Home Town or Home Community:
St. Brieux, SK
Women’s Work is Never Done!
They are unsung heroes! The women between 1920 and 2005 whose contributions to the Kernaleguen Family Farm have been exceptional but like those of many other farm wives, left unrecorded. Addressing the repetitiousness of life, their roles have easily been taken for granted yet, over time, these same roles represented long hours of hard, back-breaking work with major obstacles to surmount.
Marguerite, the unsung hero of the 1st generation, a courageous soul who, with her husband Pierre, ventured out as a young bride of 24 years of age from France to a faraway new land, called Canada, (where streets were said to be paved with gold !). She left family and country to settle on a farm, isolated from all she knew and always nurturing the hope that sooner or later, they would be able to return home. She was a hard-working, witty and generous person, who never lost interest in the farm and her love of the outdoors. Going out for a ride in the field in summer to see the crops was always something that she thoroughly enjoyed. Living on the farm all her life, she got to know and appreciate her grandchildren. They were the highlight of her life.
The unsung hero of the 2nd generation, Marie was a steady, observant individual with a perpetual contagious smile. She was the second child in a family of eight children born to a Breton family in the Kermaria/LacVert district. She had a great love for the farm, for nature and current events. Marie believed in an annual picnic so on a bright summer day, lunch was packed, a place picked and all the necessary preparations made. It could be in the field where the men were working and everybody could eat together or elsewhere. Marie’s older grandchildren have precious memories of her taking the time to help them identify plants and making each one feel special and of course, they remember coming over for breakfast with Grandma (not just a meal, a ceremony !) and everyone loved her rice pudding.
Eva Marie and Brenda, heroes of the 3rd generation, are energetic, highly sociable persons whose activities are largely centered on those of their families and are constantly chauffeuring children to various activities. Both Eva Marie and Brenda are involved in church and community activities. Most adept in the kitchen, getting ready for a family get together of twenty or so does not phase either one as they take it in their stride!
These four women carried out their work differently based on resources and facilities. Some roles remained static over the years, others changed considerably, some disappeared as new ones came into play. Each woman in her time felt her work was not done until she had prepared family treats for special occasions. These paved the way for deeply ingrained family traditions which are the glue that binds the four generations across time.
There are also the female off springs who have been influenced by one or more of these women and who in turn have had impact on younger ones and who will be influential in passing on the traditions to the ones who come later. Anne P (2nd generation) who worked in the educational field from 1948 to 1998 chose to return every Christmas and for a couple of weeks in the summer to have a visit and to assist with canning and freezing as well as to get some sewing done. Anne Y. (3rd generation) is a veterinarian with 25 years of practice in Stoughton, SK. Throughout her career, she helped the farm with animal health and always came home for the holiday season and during the summer for whatever time she could spare. Fernande, her sister is a dedicated teacher with great empathy and gentleness, who has also been a willing helper to the farm whenever possible. Living close by, she keeps in close contact with the farm.
In the fourth generation, there are six girls. Guen (Jean and Eva Marie’s daughter) is a student nurse and a great worker who loves to live in the country and contribute in a variety of ways: by driving a tractor, digging in the garden or making cinnamon buns. Anne Marie, her sister is a tall, athletic, dependable teenager who takes after her grandmother in looks and disposition. She is an expert with animals and is equally proficient in the kitchen. Jasmine and Jacinthe (Pierre and Jeannette’s daughters) have not lived on the Kernaleguen farm so their contacts have been limited. Both have spent many hours in their early years with their father as he went about his farm work and both are also knowledgeable in the kitchen and garden. Celine and Emilie, (Fernande and Bernard’s daughters) and Colette (Jean and Eva Marie’s daughter) are young but already show great promise of becoming enthusiastic farm girls as all have much interest and potential in the garden, the kitchen and tending animals.
