Tag Archives: Garden

Friday Foodie: “Putting Up” For The Winter

Fall is definitely in the air in Wyoming. And with snow once again falling in the mountains, its only a matter of time before it begins to fall (in earnest) on the plains. Once upon a time, this would have sent the housewife running to her pantry and cellar to recount her food stores one more time. Thanks to modern conveniences like grocery store, freezers and refrigeration, few of us must rely solely on our gardening and preserving skills these days.

In the late 1980s, the Wyoming Homemaker’s Extension Club collected oral histories from many of their long time members about their involvement in the extension service and how the programs influenced their lives. Many of the ladies also shared how homemaking and housekeeping had changed during their life. For Peggy Nelson, the interview was a way to pass on some of her extensive knowledge about preserving food to the next generation of homemakers.

[I] learning how to can and preserve food… [from] two expert teachers: my mother, Mabel Wood, and Al’s mom, Fern Nelson. Both know how to have cellars full of food by the time winter came.

We tried not to waste anything. A good root cellar was a must in those days. That’s where you kept all your food for the wintertime.

The equipment I used in canning was glass quart or pint jars that used zinc lids with glass liners and rubber rings. Later I used the metal rings and lids. I used a cold packing method. I used my boiler and a wooden rack Al made for the bottom. The jars were sealed and put into the warm water and brought to a boil for a certain length of time depending on the content. I never did use a pressure cooker.

I canned, first blanching the vegetables and cooking and putting them in the jars for the cold water packing. The meat I fried a little bit on both sides and then used the brown gravy in the pan to put in the jars and cold packed. Salt was added to the meat and vegetable jars before sealing. Fruit was canned by open kettle in a light or heavy syrup and put into hot sterilized jars and sealed. Sugar was the main sweetener. Jams, jellies and butters were sealed with a thick layer of paraffin and capped.

Unidentified woman working in kitchen, ca 1924. (WSA Sub Neg 24638)

Unidentified woman working in kitchen, ca 1924.
(WSA Sub Neg 24638)

I made pickles. The quick kind was sliced or chunked and put into jars and hot vinegar and spices poured over them and sealed. These were cooked a little bit before putting in the jars. Fruit or vegetable relishes were also cooked before canning by open kettle method and canned in jars and sealed. Vegetables could be stored in crocks or wooden barrels in a brining method such as cucumbers, sauerkraut, roasting ears, green beans. A brine to float and egg was used. The crocks were set in the cellar on shelves with a cloth covered weight put on the top to keep the vegetables under the brine. A clean cloth was placed over that to keep the contents clean. The crocks were checked often and the weights, whether a plate or a wooden plank, and cloths were washed and replaced regularly.

Many spices were used for pickles; black and white pepper, mustard seed, garlic, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, sugar and dill and a good vinegar. Fruit pickles could also be stored in crocks. For example, crab apples were simmered in a sugar and spice vinegar until tender and poured into a crock and covered with a cloth and a weight. Cucumbers could be pickled by first brining then freshening in several cold waters and several day of a sweet vinegar poured over hot, each day then weighted and covered.

Irrigated Garden, YU Ranch, Big Horn County, WY (WSA J.E. Stimson Collection Neg 624)

Irrigated Garden, YU Ranch, Big Horn County, WY
(WSA J.E. Stimson Collection Neg 624)

Onions were also fixed by blanching quickly and covering with a sweet or sour vinegar to taste. Green peppers, blanched and stuffed with shredded cabbage, could be placed in crocks and a salt and vinegar brine poured over them. Grape leaves were put in the bottom and top of crocks of dill pickles and between and on top along with the dill heads. Mixed spices were added if desired along with garlic and horseradish with a salt vinegar water brine and covered and stored in a coolish warm place. Granite or enameled pans or kettles were the best to use when heating the vinegar in pickle making.

In drying food. I dried corn, peas, apples, plums and squash. These were prepared and dried in the sun. The vegetables were blanched lightly.

Apples were peeled and put in salt water to keep from turning dark. Plums were pitted and squash sliced thin. All were laid on sheets of cloth in the sun or attic and covered to keep clean for several days, turning or stirring occasionally. They were stored in cloth sacks and hung in a dry place.

