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Susan Williamson – Living Off the Land

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My mother came late to her role as a farm wife.  She was in her forties when we moved to the farm, and having grown up in hotels (her father was a hotel manager), she didn’t even learn to cook until she was thirty.

When she and my father first married, they hired a WWII Veteran to take care of the lawn. He did that, but my mother found out he could cook. He was a great cook, but he couldn’t read. So, Mother bought a Joy of Cooking and began reading the recipes to George. Then she watched how he did things.

Ten years later we moved to the farm and by then my mother was a great cook. She also took to gardening early on, growing beans, lettuce, and tomatoes at first. She had a fenced garden spot at our new home on the farm and she added sweet corn, squash, chives, tarragon and eventually potatoes.

She froze the extra veggies for the winter and we made applesauce from the orchard. We had beef cattle, sheep and hogs, so we raised our own meat supply.  My parents bought chickens for eggs and a cow for milk.  The chickens were very free range. They had the run of the barn across the road and they would all lay in one hidden nest until we discovered the egg cache. Then they would find a new spot.

We took turns milking the cow. The first was a gentle Jersey. The second was a Guernsey cross who found it great fun to swish her tail through the milk and into your eyes or step in the bucket. I learned a lot of colorful language when my brother ignored my suggestion to tie her tail. Mother purchased a home pasteurizer and we discovered  home raised milk. She made butter with a hand churn.

She cooked our home grown wheat for hot cereal. We picked wild black raspberries and blackberries from the roadside and made jam.  We composted or fed our scraps to the hogs. Eating seasonally, from the garden, from the neighbors and from the freezer was a way of life.

Mother didn’t bake, except for occasional cookies or birthday cake from a mix. But she thought I should learn, so she had a friend come teach me to make a pie crust and homemade bread. I couldn’t wait to make my first apple pie. The apples were small and faulty so I didn’t really cut up enough for my father’s favorite pie. He took one bite and asked if there was any filling.

I garden, pick blackberries, put up food and sometimes I even sew, but I’ve never been half the farm wife my mother was. My husband spent too long on a dairy farm to ever want a milk cow and we never did more than talk about getting chickens. Hard to imagine that the girl who grew up in hotel rooms would be my inspiration for living off the land.

Susan Williamson is the author of two novels: Turkmen Captives and Death on the Trail, published by Indigo Sea Press and two e-books: How to Buy Your First Horse and How to Get By as Time Goes By published by High Tide Publications. All are available from  She is a lifelong horse person, former newspaper editor, extension agent and food coop manager.


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