Bread and Butter
Marguerite, a petite, high energy individual learnt the basics of bread making from a pioneer who had adapted a recipe to Canadian flour and yeast. Seldom, if ever, since then, has a week gone by without a batch of freshly baked bread gracing the kitchen table on the Kernaleguen farm. Bread making in early years was a long process that spanned two days since the most common yeast available was the slow acting Royal dry cake yeast. A help to bread making was that both log houses Pierre and Marguerite occupied over time were small and relatively easy to keep warm. Bread was started the night before by dissolving dry yeast in water and mixing it with flour, then this mixture had to be kept warm overnight to activate the yeast. In summer, this was not a problem but in winter, the pan was wrapped in blankets and even if the fires were allowed to go out at night, the pan was kept close to the stove or furnace to conserve every last trace of heat. In the morning, after chores and breakfast, the yeast was mixed by adding water or scalded milk and flour. Potato water, ginger or sugar were optional. If added, they speeded up the action of the yeast, thus reducing the rising time. After being thoroughly kneaded into a smooth mass, bread was set aside to rise, then punched down and allowed to rise again a second time after which it was molded into pans. When the bread had doubled in bulk, it was ready for baking. It usually took a whole day from start to finish. Baking 8-10 loaves was a weekly task for Marguerite who had to feed a family of four in addition to a farm hand in summer. Flour, yeast and other supplies were available in local stores. In the thirties, a wagonload of wheat was occasionally taken to a grist mill west of town to be ground into flour.
Everything considered, Marguerite turned out an excellent product. She visually measured the ingredients and stuck her hand in the oven to feel if it was hot enough. Since milking always cut into bread-baking time, Marguerite estimated how long the bread needed to be in the oven by the number of cows she could milk before having to run back to attend to the bread or put another piece of wood on the fire. And she was not often wrong!
The sight of loaves cooling on the table and the aroma which permeated through the house was heaven on earth for ravenous children returning from school. A favorite trick was to make a hole at one end of a loaf and eat the dough leaving an un-marred shell. The weightlessness of that loaf compared to the others always gave us away when bread was taken down to the basement for storage.
From 1947-1980, in the second generation Kernaleguen farm, Marie was a quiet, persistent, dependable individual whose preferred task was bread making. By this time, the yeast available was a quick-rising granular type and starting the yeast the day before was no longer necessary. A milestone indeed! Marie used a wood stove until 1966 when they moved into a new house and converted to electricity. Having to feed a family of seven, she baked twenty loaves and usually did not finish her day until 8 or 9 o’clock at night. Marie took great pride in her baking. Her children recall coming home from school and savoring their mother’s special treat of freshly baked bread and butter with jam before going out to do chores.
Since 1980, the Kernaleguen farm is in the third generation and jointly owned by brothers Joseph and Jean Kernaleguen. Brenda, Joseph’s wife bakes bread only sporadically while Eva Marie, Jean’s wife continues the tradition. Having to feed a family of nine, she bakes once or twice a week and with the variety of flours and yeast available today, the process can be varied and accomplished more quickly, but bread making is still a daylong job. Eva Marie uses a mixer with dough hooks to facilitate mixing.
The introduction of freezers was a great asset to storing bread. Marguerite and Marie stored bread in the basement until 1953 when rural electrification was introduced and a freezer was installed in Pierre and Marguerite’s retirement house. Bread could now be kept frozen until needed so it was always fresh. If Eva Marie knows she will be away the following week or particularly busy with other work, she bakes two or three batches and does not have to worry about baking for a couple of weeks.
In general, the process of bread making over the past 85 years has been adapted to new ingredients, equipment and conditions but has remained basically unchanged. Taste appears to be the reason for its remaining an enduring part of life on the Kernaleguen farm.
Butter making took quite a different direction than baking bread and yet, in the first and most of the second generation, they were both regular weekly jobs done at home. The methods and equipment for making butter remained unchanged for 50 years after which the farm converted to selling fluid milk rather than continue to separate milk and sell the cream as it did in the past. Butter was made in a churn, a metal container with a secure lid and two wooden beaters, manually operated by a hand crank on the outside. About a pail of cream a few days old at room temperature was placed in the churn and everyone took turns operating the crank. The length of time it took for the cream to turn to butter depended on the thickness and temperature of the cream. At times, it went relatively quickly, 15 to 25 minutes, at other times it took considerably longer and sometimes, it had to be stopped and resumed the next day. Making butter was a job done in the evening after supper so that, many hands would make the task lighter. Every child who grew up in those years recalls having to take his or her turn. At first, turning was easy, but as the butter was starting to form, it became difficult but encouraging as it signaled the beginning of the end.
