Seasonal Farming Tasks in the Great Depression

December 28, 2014

Letty Owings, who turns 90 today, explains a few of the farming tasks that were seasonal, during the Great Depression.

Wheat shocking

In the spring of each year, the community farmers watched the sky and talked with each other about when to prepare the fields for planting. For corn, the fields had to be plowed and harrowed, and then the rows were set. The implements used to plow, break up and smooth the soil and form rows were horse-drawn. After the fields were prepared for planting, corn planters were also hitched to horses. A container on the corn planter was set to click open every three feet or so, and release three kernels of corn to the soil. So far, we are talking about mechanization.

The mechanization ended after the planting of the kernels. The next task involved human hands that belonged to kids, for the most part. Once the corn plants were about two inches tall, the kids in the community crawled up and down the corn rows, inspecting each three-plant corn hill, taking visual inventory. We crawled down each row with a knife and a bucket of kernels, to see if three plants were in each cluster. Less than three plants in a hill meant that there was a cutworm in the soil, dining. We dug and chopped the worm, and replaced the eaten kernel with the new kernel. This task was called “replanting the corn,” and if you were a kid, you got that assignment. Replanting the corn was labor intensive and ritually performed every year. In church, farmers would ask each other, “Did you replant your corn yet?”

Another task where fingers did the work was ridding each individual potato plant in any given field of the potato bugs. Potato bugs are fat with orange stripes, and they can completely decimate a field of potatoes. We crawled up and down the rows with a tin can of coal oil that served as our insecticide at the time. We looked at each leaf, picked off the bugs and the masses of eggs, and dropped them into the can of coal oil. These were days before pesticides. In addition to coal oil for the bugs, we rubbed coal oil and bacon grease on our skin to keep the chiggers away. Again, our fingers did the work and like replanting the corn, potato bug removal was extremely labor intensive.

Of all farming activities we performed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, two were notable because they involved the whole community: threshing of the wheat, and butchering the animals. Summer threshing of the wheat was the most exciting time of the year because it was a social time rolled into sustenance activity.

Farmers looked at the sky to determine when the wheat was ready to cut. If the dryness was right for thrashing on a Sunday, the farmers waited until Monday, figuring that God had good reason to wait the extra day. When the dryness was right, a horse-drawn binder (also called a reaper) cut and automatically tied the wheat into bundles weighing 50 pounds or so. The farmer would then pick up the bundles and put them in a shock. A shock of wheat consisted of four upright bundles together with one bundle on top. The shocks of wheat were left for some number of days to dry.

Only one person in the whole community owned a steam engine pulled thresher, and his name was Harry. Each farm set a day for the threshing of the wheat. The threshing of the wheat was special, dramatic, and planned in advance, almost as if the whole community was planning a state fair. The women all wore their best starched aprons and set their finest tables outside for the men to eat the finest meal of the year.

Each woman had a specialty, be it baked bread, custard, pie, butter, beans or canned goods, and all was brought forth on this day. The meat consumed was kept from the year before, unless they killed a chicken for threshing day. This was also the only day of the year for ice. A man would travel to the ice plant, get a hunk of ice, and put it in a gunny sack in a washtub. Then, each man at the table would chip off a piece of ice for his drink. On thrashing day, I woke at 4 AM, to listen for the steam engine. Children were on their best behavior, and they spoke only when spoken to. There was much bragging and comparing about whose wife could cook what the best.

The other community affair that involved mostly men and was not joyous was the butchering. The animal to be butchered was chosen in advance, and it had to be done in the late fall, so that the cold would preserve the meat. The man in the community who was the best shot would do the killing, so that the shot would not miss and the animal would not suffer. That man was usually my father. The community custom was that the man who helped with the slaughter got the best cut of meat from the animal, and that cut was usually the heart.

The women made the sausage, and in those days the intestines were used because there was no casing. The women cleaned, washed and boiled, then stuffed, the intestine casing. Butchering was not a social function as was threshing the wheat. Aside from making sausage was a practice called “frying down the meat.” This involved layering grease, then ground fried meat, then grease, ending with a top layer of grease. The mixture was compacted and kept cold in a shed. The supply of fried down meat lasted all year. My mother canned beef but this was not really a usual practice. Sealing wax was a real mess; jar rubber was, in the end, a great invention.

