Mustangs. Moonshine and Sourdough Biscuits

A collection of short stories

Work in Progress-this is a sample chapter

Now We're Cookin'

(c) Guy Swanson

 

Sometimes womanhood creeps up on a young girl and sometimes it comes with a shove, “I didn't have any other choice, I just lived life the way it happened,” Hope always said with no regrets.  Grandma had ruled over the kitchen like like a chuck wagon cook but when she abruptly left, Hope jumped right in and took over the kitchen. Nobody said it was her job, that was just assumed. “Grandma had never let me help with the cooking, she said I would waste food.” Hope remembered. She pulled out the well-work cookbook that Grandma kept in a drawer over the flour bin and set about reading it.  She had alot to learn.

Her memories of Mama were few, Hope was only six when she died. “She was a soft spoken woman..... the most beautiful of her sisters......a hard worker and never complained,” Hope reflected. With four children under six and the two older boys Mama ran the farm during the week while Papa worked at the feed store in Culver and spent the week in town. Drawn to that memory in many ways, either consciously or unconsciously, Hope knew she had some big shoes to fill.

After Grandma moved to town, the six Nance children were basically raising themselves. The two older boys did the heavy work and Papa made his weekly visits to the farm, arriving Friday evening and leaving Sunday afternoon. “Papa couldn't really be counted for anything but but a whipping, he could have been described as more of an overseer, he was never really that much of a father.” Hope said. “Papa was strict, quick to temper, one look from him you just died. He made us cut our own switches and bring them for his approval. He would slap it in the palm of his hand, look into our eyes, and sometimes told us to go back and get a bigger one. Other times he just brought out the belt. 
It was a bittersweet arrival when he came home Friday night and a relief when he left after Sunday dinner.  "During the week there was nobody else to watch out for us........I think some people thought of us as what you called junivelle delinquints, and we heard that someone tried to turn us in, said we were abandoned children,” Hope related. “it's good we had some guts, we had to stick up for ourselves.......you mess with one of us, you got all of us.....and there were fights."

Life in Grandview was lived by farmer's hours.  Hope got up early every morning, grabbed a handful of pine kindling and laid it in the firebox of the kitchen stove.  She scooped some soudough starter out of the jar, mixed it with flour and set it aside.  After she stoked the fire with some bigger pieces of wood, set the coffee on to boil and started the mush, she put the biscuits in the hot oven and ran out to milk the five cows.  By the time she got back he biscuits and mush were ready. 

"During the winter the cows didn't give much milk so we would mix it with water, a quart to a quart.  We called it blue John," Hope remembered.  During the school year there was only time in the morning for mush and biscuits, but on weekends and during the summer Hope had time to fix biscuits and gravy with fried potatoes and some eggs and bacon.  As soon as the weather got warmer they set a table outside to escape the heat from the wood stove in the kitvchen.

She taught herself how to cook on the aging wood stove, moving her hand around the top to judge the temperature and adding kindling. "There were six burners on a flat surface and you just had to learn your heat, slide the pots and pans around and keep an eye on the cooking, put your hand in the oven to know when it was ready." Every dinner they had fried potatoes.  "I just peeled 'em, sliced sliced 'em and fried 'em in the hog lard while I worked on the rest of the dinner and the turned 'em to brown.

Summers were time for the hard work of maintaining the farm and laying in provisions for the winter ahead.  The kitchen was the hartbeat of farm life.  The day began with a full stomach and by noon the boys had to be fed.  The eveningmeal was the reward for for the day's labor.  Antime she could find the makings of a treat it made her feel useful and happy.

Hope still had her chores to do and kept her meals simple during the school year.  When they were running late the dirty breakfast dishes stayed on the table.  "Before we sat down to eat dinner we put two pots of water on the stove to do the dinner dishes.  I usually washed, used a powdered soap....kept a can of ashes to scrub with and Pearl used a flour sack towel to dry and she put the dishes in the cabinet on the wall.....after dinner the boys ust disappared and we had to do it all." Hope recalled.  Water was prescious and they used it several times.  Usually the dishes were washed in water that had already been used for cooking.

"Grandma's kids didn't do much when she lived there," Hope reflected.  "Uncle Mancel was always the first to leave the table and Grandma babied Akunt Mazie.  She wasn't even required to help with the dishes." After Gramdma left they had two less mouths to feed and Mazie hadn't been pulling her weight anyway."

There was no such thing as spare time.  They filled the kerosene lamps from a one gallon can, wshed the chimmneys and trimmed the wicks. Twice a week they cleaned the ashes of the stoves.  Some were saved to scrub pots and pans and some when down the outhouse hole to cover up the odor.  "We had to clean the roost where the chickens pooped, scrape it off and put ashes on the roosst for the lice."

If they needed to go the the store Bert had no problem adding it to the account ledger, but Papa needed to look over the bill. "I went up Bert's one time and bought some mayonnaise.  Papa saw that and oh-boy did he get mad."  Hope went to the cookbook and see how Grandma made it. " I found out we had one of those plunger things, I  hadn't known what it was.  I put in some vinegar, salt, eggs, added in the oil, and a little sugar and salt."

They ate beans three times a day.  It was a staple for every meal and for the bean sandwiches they took to school.  The first time Hope cooked beans she looked in the cookbook and it said to soak a cople cups of beans.  That didn't look like that would feed all of them,so she put in the whole bag and ended up with enough beans to last the week.  The same thing happened when she made rice. "I ended up with seven pans of rice," she chuckled.

Jack Cropley and Lawrence Graham helped out a lot and often joined the six Nance kids at mealtime.  "The Graham family had a really nice home, but Lawrence liked having dinner with us. Everybody sat at the table and ate family style.  It was a good time," Hope reminisced.

