We had stew and cornbread for dinner last night. Okay, it wasn’t that wonderful stew “made from scratch” that cooks for hours and makes the house smell great. It wasn’t even crockpot stew. It was frozen stew in a bag. I’ve already made my cooking confessions. And the cornbread was a mix that I cooked in our little convection oven. Even my mother is up there laughing. But this is not about the cooking. This is about getting ready for winter. My mind and body are beginning the transition even though we have lots of intermittently warm days ahead.
We are creatures of habit and many of them are seasonal. Gary and I bought new flannel sheets weeks ago. We’ve decided that this weekend they are going on the bed. The nights are already cold enough that we have added a blanket. It won’t be long before Gary is insisting that I put the electric blanket back on so he can turn that dial up to “4” and I can leave my side off for at least another month. :) Winter brings out some of our differences.
I’ve already done our clothes swapping for the year. The summer clothes are in storage and the winter sweats and sweaters are in our drawers. Of course our “winter” clothes are nothing like the ones we required in Iowa or even in the Sierras. And we have to have lots of “in-between” things that can be layered for our crazy up and down temps. But I’m wearing my big fluffy winter robe this morning. This weekend we are going shopping and I am NOT coming home without a raincoat! Gary is going to buy new house slippers.
There are household tasks that must be done as well. We will pack our little bedroom air conditioner away this weekend. I’ll soon switch to heavier drapes on the sliding glass door in the kitchen. I’ll take several afghans out of the closet and stack them on the extra chair in the living room for snuggling. Little things will make a difference when the cold air starts blowing.
When I was a child our winter preparations began with saving everything we could from the garden. Vegetables were canned or frozen. Beans had to be snapped, corn had to be shucked, and tomatoes were washed and boiled. Mother spent hours and hours preparing and storing food. And I remember visiting Granny Simmons as a child and being amazed by all the canned food on her back porch.
Next came the killing of a hog. Sometimes the hog was butchered at home, usually by hanging it upside down from a tree limb. Other years it was sent away and came back in little packages. I liked those years best. I didn’t like to watch the whole process. We also sent sheep to be processed and as I got older there were years when we shared a calf with some other family member. I recall that when we lived in Iowa Gary’s cousin called one day and asked me if I knew how to clean a chicken. Of course I did! We cleaned chickens all the time- fresh for Sunday dinner. Little did I know until after I had agreed to help her, that she was culling her hen house and wanted my help to clean thirty or more chickens to put in the freezer for the winter. We plucked and cleaned for hours and I learned to ask better questions before volunteering my services.
My mother and grandmother also spent hours making quilts and afghans and blankets to keep us warm. One year Dad bought several old wool blankets from the Army surplus store. They were rough and scratchy so Gran showed him how to put them between two sheets and stitch them together. He did it with different colored scraps of yarn leftover from the crocheting. I even helped him. We sat on the floor and he put the yarn through every few inches and I tied it in a double knot. Gran sewed around the outer edges. I loved those blankets!
Mother also made most of our clothes, so in August she would “take inventory” and get started on what we needed the most. We also went to garage sales and flea markets looking for coats. I don’t recall having a new coat until eighth grade. It was a beautiful blue!
Ironic to look back now and think about our “winter” preparations when in fact I lived most of my life in California where it never snows and is seldom really cold in comparison with other parts of the nation. But we were poor and lived in old houses with very little heat. There wasn’t much farm work to do in the winter and dad was always trying to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. He and Mom must have managed quite well because I can remember a lot of our preparations, but I can’t remember ever being cold or hungry!
And BTW- The term “made from scratch” refers to an old sports term meaning to “begin at the starting line without any advantage”.