Let's talk rusty Iron

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Sam Moore

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Farm wives knew that food fueled the farm

This month's column has little to do with the normal 'Rusty Iron' topics, and it's my valentine to all the ladies who read Farm Collector - and the guys may just get a kick out of it as well.

The March 1940 issue of Farm Journal and Farmer's Wife ran a column by the foods editor entitled 'What's wrong with my wife's meals?' The editor had previously asked male readers to write and explain what they didn't like about the food they were served at home. With all the hoopla in today's media about which foods are healthy and which aren't, I thought the results of that column might be insightful to Farm Collector readers.

Four of the best letters were published, and are excerpted here:

One farmer wrote: Food is to eat. Too many women think food is a decoration or something to impress the Women's Club with. Farming's hard work and I can't keep up my energy on a diet planned for an office worker. I want meat every day and I don't care how many dieticians tell me I don't need it. I like savory pot roasts, fresh home made bread, a big pot of baked beans and brown bread, Indian pudding and pies. Give me steak and French fried potatoes and I positively purr. That's the sort of food that makes me feel like plowing up a whole county just for the fun of it.

Another farmer wrote: My wife is a culinary dresser-upper, a show-off. I'm the guinea pig on whom she tries out pineapple-marshmallow-whipped cream salads. Sometimes I think she adds a dash of perfume. [What I like is] ... potatoes browned with pot roast, thick pea soup with a chaser of johnnycake, chicken pie with plenty of chicken and yellow gravy, beefsteak with hashed brown potatoes, spare-ribs and sauerkraut, a seaworthy Irish stew now and then - some day I'm going to chain my wife to the stove leg and have them all!

One man poetically echoed the former farmer's sentiments: You'll think I'm rather a funny dub, but I like good old-fashioned grub. I wish my wife would cook some ham, and make hot biscuits with plenty of jam. Or a good hot bowl of chili soup; for fancy salads I don't give a whoop. My granddad is a hale old man, but grandma wasn't a vitamin fan, and he ate lots of pie and cake, and all the good things they used to make. My wife's a good cook, I won't complain, but I like good food and Hike it plain.

Finally, an Illinois farmer had nothing but praise for his wife's cooking: Her fried potatoes are a symphony of minced onion, bacon fat and black pepper. She can fry a steak and how! And her gravy is smooth, brown and good to the last drop. Her desserts are always definite, no wondering what on earth you're eating. My only complaint about my wife's meals, come to think, is that I'm sure putting on weight.

The magazine's food editor summarized the letters nicely: [The farmers wanted]... more old fashioned stick-to-the ribs food. The city man, they said scornfully, might like quick snacks, fussed-up salads and mysterious vitamin concoctions, but they wanted hearty, homey foods, (such as) steaks, roasts and succulent cooked vegetables, savory stews and meat pies, potatoes with good gravy, sizeable lettuce salads or slaw, corn bread, hot cakes and country sausage or ham and eggs, strong hot coffee. And pie! How these men hunger for good flaky-crusted pie! None of these meringued, chiffony things, mind you, but first class apple, pumpkin, custard, or cherry pie.

Some farmers may've wanted simplicity in farm foods, but most of the writers who answered the editor's query claimed their meals were monotonous and lacked imagination. They wanted more variety, while the same letters complained about imaginative dishes and demanded plain, old-fashioned fare. I can imagine many female readers shaking their heads in despair right about now.

To help farm wives jazz up their meals, the kind editor included the following menu suggestions:

He-Man Breakfast: Baked apples or applesauce. Lots of fried cornmeal mush and broiled sausage. Buttermilk biscuits. Syrup. Coffee.

Steak Dinner: Swiss steak with onions. Mashed potatoes. Good brown gravy. Green beans. Cabbage slaw. Home made bread. Apple pie. Coffee.

Satisfying Supper: Meat and vegetable soup. Crackers and rolls. Hot gingerbread with whipped cream. Milk.

Any interested woman could send a 3-cent stamp to the magazine and receive a leaflet of 'Men's Favorites -recipes and menus men ask for.' After all those disparaging letters sent from obviously unsatisfied (and hungry!) farmers, it's likely the magazine was inundated by a flurry of recipe requests.

In those days, Farm Journal and Farmer's Wife carried a monthly column entitled 'Letters from Farm Women.' I checked the next six issues after that food query appeared, and not a single letter by a woman rebutting the men who complained about their home cooking was published.

Was that because farm wives across the country recognized themselves in the letters and kept silent out of guilt? Or maybe those dedicated women were so busy baking and cooking, washing, ironing and cleaning, chasing after kids, gathering eggs and feeding chickens -not to mention working in the garden -that they didn't have time to sit down and write.

Whatever the reasons behind the lack of replies, there's no doubt that the majority of farm wives did an astounding job keeping their farm-fellows fed and happy. I think I can speak for most of us old farmers when I say thank you for all the tasty foods cooked up by farm wives through the years. Happy Valentine's Day!

- Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by e-mail at letstalkrustyiron@yahoo.com