My maternal grandparents, Diantha Mariah Noyes Forsyth and Fredrick Franklin Forsyth were true gardeners by heritage and by nature. Grandpa Forsyth spread plenty of animal fertilizer over the large garden plot. After even dispersal of the manure over the designated soil, he deep plowed the rich, red, sandy earth. That was all the soil preparation he did. My grandma Forsyth would not allow John to do more. She said, “The horses walking on the garden soil would just tramp the earth down.”
So, Grandma Forsyth and the age appropriate children took garden rakes and hand raked the rough deep troughs of up and down humps left by the plowing. They laboriously hand-leveled the entire large surface of the potential garden. My mother commented, “I can’t understand why my mother didn’t let Dad at least level the land! But, she wouldn’t!”
After the garden was flat and even, and I mean very smooth, she made straight even furrows the length of the garden with her hoe. If a furrow wasn’t straight, she did it over and over until it was totally pleasing to her. Planting then ensued.
She and Grandpa religiously followed the full and waning of the moon in their planting. Crops that produced above ground such as beans, peas, tomatoes, squash, greens, and etc., were planted only in the full of the moon. This was the optimum time for their seed germination and growth. Crops that grow under ground were just the opposites. These were planted in the dark of the moon. The dark of the moon crops were potatoes, radishes, beets, carrots, parsnips, onions and so on.
My Mother reported, “Dad would never think of planting his potatoes except in the smallest arc of the dark of the moon. He adamantly followed this pattern and it proved to work well and pay off for him. His potato crops were abundant and ample. The potato supply fed their large family throughout the year.”
A garden was an absolute necessity in those pioneer days. There was no grocery store close at hand from which to buy their food. My grandmother faithfully and meticulously bottled, dried, pickled or stored the ample produce from the garden. Every pioneer family built a root cellar where shelves, bins and tables were maintained for potatoes, carrots, apples, turnips and other foods that could be kept in this manner over the long winter and spring months. All winter long, frequent visits were made to the cellar, especially by children, sent on parent directed errands to fetch the needed foods.
In warmer months, pans of milk were set out in the root cellar where it was cooler and clean to wait for the cream to rise. The thick cream was skimmed off and used in butter and cooking. Grandma Forsyth also made sour croute every fall and stored the croute in a large five-gallon crock. Mother said, “I pounded a sparse layer of thinly sliced cabbage in the crock. I used a rolling pin that had no handles but, flat blunt ends for the instrument of pounding. The rolling pin was about eighteen inches long and two inches in diameter. The battering of the rolling pin bruised the cabbage and the juice from the vegetable covered the fibers of the cabbage and kept it damp. Salt was also sprinkled sparsely over each added layer of cabbage.”
She further stated, “The pounding was a boring and tiring work, but it was worth it in the end because we loved eating the sour croute. My mother stored the crock by the side of the fireplace where it was warm and the croute would ferment. My brother Claude and I liked to lift the towel and plate covering the crock. We reached our hand into the crock and got a pinch of sour croute to eat. Oh my! It was good. My mother got after us if she saw us get the croute. She said our hands were not clean.”
Most of the larder which supplied our ancestors with life and health began in the garden or orchard. I am grateful to Grandpa and Grandma Forsyth for the legacy and heritage they passed on to my own mother and hence to me. No wonder I feel a strong tie to the past and appreciate and love gardening.