Memories of the Great Depression

I spent Fathers Day with my father, who is almost ninety and in great shape, both physically and mentally. He talked a lot about his childhood. He was the oldest of six children, and his father died when he was six. They lived on a remote farm in Northern Michigan, over a mile to their nearest neighbor.

Because of the Great Depression and where they lived, life was hard. They raised or hunted and preserved most of their own food. He described quite a bit about the methods they used. Meat was either canned or brined.  The canning was much like we do it today. They also canned large amounts of vegetables and fruits. The brining was submerging the meat in a wooden barrel filled with salt brine. Bacon and hams were smoked.

They raised lots of potatoes. They were planted in rows and when it was time to harvest, they would use pitchforks to dig them up and lay them in rows. Someone else would come along and place them in wooden boxes. They would work at this for days to get enough potatoes. Both the men and women worked at this.

Potatoes and root crops (carrots, turnips, and parsnips) were stored in the ground. They dug a hole and lined it with a foot or more of straw. The potatoes were then place on the straw and covered with at least another foot of straw. The whole thing was then covered in dirt. During the winter they would dig into the pile and extract the potatoes and other root crops as needed.

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They raised chickens, pigs and cattle. Eggs would be used or traded. Meats would be used fresh or preserved. Nothing went to waste. They had no money to speak of, so they were dependent on what they raised, as well as their wisdom about surviving in hard times.

Towards the end of winter, they would cut blocks of ice from the local lake. This was hauled home and packed in an icehouse. The ice was placed on a foot or so of sawdust and then buried in sawdust. Four to five inches of sawdust separated the blocks. The blocks were forty or fifty pounds apiece. Enough was stored that this ice was used all summer in the icebox.

Nights were very cold and they slept in long woolen underwear and piles of blankets. He said that when you got up early to milk the cows at five o’clock in the morning, you moved fast. This got me to thinking about how well we would adopt to this type of life style. It would take some getting used too. By the way, he is a strong advocate of storing food and lots of it.

I will talk to him more and get more details to include in another post.


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2 thoughts on “Memories of the Great Depression”

  1. Unfortunately, much of America is far removed from the life that you describe – in terms of skills and work ethic. It’s going to be difficult if times get really tough.

  2. I remember the ice house – about 55 years ago when camping in Maine with my family every morning my sister and I had to go to the ice house by 8am to get our block of ice. The park rangers would give every campsite a block of ice, we had to chop it into smaller pieces to fit in the cooler. I was, and still am, fascinated how the ice kept all summer packed in sawdust.

    My neighbors, in an HOA community, are amazed and quite frankly befuddled by our planting fruit trees and lots of veggies. As we are in SW Florida we can pretty much grow all year (summers are very hot and dry – rainy season so far has been a big dud), we always have something to harvest. The constant question is ‘Why do you go to all that work when you can just pick up what you need at the store?’. Our answer is usually something like – We want to know where our food comes from and what was used to grow it or For the $2 you paid for a pound of tomatoes/peppers/lettuce we can have many pounds all year (so far we’ve harvested about 25 pounds of tomatoes from 3 plants and 4 dozen peppers from 2 – costing us less than $4)

    Perhaps the convenience of grocery stores with their commercially canned and frozen foods has changed the practice of providing for one’s family personally will never return – except of course for those of us who see the practicality of doing so.

    Being able to talk to your father about this is wonderful – a perspective that more people should have today.

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