COLUMN: Tales from the Gravel Ridge – Reminiscences of a simpler time
The day was busy, as summer days on our Rosengard farm always were.
Evening is on its way and the last rays of the sun are disappearing behind the trees back of the barn. The cows are heading out, their empty udders swaying rhythmically as they make their way down the well-trodden path. Now and then I hear the sound of their bells. Not loudly however, as their movement is unhurried.
My brothers are putting away the milking stools, and cleaning up the barn. The cats are curling up and purring contentedly.
The pigs have been fed, and the chickens are already nodding off on the roost.
The cream is being separated from the milk by means of our Husqvarna cream separator. I take a turn at the handle, now that my older sister has managed to get the drum spinning at a sufficiently fast speed. It’s fascinating watching the two streams of white liquid, each entering a separate container. The bigger flow, which is also whiter, is the skim milk, while the yellowish flow is cream. This is the easy part of the task. I know that later the large bowl, complete with its tap, the cup-shaped container and its floater, as well as the two pipes that direct the flow of the milk and cream will have to be hand washed thoroughly. So too will the strainer which consists of a white cloth clamped on a funnel-shaped bowl by means of a metal ring, which is still resting on the wooden frame placed across the large bowl. The hardest part of the job however is washing the item called the drum. It is made up of many parts, including some twenty-six disks each of which must be washed and dried separately. Before the cleaning process is complete, a ring of fatty milk products which has coalesced inside the outer edge of the drum due to the centrifugal force exerted on it, has to be removed. It’s not a pleasant task, but it must be done.
My mother is busy preparing the evening meal, and my father, who has already come in from the barn, is discussing with her what she will need from the Peter B. Reimer store in Steinbach. If it doesn’t rain, he plans to head out early in the morning. With a pail of chop, it should be easy to catch the horses in order to harness them and hitch them to the wagon. They’ll need the extra energy to haul the wagon the distance of close to twenty miles, round trip. My mother indicates that she will need more vinegar and sugar for her canning needs, as well as some pickling spice. As for regular grocery essentials, she doesn’t have to prepare a list. My father has a keen memory and remembers what our mother needs.
Finally we’re all inside the summer kitchen where the tantalizing aroma of the evening meal greets us. Fresh lettuce and onion greens, with a bit of vinegar, sugar and yogurt for dressing make a delicious salad. Radishes make a good side dish. Peas and carrots and small new potatoes, topped with my mother’s wonderful cream gravy are scrumptious. From the earthenware crock in the corner, dill pickles fermented in the earthenware crock are deliciously crunchy. A dish of cool yogurt, with thin cucumber slices to garnish it, rounds out the meal.
Before we head into the house for the night, there is one more task to be done. We have to wash our feet. Going to bed without washing our feet is not permitted. The small tin tub is brought into the passageway between the house and the summer kitchen, and filled with warm water. We take turns sitting down to the task, changing water as needed.
I am the last one to wash my feet this evening. Just as I’m heading out the door to throw out the water, the stillness of the evening is broken by the song of the whip-poor-will. What a delightful send-off to the dreams of a mid-summer’s night.