As I've mentioned before, many of my early memories are associated with food. In retrospect, it seems that was especially the case once we moved to the farm.
Before starting sixth grade, our family moved to a 50-acre farm about 10 miles south of Kankakee near the small town of Chebanse. The name is from the Iroquois Indians for Little Duck. My folks thought a farm was the perfect place to raise our growing family of seven kids. Most of that first year on the farm was spent making improvements to the house and farm buildings.
The next spring, we really got into life on the farm. In addition to a cow for milk and cream, we raised some chickens, pigs, sheep and a horse or two. A De Laval cream separator simplified the process of separating the cream from the milk; when some of the extra cream soured, we hand churned our own butter, using an old square glass churn that had wooden paddles and a crank handle. Before long, we decided the electric Mixmaster worked much better.
Living on the farm, we had the freshest possible fruits and vegetables to savor. I remember what a treat it was to be out in the garden on a beautiful summer day, pick a ripe juicy tomato, wipe off a little dirt and enjoy it while it was still warm from the sun. A favorite for dinner was a salad Mom made with thick slices of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions sliced into rings. It was all blended with a simple and delicious dressing made from Miracle Whip, sweet pickle juice, salt and pepper. The huge bowl was almost always scraped clean during the meal.
We always had several rows of sweet corn growing at the edge of the crop field. In anticipation of our family’s hearty appetites, Mom cooked two dozen huge ears of corn in her largest pot. It is impossible to describe the intense flavor of sweet corn that is gently simmered mere minutes after it was picked from the field. Add some real butter to that fresh corn and you have a meal fit for a king. Although we canned and froze sweet corn to enjoy later in the year, it was never as scrumptious as that fresh-picked corn during the summer.
We had our own strawberry patch that was prolific in early summer. In addition to strawberry shortcake with real cream, my favorite was a delicious but rather unusual concoction for breakfast. It consisted of a thick slice of fresh homemade bread, covered with sweet cream the consistency of warm butter, then covered with fresh strawberries and sprinkled with powdered sugar. It was truly decadent, but delicious.
Each summer my next older sister and I prepared food to compete at the 4-H county fair, which required practicing a particular recipe until we got it just right. One year I gave a demonstration on how to make gingerbread. Fortunately, I did quite well in the competition and moved up to higher levels. Unfortunately, for each exhibition I had to show three stages of gingerbread: how to mix the ingredients, how to start decorating and finally how the finished product looked. That meant that each demonstration required making three large pans of gingerbread. Although my family had previously been quite fond of fresh gingerbread, by the end of that summer the general consensus was that I should not make any more for a very long, long time.