One morning after breakfast,

Pa brought in a bushel basket

that was filled with plump cucumbers,

though my mama hadn’t asked him.


“Well, I guess we’re making pickles”

she smiled and said to me,.

So I brought out her receipt book

for the receipt, so she could see.


I fetch the cider vinegar,

Pa carried up the crock,

from the cellar where we store it,

it’s as heavy as a rock;


From the garden I bring dill weed

while mama measures pickling spice,

and we both scrub all the cucumbers

to make sure they’re all firm and nice.


Mama peels ten cloves of garlic

I bring in water from the well,

And we mix it with the vinegar,

and some salt though who can tell?


Then mama puts a layer of cucumbers

in the bottom of the crock,

that we scalded first with water

that mama boiled up in a pot.


Then she sprinkles on the spices

and a layer of the dill,

and repeats each of the layers

til the stoneware crock is filled;


The brine is then poured over

all the contents of the crock,

and mama puts a  plate inside it

and weighs it firmly with a rock.


Then she covers it with a towel

and after three days she starts skimming,

off the foam and makes sure the cukes

stay under ‘stead of swimming,

In three weeks we have pickles and

Pa brings up empty jars

that we scrub and boil in water

by now we both have burns and scars.


We put a clove of garlic

and a sprig of dill in each,

We divvy up cucumbers and

then we leach


the brine through a piece of cheesecloth

then we fill the jars with brine,

and we cap the jars and boil them

til the pickles come out fine.


Oh, its a wondrous thing to see

those jars of pickles in a line

I can’t wait til we start eating them

(I even love the brine!)


Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted June 23, 2010

Updated October 10, 2018

Sandra’s foodnote:  This was perhaps the most challenging of the American Childhood series and there remains the question in my mind, whether mama and pa would have kept the pickles in a barrel in the fruit cellar or canned them after 3 weeks of soaking in the brine. Every general store would have had a barel of pickles that you could buy, one at a time.  Possibly mama would have wanted to keep them in a barrel in the fruit cellar and save her canning jars for the more important things that had to be canned.

The general directions I have followed are from a favorite cookbook of mine, “500 Treasured Time Honored tried and true Country Handed Down recipes by Martha Storey and the recipe itself if an old fashioned brined dill pickle recipe.  And the cloves of garlic–they weren’t actually needed until they started canning the pickles.  Mama may have kept them on ice in the ice box.



When mama’s making apple pies,

She never makes just one–]

Oh, no, there’s always two or three,

or a fourth, sometimes, for fun.


That’s ’cause we all love pie so much

and apple pie’s the best,

We’d eat it any time of day,

for breakfast, I’d confess.


Dinner, supper, for dessert,

It don’t matter much to us,

Even for a midnight snack,

Pie’s never any fuss.


Mama starts by making up the crusts

for all those apple pies,

She mixes flour and salt and ice cold lard,

I watch her, with keen eyes.


Into the big old yellow bowl

she mixes these things up,

And then dribbles in some water, chilled,

Pour from an  old tin cup.


When it’s  looking like coarse meal,

She starts to mix it up,

and when the dough comes to a ball,

she covers it all up.


She puts it in the ice box and

she lets it rest a while,

and while the dough is chilling,

she asks me with a smile


to fetch some apples from below

from the barrel in the cellar,

I go to bring the apples up,

“I love apples best” I tell her.


We peel and slice the apples and

sprinkle them with spices,

some sugar and some flour too,

but cinnamon is nicest.


One by one, mama rolls the dough

and fits it in the pie pans,

She flutes the crusts and hands to me

the pans so I can fill them.


For each she rolls another crust

and these will go on top,

and then we bake them til they’re done,












Preheat oven 450 degrees. Roll out half of the pastry dough and fit into a 9″ pie pan.  In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Place sliced apples in a large bowl (a yellow one if you have it) and toss with the sugar mixture, coating each slice.  Pile the apples high into the prepared pie crusts. Combine the butter and lemon juice; drizzle over apples. cover with top crust. Moisten the edges of the crust with water, then crimp to seal. cut several openings in the top to allow steam to escape. bake for  10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees for an additional 45 minutes or until browned and bubbly.  serve warm or cold, day or night.

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted June 25, 2010

Updated October 7, 2018



There are lots of different cookies that my mama likes to make,

I like to be around her when she thinks it’s time to bake;

The cookie jar is empty” she might say one summer day,

So I help her clear the table and put breakfast things away;

Then she goes into the cupboard and gets out her yellow bowl,

And I take out her receipt book with its dear familiar scrawl,

Where within my mama’s written all the recipes she makes,

the book is filled with favorite things like cookies, breads, and cakes;

I turn the pages slowly, thinking cinnamon and spice!

When mama says she thinks that oatmeal-raisin would be nice–

I find the receipt for her and start reading out her notes

shortening, flour, baking soda, cinnamon and oats,

Raisins, eggs, salt, and sugar, some walnuts and  bit

of precious almond extract goes into all of it.

I chop up walnuts for her and watch her sift the flour

with the soda, salt and spices and it takes not quite an hour

Until the cookie dough is baking and I watch, an anxious pup,

To have some milk and cookies while we clean the kitchen up.