Buttermilk was drained and the butter washed with cold water to remove left over milk. Butter was then worked with a wooden paddle to remove any liquid, to add salt and in winter, a drop or two of coloring to make it more appetizing. Butter was shaped in pound-size wooden mold or put in covered glass dishes and stored in the basement or later on in the freezer. Homemade and store bought butter were comparable in all aspects, taste included.
An electric churn was purchased in the fifties but it was never considered a great addition. Obviously, human labor is superior to electric power as every child who has had to turn the crank on the churn knows full well. Eva Marie and Brenda, women of the third generation farm joined the clan after butter making at home had been discontinued so never had to do it.
Contrary to baking bread that has continued because of the appeal of the product to the palate, butter making was discontinued because cream was no longer available. And thus a farm woman’s role persists and forges into the future while another one fades and disappears into the past.
Whoever raves about “the good old days” obviously did not tend a farm family’s clothing prior to the fifties. Laundering, drying and mending was a never-ending job, infinitely taxing on the homemaker’s time and energies. With very few retail outlets in close proximity to one’s residence, the purchase of clothes, notions and fabrics was limited and choice non-existent. Washing took a day; drying, ironing and mending took the rest of the week and more often than not, there was a backlog of repairs waiting to get done.
On the first generation farm, Marguerite collected rainwater for washing clothes since it made it easier and used less soap than well water. In summer, rainwater was collected in a barrel; in winter, snow was brought in and left to melt by the stove. In 1946, when an addition was built to the second log house the Kernaleguen family occupied, a cistern was built to collect rainwater, thus soft water did not need to be carried in and was always available. Likewise, in 1953, cisterns were built in Pierre and Marguerite’s retirement house and in the house built by Paul and Marie in 1966. This resolved the soft water problem on the first and second generation farm.
The first thing Marguerite did on wash day was to collect and sort clothes – lights with lights and so on, then she fetched the equipment – pails, tubs, wash board and soap. She placed the first batch of clothes in a tub of water and agitated them after which she bent over the wash board and scrubbed one at a time, the soiled ones more vigorously than others. After thorough washing and rinsing, she wrung them out by hand and put them in clean water through which she had swished bluing to make them whiter. Once clothing had been in this water for a short time, it was ready for drying. Clothespin apron tied around her waist, she took two pails full of wet clothes and went outside to hang them on the line. In summer, this was somewhat pleasant but in winter, it was cold on the hands as mitts could not be worn. Once everything had been washed, the final step was putting the dirty wash water in pails and dumping it out.
A manually operated washing machine with a wringer was a welcomed addition as it made wringing clothes easier. However, buttons tended to break or be torn off if garments were not put through carefully, also, clothes tended to get tangled in the rollers, even long hair and hands sometimes suffered the same fate. After several accidents, a quick release was added to all machines for greater safety. Gradually in the 60’s and 70’s, washing machines improved and the spin type appeared on the market. This permitted removal of more moisture and the avoidance of any process that would damage clothes or be a hazard to the operator.
Drying clothes in summer could be relatively fast, but in winter, they were usually left out till close of day, and some, overnight. They were then taken in, frozen, stiff as a board, and spread on a line inside or on a folding rack. In the sixties, Marie, had drying lines installed in the basement for use in winter and on wet days in summer. “Blue Monday” was “blue any day” for both Marguerite and Marie who washed whenever weather was conducive for drying.
Prior to the fifties, all clothing was made of natural fibers – mostly cotton, rayon and wool. Nylon, acrylic, polyester, latex and combinations of these, were new and had not been applied to textiles used in clothing nor were there easy-care finishes, stretchy fabric construction or fast dyes. Fabrics were not strong and thread, which was all-cotton, wore out before garments thus causing seams to come apart and needing repairs. Clothes dried slowly, wrinkled badly and faded readily. Without finishes such as shrink, soil and stain resistance laundering was time consuming. This was also the pre-zipper and Velcro years when all garment closures were buttons (or safety pins if missing buttons had not been replaced !). Gradually, in post-war years, the quality of fabrics used in apparel improved drastically and closures became more efficient.
Marguerite ironed clothes on the kitchen table that she protected with an old blanket and used the sad irons heated on the stove and lifted up with a removable handle. In summer, this was a warm, tiring job; in winter, the heat was comforting. Ironing was usually done as soon as clothes were dry so they could be folded and put away and those needing repairs could be separated and attended to when time permitted. Marie had an ironing board which she used instead of the table and from the fifties on, she had an electric iron which greatly helped the task of ironing.