"Apples at Uncle Dunc's on Sybille." Duncan Grant planted the first apple orchard in Platte County. (WSA Grant Collection Print 5)

“Apples at Uncle Dunc’s on Sybille.” Duncan Grant planted the first apple orchard in Platte County.
(WSA Grant Collection Print 5)

Some vegetables such as carrots, turnips, rutabagas and beets could be put in boxes or barrels with layers of clean sand and stored in the cellar. Cabbage heads were pulled, wrapped in paper and hung in the cellar, heads down or laid on shelves. Apples were wrapped individually and layered in a box or tub and a lid laid over the top and stored in the cellar. Pumpkins, melons and squash could be buried in the oat bin, or kept in a dry place away from freezing.

Peggy goes on to discuss other methods of food preservation, but we’ll keep those for another time.

Do you remember helping your mother or grandmother fill the pantry and cellar? What were some of the family staples? Do you continue the tradition?

__________

(A big thanks to Clara Varner who asked last year about pickling and fermentation. It took a bit of digging to find a good source in the collection, but we hope Peggy Nelson’s knowledge inspires you.)

***** These memories are intended to be of historical interest only. Please use modern preservation methods recommended by the Wyoming Extension Service, especially when canning meats and non-acidic foods. ****

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Feeding Their Wards: Farming at WY State Institutions, 1931

Its been a while since we had a Friday Foodie post, so without further adieu…

It was a big job keeping the inmates at Wyoming’s institutions fed during the lean years of the Great Depression. Nearly every state institution had a farm operation in the 1930s. This allowed them to be nearly self-sufficient. Some even turned a profit on the food and forage they produced. They used the cheap and abundant inmate labor to reduce production  costs. The symbiosis benefited the inmates by teaching them a trade and building their confidence and sense of responsibility. These photos and accompanying information come from a state institutional survey photo album complied by the state in 1932. Several copies are on file in the Wyoming State Archives collection.

The Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston was the crown jewel of the productive institutions during the early 1930s. In an effort to provide affordable, quality food for the institution, a dairy herd was established in 1922.

Dairy Barn and herd at WY State Hospital (WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 47b)

Dairy Barn and herd at the Wyoming State Hospital
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 47b)

By 1930, this herd of registered Holstein cattle had grown to 41 cows whose anticipated production for the year would top 600,000 pounds of milk (approximately 75,000 gallons.) Not only did this supply the hospital with its entire dairy needs, it provided an income from the sale of surplus dairy goods and animals, which helped to defer other costs. The herd was regarded as one of the best in the Inter-mountain region. One of thier prize bulls was loaned to the University of Wyoming’s Stock Farm at Afton to help improve its Holstein herd.

5-year-old Champ C Class Producer of the US 1930 Holstein at the WY State Hospital, 1931 (WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 56a)

This 5-year-old Holstein cow in the State Hospital herd was named 1930 Champion C Class Producer of the United States. That year she produced nearly 12 gallons of milk per day!
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 56a)

In addition to the cattle herd, the State Hospital also kept a large flock of chickens to provide all of the eggs and meat served at the hospital. A large garden plot behind the superintendent’s residence supplied all of the vegetables used by the institution. The grain and hay fed to the animals was produced on the 550 acre farm purchased in 1919.

In 1929-30, the farm produced:

Hay 880 tons
Grain 8879 bushels
Rutabagas 225 tons
Cabbage 61 tons
Potatoes 9,000 bushels
Milk 884, 000 pounds (about 110,500 gallons)
Eggs 10,500 dozen
Meat 117,000 pounds

Flock of White Leghorn chickens in front of Chicken house at the Wyoming State Hospital in 1931. (WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 57b)

Flock of White Leghorn chickens in front of Chicken house at the Wyoming State Hospital in 1931. The chicken house behind them was constructed in 1930 to house 1,200 to 1,400 chickens.
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 57b)

All was not roses, though. The pigpens were unfortunately located directly behind the main building. The hospital secured $3,000 in 1931 from the State Legislature to construct new pens and move the swine down wind from the buildings to cut down on the odor permeating the site.
Pig pens at WY State Hospital, to be moved in 1932, 1931 (WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 42a)

