But here is where the chores begin. Trying to keep a soddy clean was a near impossible chore. If your roof was sodded, dirt and bugs fell from the ceiling; many a homesteader’s wife would buy some inexpensive muslin or sacking the first chance she got and put it up on the ceiling to keep the bugs and dirt out of things. The first area covered was usually over the bed. A habit started then that some of us may have seen our own grandmothers do – sweeping the hardpacked earth in front of the door to keep the area a bit cleaner.
Otherwise, the days were marked by what chores were done on that day. One day of the week was for bread making, another for laundry, and so forth. The daily chores of making meals either over an open fire, or if better off than most, over a cook stove, taking care of the livestock – feeding chickens, gathering eggs, milking cows, feeding pigs - tending your own vegetable garden, preserving foods when they became ripe, drying meat from hunts, making herbal remedies and soap, mending clothes as well as making new clothes, fetching water, gathering fire wood or cow chips, and schooling the children often took up the whole day. Children did help with a number of the normal chores, but the time can be broken down to show how much work went into each task.
Cooking a meal – all ingredients from scratch. Even something as simple as a meal of fried potatoes and eggs could take 30 minutes; closer to an hour if it was the first meal of the day and the fire needed to be brought back to life and gotten hot enough to cook on. Soups, roasts, stews were often put on the stove in the morning in order to be done for the evening meal. In some cases, like having a meal of fried chicken, could take even longer, because you had to catch and slaughter the chicken, hang it for a while, pluck it and cut it into the parts we normally associate with fried chicken – legs, thighs, wings, breasts. A quick and competent housewife will make short work of this, but add an hour to the meal making time for the average.
Making bread - This could be an all day affair; most homesteaders baked their entire week’s bread on one day. I have made my own bread; just three loaves takes over three hours. Knowing that many homesteaders had bread with every meal, that’s like 3-4 loaves of bread per person in a household. Baking in a wood stove takes about the same amount of time a modern electric stove would take, but baking in an open fire in a Dutch oven can take double the time. Depending on the number of pans a homesteader had – not many, to be sure – it may mean you bake one loaf at a time. All day chore indeed.
Caring for the chickens/collecting eggs – as a chicken owner myself, this part is rather quick and easy during the warm months. You open the coop, let them out, scatter some grain, and otherwise let the chickens forage for the day. Then go into the coop and get the morning eggs from your morning layers. This is where the children come in. They can collect the eggs, feed the chickens, and stand watch on them. Why are they watching the chickens? The plains are full of animals who like a chicken dinner just as much as the next guy – coyotes, foxes, hawks, and raccoons. They also get the fun of paying attention to a chicken’s egg song, signaling that she has laid and you have to figure out where. A daily Easter egg hunt!
Continued in Part Three