Tag Archives: Kitchen

Pigs in the Kitchen

In the winter of 1968 my grandmother Agnes sent me a letter from the farm. She knew about the menagerie of animals Alex and I had at our house in Menlo Park, California – ducks, chickens, roosters, and cats. So at the end of her letter she warned us not to go so far as to get pigs.

“Don’t you and Alex get any ideas even though I know from experience that baby pigs make great pets. Dr. Flaherty the veterinarian brought me one once.  – Grandma”

1968 Christmas Card - Alex and Carol with some of the livestock.

1968 Christmas Card – Alex and Carol with some of the livestock.

People say that pigs are intelligent, and writers have immortalized ones with human characteristics – the sweet and radiant Wilbur in “Charlotte’s Web,” the three pig brothers and their nemesis the Big Bad Wolf, the politically symbolic animals in Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” the pig in the nursery rhyme, “Tom, Tom the piper’s son, stole a pig and away he run,” (said to be not actually a pig but some kind of meat pie).

One of my favorite literary porcine images comes from Gertrude Stein in her book, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.” Writing in the voice of her longtime companion Alice, she says:

“Gertrude Stein had always liked little pigs and she always said that in her old age she expected to wander up and down the hills of Assisi with a little black pig.”

"A Little Black Pig," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil, 2013

“A Little Black Pig,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil, 2013

I don’t know if there were little black pigs on the farm, but in the days before supermarkets and cars and refrigeration, animals provided more than entertainment for the Hall family. My great-grandmother Lydia writes in her journals about the birth to death cycle of the farm pigs.

Thursday, February 12, 1914 – “Cold. Thermometer 8 ½ degrees below zero. Down to zero nearly all day. Pigs eleven in all came during the afternoon and evening. All were brought into the kitchen by the stove. All lively and doing well.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Saturday, March 21, 1914 – “Someone stole one of the little pigs last night, so it seems that thieves are about us.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Sunday, August 30, 1914 – “Ellsworth brought in a sick pig – died in the night – he thinks from eating sweet corn.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Wednesday, December 9 – 1914 – “Ellsworth and Andrew butchered two pigs in morning. I took the fat off the intestines. Agnes helped me. One pig weighed three hundred – the other two hundred.” – Lydia Jane Hall

People and their animals lived in close contact on the farms of the early twentieth century, and I suppose it didn’t pay to be sentimental about the future of a pig. But my mother never could stand the butchering and hid under her bed covers until it was over. My cousin Skip told me that even when he was growing up my grandparents sometimes kept pigs in the back pantry, the room you passed through on your way from the back yard to the kitchen. In this photo of my mother and her brother and sister, you can see behind them the door to the back pantry.

Janet, Francis, and Lydia Hall, 1921

Janet, Francis, and Lydia Hall, 1921

The pigs of my own childhood were kept far from the house. Grandma Hall gave us baskets of stale bread to feed them. We pushed the crusts one piece at a time through the slats of the pen. I loved the sounds they made as they ate our offerings, and can’t forget their unique smell, but I wish I could have seen those other little pigs on a long ago winter night staying warm and cozy next to the big black kitchen stove.

"Pigs in the Kitchen," Carol Crump Bryner, pen, 2015

“Pigs in the Kitchen,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen, 2015

On Wednesday:  Outbuildings #4 – The Chicken Coop

Baked Beans

On Saturday afternoons in fall and winter, my mother and I got in the car and drove the mile or so from our little red house on East Center Street to the farm on Whirlwind Hill. We visited with my grandparents and uncles and aunts over afternoon coffee in the kitchen, and then we headed home with our treasures. Mine was the weekly Life Magazine. My grandmother had a subscription and let me have it after she was finished. When I got home I read it cover to cover while I waited for the supper that was my mother’s treasure – a big pot of my grandmother’s baked beans.

