Memories of a Midwestern Farm

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Teams of horses were still used in the fields on the Hutchens’ farm during the author’s childhood, and the family used an outhouse until she was eight years old. Dresses were homemade from colorful cotton calico feed sacks, imprinted with roses and peonies. Television and the telephone came much later. While Hutchens’ childhood is more reminiscent of farm life at the turn of the century than the 1950’s, common themes prevail: seemingly endless, hard work, the warm fellowship of family, and the simple pleasures of laboring close to the land.

Since life on a farm is tied to the seasonal crop cycles, the book is divided into a typical year, with chapters for each of the seasons. In Spring, when the heady fragrance of lilacs fills the kitchen, the abundance of the strawberry crop results in “Strawberries Three Meals a Day,” and recipes are given for strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie, and strawberry pancakes. Summer brings hay harvesting, with the women preparing Hay Hands Feasts for the men returning from the fields. Such feasts included fried chicken and meat loaf. The annual Hutchens family reunion always occurred at the end of July, when the tomatoes were ripe and the corn had matured, so there was a profusion of corn pudding, corn salad, and corn-on-the-cob, together with family favorites such as fried ripe tomatoes and deviled eggs with chopped black olives. Then the year moved on through the seasons of apple picking, canning, and the winter filled with hearty soups and “Washday Stews” of rabbit, squirrel, beef, or veal (always made on the Monday washday), ending with the persimmon puddings and popcorn balls of Christmas.

The book’s overall impression is that of a lovingly assembled family album, with poetry excerpts (some by family members), traditional tried-and-true recipes, old family photographs, and heartfelt descriptions of good times and sad times, when the evening’s entertainment involved telling stories or singing around the piano.