My Long Journey Started in the Kitchen Garden

Everyone knows about Stephanie Queen’s Myron. Sometimes I wish I had such a male in my life…well, maybe not Myron. I’d wind up killing him or at least firing him. (And if he reads this, I’ll be in so much trouble.) But he has one of those life-right & glued positions. So Stephanie and Myron are stuck with each other forever! If you have a drop of royal blood in your veins, you totally understand.

My life is far from glamorous. I opted for my dream and I continue to stand on my head to catch that elusive butterfly. But what I’ve discovered along the way is that my life really has never changed. When my girls were little, I gardened. I grew vegetables. I searched for fruit and knew every neighbor with a fruit tree or bush in their yard.

When I discovered my one neighbor had what they called a Damsel tree, I asked if I could have the fruit. To them, it was just a pretty flowering tree, but too messy with that fruit dropping. No problem, I relieved them of a ton of fruit. I later discovered it was actually a damson plum tree. But a plum is a plum, and it made delicious jelly and preserves. Another neighbor had crab apples and when mixed with mint, it was another great jelly. I started scouting. Homemade jams and jellies sound delicious, right? They were, but it was also hard work. So many times I was on my feet into the wee morning hours, processing fruit and knowing I had to get my husband off for work in a few more hours.

Yet I did it. I did it because I could, and it stretched the family budget, providing healthy food for them. Want to debate jelly as being healthy? It was about as healthy as a chocolate chip cookie. But I’m assuming that no one is feeding the family cookies instead of meal. A smear of jelly on a peanut butter sandwich is delicious. Fruit tucked into a bar cookie is even better! Mixed with a homemade granola, it makes the perfect afternoon snack. And these little treats kept the meals from becoming ho-hum. But they had one more thing, no pesticides.

When it came to my garden, there were years when I had too many beans, not enough peas, the tomato crop failed, and there more blueberries than we could eat in twenty years. Somehow life balances out. I got through it, and I learned as I went.

Turkey is my least favorite meat, but it tends to be cheap. So when those birds went on sale, I bought several for my freezer! I took advantage of any sale I could.

But one day my hubby came home and told me the guys with whom he worked were going fishing in the Chesapeake Bay. They were chartering a boat, and he wanted to do it. The cost back then was $20 for him. He might as well have asked for $2000. He never asked for anything frivolous, and he wasn’t the kind of guy to run off with his pals. I pulled out my budget and checked it carefully. Okay. The entire time I’m thinking do you know how much fish I could buy with $20? I thought you got seasick?

Oh fairy dust, fairy dust, sprinkle it my way! He came home from that outing with almost the entire catch. He had six of the largest coolers I ever saw, and they had to be returned on Monday morning. A few guys grabbed a couple of big fish but left behind 99% of the catch. I don’t clean fish! GAG! My hubby spent the next day cleaning fish. He filleted and I packed for freezing until the freezer was filled with fish. We still had one cooler left with at least another 50 pounds of fish. I called a friend and her hubby was at our doorstep that night. Happy to relieve us of that last cooler of fish. My hubby never asked to go again, maybe he never wanted to clean that many fish again. Or maybe he was more seasick then he wanted anyone to know.

And then there was the time that a friend called and asked if I wanted what the movers wouldn’t take. She told me to bring some brown paper bags. They packed her for overseas and no food item was allowed, no aerosol, no cleaning products, etc. Lady Luck had sprinkled her dust! Pickles, olives, you name it, and she had it. She had boxes of individually packaged treats. Bags of potato chips, a huge box of frozen hamburgers, several packages of hot dogs along with bags of rolls, and a dozen other items often seen at a picnic including the paper products. She had two un-opened half gallons of ice cream in her freezer! A few days before, she had thrown a big party for her children and their friends. It’s actually amazing when you see what other people eat or maybe don’t eat. There was shampoo, hairspray, hand lotion, laundry detergent, bleach, and bathroom, kitchen, and window cleaning products. That stuff is expensive! Not to mention all the paper products such as paper towels and toilet paper, and dozens of items from the medicine cabinet that every family can use. There was stuff in there that I had never used, and several products that were a different brand from what I used, but free made them precious freebies. I thanked her profusely and found several new brands that I liked. It took me three trips to bring it all home. And her fancy wooden box that held her potatoes and onions – she gave me the box and the contents.