"Bean Pot," Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor, 2014

“Bean Pot,” Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor, 2014

Saturday on the farm was baking day, and when cooler weather started, my grandmother started making her beans. I didn’t care for the beans back then (although I’d like to taste them now), but my mother must have appreciated having dinner “to go.” She probably added ham or hot dogs and maybe scalloped potatoes. My brother has always loved baked beans. He still cooks them the old-fashioned way – soaking the beans, adding the molasses, salt pork, etc. and then cooking them in an old bean pot for hours and hours. He claims that real New England baked beans should be made with Yellow Eye beans, and that the very best way to cook them is in a bean hole.

"Yelloweye Beans," Carol Crump Bryner, 2014

“Yelloweye Beans,” Carol Crump Bryner, 2014

On Friday:  Apples – An Addendum

Ginger Cookies

Friday, May 14, 1912 – “Looked like rain in the morning. Cleared before noon. Ellsworth gone to town with butter. We baked bread, ginger cookies, and crullers.” – Lydia Jane Hall

"Rolling Pin," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2014

“Rolling Pin,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2014

When we had our Hall family reunion last year, my cousin Skip asked if he and his wife Rita could make ginger cookies to bring. “Of course!” I said, because if there was one food we all remember from the farm it was Grandma Hall’s ginger cookies.

Skip’s cookies were great, and the ginger cookies my cousin Tom makes and sends me from Indiana are also fantastic. I make my cookies from a recipe in an old New York Times cookbook. I cut them in the shape of hearts and frost them with pink frosting. But none of them taste quite like the ones from the kitchen on Whirlwind Hill.

Here’s my grandmother’s recipe – in her writing – sent to me by Skip.

Grandma Hall's Ginger Cookie Recipe

Grandma Hall’s Ginger Cookie Recipe

I remember helping her make ginger cookies at the kitchen table. She (in spite of her recipe) didn’t seem to measure at all. She used a ton of flour, and the darkest molasses I’ve ever seen, and she worked very fast and with absolute command over the dough. My grandmother had to work fast – she had such a busy life.

Monday, July 25, 1921 – “Agnes helping out of doors most of the time – going to town, looking after the children, making cookies, bread, etc. She doesn’t find much time for housework.” – Lydia Jane Hall

She always cut her cookies into circles. I think this cutter may have been from the farm, but what I remember is just a plain metal ring. Maybe the answer to the memorable taste is that not only did we eat them around the kitchen table but ate them when they were starting to get stale and perfect for dunking into a cup of afternoon coffee or a glass of milk.

"Cookie Cutter," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2014

“Cookie Cutter,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2014

On Monday:  The Gold Beads

Doing Dishes

"Sunday Dishes," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

“Sunday Dishes,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

When a friend mentioned that she was overly particular about loading her dishwasher, I admitted that I, too, moved the plates and bowls around to their “proper” places after they’d been loaded “wrong” by well-meaning helpers.

Kitchen routines, especially dish related ones, are like that. Once you get into a pattern it’s hard to change. On the farm, the dishwashing rhythm, established who knows when, was unchanging. Someone – usually my grandmother – filled a pan in the white sink with hot soapy water. Soap was never wasted, so only one pan of washing water was used for the whole gamut of dirt.

Grandma Hall washed the glasses first, the silverware second, the cups, china, and tea things next. The greasy pots and pans came last, taking their bath in tepid grimy water. She put the soapy dishes onto the draining board where they waited to be “scalded” with boiling water from the silver-colored kettle simmering on the stovetop. When I was the dryer I complained about soapy traces left on the dishes and was told it was my job to wipe everything clean with the towel – a little soap never hurt anyone. Besides, Grandma Hall said, after the scalding, the dishes were perfectly sterile.

I remember a Sunday morning when I was in college. I decided at the last minute to drive home and surprise my family by joining them for Sunday dinner at the farm. I felt the need to be in the loving circle of parents and brother and grandparents for a little while. The noon meal was the big meal of the day on the farm, and the Sunday dinner was always special.

