We ate pirohy, purjatsky... roast pork. We roasted in the oven, or baked in the oven in the stove. My mother was so good at roasting, I often think about she had no thermometer on the stove and she roasted such very nice pieces of meat. She was real, real good without a thermometer, baked her bread and everything.
Kapustiniki - that was meat rolled up in cabbage leaves - cabbage rolls. To get the leaves that you wrapped them in, you took the cabbage, de-cored it - you know, took the stem out of it - dug in with a knife and took the core out of it - you put the head of cabbage in a big kettle of boiling salt water and boiled it. I don't know how long you boiled it. Long enough to make the leaves soft, make them separate from each other, but not so long that they got limp and soggy. You just watch the cabbage as it boils and when the outer leaf gets just soft enough, you pulled it out and waited for the next leaf to get done. About three minutes for each layer, I guess. The leaves that are deep inside are not good for rolling. Those, you just cut up into strips. The leaves you use for rolling you put flat on the table and thin down the stem with a knife. You know, in the center of each leaf there is a stem or vein that is kind of thick. You put the leaf down flat on the table and then you slice that vein down kind of thin. If you didn't do that it would be too hard to fold, you know what I mean... with that thick vein in it.
My mother used ground meat for the filling. We had a meat grinder, but I'm sure that she bought some ground meat some time. She didn't grind it all. She took that ground meat and mixed it with cooked rice, cooked rice, I guess, and some onion sauteed in oil, salt and black pepper.
To make the kapustiniki you took a leaf and put some filling on it and rolled it up. I guess my mother used about as much filling as a big egg. You rolled it up and tucked the ends down inside the roll so that it would stay together, so it won't unroll. She could do that real quick, my mother, do both ends at the same time.
She boiled the kapustiniki on top of the stove, my Mom did, in a five quart pot with a lid. She'd take the cabbage strips that she had cut from the inside leaves and the trimmings from the other leaves and put them down on the bottom of the pot and then put layers of cabbage rolls on top of that. Then she filled it with water and put a zaprashka in it, maybe four tablespoons of oil and five tablespoons of flour. About an hour, hour and a half simmering on the stove. That was how you made kapustiniki. Sometimes we ate spareribs with it.
We didn't eat a lot of sauerkraut. The only sauerkraut we ate was sauerkraut and pork, spareribs. My mother made spare ribs and sauerkraut but nothing else with sauerkraut. She'd just take some sauerkraut and boiled some spare ribs in it. I don't think she fried the ribs first. I always did that though, fry the ribs first, then sprinkle a little flour on them and let it brown and then cover them with sauerkraut and water and cook it, I guess for half an hour or so 'til the ribs are cooked, but I don't think my mother did that.
We made our own sausage. We did that in the fall of the year. We had a meat grinder and she would grind meat and stuff it into pig intestines that they would use as a casing. We had an attachment like a funnel you put on the grinder. You'd slide the intestine up over the narrow end of that attachment and then one of my brothers would crank the grinder. As the meat came out of the attachment my mother would let out the casing little by little. As the meat came out it would fill the sausage up. When it was all filled up she'd tie it in a circle. Then we smoked the sausage in a barrel. We did the smoking right on the same patch of ground where we had the garden in the summer. First they dug a trench about twenty-five, thirty feet long. Then at one end of the trench they'd put a barrel, a barrel with the bottom popped out. So it'd be like a chimney. Then they would lay out sheets of metal over the trench. They'd use bits of tin left over from putting tin roofs on sheds and stuff. We had them lying around, just for that. They were about two foot wide, ten foot long. Then they'd cover the metal with dirt to seal it. The sausage was hung from sticks that were put across the top of the barrel and the top of the barrel was covered with a piece of burlap bag to keep the smoke in and let it out. Then you built a fire at the other end of the trench out of apple or cherry wood. I guess you could use hickory, too, if you wanted the hickory taste, but I don't remember them ever doing that. You used green wood, not dry wood, 'cause you wanted a smoky fire, not a flaming fire. And you wanted the fire away from the wind so the fire didn't make it too hot. You wanted the food smoked. You didn't want it to get too hot. If you got too much heat it would ruin it - you wanted the food smoked, not cooked. That's why the fire was so far from the barrel. If you smoked the food too much it would turn black even if you were able to keep it from being cooked.
