On a Farm in Rural Illinois

Reader Contribution by The Mother Earth News Editors
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This story is from Carolyn Ringo, submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear.

For the first 10 years of my life I lived in rural Illinois on a farm that was not owned by my family, so we did not farm the land. However we did utilize the barns and surrounding area to feed our family of six. We had a huge garden every year and it was a family project. We did not use any chemicals in the garden. We never called it organic because it was just natural, and who’d heard of organic? I’m not sure if there were many garden chemicals available to the home gardener at that time, but certainly my parents could not have afforded it. They knew how to control pests and fertilize from their own experience on farms as children. We raised the standard potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, corn, radishes, cucumbers, cabbages, beets, onions and lettuce. We certainly did not plant anything “exotic” such as broccoli, cauliflower or eggplant! We canned most of our produce, made sauerkraut and pickled more than just cucumbers. We kept potatoes, beets, and carrots in straw in the woodshed to provide nourishment throughout the winter months. We hulled green beans and dried them along with various types of other beans.

We collected wild morel mushrooms in the spring, some years by the bushel-basket full, and with a needle and thread, hung them to dry in the basement. In the fall it was the onions hanging to dry. We had an apple orchard and a hand press to make cider. Mom always made her own vinegar. My favorite meal was the noodles my mom made of eggs, flour, salt and water, rolled out and into strips with a knife, then dropped into the soup pan with a ham hock. Yum!

My mother made fresh baking powder biscuits and bacon grease gravy every morning in a wood cookstove. We had an electric stove but she always said she could control the temperature better on the woodstove. Our home was heated with a simple woodstove that my father, who was a welder, made out of two 55-gallon drums. One was for the fire and the upper was to hold more of the heat before it went up and out.

I was the youngest of four children and mom left it up to us to get the butter churned in our hand churn. Therefore, I was always the last one turning the crank when it was the hardest! We had our own cow for our milk, butter and homemade cottage cheese. We still had milk to share with our neighbors.

We raised a few pigs for our own meat and always had chickens for eggs and meat. I remember when it was time to butcher the chickens. My paternal grandparents would come and dad and grandpa would kill the chickens, my sister and I would stand over the outside fire/steam pot and pluck, and my mom and grandma would dress and freeze them. I’m not sure what my brothers were doing, but that was not unusual!

Photo Credit: Fotolia/morchella

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