Thursday, May 7, 2015

Chapter 10: Tiemann Memoirs/1930s Kitchens

Following Chapter 10, the Cavendish Historical Society provides information about life in a 1930s rural Cavendish kitchen. To read the prelude and other chapters of Tiemann’s Memoirs go to Coming to Vermont (Cavendish): Memoirs of Philip Tiemann 

I must admit that as October ended we were feeling somewhat depressed. And November began on the rugged side, cold, and with snow almost every day. The children enjoyed this; they had sleds to slide to school on, and Wyeth found some, old skiffs among my junk and began to learn to use them. And they stayed remarkably well.

Despite our problems, I realize as I look back that every time we appar­ently had reached the end of our rope something happened to enable us to keep going. So it was at that point: my neighbor came in one morning with the announcement: "They're going to build a new COG camp over to Proctorsville, and want to hire carpenters and helpers. I’m going to try for a job, and why don't you?" "Some carpenter I’d be. And how do I get there, walk?" I asked sourly. He grinned. "They'll be tacking just about anybody, and if you apply as my helper no one will know the difference, I'm going to drive the horse, and you can ride with me if you want."

Both Isabel and I were dubious, but our friend proved to be right: we were in a long line of applicants and were duly signed up. This was at the time when the Civilian Conservation Corps was well established and many groups of young men, organized in camps on somewhat of an Army basis and in many cases commanded by Army Reserve officers were being usefully employed on various conservation projects. The Proctorsville camp was laid out for a number of long, single story wooden barracks, a mess hall, and administrative buildings, all of very simple construction. While one crew was putting in foundations others were building framework for the sides; these were pushed up very much on the order of an old-time barn-raising and a soon as they were secured the sheathing started while the rafters were being nailed in place. Flooring and window and door frames, quickly followed.

So I spent about a week turning out even earlier than usua1 in the morning in order to be ready when my friend drove by,. taking the five-mile ride in the sleigh, working all day in the open regardless of weather, and then making the long trip home. I wasn't yet hardened to that-type of life and lasted just that one week before coming down with a terrific cold which kept me in bed for some days; and then was in no shape to go back to the job. A redeeming feature of this fiasco was that for some strange reason I had been rated as a carpen­ter and drew wages as such.

Not that it did us much good, as within the next two weeks I broke my eye-glasses twice, and had the expense as well as the nuisance of mail­ing them away for repairs. Both times pure carelessness when I was breaking up kindling wood.

Speaking of glasses makes me think of our kerosene lamps, which by this time we were quite accustomed to. They were not too bad as far as illumination was concerned: there was a good double student-lump to read by, and soon we found an even superior type which was fitted with a mantle and gave a clear incandescent glow. But ordinary wick. types were used for other purposes,- several small enough so the children could carry them upstairs; and these were just something to get by with. Keeping them all filled and clean and the wicks trimmed was a daily nuisance, as was placing and adjusting them so we could get the best light, and they were, of course, considerable fire hazard. They also were not inexpensive. Kerosene (coal oil) was 13¢ at the store, brought home by the gallons another nuisance. But the situation was bettered when a man with an oil truck came by and said, "If you want to buy kerosene by the barrel, Ill get you one with a faucet and you can give me a ring when it needs refilling. Only 91/2¢ a gallon so you'll save money as well as trouble." It took no persua­sion for me to agree to that. But I marvel, now, to think of such prices! Our No. 2 fuel oil (less expensive than kerosene) costs al­most twice what we paid then.

About this time I began to take down the old kitchen ceiling. It had been a poor job to begin with, or perhaps hid been pitched occasionally, or the plaster was very thick and uneven. It was painted a hard blue, which Isabel, who was quite artistic, objected to. Also, taking down the Pantry partition left a badly broken crevice thru which cold air wafted. "It'll be a waste of time to try to repair it," I decided. So I got busy with a hammer and pry-bar end great was the mess: the plaster dust alone would have been bad enough, but above the lath was the accumulation of a hundred years of dirt which had sifted thru the floor above, and a grand collection of rodents' nests (trust such vermin to pick out a warm, snug piece') with a11 the chaff and corn cobs and nut shells they had dragged in. While this was in process the room had to be closed off, so we moved our beds from the "front parlor" to the elongated room behind and made the front corner room into n living-room, with the chunk-stove for heat. By this time too we had decided that the shed room would never, do for a winter kitchen and that we would have to move the range into the "old" kitchen just is soon as it could be mode habitable. Which of course took longer then we anticipated.

Thanksgiving made a happy interruption to our labors and was a day to be remembered, altho it did not start too well. The wind blew all the previous night so that the house shook and the windows rattled and occasionally there were ominous thuds as of things falling. Also there was a little light snow. Going out early to feed the horse and cows the first thing I saw was that
the two big barn doors had blown off. These doors were suspended by wheels on overhead iron trucks .on the front of the building and had to be slid open and shut by main force: the apparatus was old and rusted and somewhat bent.` Now the doors had come off I wondered how in the name of sin I could get them on again.