Pig pens at Wyoming State Hospital in 1931. They were to be moved farther away (and up wind) from the main buildings in 1932 because of the stench.
(WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 42a)

The Industrial Institute (now called the Boy’s School) in Worland also maintained a productive and lucrative farming operation manned by inmates and was a model of institutional self-sufficiency. The mainstay of the Industrial Institute was its Hereford cattle feed operation. Cattle were purchased on the open market and then fattened for sale in their lots. The institution made a concerted effort to not compete with local farmers in the marketplace. A dairy herd, flock of sheep, hogs, and chickens rounded out the livestock operation at the institution.
Cattle feeding pens at the Wyoming Industrial Institute (now Boys' School) in 1931 (WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 91b)

Cattle feeding pens at the Wyoming Industrial Institute (now Boys’ School) in 1931. These Hereford steers were fattened at the Institute then sold. Feed lot operation and livestock management was seen as a business/occupational skill for the boys. 
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 91b)

Extensive gardens and large fields of sugar beets for livestock forage were also planted and the boys were employed in a small, on-site cannery where they preserved the bounty for use over the winter. This institution in particular saw their farm and livestock operations as tools to teach their wards, boys ages 16-25, life skills and a useful trade.

Back of Main Old Building showing attendant's garden, WY Industrial Institute, 1931 (WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 97b)

Back of Main Old Building showing attendant’s garden, Wyoming Industrial Institute, 1931. That year, the institution was able to raise nearly all of the food for their wards and sold the surplus for a staggering $86,700.
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 97b)

All told, sale from the excess products equaled $86,700 for the 1928-1930 biennium, more than $1.1 million dollars today! In fact it was so productive that little more than building funds and partial wages were needed from the State budget to run the entire institution by 1930, amounting to just $54,150 that year. If you account for inflation, that would be approximately $700,000 today.

The Girl’s Industrial Institute (now called the Girl’s School) in Sheridan, was a newcomer to the State, having been establish in 1920. Still, by 1931 almost all of the dairy, chicken and eggs, and many of the vegetables consumed by the 50 girls residing there were produced on site. Much of the hay and grain for the livestock was also raised on site. Like the Boy’s School, the Girl’s School used inmate labor to not only keep costs low but to provide instruction.

Chicken coop built in 1931, Girl's Industrial Institute, 1931 (WSA  BCR State Institutional Survey Album 109a)

This “thoroughly modern” chicken coop built in 1931 at the Girl’s Industrial Institute (now Girls’ School)
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 109a)

Even the Sheridan County Fish Hatchery boasted a large vegetable garden and pasture.
Barn and garden, Sheridan County Fish Hatchery, 1931 (WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 65)

Barn and garden, Sheridan County Fish Hatchery, 1931
(WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 65)

The State Tuberculosis Sanitarium (now the State Retirement Home) in Basin used its crops in a slightly different way. Because their wards were usually unable to work outdoors due to their respiratory condition, they did not have the cheap, abundant labor like the other institutions. No livestock was kept on site as they would have aggravated the delicate systems of the patients. Still, they planted acres of alfalfa and long rows of trees to keep the dust down for their patients.
WY Tuberculosis Sanitarium, 1931 (WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 122a)

WY Tuberculosis Sanitarium, 1931
(WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 122a)

What about the Wyoming Honor Farm outside of Riverton? Originally called the Penitentiary Farm, the 880-acre parcel was purchased by the Legislature in late spring 1931 and did not become fully functional for a couple of years. The original buildings were little more than shacks and inadequate for occupation, much less security. Most of 1931 was given to building a dormitory and an adequate water system, both completed with inmate labor from the State Penitentiary in Rawlins. They did manage to harvest 40 acres of sugar beets, their only product that first year, with plans to greatly increase production in the following years.

Penitentiary Farm showing on of the original buildings (right) and dormitory under construction (center), Riverton, June 1931 (WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 27a)

Penitentiary Farm showing on of the original buildings (right) and dormitory under construction (center), Riverton, June 1931
(WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 27a)

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