I was born in the early 1950’s and my mom worked full-time outside the home, which was unusual for that time period. My brother and I often joke about being our parents’ forced labor growing up but, truth is, we were a family that pulled together and if something needed to be done, we’d better get crackin’!
We lived in a country house on a very large lot with a very large garden, chickens, hunting dogs, 200+ acres of hunting land (lovingly referred to as ‘the farm’ and complete with berry patches and apple trees) etc., so there was never a lack of things to be done. One of the things my parents expected was that dinner preparation would be well underway by the time they got home from work (they worked for the same company and had the same hours, so they left and arrived home together). As the youngest child, I was normally the first to arrive home from school and I would dream up something for dinner if I hadn’t been given specific instructions on what we were eating that night. The mechanics of cooking were learned while assisting my mom with everything: picking apples and blueberries on ‘the farm’, picking vegetables from the garden, plucking chicken feathers, canning peaches, baking pies, and everything between. I made Swedish meatballs and chocolate eclairs to earn my Girl Scout international cooking badge, and made chicken breasts with carrots in mushroom sauce just because it seemed like a good idea.
Having grown up during the Great Depression, both parents considered self-sufficiency to be not just a trendy concept but a matter of survival. 90% of what we ate came from the land, and I was about 10 years old before I realized that one could buy meat already packaged from a grocery store. Venison, rabbit, squirrel, all kinds of fish, wild and cultivated fruits and vegetables were the main fare in our house, hunted/caught by my dad (and the rest of us) and grown as the result of our forced labor. Beef and pork were purchased by the side from farmers and stored in a huge chest freezer on an enclosed porch. Shelves in the cellar-way were packed with canned meat, fruit, and vegetables. Water came from a deep well in the back yard. Milk was delivered by ‘the milkman’ from a local dairy and left in an insulated box on the front porch. Living in the country meant regular power outages and impassable roads in the winter, but we never needed to worry about running out of food. Thanks to an apartment-size propane cook stove (just for emergencies), we never needed to worry about cooking or heat, although a winter power outage might find the kitchen blocked off by blankets across the doorway and the floor littered with sleeping bags and pillows. Candles, kerosene lanterns, and everything else we needed to get through an outage was out in the garage if needed.
Like my mom, I have a well-stocked freezer and pantry, and a year-round vegetable garden, which means we never have to worry about running out of food either. Extra everything is the theme here.
The freedom to make decisions about dinner and the never-forgotten cooking skills I learned as a child left me with a lifelong love of cooking, and now that I’ve retired, I get to do what I love every day!