1940s to 1955, Northern Colorado
Mom cooked on an old black cooking stove in the corner of the kitchen which had been converted from a porch. The usual morning ritual of starting a fire in the stove was Dad poking a small amount of paper down deep inside the belly of the stove, hoping there would be a few small red coals left to catch the paper on fire or lighting a kitchen match and tossing it onto the paper. Then he dumped a few corncobs inside so they would ignite. The next step was to place a few pieces of coal on top of that. (They bought the coal from Tolliver and Kenny Hardware in Fort Collins. That store carried EVERYTHING including bottled pop — of which we were the recipient from Mr. Tolliver. My favorite was Orange Crush!)
Our water was pumped from a cistern by a red handled hand pump located to the right of the stove, next to the sink, into a coffee pot. Dad would dump some coffee “grounds” into the pot (Dad made coffee that made a spoon stand up in the cup!) He would wait for it to boil. Then he would set the pot off to the side of the stove, pour a half a cup of cold water on top of the boiling coffee, and wait a few minutes for the “grinds” to settle. He would pour himself and maybe a neighbor and Mom a cup of coffee. It always smelled so good but tasted so awful when I was little! Now 70 “some” years later I cannot drink enough of it!
By the time the old stove was hot and the coffee done, Mom already had a batch of biscuits mixed and cut out ready for the oven and she had bacon or ham frying on the stove. The smells coming from the kitchen were so great lying in bed! Us little kids, at the last possible minute would pop out of the warm bed onto the cold floor, run for the cook stove to keep warm. We always dressed in front of the cook stove. I thought that’s where everyone dressed!
Water was poured into the reservoir located in the stove so it could be heated. Mom always had a dishpan of water on the stove, so when she was finished with the meals she could do the dishes. A pan of hot water for rinsing the dishes sat “idling” next to it. She was so very particular about doing the dishes. Each one was scrubbed and washed with the dishrag, cups and glasses first, the plates in the forks and knives and spoons next and always the cooking pots last! They were put into the rinse water and fished out with a huge meat fork because the water was so hot. We dried them with Mom’s feed sack towels that she and Grandma had so carefully embroidered. Why my goodness you never wanted to be caught doing dishes without embroidery on the dish towels!
Mom usually planned her day by putting a roast or a chicken in the oven for supper and baking her fine cakes for dessert while the stove was still hot. On Sunday she fried the best chicken in the whole world on that old stove. It was fried with bacon grease, butter and lard. Boiled potatoes, smashed with cream and butter in them. The milk gravy was made from the fried chicken drippings, with flour stirred in, then milk and cream stirred until thick, then she added salt and pepper. Now that was good eating!
Her baked cookies, pies and cakes in that old oven were always baked to perfection. When they remodeled the house she got new kitchen and a brand-new electric stove. She would stand in front of the stove, admiring it, then come up with some wonderful meals and delicious desserts.
Breakfast was usually bacon or ham, fried potatoes, fried eggs with “frizzled lace” around the outside because mom cooked them in hot bacon grease. (The bacon and any other kind of grease was never thrown out — it was kept in a coffee can for future use.) When she made biscuits for breakfast she made milk gravy to go on top of the biscuit. My Uncle Guy was in heaven with Mom’s biscuits and gravy! Or homemade bread toast slathered with real butter we had made and that wonderful peach jam or all the good jellies she took so much time to make in the fall.
My Mom is the reason I have been interested in cooking and writing cookbooks all of these years. I thank her and always think of her when I make banana bread with her recipe or make cookies and hope she is not scolding from Above, for baking a cake from “the box.” I seldom make pies but when I do I “cheat” and unroll a pie crust from the store! Then with rhubarb season coming up – I will make rhubarb custard pie – rhubarb coffee cakes, just like Mom did and her Mother did – only at times they had fresh cherries, that they pitted and made into pies. Again I cheat and open a can! Our life in the kitchen is so much simpler these days!
I hope every Mom had a wonderful Mother’s Day! I sure did!