Grandma’s World War II Garden: Family Letters

Vera Anderson, August 1944

Vera Anderson, August 1944

Throughout the letters that my grandmother, Vera Anderson, wrote from Killbuck Ohio to my mother in Ames Iowa in 1943, she included many reference to her World War II garden.

Victory Gardens

Victory Gardens were just one of the many ways that everyday citizens on the homefront were enlisted to help the war effort.  The government helped people learn how to grow gardens, gave them brochures and recipe books to take advantage of the vegetables they grew and exhorted them to save the produce grown by farmers for the troops. And of course–Posters!

World War II Garden Poster

Patriotic gardening poster during World War Two

I’m pretty sure, however, that Grandma never thought of her World War II garden as a Victory Garden–let alone a Munition Plant. She planted gardens every year. She was still doing so more than ten years after the war when my family lived in Killbuck and my father also planted a garden.  People in small rural communities like Killbuck did not need the government to tell them that growing gardens could save money and provide healthy eating.  They always planted in the spring and harvested everything before the first hard frost.

Grandma grew flowers as enthusiastically as she grew vegetables–possibly more so, because flowers caused a lot less work, as you can see below.  An apple tree in her back yard provided small, misshapen but delicious apples as long as I could remember.

In her letters she is as obsessed with the effect of weather on the crops as any farmer would be.

Grandma Writes about Her World War II Garden

Undated letter, probably October 4th :

I gathered in my green tom. & mangoes [ bell peppers] also flowers tonight as they will surely go tonight. The frost hasn’t hurt anything yet.  The trees are beautiful.

Letter written October 12, 1943

Well we are having lovely weather –awful dry. I hear farmers say they are afraid the wheat will not get started for winter. (Coshocton Tribune front page article on October 11 reports the area has had only .77 inch of rain in six weeks, and none in 25 days.)

Later in the letter, she says,

I made 16 pts. of green tom and mango [bell pepper] relish last week and also 7 more pts of tom juice and 3 cans of Kraut like you said.

Salted Green Tomatoes for Relish

Green Tomatoes and Red Peppers, salted. (These look like tomatillos, but the seller at the farmer’s market said they were small tomatoes.

Unfortunately, Grandma did not leave recipe cards for these items. If you would like to make something like her green tomato and mango relish, check out this recipe that I found for “green tomato pickle” in a Mennonite cookbook. Or you might want to try grandma’s recipe for red pepper jam”.  I wrote about her canning in general and in a later article related my experience in following her recipe for “red pepper jam.” When you read these articles you will see that it would take A LOT of “mangoes” to make 16 pts of relish!

Making Canned Food--Re Peppers

Red Peppers for Ready to Make Grandma’s Red Pepper Jam

In an undated letter probably written in soon after the one above, Oct 13? she wrote:

I made some more catsup today. That is the last of tom. Only green ones now. Frost hasn’t hurt anything here.

Another undated October letter remarks on the weather, “No killing frost yet.” then later says:

We haven’t had any frost that harmed anything. My flowers are beautiful yet.

Oct. 16

It is raining here and cold. Glen Orr said it hailed a little.

 

But she is starting work at her GoodYear “Rosie the Riveter” job, so she would have no time for her World War II garden, even if the weather were favorable. Another letter in October says that Irene, my father’s sister, is busy canning.  Irene was a prize-winning gardener. November letters have remarks about rain and December it is ice and cold weather. But Grandma and Daddy Guy would have vegetables galore all winter.

While other vegetables had been harvested earlier in the summer–beans, peas, cucumbers, and most had been canned, at the end of the year, we hear that she is canning tomato catsup, tomato juice, green tomato relish and sauerkraut.  Her basement shelves were full of those jewel-tones in glass jars (like these from a farmer’s market) created from Grandma’s World War II garden.

Preserves at farmer's Market

St. Phillips’ Farmers’ Market in Tucson, Grammy’s canned foods

One thought on “Grandma’s World War II Garden: Family Letters

  1. Jeanne Bryan Insalaco


    Twitter:
    What a lovely story to remember your grandmother by. My often talks about her mother working the family garden and how the county people would come trying to teach different things to do with cooking and farming. Having her written words on her garden is awesome… such a treasure. This post has encouraged me to write about their gardens and how the county people came around, and how my grandfather often ran them off. LOL

    Reply

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