There was never any idle time in those days. We grew cotton and sheared sheep for our materials and in our spare time, such as it was, we either picked apart the cotton or the wool with our hands. Wool smells awful, and I once complained to my dad because I was dirty and tired of the work. He stopped what he was doing and said, “You did nothing to earn this. Everything is a gift from God.”

Off-topic: If you haven’t heard these guys, make time:

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Texas A&M University-Commerce Digital Collections on flickr.

 


The Importance of the Barn in Great Depression Farming

December 13, 2014

by Crane-Station

Letty, 89, addresses some of the structures on a farm that were important during the Great Depression.

Today when we think of  structures on a property, we tend to think of houses that people live in. To farmers, some of the other buildings, namely the barn, were more important because they housed the animals. The animals had to be protected. There were two barns- a main barn and a barn for the large animals. They were not connected to each other. The ‘lower barn’ was divided into stalls for the cows and horses.

Barns were constructed from timber off the property such as oak or walnut. Red was not a native color to that area of Missouri at that time, so the barn was the color of the natural wood. It had a metal roof and gutters that led into barrels. The collected rain water was used for cattle water, chicken water, and also to wash clothes. Kids were told to stay away from the barrels because if you fell in, you couldn’t get out. One child drowned after climbing into one of the barrels. The design of a barn was not hit and miss and it involved science, although we may not think of it that way today. People who didn’t know about farming failed.

It was important for the interior of the barn to be dry. The harnesses, tools and hay couldn’t get wet and the hay crop had to be kept dry and protected from mold. Bundles were pulled to the barn with a tractor, or with horses, and the hay was lifted by a fork to the hay loft. The hay was loose hay, for the most part. Some of the chickens favored the barn over the chicken house, so they could roost, lay eggs and hatch their own chickens. To prevent chickens from getting into the hay loft to lay eggs, the trap door in the hay loft floor was kept closed.

Perhaps the most difficult but the most pleasing job I did on the farm during those years was a winter job. In the off-season we repaired the gunny sacks for the wheat. There was no time to do this job in the summer; nobody had time to patch their sacks while tending to crops. Since we could not have the gunny sacks in the house, we would sit in the barn and patch the sacks using heavy thread and darning needles.

The hay loft was good for something else. When the folks left, the kids could jump out of it. We could have broken every bone we had, and the folks would have had a fit if they’d ever found out. The loft was also a haven, as a place to bring books and dolls.

Outside the back door of our house was a shed. Behind that was the outhouse. My mother would have preferred it to be behind the chicken house if possible because she was so meticulous. In the first place, there wasn’t any toilet paper in those days. We used catalogs and they usually hung on a hook on the wall.

Kids used to experiment with smoking corn silks. If they could find an occasional cigarette paper, they could roll the corn silks in that, but if not, they experimented with other papers. One time a boy was in the outhouse on his farm- it was behind the chicken house- and he lit a page of one of the catalogs. It caught fire, so he threw the paper down the toilet hole. It was a dry day, and the burning page, having fallen onto a dry pile of Sears and Roebuck pages in the hole, quickly lit the pile of pages. The outhouse caught fire, fell onto the chicken house, and that lit the chicken house on fire. Fortunately the chickens were out in the yard scratching around, but people came running with buckets of water for what was becoming a multi-structure fire.

Every farm house had an anteroom that people entered before entering the house. This was one hundred percent standard operating procedure, and the room had a place for boots, and a wash bucket or a large bowl for water. Some called this room a “summer kitchen,” because it was a room where, for example, hog intestines were cleaned for use as casing- a task for a sort-of-outside room.

We were also always bottling the lambs. I do not ever remember a year when we weren’t nursing lambs behind the stove in the house. There was always a mama who had triplets or twins she didn’t like or that were born early in the cold, and we brought the orphans into the house and fed them out of bottles with rubber nipples. The lambs were tame and very hungry and they got strong in a hurry. They would butt their little heads against you, and when they were old enough to run, we sent them back to mama. We always had an area behind the stove fixed for the bottling of the lambs.

Barns in America have almost become icons, and the styles and purposes are different from one place to another. Our barn was constructed in 1925-1926.

Creative Commons photo (barn) courtesy Nicholas A. Tonelli  on flickr.

Creative Commons photo (outhouse – Tinsley Living Farm) courtesy  Tim Evanson on flickr.

