Pioneer Potluck: Fall chores, floods and fires

  • By ANN ‘GRANNIE ANNIE’ BERG
  • Tuesday, September 12, 2017 7:43pm
  • LifeFood

Author’s note: Suggestions by Susan Jordan

Fall chores on the farm, where my two brothers, two sisters and I grew up, was a busy time of year, especially for my Mom and Dad. Dad was busy getting the sugar beets out of the ground and hiring various groups of people to “top” the beets by taking a long knife blade with a hook on the end to hook the beet off the ground, place the beet across your knee and chop off the beet top. They threw the beets in a row and left the green top where it landed. Later Dad would turn the cattle out to feed on the tops.

In the early 1940s, during World War II, German war prisoners were trucked to local beet farms from where they were held captive outside Greeley, Colorado.

They arrived in Army trucks with canvas tarps arched over the top. Each truck had two armed United State Army guards. Dad was kind to them and laughed a joked with them while a translator stood by to help in the translation.

Later, I do not remember what year, Dad hired Jamaicans right from Jamaica, to help him in the late spring to weed and thin the beets. They arrived in trucks with benches on both sides. We knew the minute they came down the road and over Aranic’s hill, because we could hear them singing. Oh, what wonderful fascinating music! I had never heard anything like it in my little sheltered corner of the world. What wonderful rhythm and such happy people. They would jump off the truck, dance a little jig, line up and listen to what Dad wanted them to do. They went single file into the beet field, singing, their tall thin bodies bending over at the waist, picking weeds and thinning the beets, jamming weeds and beets in their left hand. When they could not hold anymore they would give it a solid pat, put them down in the irrigation row and repeat the process all through the field, never breaking stride. It looked like little haystacks all over the beet field.

There was only one thing wrong with that, it clogged up the irrigation water coming down each row. Dad tried to tell them to just pick the weeds and the beet and let it lay, do not make piles in the ditch. To no avail, they would just laugh and nod their head and continue doing the little hay stacks. My Dad, me and maybe my little brother John walked the field after they left and picked up the little weed stacks so Dad could irrigate his beet crop. That was time consuming and it interfered with the rest of the chores. Dad came up with a solution. At the end of each day after the Jamaicans were through weeding and thinning, Dad handed them a gunny sack and told them to go back through the rows and pick up the little stacks. They went down each row, each singing and keeping in rhythm with the others, just as happy as could be picking up the little piles.

Dad loved being around them and began to talk and singing happy little tunes in his monotone voice, until Mom put a stop to it. “John!” she would shout, “For heaven’s sake, stop that!”

He had hay bales to stack, corn to pick also.

Mom was also busy in the fall, canning pickles, lots and lots of different kinds of pickles, corn, tomatoes, peaches, pears and plums. We also gathered choke cherries up in Poudre Canyon for jelly. She made cherry jelly and jam, apple butter and jelly, from Grandpa Cogswell’s orchard. Cinnamon apples were canned for Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the meantime there was breakfast, dinner and supper to make. Bread to bake and dessert for the meals. When all those chores were done, she would start on making cookies for the holidays. Mom was always busy in HER kitchen. On Monday she washed clothes and on Tuesday she ironed.

For a few years we had beef in the freezer from the cattle Dad had. The cow he so carefully picked out, was hauled to the slaughter house and then cut and packaged the way Mom wanted it. The first year it was stored in a locker at the same plant. The next year Mom, with Dad’s approval, bought a great big chest type freezer that took up the east wall of the porch. Mom began to pack it full for winter. Beef, pies, cakes and cookies were placed in neat places in the freezer, frozen for the winter months. For a few years she bought a half a pig to be cut up to her specifications, wrapped and put into our freezer. We ate well!

Mom’s menu for her family was always interesting and always very, very tasty. The meals consisted of meat, potatoes, gravy, vegetable, salad, homemade bread and dessert. Breakfast was sausage, or bacon, eggs from the hen house, homemade bread toast and her jelly. Or her great biscuits and gravy. I learned to cook by helping and observing. I do not ever remember standing at the stove or getting things out of the oven because that was Mom’s job.

