The water situation on a homestead was usually a problem. Ice was put up in an icehouse and covered with sawdust to be used in the summer for the household. Melted snow served much of the time in the winter and the amount of work involved in melting snow for several head of stock just staggers the imagination. The carrying in of the snow in big containers to be put on the cook-stove and left there until ready to be carried out to the waiting stock was a real chore in itself. If a big zinc tub covered the top of the cook-stove, dinner just had to wait, that’s all!
Spinning was done by many homestead wives. They converted the dirty fleece fresh from shearing into soft yarn that wore better and was warmer than any store yarn. Many had real spinning wheels, worked by treadle, while others used an attachment on a sewing machine. The bobbin of the attachment was run off the belt of the sewing machine, with the latter out of gear so the needle would not run. A man from near Progress made these attachments and I kept my family in socks and mitts besides making some for the bachelors living near by.
Wild fruit was such a godsend! It was picked and canned as long as the supply of sealers lasted. Then it was dried. Pies made of dried Saskatoons were good in winter
months. In early days the supply of blueberries, Saskatoons, raspberries, and strawberries seemed inexhaustible. Some years I have picked wild strawberries without going out of sight of the house, enough to make twenty-five quarts of wild strawberry jam.
In the summer some products were to be had in quantities, such as eggs. There was no market for them and I have kept them for future baking purposes by rubbing a generous supply of tallow on them and packing them in sawdust. In the winter there was no money to buy eggs and one lady’s suggestion was to use a teaspoon of beaten snow instead to lighten a cake batter.
One cold winter, my husband got a contract to supply railroad ties. We had a crew of four men or more and they slept in a bunkhouse in the yard. One of my jobs was to have a good wood fire going in the bunkhouse at the end of the day when the men came in from work. Another was to keep them fed. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal porridge and buckwheat pancakes. The latter were of the sourdough variety – a cupful of batter was kept over each morning, added to, and allowed to ferment during the night. Soda was put in the next morning and a light pancake was the result.
Vinegar was started from a sticky substance called “mother”, or from yeast. Sugar and water were added and different left over liquids such as cold tea, a bit of syrup, fruit juice, etc. This was as tasty and every bit as satisfactory as store syrup.