When I was researching the Great Depression to write Winter Wheat, I came across many accounts of large families surviving the winter on simple fare made from a couple of potatoes or a couple of turnips. Sometimes when there was no meat, potatoes and turnips or any such root crop which could be wintered in a cellar were the main source of food for very large families. Even farm families went through this from time to time, especially during the "Dirty Thirties" when drought pretty much wiped out any hope of crops or gardens.
My Dad, who grew up during the Depression Years, was a terrific soup-maker - and his specialty was Potato soup. On the rare day when my mother could not cook a meal, we would get potato soup - made by Dad. To this day it is the only potato soup I'll eat.
Here's how he makes it.
Boil some potoatoes in water until just tender - not mushy. In the meantime gently heat whole milk (I'd use 2% or 1%) but then the flavor seems to be missing and about 1/2 c butter - more if you like a buttery flavor.
When the milk is just beginning to boil add the potatoes, some minced onion, lots of salt and pepper, and reduce heat, cover until onions are clear.
We always ate this soup with my Mom's homemade bread, and that was a Saturday meal.
As good as it was I can't imagine eating it day in and day out. Dad said as the days wore on the soupmaker got very inventive, adding ingredients that often would not normally be combined in one pot.
Now I have a taste for some of Dad's potato soup.. at the price of a bag of potatoes now a days, I don't think we can consider it a poor mans soup anymore.
Well Emilie's new neighbours Anna and Frederich don't have a shortage of food, so we rejoin our story now with the second part of Chapter 3 where Karl has just announced that he will be leaving Emilie alone with his children in a few days time.
Winter Wheat Chapter 3 - cont'd:
Annie rushed to the table and refilled their cups with warm tea. She could spot an argument a mile off, and this one was brewing much closer to home. “No need to fret, my dear. We all have been alone at one time or another, when our men have gone off for work - or to get wood, like my Fredrich is now. You get used to it. And anyway, you will have the children, so you will not be alone at all!” She said cheerfully as if Emilie would be luckier than most to have her small companions to keep her company.
“But I know little or nothing about farming!” Emilie insisted fervently, panic gripping her heart, squeezing it tightly.
“Well then you should have stayed in the city,” Karl’s low voice answered her. “People who don’t know about farm life have no business saying that they do!”
“I never said that I knew anything about farming!” Emilie’s hot retort pierced the room. How dare this man think he could treat her in this manner? Here she had come all these miles just to help him, and he was treating her like she had tricked him in some way.
“Now Karl, give the girl a chance.” Annie said softly as she placed a large slice of cake in front of him. “Emilie will do just fine, you’ll see.”
Annie put Emilie’s cake on the table in front of her and gently patted Emilie’s shoulder in passing. “Eat your cake Dear,” she whispered before moving to sit on one of the empty chairs beside Emilie.
Emilie’s appetite had vanished; in fact she was beginning to feel more than a little ill. What she really wanted to do was lay her head down on the table and have a good cry; but she wouldn’t dare let the man sitting across the table from her know that he had in any way upset her.
Instead, she raised her chin and looked him straight in the eye. “I’m sure if Karl gives me a few days to get acquainted with things before he leaves, I’ll be just fine.”
Karl made no response to her announcement but instead finished his cake, drained his cup, and pushed away from the table. He spoke to Annie, and deliberately ignored Emilie’s presence at the table.
“I think we should be going home now, Annie. I thank you kindly for the warm meal, and for keeping the children today. If you could get them ready, I will go see to the horses.” He glanced to where Emilie still sat stiffly in her chair, “I should be ready to leave in about ten minutes,” he informed her, before turning away from both women and heading for the hook on the wall that held his coat.
Annie and Emilie sat quietly while he dressed for the frigid weather, and watched as he let himself quietly out the door. With the soft thud of the heavy door closing behind him, both women sighed. Annie rose from her chair and placed her hands on Emilie’s shoulders.
“Come dear, we must wake the children and get them ready,” she said quietly to Emilie, who remained sitting at the table. “You must not mind Karl; he will come around in time. He is a good man, our Karl, it’s just that he has been through so much,” she sighed tiredly, her thoughts focused entirely on her young neighbor, and his two small children.
“Karl is not the only one who has seen loss, Annie,” Emilie answered her sadly. She pushed away from the table and rose to face the older woman. “Someday I will tell you another sad story, but not today. Let’s see to those two children now,” Emilie insisted, as she followed Annie to the bedroom at the back of the small house.
