(preserves from a ’40’s Victory Garden, photo via Insideurbangreen.org)
By Frank Munzer
I never realized that meditation, as suggested to me, made it possible for me to bring back my family who lived in Whitestone, Queens, during the Second World War. Many years have elapsed where I had not thought of those times; I am amazed now of how incidents of these days gone by have come back to me now as if they have just happened. I ask is this really possible? Somehow I will seize upon the answer.
The time was during World War Two when food was in such short supply here in America and if you were able to get some at all, it was expensive. So, what my Dad and Mom did to keep my brother and me full was feed us as many fresh vegetables as they could grew. As we lived in our own house in Whitestone that had a good sized back yard where we grew a variety of vegetables every spring and summer and part of the fall. During the war this kind of garden was called a Victory Garden. We did not grow our own fruit in our back yard but my mother had a sister who lived in Pleasant Valley, near Poughkeepsie, N. Y. which was a long ride for us as the Taconic Parkway was not finished all the way to Pleasant Valley at that time.
My Dad found gasoline rationed and it was hard to get enough unless he saved his mileage points and then got the gasoline he required for the trip in our black Ford. With the car and the gasoline we made the trip to Pleasant Valley, where my mother’s sister Aunt Florence lived. Because she and Uncle Bill had friends who had an orchard that allowed us to pick peaches that were dripping with ripe flavor and pears as smooth a baby’s skin. Then there was ripe corn with beautiful yellow kernels of which we brought back home a bushel full for preserving.
My brother, Lennie, and I were reluctant to spend so much time picking fruit but we did enjoy eating to our heart’s content the ripe sweet fruit. That night we went home and Mom and Dad started the preserving in the large mason jars. Lennie and I got ready for bed enjoying the different aromas from the cooking in the kitchen that came up the stairs to our bedroom and knowing that in two weeks we would go back and stay with our cousins for the weekend and pick ripe red Macintosh apples and even some orange squash. Mom knew we all liked the fresh apples the best so she would bake two apple pies a few days after returning to our aunt’s house. My aunt and her husband Uncle Bill had two children, our cousins Gannett, who was my age, and a boy Ed, who was my brother’s age. So it made it nice for my brother and me. And of course my Mom loved having time with her sister.
Then there was my aunt’s husband my Uncle Bill who my father liked visiting with. It took a little time for my brother and I to figure out why my father and Uncle Bill liked locking themselves in the cellar for about an hour before supper each night. Well, Cousin Ed told us that is where there dad makes and keeps his hard apple cider.
Dad, when we finally approached him about it, he said “the cider had a nice aroma and went down very smoothly, but you two are too young to drink it.” That ended that. The visit was fun and with companionship that we all enjoyed.
When I spoke to my Mom one day about what I was doing she reminded me of all the hard work Dad put in the garden in the spring and then again in the summer growing the fresh vegetables. I reminded her that I knew as I did a lot of cultivation along with Dad. After all, I was 15 years old in 1942 when food was real short and Dad was tied up with his Air raid Warden duties on those dark nights when there were no street lights allowed to be on and cars lights were half painted out. I told her also I knew of some dark nights when I walked with Dad when there was no moon light and we would walk his rounds holding hands to keep from falling because it was so dark. Dad had to be sure that all windows were blackened out so no light came from a house. Dad told me this is because of reports of German U Boats, Submarines, checking the coast for information which they did at night.
Then after all the growing and harvesting of the vegetables and fruits we all had to give Mom a hand with the cleaning, cutting and putting the delicious items into the mason jars for preserving in the big cook pot to help maintain the taste and aroma we remember.
My Dad insisted we maintain records of each specific item of food we had preserved and stored in the cellar’s meter room which was cool all year long due to the water line coming into the house and the water meter. He tried to preserve enough food of each item so that there was still one or two of that item remaining in the meter room as we harvested fresh ones from the new garden the following year. In fact, I remember one year going down to the meter room to get our last mason jar of string beans and telling my mother. My father heard me and he yelled down to me “don’t worry son, we will be harvesting string beans next week. “
As good as the preserved items were we always looked forward to the Thanksgiving holiday when Mom cooked all freshly grown food for this day like the fresh turkey with the sweet stuffing that smelled so delicious I even can smell it from my memory now with the steaming hot white baked potatoes that we would cut in half, scrape out the white potato and fill up the half with fresh yellow butter that had just been been turned from the store down the street, where I got a full pail. Then there was the squash that I had just been asked to squash. Oh how that butter gave things such an wonderful aroma and taste. We all had a glass of apple cider except Dad, of course, he had Uncle Bill’s special hard cider which Dad poured out of the special jug he received from Uncle BIll. To finish the meal there was always a big apple pie baked that very day. Mom knew that Len and I would want to have another piece of that sweet apple pie with some fresh cinnamon baked in when we went to bed so she baked two pies that morning.
The next morning when we came down the stairs we could not eat yet until we had a little walk in the cool crispy November morning with the dining room and kitchen still filled with the aroma of the days before. As you have just read and now know my family best holiday was Thanksgiving.