Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms, 1920-1950

Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms, 1920-1950

John van Willigen
Anne van Willigen
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms, 1920-1950
    Book Description:

    The foods Kentuckians love to eat today -- biscuits and gravy, country ham and eggs, soup beans and cornbread, fried chicken and shucky beans, and fried apple pie and boiled custard -- all were staples on the Kentucky family farms in the early twentieth century. Each of these dishes has evolved as part of the farming lifestyle of a particular time and place, utilizing available ingredients and complementing busy daily schedules. Though the way of life associated with these farms in the first half of the twentieth century has mostly disappeared, the foodways have become a key part of Kentucky's cultural identity. In Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms, 1920--1950, John van Willigen and Anne van Willigen examine the foodways -- the practices, knowledge, and traditions found in a community regarding the planting, preparation, consumption, and preservation -- of Kentucky family farms in the first half of the last century. This was an era marked by significant changes in the farming industry and un rural communities, including the introduction of the New Deal market quota system, the creation of the University of Kentucky Agricultural Extension Service, the expansion of basic infrastructures into rural areas, the increased availability of new technologies, and the massive migration from rural to urban areas. The result was a revolutionary change from family-based subsistence farming to market-based agricultural production, which altered not only farmers' relationships to food in Kentucky but the social relations within the state's rural communities. Based on interviews conducted by the University of Kentucky's Family Farm Project and supplemented by archival research, photographs, and recipes, Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms, 1920--1950 recalls a vanishing way of life in rural Kentucky. By documenting the lives and experiences of Kentucky farmers, the book ensures that traditional folk and foodways in Kentucky's most important industry will be remembered.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4977-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Editors’ Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. Chapter 1 Farms and Rural Life in Kentucky
    (pp. 1-12)

    The image many people have of rural America is of the family farm. The role of the family farm in the creation of American social values is important. It is seen as a “storehouse of the traditional values that built the nation; self-reliance, resourcefulness, civic pride, family strength, concern for neighbors and community, honesty, and friendliness” (Garkovich, Bokemeier, and Foote 1995,9). Because it is a source of defining social values, the family farm has become a cultural icon with which people have many positive associations. Like many cultural icons, however, it is far more variable than people imagine and may...

  7. Chapter 2 In the Kitchen
    (pp. 13-38)

    Work in both kitchen and field started early in the morning. Daily chores were often completed before breakfast was eaten. Breakfast cooking required that the woodstove be fired up. “They always got up before daylight. They would milk by lantern light, lots of times. While Daddy went to the barn to milk Mother would get breakfast. And you had to get your stove hot to bake your biscuits. It would take a long time to get breakfast ready. And of course we always had a big breakfast, ’cause you had to have a big breakfast if you worked hard” (Glen...

  8. Chapter 3 Housework
    (pp. 39-70)

    The effort, knowledge, and skills required to operate a Kentucky farm household of this era were substantial. This effort was largely unaided by labor-saving machinery, and most of the work was done by women. When the food was cooked, the dishes done, the clothes washed and ironed, and the children properly tended to, these women would then take their place alongside their husbands hoeing corn or stripping tobacco. Housework was a crucial aspect of the total farm enterprise. Without the efforts of women, the system would not work.

    Early in this period, people had no mechanical refrigeration. They relied on...

  9. Chapter 4 Farmwork
    (pp. 71-100)

    “There’s a time for everything. You got to work, well, you know the old-time people always said, you got to make hay while the sun shines. There’s times for all things” (Clara Garrison, Bourbon County). To capture what Mrs. Garrison was saying, we collected statements about different tasks performed at different times of the year and assembled the following outline of the annual cycle of farming, gardening, and food preservation.

    “You lambed in January [to the] last of February. See you want to get that spring lamb. That’s when the top price of the lamb is, and the age, or...

  10. Chapter 5 Garden Spots and Fruit Trees
    (pp. 101-114)

    Gardening was an important part of the household’s economic strategy, and some farms also had orchards and grape arbors. Fresh garden and orchard produce sustained families during the summer, and these foods were preserved to last the family over the long winter until spring. Christine Sims said, “It would be an amazement to people today how little we spent for food in those early years” (van Willigen 1978–1980).

