Grandma Jennie Brown Musteen always had a well-worn, slim paper copy of the Farmer’s Almanac at hand for in-person or telephone updates about phases of the moon or the best time to plant above-ground or root crops.
When I was very young, her garden was a large plot that had once been occupied by Grandpa Musteen’s horse barn. She thought it was helpful to the soil to burn off old growth, and I watched at least once. When my own dad, following her example, lit a fire to clear our own moderately large garden space on 4th street, concerned next-door neighbors called the Fire Department to stand on alert until Dad’s project was finished!
I recall the excitement of going each year to buy seeds. Grandma would know exactly how much she wanted of corn, green beans, peas, squash, watermelon, and other staples. Her selections would be measured or weighed and bound in tiny brown bags, tied with twine. I’m searching for the name of the seed store, if anyone can give that information. I had copied the image above from Rogers, AR Museum online photo archive, and I might simply have failed to tag it correctly.
Grandma Jennie’s Garden
I have never in my life tasted a more delicious cantaloupe than the warm, fragrant and perfectly-ripe melon that I remember being carried directly into her kitchen and cut into eighths. Grandma liked to sprinkle her cantaloupe with ground black pepper. That was OK with me as a taste test, but I really preferred mine with nothing added. To this day, I much prefer the wonderful taste of a sun-warmed, ripe tomato to any room temperature or chilled supermarket version. Standing in the garden, brushing it off and biting into it…there’s just no comparison.
She’d split tiny yellow squash in half length-wise, score and dot with butter and pepper before baking. I’ve never eaten squash prepared in any way I like better.
For family gatherings, when we cousins were young, watermelon would be cut in half length-wise, then into several slivers of about 2 inches at the rind. We’d all be given a slice and run around her yard, spitting seeds into the grass. You can imagine how sticky we were and in need of a wash cloth or water hose by the time we were finished!
Grandma’s green beans with bacon were a constant at meals. She cooked them until all water was gone and the beans were just short of being scorched on the bottom of the pan. We didn’t know anything about nutrition, so everyone just enjoyed the taste and no one worried.
I learned with her to make crisp bread-and-butter pickles and pickled beets. She’d probably canned everything at least once, including salmon on a trip to the Pacific Northwest to visit one of Grandpa’s older sons, Howard.
It’s been nearly 30 years since I’ve had a space to plant anything, but my sister gardens and cans every summer.
Question for my siblings and Musteen cousins: what memories do you have of Grandma in her garden or canning? Please leave a comment and share with your children.