 

 

 

 

 


Halloween During the Great Depression

October 25, 2014

by Crane-Station

Letty and Ray Owings, ages 89 and 91 recall Halloween and also describe some of the superstitions and customs of years past.

Halloween During the Great Depression

Halloween was a legitimate holiday and a big day for us in the country. Kids planned and planned, months in advance, and you would have been considered out of it, if you didn’t participate. Farm kids had to do something to lighten the load, and Halloween was an opportunity to be someone else. Everybody got dressed up, usually in an old shirt from a trunk of old clothes, and everyone got a mask. Witches were popular, and masks cost a nickel, unless you were rich, and could spend a dime.

We got our masks at Wolfcammer’s, the general store and meeting place in town. Freda, who ran the store, knew everything. Without radio, if you wanted to know anything, you went to the store- that’s what you went there for- that, and a few other things. Men most often shopped at the general store, and someone might say, “Oh, he’s been to town,” or “Oh, you’ve been to town. What’d you find out?” It was Freda who first informed me that my grandmother had died. Freda sold masks for a nickel, as well as salt pork, molasses, pickles in a barrel, dried and smoked meats, and other necessities like flour and sugar.

Lord help us, there was a lot of crap happened, and it’s a wonder nobody was killed, looking back. Pranks were more popular than any trick-or-treating, and there was all manner of soaping windows, or jumping onto porches, knocking on doors or ringing doorbells and running away. In an effort to see whoever could think of the most fantastic stuff, a bunch of us grade schoolers once sneaked into a farmer’s barn and climbed into a his hayloft, accompanied by the grade school teacher, who hadn’t gotten over the Halloween fits even as an adult. When the farmer came out with his shotgun, the kids took off and left the teacher in the hayloft, where he got caught up there somehow. They said later that he jumped out and walked somewhere, into the night.

Parents and teachers were very cooperative. Grade school kids dressed up to go to school, and the teachers were generous about letting us get away with doing next to nothing on Halloween. We also loaded hay into a wagon, hooked up the horses, and everybody got on the wagon and rode. Hay rides were popular, but not necessarily connected to Halloween.

We also had some superstitions that likely nobody took seriously, but we did know of them then:

-If you laughed very much in your home, sadness would replace it.

-Thirteen was an unlucky number.

-If a black cat ran across the road, or black cats in general around Halloween carried a connotation of ‘bad luck,’ but no one took it seriously.

-Wishbones could bring good luck (your wish would come true) if you got the longer part of the wishbone, when you pulled it apart.

-Stepping on a crack was bad luck.

We had other customs that we did take seriously. Some are related to death and others are not:

-You could not leave a dead body until it was buried. The sitting practice was done in shifts, and the query was, “Who’s settin’ tonight?”

-The windows were opened as someone was dying, even in the middle of winter.

-If you committed suicide, you could not be buried facing East, because that is the direction of the rising sun. One man who did commit suicide was buried backwards, to face the setting sun, because suicide was considered to be a form of murder.

-Pregnant women did not attend funerals.

-The eyes of a dead person were closed, never left open.

-When a person died, there were six rings on the party line, to inform everyone. Then, the church bell rang one time for each year of the person’s life. The tolling of the bells was repeated when the coffin was carried, at the funeral. This practice (also called a death knell) is mentioned in metaphysical poet John Donne’s meditation:

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

-Although we did not do the candle tradition during the Great Depression, during WWII, a candle was placed in the window for a soldier who was missing. If the soldier did not return, the candle flame was not allowed to go out- ie, the “eternal flame.”

-When you butchered a pig, you gave the best part, usually the heart, to someone else as a gift. Not to do so was considered selfish.

During Halloween in particular, the elders told stories, the more exaggerated the better. They were not so much scary stories as they were tall tales of their own Halloween adventures, embellished to make it sound like they had way more fun than we were having.

 

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Freak Shows and Patent Medicines During the Great Depression

August 14, 2014

by Crane-Station

Letty and Ray Owings, ages 89 and 91, share their memories of freak shows, patent medicine salesmen, and minstrel shows, during the mid-1930s, in rural Missouri.

Also, if you have not seen The Butterfly Circus, which I have posted before, I suggest you find 20 minutes to see this inspirational film.