Mending took different forms. Overalls and outer clothing often needed patching which Marguerite did on her treadle sewing machine. Seams were stitched, socks mended by hand and buttons replaced or re-sewn. Marguerite never liked sewing and whatever she did was limited to mending and as little of it as possible. During the depression, everything that was worn or torn was mended and used over and over again. Nothing was thrown out! If shirt collars and cuffs were threadbare they were removed, reversed and re-sewn; if towels and sheets developed holes in the center, they would be cut down the middle, both sides sewn together and new sides hemmed. Makeovers entailed the taking apart of a garment which was no longer usable, washing it and making it into another garment, for example, a woman’s coat was remade into a child’s coat or a man’s suit was re-fashioned into a woman’s suit. These were extremely labor-intensive projects.
Marie’s daughter, Fernande remembers how happy she was with such a coat made for her by her mother. Marie liked sewing, but with the amount of mending she had to do, time ran out. Today, the cost of ready-made and homemade clothing is quite comparable, hence, there is no incentive to sew. Brenda and Eva Marie, women of the third generation mend but less is needed since textiles are stronger and farm work, which is largely machine-driven, is not as hard on clothes as the manual work of former years. There are always garments that need adjustments but living at a time when torn knees and ragged edges on jeans are a teenager’s concept of ‘cool’, less mending is in order!
Many pioneer women made soap using lye and tallow (rendered fat). Later on borax and ammonia were added for a more effective product. Neither Marguerite nor Marie made soap regularly. The soap they used was commercially available laundry bar soap. Soap powders were introduced later and still more recently liquid laundry soap made its appearance. Introduced in the forties, detergents were a great boom in the removal of grease and oils.
Laundering in the third generation is much simplified. Today, doing a wash can be a daily activity as is the case with Eva Marie who does so in order to cope with the needs of a large family. Running water, electrical heaters and water softeners, all make it possible to have soft hot water on tap at the turn of a switch. Likewise, clothes can be dried in an hour or less. Eva Marie still hangs some items, such as sheets, towels, dishtowels etc, outside to dry because of a preference for the fresh air smell of clothes. Today, if any ironing is necessary, modern steam irons do the job in record time and with better textiles and various fabric finishes, washing and drying have been greatly simplified.
In Marguerite’s time, most clothing was ordered through T. Eaton’s catalogue. In the second generation, Marie purchased clothing from retail outlets in Melfort and ordered others. Eva Marie and Brenda occasionally order, now through Sears, but most clothing is purchased locally or from larger centers such as Saskatoon. The role of sewing clothes on the Kernaleguen farm has never been top priority in any of the three generations.
Scientific textile discoveries, improvements to farm homes and state of the art technology have totally revolutionized the farm woman’s task of caring for clothing. What was once a very exhausting, time-consuming role on the first and second generation farm, is now done with minimum output of time and energy.
Prevailing customs dictated that in Marguerite’s and much of Marie’s time, women and girls wore skirts. Anne Y. remembers wearing slacks under her dress to walk to the school bus in the fifties and sixties and removing them before she arrived at school. Anne P. has memories of attending university in the forties, having to wear skirts and stockings to walk half an hour in -30 degree temperature. The fabrics of the time were not particularly effective in cutting out the cold, nor were they designed into garments suitable for extreme temperatures. Fiber filled coats with hoods and zippers came into sportswear fashion in the 60’s and 70’s and greatly helped to withstand the cold. About that time, slacks for women made their appearance in fashion and soon slacks were accepted for women of all ages, and for all occasions. Thus, customs, as in the 40’s and 50’s, did impose hardships on people but fashion also did enable people to lead more comfortable lives as it did in the 70’s and on !
Starting with the first generation on the Kernaleguen Farm, there have always been milk cows, chickens and pigs. Thanks to these, even in dire poverty, miles from any stores, they provided an existence denied to many. Two themes were always true: ‘made from scratch’ and (except for salt), ‘no preservatives’
Until 1970, milk from the Kernaleguen Farm was separated, the cream was put in a cream can and lowered into the well until it was brought to town and shipped to the creamery in either Melfort or Humboldt. The skim milk was fed to the pigs and calves. As a child, I made sure the barn cats had a sip of it too. We were not supposed to give them whole milk but more often than not, I treated them to the best! With fresh milk morning and night, we always had milk to drink, milk to put on porridge, or for various dishes. As well, there was always fresh cream, plain or whipped that could be used with desserts. Marguerite believed that if you did not have cream every day, life was not worth living.
