Food from the beginning

Mom was born a few years before the Great Depression. Grandma, a widow, raised nine kids on a farm by herself. She didn’t have food stamps or a welfare check or earned income credit. She did have fresh food, good water and a zest for life. Real milk, fresh eggs, nuts and berries from the forest, wild foods and home grown vegetables were their fare. There was not much else, but who needed it?

I remember fried chicken for Sunday dinner at Grandma’s. It was about the only time meat was on the table but Grandma never ate it. She said she didn’t like chicken and I could never understand why. It was much later I learned the reason she wouldn’t eat it.

She would bring baby chicks into the house and feed them cornmeal and water. When they were old enough to go back out with the flock, she put them in a little cage so the older hens wouldn’t peck at them. She chased snakes out of the henhouse. She went out in the middle of rain, wind and ice storms to shut the henhouse against the weather. She called them out every morning with grain and kitchen scraps and when one went missing, she knew it.

Grandma had other good food, too, but not the kind of “food” we often associate with treats now. Potato chips? Just fry some potatoes. Soft, doughy sweet rolls, dripping with sugar frosting? How about a whole wheat biscuit with honey instead? Ice cream? Sure, get out the freezer and the salt, then run to town and buy a block of ice.
A little different from our way of life, isn’t it?

But maybe not so much… and not so unattainable as you might think. It may not be easy to up and buy a small farm that had everything Grandma’s had (icy cold spring, second small stream, grassy meadow, thick forest with wild blackberries, walnuts, pecans and hickories, etc), but growing most of your own vegetables is possible for most of us and so is gathering wild food. Put up that food for winter and you can eat well year ’round.

Book: Putting Food By
Putting Food By

Real milk is available; so are fresh eggs. If you can’t “grow your own” there are farmers who are happy to sell you theirs.

Patiently cracking and picking out nutmeats to bake a treat, or being scratched, mosquito bitten and sunburned from picking berries, gives one an appreciation for food that can’t come any other way. Like planting and watering and harvesting a garden, or making butter or gathering eggs, making your own food from the beginning to the plate is an exercise in thanksgiving and appreciation.

As to the rest?

Leave the potato chips at the store. Ditto the sweet rolls and the ice cream. Do it the old fashioned way: Make your own. You’ll be healthier and richer for it.

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13 years ago

“Grandma, a widow, raised nine kids on a farm by herself. She didn’t have food stamps or a welfare check or earned income credit. She did have fresh food, good water and a zest for life.”

Your grandmother and your family survived the Great Depression not only because your grandmother was self-sufficient but because she was fortunate enough to still have assets: a house and land suitable for farming with a forest and a water source. Without these resources, she might have been just as vulnerable as the millions of other formerly middle-class Americans who became impoverished during this period. Your grandmother never had to had to add her name to a “relief roll”, place her children in an orphanage, or lose her farm to foreclosure or a dust storm. Had she done so, you might have a better understanding of why and how the programs you alluded to originated.

Has anyone in your family ever received Medicare, SSI, or SSDI benefits? A Pell Grant or Stafford Loan? If so, someone else’s federal taxes helped to support your family. What you indirectly implied are entitlements are part and parcel of a social safety net that exists because of the devastating effects of the Great Depression. My family survived (and thrived) not only because of their own advantageous abilities and assets but because they lived in a community that worked hard to support and protect every family that lived within it. As my late grandmother used to say: “There but for the grace of God, go I” and “Pride goeth before a fall”.

As we enter into this most recent economic downturn, please keep in mind that someone you know or love may be experiencing extreme financial difficulties. Many middle-class and wealthy families who previously disdained frugality are now suddenly clipping coupons or using pawnshops and yard-sales to get by. Those of us who have extensive self-sufficiency skills are blessed in so many ways and by sharing your expertise via this blog, you are helping to improve the situation. Please keep in mind that compassion goes a long way, as well.

