Monday, July 11, 2011


So, Al drove his big old car down into Little Canyon and stopped at the Dryden home for Earle and Bernice. Earle, Julian and Ina’s third child, was a high school teacher in Idaho Falls, and he and his wife Bernice came “home” most every summer so that he could help Julian with harvest and Bernice could visit her family, the Drydens, who lived near the village of Peck. Earle and Bernice followed behind Al in their car. Through Peck they went and now up another steep and winding grade to the top of the ridge, to the area known as Melrose, then on to Uncle Bud Long’s place and the lovely pasture. From Gilbert the journey was probably about 15 miles.

What do you suppose they ate at the picnic? All of the women at the picnic were housewives – every one of them homemakers, experts in the rural home arts. They took pride in the food they prepared for the picnic and serving was done with panache. Informality only went so far with these folks. My guess is that the Dobsons and the Longs, being farm people, generously contributed from their cellars, gardens, and hen houses. The farmer might be cash poor but he ate well and had plenty to share. 
Here are some food items that might have been set on the table:
Fried chicken
Homemade bread and plenty of it
Fresh butter and cream
Eggs, hard-boiled or deviled
Fresh garden produce
Pickles, home canned, but also cucumbers and onions marinating in vinegar and sugar
Strawberries picked fresh from the garden, perhaps whipped cream
Pies and cakes, especially chocolate cake

Then I asked my sister Harriet, who in 1933 was the little girl on Dorothy’s lap, what she remembered about 1930’s picnics. Here’s what she said: “I think people usually brought their place services [plates, utensils, napkins, cups] if held in a public place, but it varied depending on the size of the crowd.  If near a church, their service was used.  Chicken or ham would be the main dish.  Pies, and all the things you mentioned.  I don't remember picnics in 1933, but I am going by the things I have heard Bill's mother say.  Lemonade was a big thing with them.  They fixed dishes from garden produce.  I don't recall her talking about potato salad.  I don't recall anything being cooked on site.”

And then as an afterthought Harriet added homemade ice cream to the list. Okay, let’s say they did have homemade ice cream at the picnic, and let’s say that Ina and Julian made it. Perhaps Julian stowed some blocks of ice in the cellar during the winter so that he could make ice cream on the Fourth of July. Here’s Ina’s recipe:

For one gallon ice cream, caramelize one cup sugar. Add water and boil to a smooth, rather thin syrup. Heat about one pint of milk. Thicken with 2 tbsp of cornstarch. Pour this hot over four well beaten eggs and stir thoroughly. Add the syrup and put by to cool. When ready add one quart cream and enough milk to make 3 qts in all. A pinch of salt, 3 to 5 drops of mapleine and vanilla to flavor. Of course, more milk and less cream, or vice versa, may be used, also more eggs and any desired flavoring. But our folk like this way best. Ina Dobson

[Photo 1: Melrose is "over there somewhere."
Photo 2: "Let's take a picture of the women now. Just the women here." L. to r.: Ina Dickson Dobson, Naomi Stinson Long, Nina Saunders (Sanders) Portfors, Lois Reed, Bernice Dryden Dobson, Alice Mary Sanders, Pearl Dobson Sanders, and Muriel Saunders (Sanders) German. In front: Helen Reed, Shirley Jean Robinson, and Dorothy Portfors Walrath with Harriet Lee (who has had enough!).

Photo 3: "Now just the Dobsons -- let's get a picture of the Dobsons." L. to r.: Earle, his wife Bernice, Pearl, Al, Ina, Julian, and Stanley with Shirley Jean in front.

Note that most of the women are wearing long sleeves.]   KW


Hallie said...

Does this Melrose place still exist? Would you ever be able to find it?

I can see Grandma in that picture. She's such a trend setter! Even Aunt Harriet is in trousers. I feel really bad for Aunt Harriet...she looks very upset. :(

We should have more picnics.

Leah said...

