor. Neighbors in turn would come to our house to use Mother's sewing-machine which was one of the few of its kind in the neighborhood. We would often pick wild raspberries and take them to Hutchinson and exchange them in the store for calico, kerosene or coffee.

Whenever anyone was sick, the neighbors helped each other. Women knew many home remedies which they were glad to administer in time of need. Many a baby was brought into the world without the assistance of a doctor.

These early settlers enjoyed working together, and would combine fun with work. In the winter they would line their sleds with feather-beds, and bundle up the children and drive to some neighbor to help at a butchering, quilting, or feather-stripping bee. After the work was finished, the floor was cleared and an accordion or a fiddle would furnish the music for their spirited square-dances, polkas and two-steps. Gay Czech songs were sung. There is something about a Bohemian tune that sets the foot to tapping.

The Czechs are proud of their nationality, and in the Silver Lake community it has been kept alive. Their language was spoken in their homes and used in business transactions, and today the majority of the people there are children and grandchildren of the old settlers, who are alive on the old homesteads, and carry on the old traditions. The Czechs, with their ingenuity and hard work, have built one of the most prosperous and progressive communities in Minnesota.

Monday, December 13, 2010

PIONEER LETTERS; 1872; part 1 of 2

This account was written in 1949 by Mrs. Mary Dostal of Olivia, MN:

When my parents came to this country in 1872 from Czecho-Slovakia, they bought a small tract of land in McLeod County. They lived in a neighbor's home until they cleared a piece of land on which to build their log cabin. They chose to live in the woods in preference to the prairie, because the trees provided shelter, fuel and lumber.

This cabin my parents built into a home. The first work that had to be done was to cut down trees and grub the stumps. When they had a small plot cleared, they planted potatoes, proso (a grain similar to millet) mangels, and turnips.

This new soil was very fertile and yielded well. The potatoes and proso meal with skimmed milk was their main food. The proso was hulled by pounding a small amount at a time in a bell-shaped mortar, made by hollowing out a block of hard wood.

Mangels and turnips with slough hay was the winter's feed for the cow. In the summer they would tie a bell on the cow's neck and let her wander in the woods to find her own feed.

Year after year, as they cleared more land, they were able to plant other crops. They raised sorghum cane, which they took to a neighbor who had an improvised oxen-powered press. This press was crudely constructed but served its purpose. The pan used for cooking the syrup was a large tin-bottomed pan with wooden sides. The sorghum made this way, was used for sweetening.

My father was a jack-of-all-trades; he was especially handy with carpenter's tools. Neighbors asked him to help them to build their homes, and they repaid him by helping him in other ways. Father had constructed a device for making shingles; it required two men to furnish the power, and one man to feed the machine with the bass-wood, and any number of us children to stack the finished shingles and to tie them into bundles.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


It is expected that approximately two million Christmas packages will be sent from this country to the fighters Overseas. Officials of the War Department, the Post Office Department and the American Red Cross have worked out a plan whereby every soldier can receive one Christmas package and only one from the United States.

The men themselves will decide who is to send these parcels. They have been given, each man, one Christmas-parcel label with instructions to mail these labels to the person in this country from whom they wish to receive the holiday box. Packages that do not bear these labels will not be accepted. Lost labels cannot be replaced.

The American Red Cross will provide cartons, 3” x 4” x 9” in size and will make itself responsible for the distribution receipt at designated points, inspection and mailing of the boxes.

No Christmas parcels will be received for shipment after November 20.

This all may seem hard lines to us who long to pour out our love in many gifts but WE ARE AT WAR and, considered in that light, it seems wonderful that Uncle Sam can add ANY provision for our Christmas packages to his other heavy responsibilites. Let us help him by strict compliance with every regulation.--The Editor of The Farmer's Wife.