13 years ago


I really enjoyed reading about “Grandma” and her kids. I am sorry you got such sour grapes from the previous commenter. What I got out of this article is that we should appreciate good food and count our blessings. I just spent several hours (off and on) working on a couple of strawberry beds. I have fibromyalgia, so gardening is hard for me. I can relate to appreciating good food you raise yourself.

My great-grandparents also were blessed to own a farm. My grandmother says she never knew there even was a depression when she was a child since they had plenty. She tells stories of my great-grandmother feeding the hobos that walked a nearby railroad track. Word got around that my great-grandma would feed them and so they all stopped at her house. She would stop whatever she was doing and cook them a meal.

I am glad that my grandmother had plenty to eat during the depression and sorry that others did not, but the legacy that my great-grandma left by sharing what she had with others is, to me, priceless.


13 years ago

Gee, Pat. I must be following you around. You and I were brought up pretty much in the same circumstances. Our family values and upbringing portray that much. I’m so sorry that Goldspinner took your article out of context. I don’t mean to start an internet war, but you certainly have my support on this.

I remember homemade ice cream, but only in the winter. We didn’t have refrigeration in the house, but did have a cooler for keeping milk cold in the milk house right beside the barn — maybe 1/8 mile from our house. We weren’t supposed to put anything in the cooler except the milk for shipping. I do remember Mom putting medication that had to be kept cold in a quart jar and putting the jar in the milk cooler. Reaching into that water to get the medication was sooooooooo cold. Was it wrong?? Well according the the milk inspector it would have been wrong. According to Mom, the health of her children, keeping the medication refrigerated as directed wasn’t so wrong at that. None of it came in contact with the milk in the cans.

I remember raising, butchering, cleaning, and cooking our own chickens. It was never a problem for DH and me, but when we raised our own pigs for meat–well that was another story. We had to force ourselves to eat those “babies”. That was hard, but if we didn’t eat the pork, the children wouldn’t either.

I applaud your grandmother.

My husband and I struggled financially to build our house, but we did it, and didn’t go into debt except for a small mortage to purchase supplies. We were able to obtain price reduced school lunches for our 2 children–and yes, part of their school lunches was “from” tax payers. We did our own work or bartered for help with building the house.

I enjoy your writings where ever I find them. I even learn a few things (never too old to learn something–LOL).

Regards, Peg

13 years ago

I liked the article about your grandmother, and thought it WAS well-written. I did not take it as a social commentary, but as a tribute to the resourcefulness and hard work she displayed while raising her family in difficult circumstances. Thank you for the encouragement for us all to do likewise as best we can!

13 years ago

I understood your post and the underlying subcontext quite well, thank you.

13 years ago

Back in the day, around 1980 or so, the real estate market collapsed as the new Reagen administration jacked up the interest rates to fight inflation. This meant that my career as a full-time real estate agent crashed and burned along with the market. The ensuing recession made employment for someone like myself, with skills that were in very slow demand, nearly impossible to get. After several months, I hit bottom and had to ask the state welfare agency for assistance to keep our family fed and housed.
Poverty didn’t cause the pain I felt. The real cause was the gaping hole it left in my pride and my self image. Back then, had I read the words, “She didn’t have food stamps or a welfare check or earned income credit” in describing how someone had survived tough economic times, I would have immediately been on the defensive no matter how well meaning the intention of those words would have been. I would have heard it as a judgment on my own character, as though I was too lazy or weak to live up to this noble ideal of being self reliant and strong enough to stand on my own two feet without help.

It took a long time and some really good friends to realize that the world wasn’t judging me half as much as I was judging myself. Pat was telling a story about experiencing home grown food with her grandmother who lived in extremely precarious times that offered her no safety net. It wasn’t a comparison to you or anyone else. It simply illustrated her gran’s position at that time. Period.

No matter what your economic position is, Goldspinner, you are a valuable child of creation totally capable of making a positive impact on your world. Don’t worry about what the world thinks about your decisions or your status.. Show them that it doesn’t matter by living the life based on the highest and best within you.

Peace be with you, Goldspinner.

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