Thanks for the menu items. Sounds just like food at picnics in my childhood (40's) in the midwest. We, too, had cucumbers with onions in a vinegar marinade. I've never heard of anyone else eating that combo. It seems natural to me to make that when you have a big garden. I love that dish. About the eggs in the home made ice cream. When I was talking with a friend who grew up in California and cooks a lot, she raised her eyebrows when I mentioned eggs in home made ice cream!

Could the long sleeves on the women be for mosquito protection?

Harriet needs a hug. She probably had to get up very early for this big production of a picnic and is really tired. It's refreshing and realistic to see a child with natural emotions instead of the requested smile from the photographer.

Why the "squished" lines in this blog entry?

Kathy said...

You can find Melrose just as you can find Gilbert. It isn't there because it wasn't even a real town -- probably just a store and post office.

Leah is right about Harriet. She's tired. Harriet is happy today, though -- her wrist is fully healed, the cast is off, and she doesn't have to go to physical therapy.

I, too, thought the long sleeves related to mosquito protection and also sun protection. Note the brimmed hats as well.

I don't know the recipe for that marinade, but I remember how it smelled.

I agree -- we should have more picnics. I don't even have a picnic basket any more, but I wish I did.

Eggs in the ice cream -- we think about that now. Mike's recipe calls for raw eggs, and we now use egg substitutes. Ina's recipe cooks the eggs, and my dad also made a cooked base. In a setting where the ice cream is being eaten right up, I personally wouldn't be afraid of it.

Squished lines -- I often compose in Word and copy/paste to Blogger. In this case I composed the last paragraphs in Blogger, and the formatting is different. Blogger has a mind of its own.

Hallie said...

I watched a show on Food Network where they made egg nog at the holidays. The guy beat the eggs with the sugar and his comment was that the raw eggs weren't a concern because the sugar actually "cooked" the eggs as he was beating them. I searched that on the Internet and there seem to be other comments like that. Hmm...

drMolly, the BeanQueen said...

My mom makes a vinegar marinade for cucumbers in this manner: 1:1 water to cider vinegar with some salt & pepper to taste. I use the same ratio, but usually don't add salt, but use 'Mrs. Dash' as a substitute.

Chris said...

My mom always made the cucumber salad in the summer and I loved it. Hers was with salt and pepper, too. My other favorite was wilted lettuce salad, very much like spinach salad only she used leaf lettuce. Oh how I loved that!!

Long sleeves were sensible in sun and for mosquitoes, and also, ladies of those days just didn't often show their arms in public. Modesty, along with the longer skirts. Given what we often see on the streets these days, I find my longing for more modesty to prevail.

Kathy said...

Yes, we had wilted lettuce salad, too -- with little bits of bacon. I used to do that some, too -- haven't in years.

I agree about modesty. I notice of the "older ladies" that Bernice Dobson and Aunt Muriel German have bare arms. They are also thinner than the rest. However, I have some pictures showing "beefy" arms. Sometimes I laugh to myself that what we used to camouflage is now right out there.

Just this morning I was looking at blouse patterns and thinking that maybe I'd enjoy a few blouses in my wardrobe.

Leah said...

My mother loved picnics and never missed an excuse to have one. I remember going to the mountains east of Denver in early winter when I came for a visit. It was COLD. We chilled our soda bottles by burying them in the snow! Another time, at the Will Rogers Estate near Los Angeles, Mother was visiting me. She packed a picnic for the 2 of us. It was a sunny day, but the wind was awful in that canyon. We had to use rocks to hold everything down. She didn't care because we were on Will Rogers' front lawn eating at a picnic table.

Oh I remember wilted lettuce. Mother made it with bacon grease & bacon bits. Yummy.

Another "old time" picnic tradition from the past was the "Box Lunch Auction." I attended one when I was about 6 years old at church Social. Young unmarried women would make a picnic lunch for 2 and put it in a box. The box was decorated like a fancy gift with ribbons, flowers & bright paper. Their picnic boxes were auctioned to the young eligible men at the event. The men had no idea who made each picnic box and were bidding blindly. After a man won an auction, the woman came forward and the 2 went off to eat together. Sometimes the pairings were lovely, sometimes a really bad date!