We had hamburgers, too, when I was a kid. We called them kortletti, but they were a lot like hamburgers. But we didn't just take ground meat to make them, we put a slice of bread or two in the meat, and one or two eggs, some chopped onions - some black pepper. You took all that and worked it together so it was like a dough. You had to add some milk, too, or it would get too thick. You took that dough and made little patties, like hamburgers. We ate them with bread. Never potatoes that I know. We only ate boiled potatoes together with soup that I remember.
Sometimes my mother would make sliced cucumber with vinegar - just take a cucumber, slice it up and pour some vinegar over it. I like cucumbers with sour cream better than with vinegar, but we had it with vinegar most of the time. But cucumbers with sour cream and some salt, I really like that. I eat that now, here - cucumbers with sour cream.
When my father was young, they just had wooden stuff to eat with - wooden bowls and wooden spoons - and they never used knives to eat with because you can't have a wooden knife. But I was young we mostly ate with forks. We had spoons for soup, but we ate everything else just with forks. And we didn't use knives much either. I mean not like today. Today you go to a restaurant and everybody gets their own knife right next to their plate. We mostly had one-item meals with a big bowl in the center of the table and you just dug into the bowl with your fork, everybody did, and took what you wanted and put it on your plate. Yes, that's the way it was, a big bowl in the center of the table, full of pirohy or purjatsky, or something. And so that's all you had... the food, a plate to eat on and a fork. If you had to cut something, you cut it with your fork. (other table traditions)
We did use a knife to the butter the bread, though, a regular table knife like you have today. You'd put a knife on the plate where the butter was and use that to butter the bread. Use it and put it back on the plate with the butter. The only butter I remember was from Baba. We'd get it from her. She'd make it like a loaf, looked like a loaf of bread, about two pounds, I guess. It was always pretty soft 'cause we didn't have any way of getting it cold, but it didn't last very long in our house with so many people.
No, we didn't use knives. What I remember we didn't use glasses either. At the table, that is. When we ate we ate! If anyone wanted a drink of water, my gosh, we had a pail of water, if you wanted a drink of water when you were eating you'd get up and to get yourself a glass of water from the pail. We did have cups of coffee with meals though.
We all drank coffee. I drank coffee when I was little, all us kids did. We started to drink coffee when we were real little, so young I can't remember when. We didn't get strong coffee, though. For us kids my mom made coffee from coffee grounds that had already been used. So our coffee was pretty weak. It wasn't until I left home that I had a real cup of coffee made full strength.
We all drank coffee especially at breakfast. For breakfast we often had boiled eggs, we had an awful lot of eggs, or some cereal, oatmeal or... a bowl of rice boiled in milk or farina. Farina, that's called Cream O' Wheat today. Farina, yes, I still remember the picture on the box. Sometimes if we had butter we'd get a slice of butter on top of the rice or farina. I do that today, but I don't use butter, I use Land O' Lakes margarine. I still use that on farina. But then we didn't always have butter. We didn't always have enough butter to butter the bread so it wasn't often we used butter on cereal at breakfast. But that's what we ate in the morning - eggs or a bowl of farina or boiled rice in milk and a cup of coffee.
When we made coffee we boiled some water and put some ground coffee in it, and made coffee like that. We had a coffee grinder with a little drawer in the bottom. We bought coffee beans. Later on, you could get the beans ground in the store, they ground it for you and you brought it home, but originally it was just the coffee beans. We always drank our coffee with sugar and milk.
The milk we used was condensed milk in a can like Carnation Milk. We used to use that in coffee. I don't know what else my mother used it for but she always used to use condensed milk in coffee. It didn't sour easily, you know, you just put one hole on one side of the top of the can and another hole on the other side. You never had to open it all the way up.
If we had any old cans we threw them across the road... not too far off the road. That's where we threw the cans. We used to have a pathway to go down to the spring that went down along the stone wall and near there is where we threw the cans. The cans would deteriorate and turn into... rusted and broke up and we would just throw more cans on top. But we didn't have a whole lot of cans. That's about all we had to throw away. Most everything else you could burn in the stove in the winter. Every once in a while we did have a fire outside, though, to get rid of something.
