Saturday, December 3, 2016

James William Cox and Mary Elizabeth Mitchell - Part II



In the spring the Cox family orchards, planted in apple, cherry, peach and pear trees, were filled with pink and white blossoms.  Bees hummed a tune as they worked among them, gathering honey.  When the apples were about as big as cherries, Jim and Leonard had to pick off every other apple from the branches to “thin” them so that apples left on the trees would grow bigger.  It was hard work climbing up and reaching out as far as they could on the tree limbs to get the thinning done.  While they were working, though, their father probably reminded them how good the apple butter and apple jelly was going to taste on hot biscuits with freshly-churned butter, when the apples were harvested in the fall, not to mention the cherry and peach cobblers their mother and sister would make.  

Like everyone else, the Coxes raised a large vegetable garden, well tended, to feed themselves and their families.  Without refrigeration, they depended on the garden and farming to survive.  Jim and his brother and sister helped their mother, Susannah Miranda, sow vegetable seeds, saved from the year before, in the family garden. All the planting was done by hand and the garden had to be weeded every week.  They preserved and stored everything possible.  Their root cellar was a cool, damp place dug in the ground below frost level, where they stored all the root crops they grew.  Beets, carrots, potatoes, turnips, and a few other vegetables were stored until the following spring when fresh vegetables were again available from the new spring garden. 

An abundance of cabbage was grown in early gardens because it could be preserved in cellars, or by burying, or pickling. More often, it was made into sauerkraut by shredding the leaves into a large crock with water and a little salt, and allowing them to ferment. The family may have used a kraut cutter to speed up the job. The shredded leaves were weighted down with something heavy to compact the leaves and force the water out.  This process allowed the fermented cabbage to be stored for long periods of time and was served in the winter along with sausage and a big pot of beans.  Susannah also made pickles, relishes and chutneys from the produce of their vegetable garden. 

Nearly every pioneer household in that day and time had a good perennial and fragrant herb garden, and maybe a tub of dill, mint or some other favorite herb growing by the kitchen door or out near the summer kitchen.  Most farm women reserved a space in the garden for herbs and spices, used for seasoning food.  Susannah Miranda probably had small patches in her garden of parsley, chives, thyme, rosemary, garlic, and nutmeg, as well as medicinal herbs such as chamomile, tarragon, basil, cloves, cinnamon, and ginseng, used when necessary to hasten a cure for sickness.  After all, with doctors far away and with little cash to pay for them anyway, she had to be the primary health provider. 
Springtime was planting time on the farm when wheat, corn, and other grains were planted in the fields.  While his father followed the family plow horse, steering him down a straight furrow in the field, Jim and his brother, Leonard, walked behind, planting the rows in seed as they went.  Only a slight hint of sound could be heard as they tilled the soil – an occasional squeaking of the leather harness, the clunk of the plow as it hit a rock, the raucous call of a crow, or a braying donkey in the next field, otherwise, it was mostly peaceful silence.  

Spring was a season of extra hard work, from sunup to sundown; a lot had to be done to get fields prepared for the tobacco and other crops. And as the day wound down, all the livestock had to be tended.  Horses, mules, oxen, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks, cows, calves, sheep, and lambs – they all required a lot of care.  It also took good crops of grain, corn and oats to feed them throughout the cold winter months.


Summer time was growing time on the farm and the James Cox family counted on the sun and summer rains to make a good harvest.  In their orchard, apples grew round, red and yellow on the trees, that would make sweet apple cider and wonderful fried apple pies in winter. Strawberries grew and turned red in the rows of the strawberry patch.  While the wheat grew tall and golden in the fields, the young lambs, calves, pigs, baby chickens, geese and ducks grew fat in their pens near their large barn – a barn that stood for over fifty years!  When a new heifer was born, it was good news to the whole family!

Summer was a busy time, too, with plenty of work to go around for everyone in the family.  The first thing after breakfast, Thomas Jefferson Cox grabbed his coal oil lantern and went to the barn to milk. The minute the milking was done in the morning, the cows were turned out to pasture, and they headed out for the fields.  Crops had to be brought in.  Berries, fruits and vegetables were gathered or picked.  Basketsful went to market, but most were canned or dried by Jim’s mother and sister, Elizabeth Mary.  The boys helped with their mother’s work, too, spreading sheets on top of the sheds where fruit was laid out in layers to dry, with another layer for covering to keep the birds away.  So air-drying was another way of preserving their food for winter.

In late May or early June, tobacco bedding plants were taken out of the beds and set out in freshly plowed Kentucky soil, and not long afterwards in June, hoeing commenced, followed by topping.  Usually, in July, farmers were about done cutting wheat and oats and laying by corn. 

In August, tobacco cutting and corn cutting were the order of the day.  Ohio County farmers felt really lucky when the hills and bottoms gave an abundant yield and they made good corn crops.  Farmers also got busy that month threshing wheat, and breaking ground again for another wheat crop. Getting together with neighbors and pitching in to thresh the grain near the end of summer was just about the most important event of summertime on a farm. Harvest was a cooperative effort and sometimes they had to work fast and furious before rain clouds rolled over the fields.  Everyone helped out during haying season and wheat harvest.  

