A few years ago, my grandmother gave me the notebook she compiled in her home economics class. It’s a marvel on many fronts; my techno side marvels that I have no trouble accessing this file after 60+ years. Try *that* with a Microsoft Word file…
Partly the joy is from reading my grandmother’s notes in her own handwriting. She has a neat hand, perfect grammar, and she neatly laid out her notes in sections and sub-sections just the way I would do it. It’s all written in pencil on lined paper and gathered up in a small 3-ring binder bound in leather. It’s not fancy, but it’s very beautiful to me.
And then there’s the content…
It’s amazing that with all the food fads I’ve seen come and go in the last 20 years, the basic nutritional science is still there and the advice is still good: eat a variety of foods. Vegetables are good for you. Have some protein every day. Don’t overdo the sweets.
One of my favorite parts is the description of how to serve breakfast. “At beginning of meal, fruit is on the table….Hostess sits at head of table and host opposite her. The lady guest sits at right of host and the gentleman guest sits at right of hostess. After a course has been eaten oldest daughter removes all fruit plates or glasses from left side with left hand.” What appeals is partly the charm of such a formal breakfast, with such set roles – the “oldest daughter” clears the plates. But partly, I get a little sad reading this knowing my grandmother almost certainly never had such a breakfast – “fruit, cereal, eggs, potatoes, fried cereal, bread, beverage, coffee” – in all her high school years.
One section of the notebook is dedicated to canning. It’s very helpful as I think about what it would take to truly live off foods I grow – and incredibly daunting. Her table of “Victory Canning Budget” lists the types and quantities of foods needed for one person for the “30 non-productive weeks of the year.” It notes that not all the items listed here need to be canned, but if you eliminate, say, the canned spinach, you need to do more green beans.
- 30 quarts of tomatoes
- 48 quarts of other vegetables
- 45 quarts of fruits
- 39 quarts of meat and fish
- 8 pints of jam and preserves
- 8 pints of pickles and relish
This is a total of 170 quarts of food for one person for about half the year!
Can this be right? Her notes say a serving is ½ c – so a quart has 8 servings. This gives us 624 servings of tomatoes and vegetables – or about 3 servings a day for 30 weeks. It also works out to 1.7 servings of fruit a day and 1.5 servings of meat. (The meat servings in the notebook were very small when compared to current “standard” servings, though pretty close to what the USDA actually considers to be a serving – 3-4 oz.) What’s not listed here is starch: flour for bread and biscuits and the cellar full of potatoes that we know everyone had.
When I think about trying to can 170 quarts of food per person, I nearly faint from the mere thought. I also think how much I hate canned spinach, and that some of the foods on the list – squash, for example – would store easily in the basement with no further preservation needed. I also don’t think I’d can much meat; in this part of the world, it could be frozen outdoors and/or smoked or otherwise preserved. And, of course, this doesn’t take freezing of vegetables into account; I’d much rather have most veggies frozen than canned…but then, not everyone had a freezer at the time this notebook was compiled.
Some other back-of-the-envelope calculations: a bushel of fruit weight about 50 lb and yields about 20 quarts of vegetables. If we say we need 130 quarts of fruit and veg, that’s roughly 325 lb or 6.5 bushels of raw food. My current garden probably yields one bushel of tomatoes, one bushel of squash (maybe more), 1-2 bushels of greens and probably 1 bushel of all other veg combined – and to date, no appreciable calorie crops like grains or potatoes. So my 150 square-foot garden would need to be quadrupled to feed just the two of us vegetables for the winter – and probably double that to add grain, and double *that* to feed us fresh in the summer – 2400 square feet! Good grief. It really puts it into perspective, doesn’t it?
Grandma says she’s amazed at all the computer stuff I do; I’m much more impressed that she did this kind of work to keep a family fed – and she did all this work as a kid and a teen, too.