We had cherries and we had a pear tree and a plum tree. Some of it... the cherry tree was sour, but we had plenty of fruit. The cherry tree was pretty close to the house and once Peter climbed up on the roof above the top porch to pick cherries. He was that high. My father told him not to go up there, but Peter said, "Don't you worry about it, I'll fly!" That's what he told my father then he did fly, right off the roof, into the ground. Leo Kenzakoski had to take him to the hospital. He wasn't hurt too much. The limbs of the tree broke his fall.
My mother canned crabapples, we had crabapple trees, and she canned crabapples. She made different things with them, I don't remember. Pickled them with cinnamon, I guess. And she made grape jelly, too. She canned a lot of quarts of things for the winter. My mother also made pickles by the barrel. We had some canned foods from the store, too, pork and beans and condensed milk.
My mother just canned stuff as I remember, canned stuff for the winter. But Baba dried food, too, herbs and stuff. Baba had a lot of strings in her pantry. She hung up stuff to dry like mushrooms, celery, herbs and I don't know what else. Parsley. She strung it up on strings to dry. Like she'd take garlic and put a thread down the center of them with a needle and hang the string of garlic up it up in her pantry. Her pantry had kind of a peculiar odor because of the smell of everything in there... of all that she brought in from the field. I don't know what it all was. That odor is something I always associate with her.
My father whitewashed the trunks of the fruit trees every spring. He put whitewash on them. Whitewash, that was something kind of like paint. It was made out of lime. Lime was something that they used to use to sweeten the soil. If you took that lime and mixed it with water, that was whitewash. But my father used it to paint the trunks of the fruit trees from the ground up about three feet, maybe three and a half. He did it to keep the bugs from climbing up the tree bark. People used to put that whitewash on the foundations of their houses, too, to keep the bugs from crawling in. I think it worked, we never had problems with bugs.
We used a lot of different spices in our food - salt, black pepper, parsley, dill, paprika... Baba had lots of other stuff, too, drying in her closet. And sour cream, onion and garlic went into a lot of food and maybe you can call them spices. Horseradish, too. We put that on ham, hard-boiled eggs, kelbassi... We used horseradish as a condiment, like mustard. Some of that horseradish was twenty years old and strong as all-get-out. It was so strong it didn't freeze and we could dig it up even in the winter time. It was the boys' job to grate it and, boy, how they suffered! The tears, they couldn't see... their noses ran and they couldn't breathe. It was terrible just to watch them. We had to put red beet juice into it to cut the strength.
Mushrooms were the only foods that we dried as far as I can remember. We picked mushrooms in September, the summer popinki and in late October, the winter popinki. I don't know what they're called in English - popinki. They were light in color, very light. The summer popinki were light yellow. The winter popinki, after the first frost, were tan - a light tan. They grew in clusters on stumps or fallen logs. Sometimes you might find the yellow popinki, the early ones, like now in September, you might find them scattered out in the open, but if you looked close you'd see that they were attached to some decayed branch or wood under the ground. Kozak mushrooms had a soft sponge underneath. If you touch that and it turns blue, just like a blue fingerprint, it's no good. They were the only mushrooms we picked. There were other mushrooms you could eat, but we bought them, I guess - we didn't pick them. My mother showed us which ones to pick and I guess she didn't want us picking anything that could be confused with poisonous ones. Mostly we picked popinki. Picking mushrooms went pretty fast compared with picking berries. We could get a bushelfull in half an hour, maybe an hour. My sister Helen and I, we strung them up on strings and hung them behind the stove or up in the attic. Mostly up in the attic. We needed mushrooms, we just go up in the attic and take down a string of them. Drying is the best way to preserve mushrooms. They taste much better that way than freezing them like people do now.