In the summer, we made cottage cheese. A pail of whole milk was kept in the kitchen until it was sour and very thick. It was then put in a cloth bag and hung outside for a day or so. All the whey would drain out leaving the curd or cottage cheese. It was sour to eat but eaten for dessert with sugar and cream, it was a delight, quite different from the commercial cottage cheese in the stores today.
Marguerite made various desserts using milk such as custard and rice pudding. She also made various sauces using milk, cream and eggs – one that she liked especially well (sauce aux oeufs), was made from cream, sugar and egg yolks.
Eggs were gathered several times during the day and cleaned when they were brought into the house, then stored downstairs in the egg crate ready for shipping. Marguerite would always count the eggs two by two as she transferred them from pail to crate. She counted out loud: two, four, six, eight, ten, etc… hence a counting lesson for her children who went to school more proficient at counting by twos than by ones ! There were always broken eggs and those were kept for cooking and baking. We had omelets, scrambled eggs or hard cooked eggs for suppers when there was no other protein available or when we had to use up broken eggs which could not be shipped and sold with the good ones. In the sixties and seventies the farm produced a great many eggs and at that time, eggs were candled every day before being put away.
The supply of fruit was definitely limited but fortunately in the early years, there was wild fruit in abundance: saskatoon berries, pin and choke cherries, high bush cranberries. Strawberries were plentiful and ready for picking the first week of summer holidays. Marguerite and her daughter, Anne P. went out to pick them after morning chores and came home at noon. We spent the afternoons canning our pickings in pint size jars and the same routine was repeated every day thereafter for a week or so. By the end of this time, the strawberry season was over and if we had 10 small jars, we felt it was a good crop. We kept the canned strawberries for very special occasions. Pin cherries and chokecherries were made into jelly but without pectin it had to be cooked for a long time and we never felt our efforts were very successful.
Another fruit we had was rhubarb and through the years, it contributed to many desserts or was eaten as stewed fruit with cream or as a relish. Stores had some fresh fruit but seldom was fresh fruit bought except at Christmas when we had a few mandarin oranges. If we bought any fruit it was apples. Raisins and prunes were usually on hand for baking.
Vegetables were part of our daily diet thanks to the usual large garden. We usually had potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips and onions that were stored in the basement; potatoes and carrots usually lasted until the new crop. Peas and beans were grown and after eating some fresh from the garden, the rest was canned but that was a time consuming job. Asides from shelling, peas had to be blanched and then processed three hours. There was always the danger of botulism but despite repeated warnings we never were affected by it. Tomatoes grew fairly well and here too, some were eaten fresh, the rest was canned as stewed tomatoes. Seldom did we make ketchup. Beets were eaten either as a vegetable or pickled, but coming from a French background, borsch was not in our vocabulary. Cabbage was eaten fresh as coleslaw, boiled and eaten with pork or cut finely and fried in butter. Occasionally we made sauerkraut but it was not one of our favorites. If we grew cauliflower, it was cooked fresh from the garden as a vegetable and served with a white sauce.
The difference in canning between the first and second generation was one of quantity. True, Marguerite fed a family of four, Marie a family of eight. Gardens were larger as there were more mouths to feed but it seemed as if there was an abundance of vegetables and fruits, mainly raspberries, strawberries and apples. Then with rural electrification, freezing was possible and it was so much simpler. While Marguerite would have, at most 16 quart size jars of peas, Marie might have 60 or more frozen units. It was likewise with the other vegetables and fruits. Raspberries were very plentiful, some were still canned, some frozen and others made into jam. Marie’s daughter recalls when her mother canned 100 quart jars of raspberries in one day. The quantity of produce in those years was incredible, and consequently, hardly any vegetables were purchased before the next crop. In the fall, Marie usually purchased a case each of peaches, pears, apricots, sometime cherries and plums. These were eaten fresh or canned for desserts at suppers.
In today’s generation, the amount of canning done has greatly decreased and much of the food preservation is by freezing hence quicker and more tasty. As a result of canning and freezing, it has been possible over the years to prepare balanced meals with vegetables every day and fruit as often as possible.
