Archive for August, 2014

Preserving the Summer

August 29, 2014

Last week I talked about pickling and some of the cautions necessary to keep you and your family safe if you pickle things. With a bow to Bobby Flay, I just saw him pickling some onions and adding them as a topping on hot dogs. Just to be succinct, if you are using the item you pickle soon, you are in the clear.

Colorado peaches are now in season and if you love that ripe peach flavor as much as I do, here are a couple of suggestions for enjoying that flavor in January and beyond. If you have a freezer you can freeze sliced peaches and enjoy them well into next spring. Slice the peaches, put in some lemon juice so they don’t brown, and sugar to taste. Then bag the peaches in sandwich bags and freeze.

If you like jam as much as my 3-year-old grandson does, you can make your own jam and tuck it into a cool place for later enjoyment. I can almost guarantee it won’t last until spring. Your local grocery store has jars, pectin, and paraffin for accomplishing this project and if you live in a cold climate that jam is going to be heavenly on some cold winter morning for breakfast.

All this may sound a bit off the subject for pioneer blogging, but it is the way that most pioneer women kept their family from having scurvy in the winter months when citrus was a rare treat and fruit only a memory in the winter months. Sometimes newer isn’t always better. When faced with a jar of jam from the grocery store full of enough preservatives to keep it into the 22nd century or making your own—fresh wins out every time.



August 22, 2014

It’s that time of year. Time to “store up” for winter. I purchased a box of Palisade peaches the other day and discovered this morning that I’’ better hurry up and make the peach jam. Fruit is precious and although you can purchase a can of cannery peaches any time of the year, frozen peaches in January are marvelous.

Okay, I promise not to get on my soapbox here, but I want to warn newbies about pickles. There seems to be a new fad sweeping the foodies out there. I’d like to insert a word of caution. Making jams and jellies is not a dangerous activity, but pickling is. If you live at sea level, please pickle to your heart’s content. But if you live 1,000 feet or above sea level for goodness sake, locate the telephone number of your local extension agent and give them a call. Blithely processing pickles, particularly green beans, for the length of time recommended in the sea level recipe could earn you a giant bellyache or a one-way trip in a coffin. There’s this nasty little thing called botulism. Unfortunately a few pioneer families learned the hard way that processing for less time at high altitude could be hazardous to your health.

Making your own pickles or preserves may give you a satisfying feeling, but please learn to do it the right way. I’d like to see you stay around for a while.


August 15, 2014

Just when I think I’m running out of subject matter on pioneer life a new idea pops into my head, so you’re safe for a while from my temptation to make an abrupt right turn and write about something modern.

This Tuesday, my grandson started first grade and for the first time became a bus rider. In addition to kudos for reaching this milestone, my thoughts turned to pioneer children attending school. Before perhaps the 1920’s, children had to make their own way to school. In my corner of the world that meant walking or if possible, riding a horse. Walking meant a new pair of shoes. Most children were encouraged to go barefoot as long as possible and revert to the shoes only when the weather turned cold and shoes were an absolute necessity.

Any mother in the world can tell you that children outgrow shoes faster than any other object they own. Keeping this in mind, pioneer women usually purchased shoes two or three, if not four sizes too large. Shoes were too large for a third of the year, just right for a third of the year, and too small for the final third of school year. How miserable that must have been!

School clothes were another matter. Boys were clothed in a new pair of jeans or overalls. If the boy had older siblings this meant a hand-me-down from an older brother which could have been patched to make them through another year. Girls wore hand-me-downs too or if they were an only girl, perhaps they would receive a new flour sack dress to celebrate the new school year. Many times the girl was sewn into the dress which meant she wore it 24-hours a day until it literally fell off of her or was so tattered that it was indecent for school wear.

Clothes weren’t a necessity for school and many times were considered an expense few families could afford.

Grocery Super Stores

August 8, 2014

While in the middle of writing a new nonfiction book on the history of local town Parker, I began to think about grocery superstores or just plain super stores. You’d think this concept was a new one and that modern society coined the whole idea. Not so.

Superstores have been around for a couple of centuries, if not longer. On the plains the “general store” was everything. It was the hardware store–selling nails, screws, lumber, and tarpaper for building a homestead house. It was the department store–selling yard goods, pins, needles, buttons, and ribbon in addition to whatever ready-made items might be available including shoes, hats, and perhaps a fancy made dress. And it was the grocery store, selling staple items like flour and sugar in addition to canned goods and cooking supplies. It might also be the post office or in some cases the local coffee shop.
It was always the source of local news and gossip.

In my area, one grocery store also served as the upstairs dance hall and social center mutating from local dances to the center for early movies and for a brief time the basketball court for the high school basketball team.

Yes, super centers are not new and although some of them are larger, I doubt any of them every served as basketball courts.

Everything old is new again.


August 1, 2014

There’s not a bunch of information left to give you on the frontier and homesteaders. I’ve pretty much covered the palatable subjects about frontier life and I think I’ll leave the gross ones alone. There are plenty of gross ones, but I doubt you want to read them and I don’t want to write them. Today I’m going to spend a little time talking about harvesting the crops the homesteader was required to plant in order to “prove-up” on a piece of land.

In order to receive homestead papers, some sort of crop needed to be produced on a homestead. This crop needed to be more than hay for livestock or a garden for the family. Farming in Colorado, much like anywhere in the west is an adventure. Some years, like this year, rain comes in a deluge, accompanied by flooding and super saturated land resembling potter’s clay. Other years like the 1930’s no rain comes, a hot wind kills any plant that tries to grow, and dust reigns supreme. This made the odds of harvesting a crop a lot higher than they are at the poker tables in Las Vegas.

Homesteaders tried growing wheat. A few hardy strains of hard, winter wheat were developed which could be harvested in late July. At first the grain was scattered by hand and the grains that fell on fertile ground would sprout in spring and produce a small crop weather permitting. Before horse-drawn machinery, the wheat was cut with a hand held scythe (much like ancient times), bundled and threshed with wooden beater bars. Later the grain was harvested with horse-drawn cutters and eventually the shocks of wheat would be thrown into a horse-powered thresher.

Corn was harvested in a similar manner, but early Colorado farmers learned that corn was not a good dry land crop and grew better near river and creek bottoms.