A few years ago, another friend moved and this time she only had some cleaning products. I think I still have a few of her things. But there’s no point in wasting things, and stretching the family budget in those days took serious dedication and hard work. It’s not much different from what I do today.

Today I work to create successful books. Back then I worked to create a healthy wonderful meals for my family. The difference? There’s not many because both are done from scratch, both require learning from books, and from trial and error. Rodale became my friend just as Betty Crocker had. There was no Internet, so my garden books matched my cookbooks in numbers. Experience is a great teacher! Just as I learned not to pick okra and then jump in the car and drive for 40 minutes without washing in the heat of summer, I learned not to leave proofing yeast on the counter overnight. “Mommy what’s that ugly slimy stuff on the counters and floor?” You don’t what to know how far yeast can go! Or what it’s like to remove it from the dinning room rug. Yeast is a living organism. It must be killed first!

Just as the women who lived 100 or more years ago, they wanted their food to be the best. They had nothing else worth the strife. And in some ways being a stay at home mom put me in that category. I was home because I didn’t have the ability to earn enough money to pay for babysitting, my gas, etc. For the few pennies I’d bring in, I was worth more at home. My job was to stretch the money that my husband made. And stretch it I did!

I learned skills out of necessity and out of curiosity. I took my children to the library and also brought home books on things that interested me, such as recipes of the women in wagon trains. Read few of those recipes. I promise, I wouldn’t make some of that for my family. Little did I know that I was training to one day write about those times and period in history.

I opted to stay at home and write. Today I strive to stretch my meager budget while producing the finest quality books. That’s no different than what I did to produce the finest possible meals for my family.

I’ve spent the last few weeks on a reading binge and I’ve been surprised at the lack of quality in books that outsell me. It has shocked and saddened me. I could have bought cheap white bread when my girls were little, but I didn’t. I made delicious homemade breads for my family using the finest ingredients I could manage to find. To me, it was a matter of pride. And so it is with my books.

I’m proud of what I did back then, and I’m proud of my books. Maybe every book I produce will never be a million dollar seller, but as long as I can look at them with a sense of dignity, then I have accomplished something important.

 

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17 Responses to My Long Journey Started in the Kitchen Garden

  1. Carol says:

    We look back on earlier days and wonder how in the world we made it through! Those who have never lived on a budget, wouldn’t completely understand. You did a super job. Wouldn’t we all love to have a Myron?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Jan says:

    Brings back a lot of memories. I love your writing – all your books, the blogs you post. Thank you for the memories.

    Like

  3. Joan Reeves says:

    Thank you for your heart-felt post. I always believe in Earl Nightingale’s definition of success: the progressive achievement of a worthy goal. By any definition, you are a success.

    Liked by 3 people

    • E. Ayers says:

      Thank you , Joan. I’m not sure I’d call it success. My hubby would say if he handed me a penny, I’d squeeze it until I’d make copper wire a mile long. I just constantly attempted to strive for an intangible perfection so that my family would have a good life. I learned the skills along the way to do it.

      Most of us in this business have paid our dues, attended the classes, and learned from those who knew about the things we didn’t. And we never stop learning! Because there is always room for improvement!

      Like

    • leighmorgan1 says:

      Perfectly put, Joan!

      Like

  4. susanrhughes says:

    You reminded me of my childhood. We had a crabapple tree in our yard and my mom would make jelly every year. She made lots of delicious stuff that she doesn’t make anymore (I’m lucky to get the occasional pie). Sadly, I never got into baking and canning (and I don’t have time for it).

    Liked by 3 people

    • E. Ayers says:

      Life has changed, Susan. Today women are working and those “old” skills are a thing of the past or a hobby for today’s modern mother. Maybe one day, you all can indulge in a afternoon of picking fruit and learning to make pies together. Cheat the first couple of times and use pre-made pie crusts. Shh. I won’t tell.