When the world around you is falling down,

and it’s disaster all around,

Do as I do, for heaven’s  sake–

Have a little bite to eat

and make it cake!


We like cake of every kind,

but chocolate is the best,

All my sons like angel food,

Me too, I must confess.


Whenever company comes to call,

invited or otherwise,

bring out a cake that’s freshly frosted,

Watch it light up everyone’s eyes;


No matter what the time of year,

No matter what the weather–

Slice up some freshly home made cake,

It’ll make you feel so much better!


Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted June 20, 2010

Updated September 28, 2018



Mama and the kitchen, went hand-in-hand, I’d say;

There’s where you always found her, almost any time of day,

She’d be kneading dough or stirring up a pot of ham ‘n’ beans,

Or maybe washing up a bowl of fresh-picked dandelion greens

she might be baking cookies, or chopping apples to make pies,

Or making doughnuts  that might have inside some kind of small surprise;

She could be drying fresh-picked parsley or the tops of celery leaves,

we would welcome them in winter when the garden patch would freeze;

Or she might be drying noodles on the backs of kitchen chairs,

or fixing to can ripe fruits such as apples, plums, and pears.

In the morning  you could smell the coffee boiling in a pot,

along with fried potatoes and a slice of ham cooked hot,

then mama would get busy baking bread or shelling beans,

And send me to the garden to collect the freshest greens;

We butchered hogs late in the fall, though papa did the most,

but mama made the sausages of which she’d proudly boast;

No one around could make a sausage quite as good as she,

And she cooked down the strained-out lard, as white as it could be,

the pantry shelves were lined with jars with food that we could savor,

the cellar filled and overflowing with the fruits of mama’s labors;

Living on a country farm was hard and rough at best

and it took someone like mama to stand up to the test;

throughout my life I saw her there, always in the kitchen,

And you never knew what next mama might be fixing.


My mama died as she had lived, her apron still tied on her;

we found her on the kitchen floor, coffee beans spilled all around her.

SANDY’S FOODNOTE:  fyi – the mama in this poem is actually based on my paternal grandmother; she was the one always busy in the kitchen and it was  she who dried noodles on the backs of kitchen chairs. I remember that well. She had sour cooking apple trees out back from which she made the most delicious strudels. In the fall, grandma & grandpa had a hog to butcher (I have no idea where it came from; my sister Becky remembered how the men made sausages down in the cellar; it was a good thing I never saw any of that; I would have become a vegetarian for all of my life. my grandpa also had a crop of grape vines and made his own grape wine.. I’ll have to nag my brother Jim for other memories; he is the only other sibling older than me and all the aunts and uncles are gone, now. – sls

Originally posted June 28, 2010

Updated September 21, 2018AN


One day when pa and I were looking

for a calf done gone astray,

we came upon a berry patch,

the calf not far away;

blackberries there were growin’ wild,

coverin’ hill and dale;

Neither pa nor I had cap or hat

and least of all a pail;

You go home and fetch some pails”

Pa said then with a grin,

And I’ll lead Bessie’s baby home;

bet she’s wondering where he’s been!”

I hurried home, was shouting out,

bellowing as I drew near,

for mama and my sister Kate,

so loud that they would hear–

They helped me gather up some pots

and a big tin basin, too,

and trailed behind me to the patch

where all the berries grew.

We filled the pots, our fingers black

and bleeding from the thorns,

and carried all back to the farm

‘Twas right before a storm.

In mama’s kitchen, we picked over

all the big, black, luscious fruit,

Then Kate and ma srarted mashin’

and I soon followed suit.

from the cellar I brought apples,

two pounds to peel and dice,

to add to all the blackberries,

Ma says two pounds was right.

then mama put the pot of berries

on the stove but kept on stirring,

we took turns with the wooden spoon,

to keep the fruit from burning.

Ma measured out the sugar,

and you know, it took a lot,

for every cup of berries,

an equal for the pot;

We cooked and stirred

while sister washed

all of mama’s jelly jars

and watched the sky turn dark and black

with lightning  from afar;

and mama melted paraffin,

that comes in waxy bars

she poured a little melted wax

over every jar of jam,

and we smiled and looked with pride

just as the rain began;

Next day, when the sun was shining bright,

I walked back to the berry ground;

all the fruit had washed away;

no berries could be found.

But oh, my goodness, we had JAM

enough jam to last a year,

and maybe next year, they’ll be back

I’ll be searching, never fear.




about 4 lbs of blackberries, picked over, (better not to wash)

1/2 pint water

2 lbs cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced

6 pounds sugar

4 lbs blackberries,

1/2 pint water

2 lbs of cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced

6 pounds sugar

Put the blackberries into a pot with  half of the water and simmer until tender. Put the apples into a pan with the remaining water and cook  until tender. combine the two  pans in a pot; add the sugar and cook and stir until sugar is dissolved; boil rapidly until jelling point is reached, testing after 7 minutes.  pour into clean jelly  jars and seal with melted wax.

*Mama would have known that the blackberries might not have enough natural pectin to jell properly; that is why she added the apples. modern day cooks might want to use apple juice or cider instead of water to increase the pectin to the jam.