The children were sleeping soundly when the two women entered the bedroom. While Annie uncovered the boy, Raymond, Emilie reached for the little girl, Anne-Marie. Both children mumbled in their sleep, but only Raymond awoke fully. His large blue eyes opened slowly and pinned Emilie with a trance-like stare that was so much like his father’s that Emilie was momentarily stunned. The child then turned his attention to Annie. A bright smile lit his face, transforming his chubby face from solemn to pure mischief in seconds. Emilie wondered if that same transformation would be evident in the father, if he’d ever smile that way.
“Is my Dada home?” The young lad asked, as Annie started to dress him in a heavy gray woolen snowsuit. His eyes flitted from Annie to the strange woman who was dressing his sister on the bed beside him.
“Yes, he’s home, and this lady is your new housekeeper, Emilie,” Annie informed him softly, as she buttoned the snowsuit up to his neck. “Emilie is going to be living with you and your sister and your Dada from now on, so you must be good for her just like you are for old Annie, huh!”
Raymond eyed Emilie skeptically but did not say a word.
“I’m sure Raymond will be a very good boy for me,” Emilie said softly and smiled at the child.
“She talks funny,” Raymond whispered to Annie conspicuously.
“That’s because she comes from very far away - from a different country than here. You will have to help Emilie with her English, Raymond. You can be her teacher, how does that sound?” Annie smiled at the serious expression on the child’s face.
His expression brightened. “Okay! I will be your teacher, Emilie!” he announced proudly.
The children, wrapped in their winter outfits and ready for the outdoors were carried to the kitchen, where Emilie proceeded to bundle herself up for her return into the cold night air. As she struggled to pull on her tight boots the door flew open and Karl entered the room. His face lit with a gentle smile that completely transformed his looks, when he saw his young offspring dressed and waiting for his return.
He reached to take the still sleeping Anne-Marie from Annie’s arms. As he hugged her close to his heart, he turned to his small son. “Raymond, you take Miss Freiheit’s hand, so you don’t fall down in the snow.” Karl thanked Annie once again for her help, glanced at Emilie in passing, and then headed back out the door to where the team of horses waited patiently.
Emilie followed him out the door calling a hasty farewell to Annie on her way out as she and Raymond struggled to catch up to Karl’s long legged strides. She watched as Karl lowered the sleeping child into a small manger-like box in the back of the wagon and gently tucked a pile of blankets firmly around her sleeping form, face and all. He bent at the waist and lifted his son up onto the wagon seat then stood beside the wagon patiently while Emilie once again tried to climb up onto the seat. With a muttered curse he grabbed her around the waist and swung her easily up onto the wagon’s platform.
“I would have made it on my own,” Emilie protested at his high-handed manner.
“Yes, but we might have all frozen to death while we waited,” he quipped smugly, as he rounded the wagon and sprung up onto the seat.
Once again they set off along the deserted winter road. Emilie could immediately feel how much colder the night air had become. Raymond snuggled close to his father, and Emilie watched as the child’s head began to bob up and down as he nodded off to sleep.
“I think Raymond has fallen asleep,” Emilie said quietly to the large man at the other end of the seat. “Should I hold him so he doesn’t fall?”
“No, he’ll be fine where he is,” Karl answered just as quietly without glancing at either her or the child.
Emilie resumed her silence once more and with the gentle rocking of the wagon, the comforting effects of the heavy meal she had consumed and Annie’s warm hospitality still fresh in her mind, she began to nod off in sleep as well.
“Don’t fall off the bench.” Karl’s voice startled her out of her near-sleep state. “I wouldn’t want to have to pick you up off the ground or run over you,” he chuckled softly to himself.
“I have no intention falling off anything! “ Emilie bristled and quickly pulled herself upright on the hard wooden bench seat.
“One more nod and you would have been over the side,” he teased lightly, his attention now on her instead of the road ahead. “Maybe I should put you in the back with Anne-Marie.”
“I can assure you I will not fall off this wagon,” she shot back at him, irritated with the notion that he thought her child enough to have to ride in the back of the wagon.
The horses whinnied softly and Emilie realized that they were approaching a farmyard. As Karl slowed the team to make the turn into the drive, Emilie squinted to see if she could see her new home.
“Okay girls,” Karl’s baritone voice softly crooned to his team, “Soon you will be in your nice warm barn with some fresh hay.”
He talks to those two horses like he was speaking to his ladylove, Emilie thought, amazed at the warmth she heard in her employers’ voice. His voice, warm and low obviously comforted and seduced the beasts as they lumbered the last few steps into the farmyard.