Canning and drying were the only ways we had to preserve food. You could put food in cool water or put it where it was cool, like in the cellar, but that wouldn't do for more than a few hours, or maybe a day. We didn't have an icebox - an ice box was a box with a place to put the food and with a place to put the ice in and a pan to collect the water. It kept the food cool, like a refrigerator. An ice box was a lot of work. It took the work of several men to keep it running. Only Ira Kresge could afford that. He was the only one on the mountain that had an ice box, he was the only one that I know of. He had ice all year around. My father sometimes worked for Kresge cutting the ice and packing it away. I remember I was coming home from school once and he and someone else were cutting ice on Kresge's pond. They had some kind of a big saw and they cut the ice on the pond and they were burying... they buried the ice in sawdust in the icehouse, a part of Kresge's barn. They cut the ice on the pond and hauled it over to the icehouse. Then they slid it up a skid, a heavy plank into the icehouse. Then when they had a layer of ice blocks they covered it with a layer of sawdust. You have to be careful, too, to get sawdust down between the blocks. You can't let the ice touch in an icehouse, you know, 'cause it'd all freeze together. Kresge had a good-sized icehouse, must have been twenty by twenty feet, ten foot high or better. It had walls ten or twelve inches thick that were filled with sawdust. Like they do insulation nowadays. John told me that my father was even over in Bear Creek village cutting ice and that must have been for Kresge's ice box, too. The ice in the winter was about ten inches thick, when they cut the blocks. That's not very big, but they had to be carted away and packed in sawdust and you needed a lot of ice blocks because they didn't last very long when it was hot. So an ice box was a lot of work. No, we had no refrigerator, what was made we ate.
Some people down in town had ice boxes, though, and down there you could buy ice. The ones that sold ice got rich. There was a man named Albert that was like a township supervisor or something. He sold ice to the people down there that had ice boxes and he got rich and they called him the "Ice King."
Up on the mountain we were kind of self sufficient, but my mother still went shopping a lot. She did most of the shopping. She almost always went alone. I only went with her a few times. She never bought a lot at one time. She made a lot of trips into town. She used to wait for a neighbor or somebody to pick her up and take her down and she'd buy something and then come home with my father... and bring the food home... like that. Even if we didn't need food, my mother would go shopping anyway. She loved beautiful things and she was always going downtown. Someday she was going to really make it! She was going to have it beautiful! She went downtown a lot. To Boscov's. She spent more time downtown, looking at things... Lots of times she'd come home with little knickknacks.
Once my mother bought me a doll. My mother brought it home and gave it to me. It was a porcelain doll. I don't remember its clothes or anything. John broke it, I guess he dropped it. It was a porcelain doll and he dropped it and it broke. That made me very unhappy. Oh, how I cried. I really cried. My mother just said, "Stop crying." And I did. We had to do like she said.
She wore shoes very seldom, my mother. She didn't even wear shoes much even in the wintertime. She'd go out in the snow to hang clothes on the line and the snow'd be up to your bellybutton and she's still not wearing shoes! Her feet were tough! Sometimes in the fall she'd be out raking leaves and burning them and she'd always start grassfires. She'd be out there running around barefooted stamping out the fires!
She'd go to town, go shopping, without her shoes. We'd say it was embarrassing to have her go to town without her shoes, so she'd put them on, but she'd take them off soon as she got there. As soon as she got to the store she'd take them off... carry them under her arms or put them in her shopping bag. It hurt for her to have shoes. She had bunions, real big ones. I don't know where they came from, it wasn't from wearing shoes that didn't fit right, she hardly ever wore any shoes. A lot of people didn't wear shoes in those days. They'd save the shoes for special occasions that they needed shoes.
She blamed her bunions on some tight, pointed dress shoes she had when she was a teenager. As I remember, she said that you buttoned those shoes with buttons instead of laces. You used a buttonhook to put those shoes on, you grabbed the buttons with that hook and you pulled them through the holes. She said that's what caused her bunions, those tight shoes. But, gosh, I don't know... one pair of shoes when you were a teenager... could they ruin your feet for your whole life?
We'd go without shoes a lot, too. In the summer time. When we were older we got sneakers to wear in the summer, not the kind they have now, but the low kind made out of canvas and rubber. My mother got some sneakers like that, too, then, later on, and she cut holes in them so her bunions could stick out through the canvas. Leather shoes were only for Sundays and church. But we seldom ever wore socks, except to school or church. The socks they had in those days were not like the modern socks that grip your foot and stay up. Those old socks slid down and balled up down by your toes. You'd walk around and you'd always have to be thinking about your socks because if you forgot to keep an eye on them the top of the socks would slid down and disappear into the shoe. Then you'd have to stop and take your shoes off to reach the socks and pull them up. But all that was later on, in the early years we went barefoot in the summer. In the summer after school closed my mother would take our shoes, put them away. We'd go barefooted! Barefoot and baldheaded!
