Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Early-Day Growing Season Short

Tri-City Pioneer
August 28, 1960

Because the soil of the garden tracts were subirrigated lands in early Tri-City days, the planting and cultivating of the garden was done after the high waters had receeded. This left but a ninety-day frost-free growing season. Therefore, the vegetables and produce planted were of a quick growing variety, such as King Phillip flint corn, early Ohio and early Rose potatoes, bush peas, bush beans, leaf lettuce, early devers onions, beets, radishes, oxheart carrots, rutabagas, turnips, and parsnips, George Rattlesnake and Dixie Queen watermelons, marblehead and hubbard squash, pumpkins and muskmelons. Cabbages were grown for sourkraut and also to cook. Tomatoes were hard to grow and blighted badly.

There were no greenhouses in those Early Days where a flat of tomato plants could be purchased. Corn was cut from the cob and dried on cloths of house lining spread on the porch roof. Pumpkin and squash were peeled, cut and dried in like manner. The edible wild berries growing in this area were currants- red, yellow and black. These were dried, also jellied and poured into large crockery jars, the tops of which were sealed with beeswax.

Every Early Day ranch had its own smoke house where it cured its hams and bacon by smoking it with wild sumac wood. The Early Day Settler enjoyed the flavor and keeping qualities of the sumac-smoked hams and bacon.

The Early Day Settler always trolled for salmon in the Columbia River at the mouth of the Yakima River during the latter part of September. The salmon were caught, dressed and boned. The bellies were salted down in ten gallon casks - a layer of salt then a layer of salmon until each cask was full-- then it was headed and stored in the cellar until winter. Then a cask was unheaded and the housewife would freshen the salmon bellies by soaking them overnight in a large dishpan of cold water and then baked and served with egg sauce (Oh boy! Was it good!)

Old-fashioned cottage cheese was made by taking clabored rich cream and milk and placing it in a clean flour sack and hanging it on the clothes line to drain and curd.

The Early Day Settlers could not drop over to a Super Market and pick up several kinds of bread all sliced and packaged. They had to make their own bread with whatever material they had on hand. So, buttermilk biscuits, baking powder biscuits, sourdough bread and corn bread were liked by Early Day Settlers from the South. The New England and Northern Early Day Settler supplemented these with raised white loaf bread.

Cook stoves were then available. Because of the scarcity of fuel, fireplace cooking and heating was abandoned and cook stoves and big bellied heating stoves were used instead. The fuel was driftwood and sagebrush.

The upland game birds were sagehens and prairie chickens. The sagehens resembled somewhat the wild turkeys, but their meat was strong and dry even if soaked overnight in soda water. The prairie chickens were delicious either fried or stewed. There were wild rabbits, jack and cottontails. The jack was the larger and very poor eating. The cottontail was smaller and very toothsome when prepared by the early day housewife. They could prepare and fry it until it tasted just like chicken. The wild waterfowl were geese, snipe and wild ducks of several kinds, such as Mallard, Teal, and Widgeon-- all of which, when properly prepared and cooked, were very palatable.

Eggs, milk, cream and butter were always plentiful so the early day housewife served many puddings and custards.

All flour milled in these early days was untreated by preservatives as they are today. The weavel was a pest, so the early day settlers were obliged to secure their flour in quantities of not over eight, 48-pound cotton sacked flour at one time. This was ordered from Wadams & Company at Portland, and shipped by railroad to Pasco. This flour was stored in the driest and coolest place that could be found and was taken from there one sack at a time to the kitchen container.

A roothouse generally supplemented the cellar for food storage. Potatoes, pumpkins, squash, rutabagas, carrots, and cabbage were transferred from the roothouse to cellar in small quantities for immediate consumption.

When cold weather came a fat yearling steer was butchered and its carcus, wrapped in a tarpaulin, would be raised and lowered by block and tackle to and from the top of a twenty five foot large pole where it was safe from wild animals. The early day settler saved all the tallow and rendered it to make tallow candles.

It was during cold weather also that “Hog-Killen Time” came when the porkers were killed, scalded, and scraped, the heads cut off and made into head cheese and the tongue pickled. The intestines were prepared for sausage casings. The remaining carcus was quartered and the feet prepared for pickling. The hams and shoulders, bacon and bacon backs were prepared for smoking and then smoked in the smokehouse with wild sumac wood. All pork fat from trimming and intestines was rendered for lard.

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