Every year when spring time rolls around, my thoughts take me back to daddy and how he loved planting his gardens. When I say gardens I mean forty acres. That’s what mama used to call it. He’d start planning his planting and looking at the signs early as February. If it’d been a mild winter he’d have the taters, onion beds, cabbage, lettuce, etc. in the ground by the end of February. If it was a harsh winter and late spring he’d be chomping at the bits to get it all in the ground, especially the taters. Mama would tell him, “ye need not fret, them taters won’t come up none till the ground warms and ye know it.” And the signs had to be dark nights before he put the taters in the ground or he’d say, “they’ll be all vines and no taters.” That meant no full moon or new moon. So he’d wait it out till he got the chance at it. And he’d stay right with those gardens, nary a weed was allowed to grow.
My oldest brother helped him plow out the patches and it’d take em forever to get em plowed. Daddy had an old mule at one time but when he graduated to a tilter he didn’t know how to use it. My brother caught on and he mainly worked the tilter after that, especially after daddy started showing his age. But that didn’t stop him none. He kept on wanting those patches planted every year and the more the better. He’d plant enough to keep an army going, as mama used to say.
We all helped with the planting and harvesting. I remember many a day planting that corn and beans and anything else for that matter. I always dreaded it when it came time to gather the corn out of the field. Man, I hated getting stung by those pack saddles, it hurt so bad.
He always said there were good years and bad years for everything. For example, if the cabbage didn’t do any good he’d say it wasn’t a good year for it. That meant the weather wasn’t just right or etc. He always watched the signs and made sure it was a good time to plant anything. He was like mama when it came to her canning and pickling, especially pickling or making kraut.
When the cabbage came in and the signs were good for making kraut, that was an all day job. We chopped that cabbage with a cream can that daddy would take the top off and sharpen it really good with a file or sharpening stone. We’d pack the cabbage in jars after we chopped it fine enough and for every quart we’d add a teaspoon of pickling salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Then we’d add warm water straight from the kitchen faucet to it as we stuck a butter knife down in the middle and around the edges of the kraut till the water filled to the top of the rim. Mama always said the sugar was for keeping it white and she always wanted her kraut to stay white. When the cans were ready we’d help daddy carry them to the smokehouse cause they had to be put in a cool place to work off.
He always planted patches of early corn and beans and late corn and beans. They all kinda straggled in and we’d break and string beans in the summer till late into the night. Mama didn’t have anything but a hot water canner and having to can on a wood cook stove she’d save the hot water bath till morning.
A lot of the beans were pickled with corn and put in churn jars to work off when the signs were just right. We’d mix them all together and put em in the churn and add a cup of pickling salt for every five gallon of water. Those beans had to work off for nine days and we’d take em out and put em in a big pan on the stove and get em hot through and through and put em in the jars. Daddy and mama loved that stuff but I never did like em myself.
Daddy’s favorite corn was hickory cane and he’d plant a whole field of it so we could cut it off the cob and cream it. Daddy loved that corn with a big slice of tomato. We liked it too, but he wanted it every meal. The hickory cane corn was the best pickled with the beans also.
Since mama didn’t have a fancy corn cutter she and I used a knife. I’ve laughed so hard at her when I’d look at her glasses and how speckled they were. Of course, we were both covered in corn and the whole kitchen as well. It even got on the ceilings.
When the summer bounty started coming in it was overwhelming to say the least. There were so many things that needed canning or pickling and a lot came in when the blackberries, strawberries, etc. got ripe. I helped mama many a day stand over that wood cook stove filling cans fast as we could. The heat was suffocating but as mama used to say, “it’ll beat a snowball any day.” Of course this would be after we’d hit the blackberry patch at daybreak. There’d sit the buckets of blackberries to put up as well. She’d can a lot of them to make cobblers but she liked to have a few cans on hand just to drink when someone got the sick stomach. They sure do settle the stomach and I know firsthand.
After we got a deep freezer the rest of the berries would be put in the freezer till time for jelly and jam making. Mama liked to wait and make it in late summer or fall. She always said it would thicken better when the humidity wasn’t so high. She never had any trouble with it thickening anytime best I remember.
All that good bounty sure did taste good come cold weather and like mama said it sure did beat a snowball. I look around today and see so many patches empty compared to back then and it makes me sad. A lot of folks still plant gardens and we try to put a little one out but as for forty acres it’s hard to find them anymore.
I bet daddy and all of his old buddies are planting forty acres in heaven again this spring and enjoying every minute of it.
© Susie Swanson, 2017
© Susie Swanson, 2017