My mother and father had a pair of hair-clippers and we'd get bald heads soon as school was out. Cut it all right off! Put the clippers down on the scalp and just go right through it! Both girls and boys! Cut it all right off, put all the hair in a paper bag or something and burn it out back of the house. I remember when my father first gave me a haircut like that. I didn't want to do it, that first time anyway, but it was no big problem, nobody saw me. There was only eight houses on the mountain, so there was nobody to say, "Oh, how awful!" or something like that. We were just little kids and nobody thought it was anything special to talk about. But after that first time, when I saw everybody else getting a baldie, I'd decide to get one too. By the time school started in the fall it had grown out a lot and all you needed was a little trim. I got baldies until maybe fourth or fifth grade, I guess Helen did too, but my brothers got baldie haircuts until they were in high school. I guess it saved money. Maybe it was to protect us from ticks and head lice, too.
When we got sick we mostly took care of ourselves. There was insurance but that was mostly for when you died. It was the Russian mutual aid society that had insurance. They were the only ones that had anything like that in those days. My father was a member. He had a special pin that he wore on his suit when he went to church to show that he was a member. My mother was a member of the Russian Orthodox Women Mutual Aid Society. She joined down in Coaltown in 1919, I have her membership certificate. They paid out 500 dollars when you died. But I don't think they paid when you just got sick or something.
If we got sick we didn't just go off to the doctor like people do now. If we got sick and lay in bed they'd warm up one of the irons I told you about, or a brick, and wrapped it up in a towel and put it in under the perinna with us. Sometimes we hold it against our chests or else we'd put it down by our feet. It would be just like an electric blanket.
We had those Band-aid things that you put over cuts. If we had a bad cut you'd soak it in Lysol solution. That was something you soaked cuts in. I was really very good. Then you'd put... I don't know, Cloverine Salve on the cut and wrap it with a rag. You can make a nice bandage out of a rag, a piece of white sheeting or something. You take a strip and fold over the edges so the edges are nice and smooth, then wrap the cut. If you ripped the strip down the end and tied a knot you had two little strips that you could use to hold it on your finger or wherever you had the cut. It hurt, though, if you had to change it. It stuck to the sore.
They used to say that playing with bullfrogs you got warts. I don't know about that, but we did sometimes get warts. If somebody got a wart we'd go to the pen where Deedo kept his horses and look on the barbed wire on the top of the fence. The horses swooshed their tails around and sometimes a horsehair would get caught in that wire. We'd take one of those hairs and tie it around the wart. Not tight, just snug it up. You don't tie it tight, just tight enough. Two, three days and it dried up and would fall right off - never knew it was there. Oh, yes. Oh, yes! That's what we did to cure warts.
I don't remember what we did to take care of our teeth. I don't remember ever having a toothbrush up there on the Mountain. The only thing I remember about our teeth is when our big teeth were coming in. When we got a loose tooth, we put a string on it and yanked it out. That was supposed to help keep our teeth straight.
Even though we didn't use toothbrushes my father had real good teeth. He had teeth like Annika's. As far as I... I don't know about later on after I moved away... but as far as I know he never had a cavity.
But we didn't eat a lot of candy. Very occasionally, maybe a couple of times, my mother melted some sugar in a pan and added some vanilla. Then just as the melted sugar started to harden, she cut it up into little candies. A couple of times I can remember her coming up from town with a couple of liquorice switches about three feet long in her bag, but that's all.
The only gum that I remember is Teaberry. Now, that's an old, old gum, Teaberry. We had other kinds of gum but Teaberry is the only kind that I remember. If we had it we chewed it for a long time. We chewed it and we saved it, put it on a brass post at night. We had brass beds in those days, and at night we'd put the gum on the bedposts. And in the morning, it'd taste real brassy. I remember once, we took our old Teaberry gum out into the woods and got some real teaberries and chewed them together with the gum to brush up the flavor. But we didn't have gum very often.
My mother did make root beer, though, during the 30's. Hire's root beer. You could buy Hire's root beer in a metal kit and make it. You mixed the ingredients with a measured amount of water and set it aside in a warm place for a few days to ferment. After that you poured it into bottles and capped them. The bottle-capper was a metal hand press. My mother had a bottle-capper like that and she made Hires root beer.