A part of every meal in the Kernaleguen Family Farm has always been desserts. Marguerite often made pies since there was lard for pastry, which she got by rendering pork fat. Marie was adept at making puddings, cakes as well as pies. Neither one experimented much with new recipes, but rather had their favorites. Eva Marie has her own recipes and makes beautiful desserts – rhubarb and peach pies etc. not to mention her specialty, cinnamon buns as well as vinarterta and krum kake from her Norwegian roots. Brenda has many cookie recipes which are her favorites, not to mention other recipes which she inherited from an English/Scotch tradition. With growing children, both Brenda and Eva Marie have a lot of practice baking and are highly proficient at it.
On the Kernaleguen Farm, when everyone was working hard, it was customary to stop at 10 o’clock in the morning and 4 o’clock in the afternoon for a cup of coffee and something nice to eat. That’s where cookies and left over desserts came into the picture.
Meat is the food item which presented most problems for preservation. First chicken was the simplest since it could be butchered when needed no matter what weather. In summer, a chicken would provide a meal with no preservation needed. But all other animals such as a beef would be butchered when weather was cold enough in the fall that the meat could be wrapped, frozen and stored in grain where it would be kept till used. If there was frozen meat left over when weather turned warm in spring, blocks of ice were obtained from Lake Lenore or Shannon Lake, put in sawdust and stored in a special ice house. The ice would stay frozen for quite some time and would keep foods frozen.
In the first and second generation, butchering was done on the farm and nearly every part of the animal was used. First, the hide was removed, salted and rolled and then sold for a few cents. A pig could be butchered in early spring and the meat, cut in meal size pieces, was stored in a crockery pot into which was poured a strong brine solution to preserve the meat. To eat salted pork, a piece was soaked in cold water for a day or so to remove the excess salt then it was put to boil in water and served with potatoes and vegetables, or eaten cold with bread. Salted pork was a basic food in the life of the pioneer but it quickly disappeared when refrigerators and freezers made their appearance. Salted pork was sometimes smoked as a means of preservation and for the taste.
Tripes was a dish prepared from the stomach of a ruminant animal, thus a beef animal. The stomach has four compartments each of which has a very particular function which determines its texture. The first, the rumen is muscular; the second, the reticulum looks like a honeycomb; the third, the omasum consists of muscular plates that look like pages of a book and the abomasum. To prepare tripes, cleaning the various parts of the stomach is a very long process especially if there is no water on pressure. Each part of the stomach is scrubbed with a brush and washed several times with clear water. Then they are brought to boiling point, removed from the heat and scrubbed again and washed until they are all thoroughly cleaned. The rumen and reticulum are easiest to clean; the omasum is very difficult as great care has to be taken to avoid tearing the fine membranes. Once thoroughly cleaned, the parts of the stomach are cut in small pieces and ready for cooking.
‘Tripes a la mode de Caen’ is a French recipe which originated in Caen, France. The tripes are boiled in water on low heat for three to four hours, with carrots, onions, a small amount of salted pork, pigs’ feet, salt, pepper, mixed spices. The cooked tripes were very gelatinous from boiling them with pigs’ feet. The fact that both Marguerite and Marie persevered in preparing them is proof that they were worth all the hard work. Undoubtedly one must develop a taste for them! Passing through Caen, France in the sixties, Marguerite and Anne P. sampled Tripes a la mode de Caen to see how ours compared. We both felt the ones we ate there, were much richer than ours and did not like them as well.
Head cheese was another dish which was prepared from a pig’s head. First, the head was cut in pieces and thoroughly cleaned. It was then cooked in water for several hours so that the meat fell off the bones. With the bones gone, the meat was chopped and mixed with salt and pepper. The mixture was then placed in a crockery bowl, topped with a plate on which a weight was placed to remove as much fat as possible. What excess fat came to the surface was taken off and used for cooking. Head cheese thus produced was much like the one in stores today. In the first two generations, it was made but after butchering was no longer done on the farm, the practice of making head cheese died out.