Grandma never made any desert or frills, she said it would waste food.  One day Hope and Pearl decided to make donuts.  They took the cookbook out of the drawer and found a recipe.  The girls mixed  up the flour, starter and baking powder but it just made a big mess.  "If we would have just added more flour and kneaded it we would have been OK, but we just ended up with a sticky mess.  Papa was due from town and they didn't want him to see that they had wasted flour so they headed to the outhouse to dump the evidence. When they realized that he would see it there they dug a hole by the path and buried it just as he drove in.  Soon the afternoon began to warm the ground and the dough started to rise. "Papa came aback from the outhouse and said there was a big bump in the dirt and asked if I knew anything about it.  I lied like hell and he rest of the day I really hoped the dog didn't start diggin'.  Papa sat down filled his pipe and we just kept our mouths shut.  After he left on Sunday we ran out and dug up the evidence and dumped it in the outhouse.  We wre giggling and so happy we'd put something over on him."

It wasn't long before the girls got the donut recipe right. "The boys really loved them.  We were always taking a sack out to them when they were working.  I made cookies, too and Fritz liked to make fudge.  Ike New and his brother had an orchard at the bottom of the canyon where he three rivers came together. "He took the fruit to town to sell and sometimes he gave us a box." Hope larned to make apple pies with the flaky crust like Mama used to make.

"One time I tried to make coffee cake" Hope said.  "The recipe called for one cup of coffee and I thought it meant coffee grounds.  It was awful." She learned to cook the hard way-by trial and error, but she liked the challenge.

"I used to hate it when Papa came into the kitchen in the aftrnoon, sat down, picked up the newspaper and said to make him a biscuit.  In the heat of the day it might be ninety degrees in the kitchen. I had to build a fire, mix up the sourdough and bake that darn biscuit.  Then he would just eat it and go back outside."

Hope and Pearl were always close, and during summer and on weekends they cooked full time.  During the summer there was very little fresh meat.  "If one of the lambs wouldn't stay with the sheep we knew that the coyotes would get him anyway, so we had it for dinnner.  We stored slabs of bacon in brine and just sliced off what we needed.  Sometmes the Indians brought us some venison.

In summer hey ate mostly fish.  "Almost every day one of the boys hiked down Mother's Garden Trail to the river and brought back fish for dinner-Dolly Varden, trout, redside and whitefish.  One time Papa caught a Dolly Varden, he ws so happy," Hope remembered.  She saved bacon grease in a five gallon can and also had barrel of lard from butcherig the hogs.  "I dipped the fish in flour and fried 'em in bacon grease and sliced up some potatos, fried 'em in lard. Depending on the time of year we ate fish,venison, rabbit, pork or chcken with sourdough biscuits, vegetables from he garden, and with the beans I cooked diced or fried potatoes."

As fall arrivd the days grew shorter and he sun slanted in low.  Winter was on the way.  Hope could butcher a rabbit, cut up a chicken, butcher a lamb or dress a deer faster than anyone else.  Soon a season of meat filled the milk house. "We at lots of rabbit during the winter, either fried or baked.  I loved the heart and kidneys, just loved them" she remembered.  In the fall the boys would come back from hunting with their pack horses laden heavy with deer.  It was cold enugh th hang the deer carcas in the milk house and Hope could just cut off a roast or the steaks she needd to make dinner.  Homestead life pushed he beyond her years.

It was a large family and Papa wouldn't let them start eating until everyone was seated.  The Sunday evening meal was always an imporant tradition and on the weekend when Papa was there they had a big chicken dinner before he drove back to town for work.  There were twenty or thirty chickens that roamed free during the day and "Sunday morning I went out to the yard with him and picked out two chicken that weren't laying.  Papa always said that if they lay, they say. Chickens were hard to catch running loose and I never liked killing anything anyay, that was Papa's job.  He would use his .22 to shoot their heads off.  He never used the shotgun, he wanted to avoid messing up the body with buckshot.  I watched the chickens runing around the yard with their huds cut off spurting blood until they dropped over dead."

As soon as the chickens stopped moving she picked them up and dipped them in a waiting bucket of boiling water to pluck the feathers.  "I dipped the chicken to loosen up the feathers, most of them came out in clumps  It was singeing and pulling he pinfeathers that took the time.  I learned how to cut it up and boil it.  Papa didn't like pancakes, or fried chicken.  He always wanted  his chicken boiled and he potatoes had to be fried."

Sunday dinner was a big tradition at the Nances. "Papa always wanted us seated with him a the head of the table."  At that first meal Hope cooked and Pearl called everybody to the table.  They set out the platters of boiled chicken, the bowls of vegetables and a big plate of fried potatoes. It was her first big meal and Hope watched as everybody spooned vegetables from he bowls and buttered their sourdough biscuits.  that was a proud moment for Hope, she and Pearl thought they had done as good a job as Grandma.  Aftr dinner Papa said "whatever you're doing, you're doin it right."  That was the only time ever said anything about he cooking but it was enough.  Hope and Pearl smiled each oher.

The children were always relieved to see him leave after Sunday dinner.   "He was really indifferent to a child's feelings and we were always on guard to watch his moods, he was very stern," Hope reflected.  Nobody laughed at Sunday dinner, we were must waiting for him to leave."

We weren't really alone, though.  We had Jack, Lawrence and Bud over most of the time and they helped out whenever we needed anything done. They could haul wood, shovel manure, fix things.  We was always laughing-nobody was the funiest, we just all had our say.  Everybody farted alot.  In the house, in the car.  We would get someone between us in the car seat and starting farting and they couldn't get out."

"Life was fun and I wouldn't trade it for anything. "Her teenage  years were just around the corner, and her time to face the challenges of becoming a woman.  Like always, Hope would play it our with the cards she was dealt.

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