      Like

  5. ginaarditoauthor says:

    Growing up, we had a bosc pear tree and a grape arbor. Mom used those pears in everything and dad made the jellies and wines from the grapes. What do I remember the most? The bees. Everywhere. You seemed to find the perfect balance – in both your family life and writing life. That’s a rare gift.

    Liked by 2 people

    • E. Ayers says:

      Pears and pork! A delicious combination.Bees and specifically yellowjackets are a problem with fruit. Keep all fruit off the ground. Let your friends and neighbors do the growing. Or check to see what places in your area allow you to pick your own fruit as it comes into season.

      Like

  6. I can relate to almost everything in your article – except for the fact that I am vegetarian. I fed my family in the same way. I still grow my own organic herbs, fruit and vegetables, make chutneys, jam, pickles etc., because it’s good for me and my family, which includes eleven grandchildren. Recently, one of them said: “Grandma, your food is from heaven.”

    Today they really enjoyed homemade strawberry ice cream that I made last summer.

    I also write historical fiction and lament over the poor quality of some published novels.

    So we have a lot in common.

    All the best,

    Rosemary Morris

    Liked by 1 person

    • E. Ayers says:

      I know you often have your daughter’s children visiting so obviously there are more. I do hope you get to see all of them frequently. It’s difficult when the children have scattered. And those grandchildren grow up much too quickly.
      Ah, yes, food. You’ve shared a few recipes with me. Ever consider writing a cookbook?
      I love your historical books. You drop the reader right into the scene to the point that even the scent envelops them.

      Like

      • Yes, thank you, I see nine of my eleven grandchildren regularly. The other two live far away.
        The other day, my daughter’s elder son said to me. “Grandma, your food is from heaven.”
        Thank you very much for your comment about my historical novels. My new one, Monday’s Child set Brussels after Napoleon escaped from Elba, will be published soon; and I’ve nearly finished the next in the series of stand alone novels, Tuesday’s Child.

        Like

  7. This brings back many memories for me E. We had a huge kitchen garden when I was a girl. My father was genius with getting the land to produce and produce and produce some more. We gave vegetables away to everybody it seemed. I loved it when they came to the house then went away with a bagful of corn and tomatoes and string beans and much more. And I remember what it tasted like to pick a sun-warmed tomato straight off the stalk and eat it with the juice dribbling down my chin. Then my mother would can for days and days in the hottest month of the year. I do so regret that her amazing canning recipes passed with her. Except for her piccalilli – that one I still have. Thanks for the memories. They make me smile. Blessings. Alice

    Liked by 2 people

    • E. Ayers says:

      The difference between fresh vegetables and those that have been around for a while is huge. My girls grew up sitting in the garden while mommy weeded or picked. As they got older they “helped”, and when they finally were old enough to be useful, they whined the whole time!

      I often shared what I grew but it seemed as though I processed everything I grew. To save space in my garden, there was a truck farm down the road from me, and I could order 500 ears of corn. At 8 AM, I’d go to his farm and his son would load my freshly-picked corn into brown paper bags from the back of the field truck. (Another live and learn, never order 500 ears on the same day!) LOL

      Like

  8. leighmorgan1 says:

    Hi, E.! Growing up, the adoptive grandparents I had next door had a garden that occupied half a village plot—about 1/4 of an acre. It was huge for a young girl who helped plant—although “help” might be a bit of a stretch. I sure shared in the harvest though! Pea pods, beans, lettuces, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, onions…and the occasional windmill cookie…grin. I loved it all. I loved her too. Both gardening and memories of that sweet lady linger in who I am today. I am certainly the better for both. Thanks for the post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • E. Ayers says:

      Growing up with dirt is a good thing! Every child needs it. I feel sorry for children who grow up in cities and never have a chance to spend time in the garden. It’s like walking into a library. There are plenty of books on the shelves, but unless you can read, the books mean nothing.

      Like

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