When mama’s making biscuits

it’s quite a sight to see,

As she mixes flour and some salt,

and soda, then you see,

she works in lard with both her hands

in her biggest yellow bowl,

From the icebox she takes buttermilk

and then begins to fold

the batter in and round and out,

until its mixed up fine,

And then the  dough starts gatherin’ up

before you count to nine,

She kneads the dough a dozen times

and pats it out  just so,

then cuts out biscuits with a ring

Pa made for biscuit dough,

And while the oven’s getting hot

she lays biscuits in the pan,

and she tells me to get out

buter and the jam,

Sometimes its all we have to eat,

biscuits, jam and butter,

but nothing ever tastes so grand

as biscuits from that cutter.

Years later when I’m old and  gray,

eating ready-biscuits from a can,

I think of all the times we had

the best biscuits in the land.


(This is actually a baking powder biscuit rather than one made with baking soda)

2 cups all purpose flour

5 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 TBSP butter or vegetable shortening. mama would have used lard

3/4-1 cup cold milk (mama would have used buttermilk

Preheat oven 450 degrees. sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium size bowl. work the butter (or shortening i.e. Crisco) into the flour mixture   with your fingers or a pastry blender. gradually add the milk until just blended. Turn onto a floured board and roll out to 1/2″ thickness. cut biscuits with a round biscuit cutter or a jelly glass and place on a greased baking sheet. bake until light brown, 12-15 minutes* Makes 16 biscuits.

  • Sandy’s cooknote: I think 12-15 at 450 is very hot; check the oven a  few times as the biscuits bake–I have a very old 1940 vintage oven and hardly ever bake anything over 350 degrees. just saying.




At breakfast, mama tells us all

she’s making soup today,

and we all know just what that means,

we’d best stay out of her way.


‘Cause when my mama’s making soup,

she makes a great big pot,

and some of it gets canned in jars

because  there’s such a lot.


From the garden come the carrots,

String beans and tomatoes,

From the cellar pa brings out

a bushel of potatoes.

From the hen house mama takes

a hen that isn’t laying

and as she wrings the chicken’s neck,

she tells it to start praying;


From her herb plot by the door,

she takes parsley and some onions,

checking stems so carefully,

she only wants the young  ones.


She tells me to fetch water from

the well and fill the pot,

and I ask pa to help me out,

because it weighs a lot.


Mama puts her apron on and

sharpens up her butcher knife,

When mama gets that soup look on,

You’d best run for your life


She’s peeling carrots, chopping beans,

and crushing up tomatoes,

and all the while she’s peeling and

chopping up potatoes.

She throws the peelings out the kitchen door

and all the hens come running,

and gather round to hunt and peck,

where the cats are sunning.

Pa goes to fetch the mason jars

stored down n the cellar,

and brings them up for me to wash,

Cause I’m such a cordial helper;

Before long, Mama’s  kettle boils

with vegetables and chicken,

and anyone who crosses ma

is sure to get a lickin!

The canning jars go into a pot

and mama boils them too,

and when the soup has cooked enough,

there’s plenty more to do.

Pa and I help mama fill

the jars up to the top

and get the canner boiling

Til’ the water’s really hot.

When the jars have boiled enough,

and are lined up on the table,

we all have a bite of soup.

and some bread if we are able.


Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted June 9, 2010

Updated September 15, 2018




My grandmother, who lived in Romania for a time

before emigrating to this country,

made a dessert called “turta” in celebration

of the Winter Solstice; it was only baked

at Christmas time  and was made up

of layers of dough, filled with honey

and ground walnuts. In this tradition,

she said, when the wife would be kneading

the dough to make the traditional cake,

she would follow her husband  to their orchard

where he would go from barren tree to tree

threatening to cut down each one.  Each time,

the wife would urge he spare the tree, saying,

“Oh, no, I am sure that this tree will be heavy with

fruit next spring as my fingers are with dough this

day” and she would touch each tree  leaving a

floury fingerprint.


Sandra Lee Smith

Originally compiled October 1, 2009

Updated September 9, 2018


Sometimes when breakfast dishes

have been washed and put away,

Mama looks at me and says

“Lets’ bake a cake today!”

From a peg she takes her apron,

while from a lower peg, I take mine,

We tie the strings behind our backs,

and don’t we look just fine?

Mama’s largest yellow bowl

sets on the kitchen table,

And I step up onto a stool,

to help, because I’m able;

Mama cracks some eggs fresh from the barn,

I take a fork and stir them up,

You have to beat those eggs a lot,

Before you can add a cup

of sugar, butter, flour, too.

and soda for the risin’

And mama grates some nutmeg in

for a taste that’s right surprisin’

It’s my job to butter up the pans

and dust them both with flour,

and then the cakes go in to bake,

and that takes near an hour.

While they bake, we tidied up,

and tiptoe across the floor,

’cause you don’t want those cakes to fall,

and have to make some more;

The kitchen fills with spicy scent

And I can hardly stand the wait

It’s always something special, when

my mama bakes a cake.


Sandra Lee Smith


Originally posted June, 2010

Updated September 5, 2018