Liver pate is another dish prepared from hog liver and heart. It was ground, mixed with salt and pepper and then baked in bread pans lined with ‘omentum’, the net-like membrane which attaches the animal’s internal organs to body wall. Baking time was about three hours or more, in a slow oven. It was eaten cold with vegetables. This is a very nutritious food, the taste of which is quite different from the liver pate found in stores today. If not used in pate, liver was fried with onions. Chicken liver, heart and gizzard were ground with a few pieces of salted pork, onions, salt, pepper, stale bread and cooked as chicken dressing.
Andouilles are a sausage type food made from the intestines of pork. After the intestines were thoroughly washed, soaked and cleaned several times, salt and pepper and spices are added and they were slipped one in another to form a thick sausage. Cleaning them was easier than cleaning tripe as they did not need to be brushed or scrubbed as tripes. With water under pressure, they cleaned easily but the washing process had to be repeated many times over. Once they were all in one sausage, it was put in brine with the salted pork. Smoking was optional. Andouilles were boiled in water and served cold with bread.
Calf’s brain was considered a great delicacy and had to be eaten very fresh. The membrane surrounding a calf brain was removed and the brain washed in clear water several times, then it was boiled in water for a half hour or so and served with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. Somewhat like oysters, brain has a very distinct taste for which one has to acquire a liking. In the first generation, brain was eaten, but by the second generation, it was no longer available, probably because calves were seldom slaughtered.
Blood sausage was made from pork. The blood was cooked over a slow heat with onions, cracklings (the crisp residue left over after lard has been rendered), salt and pepper, and shredded cabbage as a filler. Putting this mixture into casings was rarely done, but rather, the mixture was put in jars and boiled for some time to seal the jars. Blood sausages, also called blood pudding or ‘boudin’ is available in meat markets today but the store variety is much heavier and denser than was the home made variety. It is a very nutritious food, eaten in very small amounts, usually with bread.
Beef tongue was prepared by first, cleaning it and boiling it for about three hours. When sufficiently cooked, the leather like covering is easily removed. Marguerite prepared tongue in a tomato sauce and served it with vegetables or it was eaten cold.
The better quality pieces of meat were usually prepared by either frying or roasting while the other pieces were often used for a one pot meal. Beef was put in a soup pot with potatoes, carrots, turnips and onions and boiled with water. And thus the novel idea of today – the ‘one pot meal’ really was introduced back in the twenties and thirties. Through the years, it provided a very complete meal with a minimum of effort in preparation.
Beef and poultry were sometimes canned, but processing them took five hours or so. It produced very delicious meat, not unlike the ones available in cans today.
Sausages, made by grinding meat by hand and putting it in casings was such a labor-intensive job that it was not often done. In the third generation, animals are taken to the abattoir in town, with instructions on how to cut and package the meat. Some meat may be made into sausages. Extra parts of animals not regularly kept are discarded at the abattoir and hence tripe, headcheese, andouilles and other specialties have not been prepared, on a regular basis, in the last forty to fifty years.
The Kernaleguen, in all three generations have enjoyed food and, thus food preparation and food preservation has always taken a great deal of energy and time. Food was considered somewhat sacred and consequently, at no time was good food thrown out and every effort was made to keep food spoilage at a minimum.
Wholesome, plain, produced at home, typified food in the Kernaleguen household through all the 1st generation and most of the second. Being self-sufficient, except for sugar, the rationing of food during WWII did not affect us to any extent. To overcome the shortage of sugar, Pierre Kernaleguen purchased a few hives of bees and for many years, food was sweetened with honey rather than sugar, keeping sugar for canning fruit. Even in the depths of the depression, we never went hungry. Small herds of cattle and flocks of chickens provided the bulk of the proteins and dairy products needed; large gardens supplied fruits and vegetables, nature provided wild berries and a woman’s ingenuity, know-how and energy put it all together to provide plain, tasty and nutritious meals.
Nothing pleased Marguerite more than spending a day doing outside work as she much preferred the outdoors to being inside the house. The outside jobs which were women’s roles included milking the cows, looking after chickens and collecting eggs, gardening and overseeing the supply of water and firewood. Later, on the 3rd generation farm, chauffeuring children to various activities was added as a women’s role and milking cows which previously was always a woman’s task became a man’s role. In general it can be said that women seldom did field work – a few exceptions was gathering roots and picking stones from the fields in the thirties and forties.
