Mason County News
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At the Top of Erna Hill
Wednesday, October 3, 2012 • Posted October 3, 2012

Now that the schools are in place, it is time to build for the future around Erna and the start was with a large family of kids, usually about eight, needed for the labor for the future prosperity of the community. Of course, the death rate was about 20 percent because the home remedies could not cure everything, even accidents, which were many.

From about 1875 to 1890, crops and livestock raised was for the basic needs of the frontier family and this task was what is termed as labor intensive, so the kids came into play as useful in this effort. Cash crops were not in existence so each depended on others for trading for necessity items, know as the barter system.

Each family raised the same type crops and livestock. The basic crop was field corn, hay and molasses cane and when the corn was up about a foot high, they would plant peas and melons in the row to have fresh veggies in the wild. Then, rain seems to have been sufficient to grow most crops each year and it continued until I was a kid in the “30s, as this was still a practice. Most of the area was sandy land and sweet potato slips were set out in furrows and grown in the fields of sandy soils to supply the good ole sweet potatoes thru the winter months. Of course, each family had cows but they were used for milking and the bull calves were traded or used for meat. Hogs were a common item for all as this animal was easy to care for and make fat. This one animal provided a number of articles of food and necessity items for the family, as did the milk cow. Some sheep were raised but the wolf problem was huge during this time, so the number was small. Geese were a common item as they produced meat as well as feathers for bedding and as cotton became king later on, the geese were used to glean the cotton patch of new weeds and grass.

It seems that of all the animals on the homestead, the hog was the most important for meat and other essentials. The hog was fattened up and with the arrival of the first really cold front to come thru, usually November, the hog killing would take place with neighbors helping neighbors. Before the killing of a hog, it was necessary to have plenty of hot, scolding water as the hog was placed in a barrel of the hot water and then the hair was scraped off with knives and the cutting into parts were made. The salt cure method of curing the pork was common and the ham, shoulders and the bacon sides were cured and stored for the winter. Ribs were cooked fresh as a feast after the butchering was complete and the backbone was used to make a form of dumplings and boiled. The fat was trimmed and cut into one inch cubes and cooked to melt out the grease for cooking lard and the drippings from the cooking were used to make lye soap among other things. Of course, the guts were cleaned out and boiled and then stuffed with sausage, which was made from trimmings in rings to hang and cure out. The head was cooked and the meat stripped and made into what was known as souse and some considered it as a delicacy. The brains were removed and cooked with scrambled eggs, which some thought was a good food but I was never convinced of such. Before cooking the salt cured meat, it was necessary to boil it for a time to remove the salt and then fry. Not much waste to a hog, only the squeal and the hair. Some even pickled the hocks but this was not to my liking.

A vegetable garden was absolutely a must as they could be eaten during the growing period an canned in jars for future use. The sweet potato was dug up, cleaned and stored in straw in a dry place and kept thru the winter into the next year. Corn could be eaten fresh as roasting ears and let dry in the field for use as feed and corn meal and the peas mixed in with the corn were ready for fresh eating about the time the corn was fresh and then let dry for their use later in storage. The melons came off about July 4 in time to celebrate. Once the corn was dry about late October, it was gathered and placed in a log crib so air could flow and keep dry. The corn would then be hand shelled and the grain would be taken to grist mill somewhere in the area and ground into meal and used as a food item in making bread and hot corn meal mush, which was a popular item for a cold winter breakfast. When I came back home in 1991, I was dead set on making mush the way Mama made it when I was a kid so I got everything out and mixed and boiled and could not eat it, nor would our dogs eat it. I must have missed something.

Of course, water was a problem, especially if you did not have a spring or flowing stream. Then, hand dug wells was the ticket and the older kids always had the chore of drawing the water from the well and watering the livestock and house use. The windmill was not a luxury at that time. Wood was the source of fuel so this was a wintertime job to cut wood and haul to the house and later cut as needed for the fires to cook and heat the home. Water was always needed for the family wash, usually on Monday, with two wash pots filled and fires made and the water heated. One pot was heated, with lye soap added, to boiling in which the Sunday clothes were first washed and then the work duds were washed in the same soapy water. A plunger was used to work the clothes up and down to work the dirt out of the fabric (some used a rub board) and then taken out, rung out and placed in the other pot of warm water for rinsing and rung out and placed on a wire clothesline to dry. I will continue next time with an article on the making of molasses, as this may be too much for many of you to digest at once. Have a good month and enjoy!

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