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Wednesday, June 7, 2017


In those pioneer days people had to rely on themselves, including for their winter provisions. There were no super markets in which to buy food. Hunting provided meat and fish. Those early settlers knew about conservation and sustainability because they were going to need meat and fish year after year. Killing bucks instead of does would insure new deer would be added to the forest. Harvesting enough fish without becoming overzealous was deemed necessary in order to leave enough fish to procreate for the following year. They gave the same consideration to their farm animals: pigs, chickens, goats, and perhaps a few cattle and a bull. Some eggs were allowed to hatch into chicks and a cow could provide milk as long as she was allowed to calve now and again.

When planting crops, a homesteader had to plant according to season year round. Cool crops such as spinach in the fall, summer crops of yellow squash, corn, and tomatoes, and early crops in the spring such as peas. Some things had to be dried or canned to preserve them while others, such as cabbage, turnips, and potatoes would keep nicely in a cool, dry place. Naturally, feeding livestock was a huge consideration. Fields of alfalfa and oats needed to be planted, maintained, and harvested as well providing a dry place for its storage.

The American Plains have some of the most severe weather on the planet. Weather was the master of the homesteader’s life. Drought, floods, hail, erratic temperatures, and tornadoes, all of which are common on the Great Plains, could destroy a homesteader. Life was hard and filled with work from predawn to sunset and maybe then some. There were other chores to do besides working the fields. As hard as life was though, work was also a good thing. There wasn’t much time to sit around and moan the blues. Work was therapy.

Canning Tools

My parents were young, just getting started in married life during the Great Depression. Like the homesteaders, they had to work hard and become self-reliant. They were proud of the results from their labor. Forget TV and all those electronic doodads we have now for entertainment. Pop used to enjoy working his garden, planning the next one, and showing visitors his beautiful work. It was a thing of pride for him.

Homemade Ketchup

Something I enjoyed as a kid was watching my parents work together canning the harvest from the garden. I remember how they worked on the ketchup recipe every year trying to get it just right, but they were never satisfied. At the time, I just wanted ketchup like we bought from the store. Little did I know then what a treat it was to have that homemade ketchup-—very tasty made from tomatoes with no preservatives and without pesticides. That pressure cooker stayed busy all summer. Pop always shared vegetables from his garden with friends and neighbors. Sometimes they swapped things with each other. Someone might try a different kind f vegetable that others didn’t have. I imagine the pioneers did much the same thing back in history.

Jars of Canned Food Just Like My Grandmother's

For so many years we have depended on the supermarket for all our food. Crops are now raised on huge corporate farms where pesticides are frequently used and processed in plants that are often in foreign countries like China where quality assurance and the FDA have no influence. Problems have arisen because of it both from health issues in the human population and the decline of our friends, the bees due to the indiscriminate use of pesticides.

Bee Keeping Technique

People are now rethinking their lifestyles and re-purposing their backyards from tennis courts to vegetable gardens once again. In the desire for better quality and safe food, we are returning to the old ways of the settlers and homesteaders of raising our own vegetables. Even people who live in apartments are planting gardens in containers in windows or on their patios and balconies. And so we are moving full circle and making what we once thought of as old and making it new again.

Do you have a vegetable garden? Is it a thing of pride for you? Do you peruse the seed catalogs in winter to plan the next year’s garden? What organic ways of controlling pests have you discovered? What satisfaction do you get from gardening?

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. Yep, that's how I grew up. We canned around 300 quarts of green beans alone, and equivalent amounts of corn, squash, pease, spinach, tomatoes, fruits and berries. I loved Mom's pickled beets. We even canned spaghetti sauce and jalapeno salsa. Oh, and the relishes and preserves. My favorite was strawberry freezer jelly. Yum. Good food that you just cannot buy in the store. Of course, at the time I didn't appreciate it.

  2. I didn't appreciate it back then either, Jacquie. I feel so lucky to have been a part of that way of life now. Even though I moaned and groaned about going out to weed the garden and gather the vegetables, I learned some valuable information from Pop about gardening.
    One summer my sister and I spent several weeks with our maternal grandmother. While we were there I found a big patch of wild strawberries. We all ended up going out and picking those berries and Grams made strawberry jam--jars and jars of the stuff. It was the absolute best strawberry jam I ever ate. Wild strawberries are sweeter and tastier than the domesticated kind.
    I love pickled beets, too. Wow! You should share that recipe for jalapeno salsa. Didn't you love going into the storage room with all those pretty jars of canned goods?
    Thank you so much for dropping by, Jacquie. It's such a pleasure to see you. I enjoy dropping by your Pickle Barrel and seeing what craziness you've posted. Thank you!