Later years, when I moved with the kids to Alaska in 1967, I learned real fast what getting ready for winter meant to Alaskans. It meant survival! Usually no grocery stores within miles. Canned goods and essentials was a 200 mile trip to Anchorage. And if it snowed you could not get there anyway.

So, at the beginning of moose season, all the men in our little four family group hunted. If one man got a moose, it was divided four ways. Then the next moose was also divided the same way. It was hung in a cold place, usually a garage, barn, shed or one neighbor hung his in an abandoned well to cool and age. One week later, we all would gather at his place and help cut and grind the meat and divide equally among four families, each of which had grade school kids and small babies. It was a day of fun and activities, food to share and stories to tell around a big roaring campfire. Moose ribs cooked on the open fire and the ladies brought there favorite side dishes and all brought dessert. Hungry kids can demolish desserts!

We shared recipes and gossip. We wiped noses and changed wet clothes if it was snowing. We gathered up the tired sleepy kids and took them home. We waited until the next moose was shot and repeat the routine all over again at a different house.

We lived on Daniels Lake for a while and it seemed like that was a better place, bigger too, for everyone to gather and process moose meat and grind up the tougher parts for mooseburger. They devised a grinder that was turned by a shop drill. They nailed the grinder to a big stump, attached the drill to the grinder and someone placed their foot on the stump so it would not take off flying round and round. The tough moose meat was ground in no time. We added cubes of frozen margarine in place of tallow to make the burger moist. Then it was divided among the four families and packaged according to the various wishes. That meal that day, was mooseburgers and salads. Dessert of course! What wonderful memories. During fishing season the same division of sharing of fish, canning and smoking until we all had our pantries ready for winter.

Foods and fires

The year of 1969, was the Swanson River fire here on this side of the Peninsula. It was terrifying! We were back on Boulder Point at Betty and Gene Coulters homestead, getting ready to paint an old wooden dory white so we could go fishing on the set-net sites that we bought next to Arness Dock and next to Betty and Gene Coulter’s sites. Black flecks showed up in the paint, which Betty thought were little black nats. She said a few “Betty cuss words” and wiped them off. It smeared black into the white. Betty hollered that it was ashes, just as the CB radio went off with Gene hollering at Betty. “Get the kids and get out of there, a fire is coming your way.”

I cannot tell you to this day how terrified I was for the eight kids we had with us and how in the world we would get out! The rest of the story is long and hilarious at times. That will come at a later date.

There have been several large fires on the Peninsula that put terror in our hearts. We are so grateful this year for the rain during fire season!

Today the fires in the western states have to be so terrifying. The devastation leaves us heartbreaken. My heart goes out to those people.

I also remember the Fairbanks flood in 1967 well and saw the residue and devastation to the community. After the flood we traveled to Fairbanks to look at a location for a communications tower on Murphy’s Dome. My husband, Richard at the time, found the location he wanted to place the tower and I found blueberries! Buckets and buckets of them! Big ones! I was in heaven. I picked all day and got help after the location was established. We placed the berries in two buckets that we had, then into garbage bags that we always had stored in the back seat of the pickup. I, finally, after two days, picked enough! It was time to go get the piano that I had found in Fairbanks. It had to be restored because it went through the flood. That was OK with me — it was piano — refinishing was OK too.

We brought it home in a big box. Had it restored, I refinished it. I played and played it — all out of tune. It was so warped that it would not stay in tune, but that did not matter to me — I got to play the piano again! I went to music stores and bought sheet music. I played off key and slow on the rhythm, mostly Hymns and country music. Richard played the guitar very well and sang. We had six kids that sang — sometimes. I had fun. I am not to sure anyone else did — they just did not have anything else to do!

So these stories comes to mind when I see nothing but floods in Texas and Louisiana and how many have lost everything. Then the hurricanes in Florida and other states, and the preparation of those millions of people being evacuated. The tremendous amount of areas that have burnt in the western states, we hope they all get help as we have family and friends all through that area. Each night I go to bed thankful that we have a safe place, a little wet from all the rain we have had this summer but thankful for no forest fires in this area this year. Thank you God!

This was written on Patriot Day. Never, ever forget!

The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self-taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at anninalaska@gci.net.

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