After feeding* I went in the house for my own breakfast. The kids were excited and gay because we were going out for dinner with a family, which included some of their school friends. "Wells" I told them*. "We’ve got to get those doors rehung first thing. Wy, come on out and let's see what we  can do." The doors were heavy and clumsy, and to get the wheels on the tracks they had to be lifted just so. Presently Isabel came out to land a hand; then with great heaving and grunting we got one door on and finally the other. I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Will you be able to leave in about half an hour: We don't know how much time it will take*" Isabel asked. The children were growing 'anxious too. I reassured them. "I fixed the seats in the wagon yes­terday. I doubt if it will take over an hour to drive four miles. But I'll be ready when you are,"

So I brushed old Dans  came back in and changed my clothes, then went out again and hitched ups, end everybody climbed aboard. It was not very regal styles sitting all bunched together (for it was a cold morning) on two spring less wooden seats but the youngsters were pleased and started singing "Over The River And Thru The Woods.,.." Actually it was a pleasant rides with a chance to enjoy the landscape not possible when driving a car. Especially on a very back road.

We made it within the predicted hour, and were heartily welcomed. It was a nice neighborly party, with a grand dinner and lively conversation and a fine time was had by all. Then we left early enough to reach home again just before dark.

After this party, as the season was getting so' late I decided I had better- delay finishing the kitchen ceiling in favor of laying the new hearth. The space was large,- about three feet by eight, and we concluded that flat stones would be more suitable than brick - and more available. So I   had. brought to the house four which would fit side-by-side after a
bit of chipping, They were astonishingly heavy and clumsy to handle and had, to be wrestled into place by brute strength and few persuasive words; but at length they were settled level on the sand base and then cemented between and around, and in the end looked so well that I have been com­plimented more than once on "the fine old hearth."

But for a long time we lacked all the equipment of an old-time kitchen, having not even a crane. Some kind soul gave us a pair of modern andirons, which were quite unsuitable but useful for the time being.

1930s Rural kitchen. 
The 1930’s Rural Cavendish Kitchen/Mason Jars: Tiemann notes how they lacked the equipment necessary for an “old-time” kitchen. While Mrs. Tiemann would have been use to the modern conveniences of suburban New Jersey, without electricity, she would need to do all her cooking and baking on a wood stove and keep food cold by using an “icebox.”

Iceboxes had hollow walls that were lined with tin or zinc and packed with various insulating materials such as cork, sawdust, straw or seaweed. A large block of ice was held in a tray or compartment near the top of the box. Cold air circulated down and around storage compartments in the lower section. Some finer models had spigots for draining ice water from a catch pan or holding tank. In cheaper models a drip pan was placed under the box and had to be emptied at least daily. 
Ice Box

Like many Vermonters, during the fall, winter and early spring, Mrs. Tiemann could take advantage of natural “cold storage,” with the major problem being items left there too long would freeze.

Thought the Scott Paper Company introduced the paper towel rolls for kitchens in 1931, it’s unlikely that the Tiemann’s could afford such an expense. Instead rags, made from old clothes would be used to clean up messes and spills.

The term “plastic” was coined in 1925 and Cellophane was introduced in 1907. Depending on what you purchased, some foods came wrapped in cellophane by 1933. However, the impact of plastics, and the disposable world of today, did not exist in the 1930s. Left over food would have been stored in glass containers. Dishes would have been left in a drying rack or dried by hand with a “dish cloth.” Those same dish clothes would have served double duty by storing produce. Zucchini, cucumber, parsnips, leeks, green beans, carrots all last longer when you wrap them in a damp towel and then store. Spills would have been mopped up with rags, which would be cleaned along with the weekly laundry. Food was purchased in bulk and many items like vanilla, ketchup, jams, and jellies, would all be made not purchased.

While some women embraced “tin” foods, families like the Tiemanns, had to rely on canning, which he noted in early chapters of the Memoirs. For the women of this era, having a well laid out pantry of their own canned goods was a hall mark of good housekeeping.

Mason jars have been around since 1858 with most common U.S. brands being Ball, and Kerr. These jars would have served double duty, much as they do today. They could be converted into a fruit fly trap, an oil lamp, drinking glass, storage container and much more. For more uses, check out the links in the Further Reading section below. 

While the Tiemanns had running water, it’s not clear whether they hooked up a hot water system from the wood stove or, like many families of the day,  boiled water on the cook stove.

Further Reading
• 10 Life Hacks to Help You Cut Plastic Out of the Picture: Save money and reduce the nasties from plastics 

• Alternative uses for Mason Jars
-       Ecojarz Silicone and Stainless lids turns a Mason jar into a travel mug. 
-       Mason Jar Smoothies: A mason jar's neck and some blender bottom caps have the same thread count. You don't need a specialty blender to make things such as guacamole and smoothies, just make them in the same container you'll store or serve them in.

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