Thursday, October 11, 2012


The Dobson family lived the good farm life, which means they had plenty to eat and not much cash. That’s why I constantly marvel that they had a camera. Occasionally, probably as funds allowed, they would take a lot of pictures. Then I’ll notice a gap of perhaps five years before another series of pictures. 

In 1912, they took a lot of pictures. Ina, my grandmother, even hung a sheet and experimented with artistic expression. The “still life”  above, which I call “autumn abundance,” appears to be one of the 1912 series -- and also this cute picture of Aunt Ethel holding Aunt Shirley with Vance (my dad) behind her shoulder. I think the picture is charming, even if the girls and the doll could be better posed.

Recently I came upon a pretty little notebook with pencil attached in the Dobson memorabilia box. “Garden Book, 1935,” says the first page, written in ink in a neat, legible hand – probably Aunt Shirley’s. Grandma Ina’s penciled scrawl shows up on page 2. So, the two of them were keeping notes on the garden and an inventory of what they canned. Shirley’s handwriting disappears with the 1936 entries – perfectly reasonable since she married in June 1937. Grandma’s entries continue off and on until 1946.

I’ve noticed the little notebook before, of course, but today I discovered some fun things. The actual notebook was probably a freebie advertising American Wire Rope, which was sold by John Oud Hardware Company, Orofino. And then someone, perhaps Aunt Shirley, glued pretty pictures over the front and back and attached the little pencil on a string -- really quite clever.

Some of the entries seem out of order and I didn’t understand until I realized they were inventories by date of canned products remaining on the shelf and not chronological notes. Other notes include planting information as well as canning methods.

Here’s one of Aunt Shirley’s entries:
“Canning record for 1935: Peas – 23 quarts canned the 3-hour way. Note from 1934 tried and proved. Can like this in 1936. Cook open pot till tender, then one hour process. Taste fresher.” (Bear in mind that they canned on a wood stove.)

She goes on to expand the inventory:
Beans – 24 quarts
Beets – 6 quarts
Tomato puree
Cherries (Olivet) – 16 quarts
Apricots (Clarkston, Wn) -- 24 pints
Peaches (Elberta – 1 box) – 15 pints
Pears (local) – 13 pints
Elderberries – 3 pints

In 1942, Ina made this entry: “To can raspberries make a thin syrup and pour boiling hot over berries. Put jars into hot water about same as jars are after syrup is on. [?] Bring to a boil, then pull to back of stove for a little longer, 10 to 15 minutes. This is fine. Try to put up strawberries same way, also Logans, etc. Myrtle and I canned raspberries as above this year of 1942.”

Ina’s notes and inventories were meaningful to her, and of course, she never thought that anyone else would read these scrawlings. But, of course, I do read them and I have questions:

I know the “Olivets” were sour cherries, but does she call the sour cherry trees that were behind the house “Olivets” and is that the same as a Montmorency?

Did the Italian prunes come from the trees in the Stove Creek gulley? Did she pick them or did someone pick them for her?

Youngberries, Loganberries, blackberries, raspberries – Were these bushes on the property? How did she come by the huckleberries? I know where the gooseberry bush was – at the top of the lane, and maybe I remember currants, too, though I don’t know where the bush was.

And yes, she mentions elderberries but doesn’t say in what form she canned them. I wonder how she used the elderberries. KW


Leah said...

I may be alone in this thought, but I've never understood it when women tell how many quarts they canned. When we buy vegetables or fruits in the grocery, we don't see quart size cans for most items. I understand the conversion of quarts & pints into ounces. It's just that a quart jar of home canned produce is too much food (except for tomato juice). Of course families of long ago were larger & maybe consuming a quart of vegetables at a meal was normal.

A dear aunt born in 1904 was always canning to save the abundant produce from their garden (in the 50's). They only had 2 children, yet she canned great quantities (a lot in quart jars).

A quart of fruit would make a nice pie filling, though.

Discovering where the berries were on the property may be a mystery you'll never solve. So interesting to look back at the Dobson's garden journal.

Kathy said...

Actually, Leah, I've wondered about the same thing. When this little book was in use, it was mostly just the two of them at home with no refrigeration except the cellar. So why did they need quarts of beans and beets? I also wondered if modern experts would cringe over Ina's canning methods. I may never solve some mysteries, but when I think of the pictures that the two of us identified together, the characters that we re-introduced to the story -- well, it just seems like anything could happen.

Leah said...

I've learned through genealogy about the lives of people long ago and I remind myself not make judgments. Our lives today are so vastly different. What was important to our great grandparents may not be what we value today. There is no "right way" to look at other people's lives. Just to learn about our ancestors is a joy in itself.

Kathy said...

What you say is so true, Leah. Our way of life has changed so much. I think of Ina's house, and it didn't feel, smell, or sound like the house we know today.

Hallie said...

That's nice to know that Grandma Ina kept a log. I've considered that we should do the same sort of thing. Many times we try something that seems so logical that we'd remember, but then we don't. Or, if I make note of it, I don't know where I kept the note.

Kathy said...

All it takes is a little notebook. I happen to love little notebooks. I'll take one to the farm and leave it on the jar shelf, but you might want to start one of your own and bring it with you. Notes are great. A dedicated journal for the kitchen is probably a good idea.

Chris said...

I've actually started putting sticky notes in my cookbooks with changes, etc., recorded. Those longer lined ones work great. I'd probably misplace the notebook. :-( How wonderful you have Ina's!

Kathy said...

I like sticky notes myself, but I hadn't thought of using them in my cookbooks. Thanks for the idea.

Actually, I like office supplies -- you name it. I have a stash of small notebooks, and I brought one to the farmhouse and put it on our jar shelf. If we lose it, no big deal.

Mike likes to inventory the freezer, but I don't. I have no problem checking the supply and using from what's available. A bird is a bird.

Shay said...

"Put jars into hot water about same as jars are after syrup is on. [?] "

I am guessing that she means to make sure that the jars and the hot water are the same temperature so the jars don't shatter when they're putting in the canning kettle.

Kathy said...

Shay -- I love the vintage lady on your comment. Thank you for posting your interpretation of Grandma Ina's canning note. I appreciate it.