  3. Hi, Sarah, what an interesting post. I especially enjoyed reading about the lifestyle you grew up in! And the bees! I never saw an arrangement like that with the jars. We do attempt a vegetable garden every year and are generally unsuccessful. The summers in Chicago vary so much from year to year. I do lettuce, kale and basil in a container and it's happy and pretty to look at. I often think about how the self-sufficient folks back in the day managed, thinking based on our skills my family wouldn't have survived!

    1. Patty, I think, if there was some kind of apocalypse, you would read a book about gardening and start one. If you can grow things in a planter or a pot, you can do it in the ground.
      I have wondered what I would do if bartering was the exchange system. Everyone has a skill somewhere. I think I would be okay at gardening, and I can sew and make do with what I have. Probably I could use my skills from critical care nursing, but I would have to use natural therapies instead of regular pharmaceuticals. Maybe even story telling could be a skill. People would need their spirits lifted with a story told around a communal campfire. It's possible I could even play one of my instruments for entertainment. A bit of practicing on my part might be called for.
      It's surprising what people may want in a world where there is very little. I remember a story Pop told me about the Great Depression. People had so little you would think they would just want the essentials like food, shelter, and clothing. One man who owned a greenhouse shocked everyone in town when he decided to raise flowers instead of fruits and vegetables. As it turned out, people were hungry for something to cheer them up and the man's flowers sold like hotcakes. Ya never know...
      Thank you so much for your comment, Patty. I really do appreciate you stopping by.

  4. Sarah,
    I'm always in awe of how much work people did back then. We really have it easy these days!!

    1. Kristy, I think as all consuming and tiring as the work was back then, people had the satisfaction of a job well done. They had the pride of accomplishment in taking care of their own lives and making it through another winter. They had purpose. I know they must have loved the few times they got to relax and socialize. They also made work fun sometimes such as quilt making. Sometimes it's still like that for me. I remember a recent summer helping my sister put up summer peaches. The whole family gathered around the kitchen table peeling and cutting up the peaches to freeze and make jam while we swapped stories with one another and told amusing antidotes. One thing's for certain, they didn't stare at a TV bored and unfulfilled.
      Thank you so much for coming and commenting, Kristy.

  5. Very thought-provoking post. I don't have a garden now, but I have in the past. It is not easy, especially when you are trying to stay away from poisonous pesticides. Soap spray only goes so far. Most years, the white flies and aphids won.... I've done my share of canning, but not now. I write. I supposed if I had to in order to eat, I could grow my own food. However, I am grateful for the grocery store. My favorite has a great organic produce section. Several almond orchards near me are organic. There is hope of freedom from poisons.

    1. I understand completely, Robyn. Now that I'm older and have had knee replacement surgeries, I can't do the things I did jest a few years back. I made a raised bed garden which would have been good, but I didn't make it right--in too big a hurry. So I took it apart this winter, but I haven't replaced it yet. I have a plan in mind and that'll do for now.
      I am so glad you came and commented. Thank you!

  6. Sarah,

    I enjoyed your article so much. I share many of your childhood experiences in relation to "putting food by", preserving, canning, and tending the garden. While my thumb runs more toward the brown side, my grandpa had a green thumb when it came to growing anything. He liked to say he could plant a piece of kindling and it would grow. *grin*

    This line made me smile: 'At the time, I just wanted ketchup like we bought from the store.' My dad often told a story that was similar. He was a country boy, and he had town cousins. He looked forward to going to town to visit the cousins and having store-bought, sliced bread. His cousins looked forward to vising him in the country and eating homemade bread.

  7. My first reply got eaten by the cyber darkness. So let me give this another try.
    I liked your story about your da and his cousins. It's so true we all want what we don't have. Here in the south, country folk refer to bought, sliced bread as "light bread." I don't get why they call it that.
    I like your grandpa. He sounds like a sweet and funny guy.
    Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Kaye.

  8. Sarah, every time I try to grow anything, well let's just say I don't can anything at all. Still I admire those who can and do. My mother and brother are masters. Guess it just skipped me.*LOL* Doris

  9. Doris, we've all become used to the grocery store providing all our wants and needs. I had both knees replaced this past year and didn't reconfigure my raised bed garden. It doesn't feel right not to have a garden. The alternative for you and me is the fresh market. I like to buy fruits and vegetables in season from local farmers.
    I remember when most people didn't have a freezer--that meant canning or dehydrating as the only ways to preserve things whether you grew it yourself or bought it. Now, of course, food is trucked in or shipped at great expense and use of fuel so that everyone can have fresh produce all year. I think it takes away from the anticipation of summer produce when we all had to wait for strawberry season and those wonderful watermelons all sweet and juicy at the summer picnic.
    I would say my sister is probably much more into gardening than I am and she has a big garden each year. Most years, however, she goes on a travel nurse gig and doesn't get to harvest all the fruits of her labor. My nephew and I "help" her out with that. LOL
    Thanks for coming, Doris.