I don’t remember what we ate, but I do remember standing at the kitchen sink with my grandmother and mother while I dried the dishes. I wore a favorite 1960’s college girl outfit – black sweater, black and white pleated wool skirt, black stockings, black shoes, and probably a gold circle pin. It was comforting to be in the midst of the steamy haze and the patter of small talk and feel that I totally belonged. I was independent, but not quite. I drove back to school that afternoon wishing I could stay at the farm with my family and forget about getting on in the world.

These old-fashioned routines haunt me long after I’ve established my own more modern ones. And I’m trying to remember the kettle. I can only approximate the way it looked, but to this day I feel its heft and remember the hot thrill of pouring boiling water over precious and fragile glassware and china.

"Kitchen Kettle," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2012

“Kitchen Kettle,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2012

On Wednesday:  Water on the Farm – The Spring

The Kitchen

The room I miss most is the kitchen. So much activity went on there – the morning and evening meals, the coffee hours, the greetings and goodbyes. Almost everyone came into the house via the front porch. You passed the hanging wooden swing on the porch’s east end and walked up a step and through the kitchen door. The electric stove stood to the right as you entered and the wood stove to the left between two doors leading into the dining room.

In the Farmhouse Kitchen, around 1950

In the Farmhouse Kitchen, around 1950

Once a year my grandfather whitewashed the kitchen walls. Dirt or grease or dust or unfortunate flies or spiders were covered and became permanent wall texture. Below a strip of flypaper hanging from the light fixture, my grandmother plucked chickens and paid bills at the kitchen table. My grandfather sharpened his razor on the strap hanging on the icebox and shaved in front of a mirror by the sink. He was a slow and deliberate man – quiet in everything he did. We loved to watch him carve the Thanksgiving turkey. No sooner did he have all the plates filled and passed around (there were sometimes as many as thirty people at the tables) than someone asked for second helpings.

Near the white sink and the shaving mirror was a tall narrow gun closet, and next to that the door to the cellar stairs. I loved and feared the cellar. It was dark, cool, cobwebby, and full of dusty canning jars and barrels of hard cider (the farmers’ cocktail). But sometimes there was the excitement of new litters of puppies or kittens in boxes on the dirt floor. After the house burned the steps that felt so scary and dark when I was a child became a part of the outdoors – softened and reclaimed by nature.

On a counter near the icebox my grandmother mixed and kneaded dough and rolled crusts for pies. I could pull open a metal drawer filled with flour by hooking my finger into a metal ring on its front. On washing days the mangle was set up there. Clothes and linens dried outside on the clothesline were brought in and fed through the mangle, a large roller that pressed the sheets flat and saved much of the tedium of regular ironing.

The black and white photo above was, for a while, the only one I had of the kitchen, and for years I’ve thought of it as a not very colorful room. But recently my cousin Nancy gave me a picture taken in 1970 when she visited the farm. I love how sunny and bright the scene is, and I’m amazed at how much a bit of color enhances my memories.

Nancy Teter Smith and Agnes Hall in the farm kitchen, 1970

Nancy Teter Smith and Agnes Hall in the farm kitchen, 1970

The heart of the kitchen was the wood stove. It gave heat, hot water, and comfort to the room, and it baked hearty loaves of bread every Saturday and a pretty good turkey on Thanksgiving.

Below is a photo of Thanksgiving supper, 1948. The big dinner was at noon, but some of the family spent the afternoon and stayed for the supper of scalloped oysters, cold turkey, Aunt Glenna’s gelatin salad, and Aunt Betty’s much-anticipated chocolate covered cream puffs. In the photo I’m sitting next to mother, my grandmother, my uncle Francis and my aunt Glenna, and over my shoulder is a glimpse into the north end of the kitchen and a tantalizing peek at the icebox and the door leading into the back pantry.

Thanksgiving Supper, 1948

Thanksgiving Supper, 1948

On Wednesday:  Names