Freak Shows and Patent Medicines During the Great Depression

Letty shares:

Imagine a world without newspapers, electricity or central heat. Imagine a world without television. If you can think of a world where all communication was by word of mouth, that was our world, during the Great Depression in the small farming community in Missouri.

In the mid-1930s, people with genetic deformities or other physical issues such as being very heavy, were considered to be ‘freaks of nature.’ People without arms, or maybe with a leg off from the knee down would be featured at the State Fair in Sedalia, Missouri. Also, the shows would travel and come through a series of towns, to show the freaks, and sell patent medicines, all in the same venue. These events would often take place in a town park.

Since no one had any money, nearly all doctoring was done with patent medicines. The salesmen would pose the question, “What would you like to have cured?” They had bottled cures for everything from bad sex to diarrhea. The McNess man, who was the same man for years, would come around, in his horse-drawn buggy, and sell his medicines, but he also sold vanilla, and red sugar for cookies. The medicines were always red-colored liquid in bottles, never pills.

We had two things in our closet, from the patent medicine man. While many consider all things from that time to be snake oil, one of the things we had in our closet is still available today. At that time, we called it “horse salve.” Today we call it “Bag Balm.” We used the salve for everything, including its original intended use, which was to soften cow teats.

We also had “blackberry balsam” for diarrhea and stomach upset. The horse salve and the blackberry balsam were inside the house, in the closet.

If you were outside, and you were cutting the grass in the chicken yard, and you got cut, or in the alternative, if you cut your finger (nearly off) in the sawbuck, you headed to the tractor and unscrewed the cap on the carburetor, and allowed gasoline to flow over the cut. Gasoline was used to prevent infection, and it did prevent infection. These items, the two on the inside, and the gasoline on the outside, made up the whole of our medicine cabinet.

That wasn’t totally true, because my dad would also collect certain plants and weeds that he knew to have medicinal use. Certain plants, for example, would help with menstrual cramps. Also, lots of people ate dandelions, and they were not too bad if you threw in some lambs quarter, and maybe a few potatoes, to cut the strong taste of the dandelions.

As my dad would collect and point out medicinal and edible plants and weeds to me, we did come across what he named at that time, “wild hemp,” and he told me, “It makes people kind of crazy.” We left the wild hemp alone, but there was one woman in the small community who everyone knew was, in fact, kind of crazy, and she was a large woman, big-boned. She lived alone, and everyone called her “Big Annie.”

Big Annie, like everyone else in the community, had examined the plants and weeds in the fields to determine what was fit to eat and what was fit for medicine, and when she came across the wild hemp, she made an agricultural decision to use it, to shade her chickens. She didn’t know what it was, and as far as she was concerned, it was simply an excellent plant for shade use, for her hens. So, the wild hemp plants grew tall and provided excellent shade, and the chickens were happy, and Big Annie was happy and everything was going reasonably well, until one day, when the sheriff drove by.

Upon noticing a very large and obvious outdoor marijuana grow operation in plain view of the road he was driving on, the sheriff reportedly stopped and chopped down the plants. Big Annie was furious. She ran up and down the road, hollering at the sheriff, yelling at the neighbors, “They’re cutting down my chicken shade!”

On rare occasion and only when someone was very sick, did we call for Doc Martin to come around and make a house call. He would always leave with his chicken, for payment.

Ray adds on blackface minstrel shows:

Patent medicines were often sold in the same venue as minstrel shows in our town. Sometimes, a minstrel show would come to town on its own, and set up a big tent on an empty lot. Using shoe polish, white people would pose theatrically as black people. Although these shows stopped sometime in the 1930s in our area, the idea was to make make jokes through a questioning character called “Mr. Interlocutor.” At that time, blackface minstrelsy was so accepted that the obvious bigotry we see today was completely missed then.


Seasonal Farming Tasks in the Great Depression

May 28, 2014

by Crane-Station

Old Horse Drawn Corn Planter
old horse drawn corn planter by Colbyt69, creative commons, flickr.

This is a true story from the Great Depression as told by Letty Owings, age 89. It is a true account of various farming tasks during the historic drought years of the mid-1930s.

