Waste not-want not

By Elizabeth Donaldson
Special to the Times

Garbage has evolved into a major problem world wide. Oceans and lands have become polluted in this world where it seems there is just too much of everything. In the 40’s this was not a problem living as we did. My mother as a widow with four children received $40.00 a month to buy food, clothing and anything else that was needed. We were able to raise a great deal of our food. Nothing was wasted and if we had a mantra it was “Use it up, make over, make do” or words to that effect. Our mother seemed to know how to get the best out of everything.

Paper was always needed as we all liked writing and drawing. Mom saved the backs of envelopes to write notes or grocery orders. The writing pad in the buffet drawer along with the ink bottle and stick pen was for the letters that she wrote. As a treat we might be allowed a sheet of lovely white paper for our best drawings.

When we got a grocery order every scrap of brown paper was saved. Mom would iron the bigger pieces and often made little booklets for us. Once she saved sheets, folded them in half and sewed them down the middle to make a scrapbook that she had for years. All paper bags were saved. Cardboard boxes had many uses. Any packaging that was shiny or colourful was saved to make decorations for the Christmas tree. A 100 pound bag of flour was a treasure and when the flour was emptied in the kitchen bin the string that the sack was sewn with was saved. We had no such things as rubber bands, Scotch tape, or paper clips to fasten things so string was useful. Five flour sacks would make into a double bed size sheet. Later one brand of flour used printed designs on their sacks and sometimes you would see a little girl in a flour sack dress or blouse.

Most every household had a rag bag and a button box. Clothes were well worn, sometimes handed down until no longer wearable. Before an article was ready to be thrown away every button was cut off and saved for future use. Many a child has played with the button box on a rainy afternoon. I don’t recall zippers. Strips from old clothes were cut and saved to be sewn or braided into rugs or mats for the floor. Any pieces left from that were put into the rag bag. We saved everything. Old newspapers had a variety of uses from lining a box for baby chicks to lighting the morning fire. Many ended up in the outhouse.

Most small farms had a stone pile or two with one used for a junk pile where cans, bottles or bits of broken dishes or other broken things were tossed. There were not a lot of tin cans as we did not use many canned goods other than tomatoes or canned salmon which always came in a tall tin at that time. Large honey or syrup pails were used as lunch pails or berry picking pails.

Needless to say food was not wasted. My mother had endless ways to save or preserve food and could seem to make leftovers ‘stretch.’ The summer was spent canning and preserving. She was happy when Certo first was used. Many bits and pieces ended up in the soup pot. In the fall when there was butchering the extra fat was cut from pork and rendered into nice white lard in a slow oven. If the chickens had extra fat that would be rendered into oil that was good for certain kinds of baking and made fine pie crust. I still remember the process of making headcheese and we all liked the finished product. Although I never did learn to like liver, mom had ways of using the heart that was more to my taste. Some people after churning gave the buttermilk to their pigs but we all liked buttermilk to drink and liked the buttermilk pancakes or scones that Mom made.

I think we all had the saving instinct to some degree. Sometimes if there was something that was not a favourite at meal time we would trade with someone. Mom put a spoonful of brown sugar on our morning oatmeal. Eric preferred to eat his plain but saved his spoonful in a jar until he had enough to make fudge that he did not share.

Our house cat and dog had no special food. Mike liked a bone to chew on and what ever else was given him. The barn cats had their bowls filled after milking time. The skim milk left after separating was given to calves or pigs. The manure from the barn was loaded onto the stone boat and spread on the field for fertilizer.

I don’t remember waste baskets in our home other than the slop pail that held the scraps for pigs and chickens. if we had anything to dispose of we just lifted a lid on the kitchen stove and the garbage was taken care of.

I guess there was a system to it and we all learned either to use it or save it. I still find my self with a junk drawer with all sorts of things as ‘you never know when it will come in handy’. That was a phrase that I heard often when I was a child.