    It was rare to sell produce from these household gardens, some of which were quite large. “We had probably an acre and a half of garden because it was your source...

  11. Chapter 6 Tending the Field Crops
    (pp. 115-150)

    Farms usually produced either corn or wheat, and often both. Although much of this grain was sold, these crops were also raised to be consumed at home as meal or flour or, in the case of corn, as animal feed. The amount of grains grown varied from region to region. Eastern Kentucky narrators often talked about corn and the work involved in producing it, so it is clear that corn was important in the mountains. Central Kentucky narrators talked more about wheat. In western Kentucky, grain production became specialized. Soybeans were still a new crop then, and they were raised...

  12. Chapter 7 Keeping Livestock
    (pp. 151-178)

    A farm was considered incomplete without livestock, and virtually every farm had a diversity of animals. The purpose of livestock was quite different from the situation today. This livestock was raised for home consumption and, in the case of horses, mules, and occasionally oxen, traction. Pigs and chickens were fed farm and household wastes. Many farm families also sold livestock or livestock-derived products such as eggs, cream, milk, and even cured meats off the farm. Today, livestock production is much more specialized and market focused.

    The basic complement of farm animals reflected the complex needs of families. Florene Smith of...

  13. Chapter 8 Country Stores and Huckster Trucks
    (pp. 179-190)

    Farm families of this era often stressed that they produced much of what they consumed in terms of food and supplies and therefore bought very little, but there were limits to their self-sufficiency. The relatively few things they did purchase were important. The short list included salt, matches, coffee, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and kerosene, and there was no doubt a long list of hardware items and tools. An important source of these items was the country store, which maintained a stock of grocery items as well as some clothing and hardware. In addition, peddlers in huckster trucks would...

  14. Chapter 9 Poke, Blackberries, and Hush Puppies
    (pp. 191-202)

    It is easy to overlook the role that wild food played in the foodways of rural Kentucky. Many families supplemented their farm-grown food by hunting game, fishing, and gathering wild plants. The foods acquired this way were used to provide variety in the diet, and people enjoyed the recreation. In some cases, families also sold these foods.

    It was common to gather wild greens from early spring to the first of June. The types collected included shepherd’s sprouts, poke, mustard, lamb’s-quarter, whitebritches, wild lettuce, wild cabbage, sour dock, and what were called creases or creasy greens. Bessalee Robinson of Robertson...

  15. Chapter 10 Puttin’ Up the Garden
    (pp. 203-220)

    Families invested a lot of time in preserving the food raised in the garden. The range of techniques used was large and included drying, canning, curing, burying, cellaring, and pickling. Starting in the late 1940s these methods were supplemented with freezing. Such practices allowed the relative abundance of the growing and harvesting seasons to be spread over the year. Slowly, home-preserved products were replaced by store-bought goods, and although some people still can, freeze, and dry, the practice is much less prevalent.

    A variety of techniques were used to dry fruits and vegetables. One of the most common, especially in...

  16. Chapter 11 Doin’ the Hog Work
    (pp. 221-238)

    Many households raised hogs for home consumption, and discussions of foodways usually included references to the raising, slaughtering, processing, cooking, and eating of hogs. Besides being important sources of food, hogs also supplied fat for frying, baking, and soap making. This all changed with the economic transformation of Kentucky farms. These days, few pigs are raised for home consumption. Hogs are now raised on just a few farms that specialize in pork production, using a production system that has few links with the practices of the past. The pigs themselves are very different—lean and slender and genetically predisposed to...

  17. Chapter 12 Kentucky Foodways
    (pp. 239-246)

    Traditional Kentucky cuisine is the product of past necessity. The constituent foods and preparation practices fit the historical circumstances of rural Kentucky, and to some extent, people got used to and came to value that which circumstances demanded. Thus, foods born of necessity became valued and preferred. As rural life was transformed, the conditions that led to these ways of provisioning, cooking, and eating changed substantially, and this was reflected in the foodways and other aspects of domestic life. Nevertheless, many of the traditional foodways have been retained.

    Although social and technological change has an impact on foodways, food practices...

  18. List of Narrators
    (pp. 247-250)
  19. References
    (pp. 251-254)
  20. Index
    (pp. 255-260)