Seasonal Farming Tasks in the Great Depression

In the spring of each year, the community farmers watched the sky and talked with each other in church about when to prepare the fields for planting. For corn, the fields had to be plowed and harrowed, and then the rows were set. The implements used to plow, break up and smooth the soil and form rows were horse-drawn. After the fields were prepared for planting, corn planters were also hitched to horses. A container on the corn planter was set to click open every three feet or so, and release three kernels of corn to the soil. So far, we are talking about mechanization.

The mechanization ended after the planting of the kernels. The next task involved human hands that belonged to kids, for the most part. Once the corn plants were about two inches tall, the kids in the community crawled up and down the corn rows, inspecting each three-plant corn hill, taking visual inventory. We crawled down each row with a knife and a bucket of kernels, to see if three plants were in each cluster. Less than three plants in a hill meant that there was a cutworm in the soil, dining. We dug and chopped the worm, and replaced the eaten kernel with the new kernel. This task was called “replanting the corn,” and if you were a kid, you got that assignment. Replanting the corn was labor intensive and ritually performed every year. In church, farmers would ask each other, “Did you replant your corn yet?”
Read the rest of this entry »


Days on the Farm in 1934

May 27, 2014

by Crane-Station

Dust
photo by Robb North on creative commons, flickr

This is a true story from the Great Depression, as told by Letty Owings, age 89. It is a true account of days on a small Western Missouri farm during the drought of the 1930s.

Days on the Farm in 1934

Mom had malaria fever and we had to have her outside. Old Doc Martin, the county doctor, had visited and given my mother quinine. He told us that we had to keep her cool, and that we had to have a block of ice. On the rare occasions that Doc Martin visited, he left with a chicken because we had no money to pay him. Sometimes, he politely declined to take a chicken.

After the doctor left with his chicken, we decided to move outside because we did not have ten cents to buy a block of ice for Mom. The farm houses during the Great Depression had small windows because there was no insulation and no such thing as double-paned windows. Some rooms in the farm houses had no windows at all; there was no breeze in the house. We had no electricity and no fan.

We moved a mattress outside to underneath a tree for Mom. Pop and I moved our comfort and pillows outside as well, and we stayed next to her. We did not have mattresses. There was only the three of us now because my siblings were older and they were gone. That left Mom, Pop and I to tend to the farm. Mom was born in 1889 and was now 45 years old. I was nine. My responsibility now was to care for Mom and for the small animals on the farm. Pop told me not to worry about the big animals, so, during the day, Pop tended to the fields and to the cows and horses, and I tended to Mom and to the chickens, ducks and geese.

On her mattress, Mom would rave and cry and thrash. She was out of her mind and she didn’t know me. She had a roaring fever and there was nowhere to get cool. It did not rain that year until the first snow fell in the fall. Since we did not have ice, I would lower rags in a bucket on a rope into the well to cool them, and then I would wash Mom’s face and hands with the cool rags. We shared the well with the snakes that had gravitated there out of thirst. The well was our refrigerator.

During that summer, also know as a historic Dust Bowl year, we had 53 days that exceeded 100 degrees. Today, every acre is planted, but back then there were not as many roots in the soil to stabilize it; the wind roiled up large clouds of dust. Every living thing on the farm was thirsty, and while my dad was in the fields I dipped well water for the chickens, ducks and geese, and also for Mom. We lived like this, just surviving, hour after hour, day after day. My mom was so sick there were days she didn’t remember.

One day, I thought my mom had died. She was unresponsive to me, and I was so scared. I ran, terrified, to my dad, who was plowing with the mule on the back forty (literally). Pop tied the reins- the mule was a good mule- he wouldn’t go anywhere- Pop tied the reins onto the mule and we both ran back to Mom on her mattress. I was too young to see my mother suffer and die like this under my care. I was so scared because I was responsible for her and if she died I had only myself to blame. Seeing my mother like that haunts and saddens me to this day.

Mom was not dead. She was very hot. We shook her and rolled her and washed her face with cool rags from the well. Eventually she recovered and learned to walk again, but the malaria symptoms recurred in the following years.

During those hot and dry days on the farm, it wasn’t just me and Mom. All of the animals were thirsty and hot- the cows, calves, horses,chickens, ducks and geese- I dipped the well water for them all. My dad was a saint. He never got angry and he never asked for help with the big animals. He told me not to worry, he’d take care of the cows and horses. Pretty much all we had to eat was cornbread, and Pop often made the cornbread out of cornmeal, soured milk and flour in the mornings. At some point, he was able to save enough to get some coal oil burners.

