Pioneer Potluck: About our neighbor named Helen

Lily helping Grannie Annie bake.

1947 TO 1955


In 1947 Dad and Mom decided to remodel the small two-bedroom house that was now bursting at the seams with five children. We moved into the basement so the upstairs could be remodeled. We lived there for about six months until Dad and Grandpa Cogswell finished and painted the upstairs.

Ginger and I moved into a brand-new bedroom with hardwood floors, a big picture window with the view of the front yard, Mom's flowers, big trees and the gravel road. We even had closets. I had heard at one time that the bedroom was supposed to be Dad and Mom's but somehow they disagreed on something about how the bedroom was built. They stayed in the same old bedroom in the older part of the house until they moved and the house and farm was sold.

Ginger and I loved our new bedroom with a nice big dresser, a big mirror and a big bed. One stormy night, dark and thundery, we were snug in our bed, warm and toasty when Ginger heard a tap-tap on the big window. She peeked out from under the covers and looked right into the eyes of was strange looking lady with mud all over her. Her hair was plastered with something fuzzy.

Ginger thought she heard the lady say "John-John!" Just then a bolt of lightning lit up the sky and the face turned into a ghoulish looking monster. Ginger screamed, which made me scream, which made the ghoul lady run toward the front door! Dad, hearing all the commotion, got up just in time to hear the knock on the door. He opened it and let the ghoul lady in. Seeing the ghoul lady in the house, Ginger's fear turned to sheer terror and she crawled under the covers, jabbering to me about some monster in the house.

Always curious, I peeked around the corner of the bedroom door and said, "Oh for goodness sakes ... it's just Helen!" She was telling Dad that she had gotten off work at the carnival in Fort Collins were she sold cotton candy. She was driving too fast, as usual in her old worn-out car, hit a mud puddle and slid into the ditch, turning her car over. Dad asked her if she was hurt. She said no, but she had cotton candy all over her. That was a fuzzy stuff in her hair.

Mom stayed in bed out of sight. Ginger stayed under the covers so the ghoul lady would not get her. I went and told Mom that Dad was going to take Helen home in the pickup, that she'd had a wreck. Mom said "HUMMFF! Driving too fast again!" Dad would tell us teasingly that "she sure smelled sweet" in front of Mom. We all knew he was teasing because Helen had a wooden leg and lived in the house in the dry lands with chickens in her kitchen.

Helen, her son, Bobby Lee and her mother "Old Lady Frosay" (Dad would yodel her name) lived in the dry lands in a house that was shingled with tin can lids. The dry lands were rolling fields of wheat that would grow without water. There was always lots of dust and "whirlies" or dervishes, big whirling dust clouds that rose straight up into the sky.

We called the up-and-down rolling dirt road to Helen's house and Black Hollow Lake, "The Derbies." Helen's place was a dusty, dirty little place, with various types of wire fence enclosing the whole area to keep all the animals in the yard. Right in the middle of the yard was the house. Basically they lived in a corral. There were several other buildings that had various animals living inside, such as pigs, goats, chickens, cows and many, many calves.

The chickens came and went in and out of the house. Dad took something to Helen one time and was invited into the house. Old Lady Frosay was kneading bread on the kitchen table. In walked a couple of chickens and one flew up on the back of the chair and watched her knead bread. Another flew up on the cupboard and helped himself to the morsels. Dad would tell us over and over for years with his eyes wide open in disbelief, "You know that they brought bread to us during the war, when your mother was helping me in the field and Helen was babysitting you kids," and he would add in dismay, "We ate that bread!"

Helen babysat Sonny, Ginger and me while Mom and Dad worked in the fields plowing, cutting hay, pulling beets, harvesting corn and grain and spreading manure. During World War II all the young man were whisked off to war. Dad's brother Guy was drafted into the Army and took care of mules and horses in England. Uncle Lester joined the Air Force and flew the "hump" in India. His brother, Evan was in the Army also. They were needed over there and Dad added he was needed on the farm. Farmers were exempt from the draft.

Next Week: How Helen got her wooden leg.

Pull Apart Dinner Rolls

Any basic white bread dough, frozen, that has been thawed
Grease a 9 x 5" loaf pan. Combine the following dry spice.
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground pepper
One or more tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl.  
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured. Divide dough into 16 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Cover and let rest for 5 min.
Flatten each ball into a 4 x 3 inch oval. Coat each side of the dough with olive oil sprinkle just ONE side with about a half a teaspoon of the herb mixture.
 Stand the loaf pan on the short and prop up with a folded towel. Lay one piece of the coated dough, just on one side, in the panel. Stack remaining 15 pieces of dough in the pan so that the herb covered sides of dough are touching the side of the dough not covered with the herb mixture. Cover with a towel and let rise for 25 min.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake 35 min. or until top is golden. Remove immediately from pan and cool on a rack...  Next time you do this use minced garlic are salt and leave out the sage.  

Enjoy this wonderful aromatic smelling bread.

Rhubarb Strawberry Bars

For the crust:
1 3/4 cups flour
2 tblsp powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter
Mix until resembles coarse crumbs.  Press this mixture into a 13 x 9 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Mix the filling in a bowl:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup flour
3 eggs separated - save white for topping
1 cup canned milk
1/4 tsp lemon juice
4 cups fresh diced rhubarb
1 cup fresh strawberries

Mix sugar, egg yolks, and stir in flour and salt. Stir in milk and fold in rhubarb and strawberries and lemon juice.  Spread the rhubarb strawberry mixture over the crust and bake until firm at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.  
Beat egg white in mixer bowl into firm peaks and add 1/2cup sugar 1 tblsp at a time until stiff peaks form.  Spread over rhubarb and bake until light brown about 15 minutes.  Watch carefully.  
Cool in pan and cut into bars.

Rhubarb Custard Pie

I have always baked this at Thanksgiving and Christmas, in place of my Grandma's cherry pie.  It is the first pie I baked when I came to Alaska in 1967.
Beat together:
2 eggs
2 tblsp milk
3 tblsp flour
1 cup sugar
Dash of salt
1 teas vanilla
1 teas cinnamon
Pour this mixture over 3 to 4 cups of fresh or frozen* rhubarb, placed in an unbaked pie shell.  

Mix and sprinkle on top:
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teas nutmeg
Bake at 400 degrees for 60 minutes.
*Thaw frozen rhubarb in a colander and do not press or squeeze out the rest of the juice.