The family whose fields were being harvested provided the midday meal for all hands.  Women started cooking early in the morning and usually served it outdoors under shade trees on long, make-shift tables.  Children helped by setting out the dishes.  Tables were piled high with bread and rolls, roasts, chicken and fish, bowls full of fresh garden vegetables, and cakes and pies.  When it was ready, someone rang the dinner bell out by the well.  Field workers would come to the house, wash up, and walk around the tables, filling up their plates.  They had worked hard and ate heartily, sitting down to eat under shade trees where it was a little cooler. 

Before returning to the fields, the men and boys filled their burlap-wrapped water jugs with cool well water.  It would be nearly sundown before they could quit the fields again and come to the house.  Afterwards, women and girls busied themselves washing dishes and cleaning up.  At the end of harvest, part of the wheat was taken to the grist mill at Cromwell to be ground into flour for the coming winter.  Corn, oats and other grain to feed the farm animals were hauled by wagon from the fields and stored in the barn.


When fall came, more work was ready to do around the farm. Nuts grew brown and fell from the nut trees – walnuts, hickory nuts, chestnuts and pecans – and these had to be picked up before the squirrels carried them off.  Walnuts had husks, but hickory nuts were collected after the husks fell off.  Nuts always fell thick to the ground after the first frost. Sometimes Jim and his brother climbed the pecan and walnut trees and shook the branches vigorously with their feet to shake down a feast of nuts at one time. 

Sometimes the Cox children went with a group of young people to gather nuts in the fall, using hand-made baskets, made entirely from split hickory.  When the baskets were filled, the nuts were transferred to tow-sacks to carry them home in.  After the nuts had been spread out on boards and dried out a few days, the Cox children helped husk and pack them away for winter months.   Their mother made delicious hickory nut pies and pecan pies.

In fall, late apples were ready for picking and packing in barrels.  Some were dried and some were saved for canning.  On a clear, crisp autumn day, the Coxes may have gotten out their apple mill and cider press, then invited friends and neighbors for an apple picking and cider making party to make a batch of fresh sweet apple cider.  Sweet apple cider was a popular drink before the days of “soda pop.”  Apples for sweet cider took a lot of work and first had to be picked, and the older kids climbed the trees and wildly shook the branches to make apples rain down in a shower of fruit.  The younger children and adults scrambled to pick them up.  Next, the best apples had to be washed, cleaned, cut up in quarters, rinsed again, and then came the milling and pressing process.   Milling involved loading the apples into a large hopper, manually cranking a grinder that chewed and chopped the apples to release the juice.  This was followed by straining the juice through cheese cloth several times.   Apple butter could also be made from the pulp that would have otherwise been discarded in the process of producing apple cider.  Still later, apple cider could be turned into apple cider vinegar by allowing it to ferment past the stages of sweet cider.  Cider parties lent truth to the old folksy adage, “Many hands do make lighter work.”

 In the United States, history reports that the early English settlers introduced cider to America by bringing with them apple seeds for planting. Apple orchards were cultivated and apples became plentiful for making apple cider.  Hard cider during the colonial period was one of America’s most popular beverages.  Much later, in apple picking season, Ohio County old timers, as well as the young ones, thought nothing tasted better than the sweet, crisp flavor of the very first chug of freshly squeezed apple cider.

With the arrival of fall, pumpkins that had grown big and golden in the corn fields were gathered, loaded in a wagon, and stored in the barn.  Some were saved for making pumpkin pies and laughing Jack-O’lanterns at Halloween.  Around the time of the first frost, late fall potatoes and sweet potatoes had to be dug and stored away. 

Fall time was corn-husking time, too.  It was the largest of all crops on the farm, and grew so tall that it was almost like a forest.   Each corn stalk was chopped down, one at a time and stacked in shocks to dry.  Harvesting was a tough job and required more labor than any other farm crop. Later, the dried stalks were gathered and drawn by wagon to be put in the corncrib. At “husking bees,” neighbors helped one another shuck the cornhusks, and children tried their hand at making corn-husk dolls. The kernels were stored in barrels and bags in the barn.  Some farmers had a corn sheller to shell the cobs for hog feed, as well as other uses.  Part of the corn was taken to the mill to be ground into corn meal; the rest was saved and ground to feed the farm animals throughout the cold winter days. 

By mid-September most people were through cutting and housing tobacco and were baling hay; in many neighborhoods making molasses was the order of the day. By October most were done sowing wheat, and around the first of November, they were busy stripping tobacco, gathering corn and hauling coal.

NOTE: This article is Part II of several.  It was written by Janice Cox Brown, an expert genealogy researcher whose ancestry is from Ohio County. Janice now lives in Texas. We thank her for her work and her desire to share her family research.

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