Mom lay on her mattress in her ragged dress and she cried. Pop washed her face and held her hands. His real name was Olando John, and there was never a better man the good Lord ever made.

note: The Dust Bowl years were three consecutive years of drought during the Great Depression. On the description “53 days over 100,” go here to view historic records compared to present day.

Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes and caused by a protist.


Lye Soap and Apple Butter

May 26, 2014

Alice Heun: Barn and Cows, 1934
Photo: Alice Heun: Barn and Cows, 1934. by americanartmuseum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, creative commons, flickr

By Crane-Station

This is a true account of life on a small Missouri farm during the Great Depression, as told by Letty Owings, age 89. It is a description of two precise arts. Other examples of precise arts include quilting, weaving, and canning.

Lye Soap and Apple Butter

Two labor-intensive jobs that the adults did every Fall was to prepare the lye soap and the apple butter. Each family prepared its own supply of these two staples, and the supply had to last the whole year. Equipment was essential for these jobs. For the apple butter, the large iron kettle had to be copper lined so that the apple butter did not stick or burn. For the soap, a large iron kettle was used.

The apple butter kettle was passed down through the generations. If a family did not have an apple butter kettle, they shared with another family. Newly married couples inherited a kettle and when a farmer died and the farm was to be dissolved, there was always much discussion about who was going to get the apple butter kettle.

The apple butter was cooked over a fire with a long-burning wood, and so that the person stirring could withstand the heat, she used a stirrer that was very long- five feet or so. Kids never did the stirring or the stoking of the fire, for fear of scalding or burns. My mother did the stirring, and there was a very specific rhythm to it: right side-left side- middle. The rhythm prevented any sticking and ensured consistency and taste. One part was never stirred more than the other. Each woman had her own recipe of spices and sugar in specific ratios that had also been handed down through generations like the kettle.

DO - Apple Day Apple Butter
Photo by vastateparksstaff on flickr

Farming women set aside three days for the apple butter. The first day was for peeling, the second day was for cooking and the third was for canning. There was always talk about whose apple butter was better and every woman believed her apple butter was the best. Apple butter was a staple and making apple butter in the fall was a matter of pride for each family. The women always wore sun bonnets to stir the apple butter because a tan was considered ugly. Women covered their arms to prevent any burns from splattering. The men built the fire and set the kettle in place, but the women peeled the apples and did the stirring. On the third day, my mother put the apple butter into jars with snap-on lids, boiled the jars and covered the lids with sealing wax. On apple butter days I would run home real fast to watch.

Like apple butter, the lye soap making was both art and ritual, and it was done individually, not communally. Soap was made in a large iron kettle over an outside fire, and a long stirrer was used. Women took great pride in their soap and there was always the exchange among neighbors, “What is your soap like?” My mother saved animal fat from the butchering and this was the basis for the soap. She added lye and stirred to a precise consistency. This was important because she needed to be able to pour, cool and then slice the soap into bars.

The soap had a neutral, clean smell, and the goal was to make the soap as white as possible. The browner the soap, the less respect others had for the soap and for the soap maker. There was great pride in the soap quality and in how nice the cut was, and how pretty the bars. The lye soap lasted all year, and we used it to hand wash everything. I had my own little washboard, that I got for Christmas.

A great deal of expertise went into soap cooking. My mother was an artist and a designer who was an excelled at sewing and quilt making, and these talents carried over into her soap and apple butter making as well as canning. Today apple butter does not taste the same, probably because the apples have changed and because it is difficult to duplicate the unique and wonderful taste of apple butter that is made over an open fire. We ate our apple butter on cornbread. I assumed that cornbread came over from the old country in Germany where my ancestors came from, but I learned much later that cornbread was an American addition.

Note:

Saponification is a process that produces soap, usually from fats and lye. In technical terms, saponification involves base (usually caustic soda NaOH) hydrolysis of triglycerides, which are esters of fatty acids, to form the sodium salt of a carboxylate. In addition to soap, such traditional saponification processes produces glycerol. “Saponifiable substances” are those that can be converted into soap.[1]

Source.

Also, in case your have missed this lovely short film about a circus during the Great Depression, it is very well worth 20 minutes. Please have a look:


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