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Women’s work: ‘They had to adapt to the hand they were dealt’

Judie Perkowski The New Concord Leader Published: March 19, 2012 10:24 AM
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Speaking before a standing-room-only crowd in the Finley Room at the Guernsey County District Public Library, Dr. Lorle Porter described womens work in the 19th and early 20th centuries during the Great Depression and World War II in her book, Saras Table, Keeping House in Ohio: 1800-1950, published in 2001.

Dr. Porter has authored 10 books relating to Ohio history; she is also professor emerita at Muskingum University.

I wrote this book for the volunteers who work at the John and Annie Glenn Historic Site to give them some insight into the Glenns early life, said Dr. Porter. It is a story of making do in lean times and prospering in good times ... set in a special place, the village of New Concord.

She relied on aspects of her life to personalize the hardships communities throughout the country endured during the Great Depression and World War II.

The book tells the story of eight generations of a family of women, all of whom are named Sara. All of the Saras are fictional, but other characters are very real.

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Characters who do not have a surname, are fictional, said Porter. The geography of the village and details of the time period are accurate.

Porter describes how Sara Anns recipes from the early 1800s were concocted, and how every morsel of food was drawn from whatever they hand on hand. From ash cake to fresh Johnny cake fritters, and head cheese to calfs foot jelly. Nothing was scrap or thrown away. The story recounts how women dressed and how they managed to feed their families.

They had to adapt to the hand they were dealt.

The years from the 1800s to 1920 were the most prosperous time in America. It seemed like every day life-changing inventions and products were made available. Baking powder was invented and the gas oven regulated baking temperatures which led to changes in recipes. The book takes the reader through each era documenting legacy recipes and menus while describing the characters lifestyle.

Sara Frances and Sherman had a good life. Sherman was a construction worker who provided well for his family, until October of 1929 the stock market crash. Sherman lost his job, along with millions more nationwide. Banks failed. It was the end of prosperity. Sara Frances and Sherman had a huge garden and sold produce while Sherman worked odd jobs. Many families barely had enough to eat, their daily sustenance consisted of three meals of fried bread or fried potatoes or just mush (cornmeal, water, salt, a dash of milk, a pinch of sugar mixed together and allowed to set until it could be sliced and fried). Soups, made out of a stock from every morsel of meat and bone that was left from a meal, filled many a belly. Sara Frances was taught by her mother that it was a sin to waste anything. She used everything from the pig but the squeal.

The countrys doldrums continued until 1939.

As the countrys economy began to rise, due to President Roosevelts Works Progress Administration program, and Sherman was actually earning a paycheck, Sara Frances delighted in trying new recipes from Good Housekeeping magazine.

Then one evening while Sherman was listening to the radio, his favorite program was interrupted by a solemn announcement The Empire of Japan had bombed the American base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The drafting of young men into service, older men replacing workers who had left to serve their country, ration stamps were needed for food, clothing, gasoline, and women flooded the workforce. Americas ingenuity and perseverance prevailed.

During the World War II-era, dinners consisted mainly of macaroni and meat substitutions, such as macaroni rarebit, macaroni loaf, macaroni fritters, macaroni turkey dressing, and good old macaroni and cheese. Mock meat pies were a favorite, and, of course, soup made from chicken or beef parts and/or vegetables. Sara Frances learned quickly about substitutions for ingredients she used to have in her cupboard.

Reading the recipes was as much fun as reading about the characters.

The book, recounted through Dr. Porters characters and accounts of true events in New Concord and at Muskingum University, were skillfully interspersed. Her inimitable journalistic skills and wonderful sense of humor is what draws a crowd to her presentations.

Porters books are available at Amazon.com.


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