The Kernaleguen Family Farm was always a mixed farm with milk cows, chickens, pigs and grain and forage crops. That being the case, there were always milk cows. Until WWII, there was an average of about 6 to 8 cows to milk throughout the year. Until about 1959, milking was done by hand, the milk was carried by pails to the house where there was a machine to separate the cream. The cream was then cooled in a tub of cold water and lowered in a cream can down the well. Once a week, the cream can was sealed and brought to St. Brieux for shipping by train to the creamery in either Melfort or Humboldt. Cleaning the separator was a long tedious job that had to be done with great care in the morning while at night, the separator was thoroughly rinsed with much cold water. The skim milk was carried in pails to the barn and fed to calves and pigs.
In the summer, after milking, the cows were taken to the pasture and at 4 p.m., if a call urging them to come home, did not yield results, someone had to go and get them. This was usually the children’s job, but many times, Marguerite would come along too as she loved the nice walk it provided.
During the forties, the number of milk cows was increased to 20 thus giving Marguerite and Anne P, each 10 cows to milk, morning and night. Soon after, when Paul returned from University, he helped with the cows when there was no field work to do. Marie and Paul were married in 1947 and in the following years, Marguerite and Marie did the milking. It was done by hand until sometime after rural electrification in 1953 made milking machines possible. Soon after, Paul and Marie’s children were a great help. At first, the milking machines had to be moved from one cow to the next but all the milk had to be carried by pails to a refrigerated tank so the work was still very hard indeed. Soon after, a regular milk parlor was built where machines were stationary and cows came in to be milked. Gradually as the number of cows increased, the milk parlor was made larger and as of 1980 milk was sold whole and picked up every second day by a refrigerated tanker. At this point, the role of milking cows had been completely switched to being a man’s role. Today, all 4th generation girls and boys do chores, including milking before and after school.
In summary, women have been in charge of milking for about fifty years, Marguerite and Marie bearing the load for most of it. As well mention should be made of Anne P., Anne Y., Fernande, Guen and Anne Marie, the off springs of all generations who have helped in a very generous way. Today, Eva Marie and Brenda will help when there is a shortage of manpower but do not regularly help with that job.
Prior to the sixties and seventies, the farm had focused on milk cows but subsequently, it directed efforts at building a beef herd as well as in maintaining and expanding the dairy herd. By this time, Jean and Joseph were nearly through University and were showing an interest in the farm. While there is no milking involved with beef cattle, there are other jobs which call for all the manpower available to get 300 animals plus ready for provincial and community pastures in the spring. These jobs include branding, castrating, de-horning, inoculation, tagging and recording. Animals have to be rounded up, and each processed and gotten ready for transportation to the pasture for which it is destined. This work is really that of the whole family -men, women and children included. In twenty five years, Eva Marie claims to have worked at most jobs and is now in charge of recording all animals while Brenda helps with branding. Children are usually in charge of rounding up animals. If anyone cannot take part in this work, there is always food preparation for the group. Work with beef animals may take several weekends before being totally completed.
Gardening is another outside job, the major part of which was looked after by women. Throughout the years, there have been big gardens on the Kernaleguen Family Farm. In Marguerite’s time, all the work was done by hand. Pierre was also very interested in gardening and planted strawberries, raspberries and apples which yielded exceedingly well in the sixties, seventies and eighties. In Marie’s time, gardens were made larger as there were more people to feed and garden work was largely done by hand with the exception of some cultivating done by machine. In the 3rd generation, both Eva Marie and Brenda have a large garden with some of the work done with the small garden cultivators. Potatoes are at times planted in the field and thus worked with big machinery. Children take a part in doing garden work. Once the garden has been looked after, there is the job of doing something with the produce. In Marguerite’s time, some of it was eaten fresh out of the garden during the summer, peas and beans, tomatoes and sometimes beets were canned and the root vegetables stored in the basement which was always kept as cool as possible.
Caring for chickens has been, almost entirely, women’s role on the Kernaleguen Farm throughout the years. Marguerite had about 75 laying hens, Marie about 100 and at times more and Eva Marie about 25. In the first generation, the eggs were cleaned, crated and shipped to Melfort or Humboldt. In the second generation, many more eggs were produced. These were candled and shipped. Today, there are fewer eggs – some of which may be used locally or at home.
Caring for small chicks is also part of the work. In Marguerite’s time, hens hatched eggs and thus new chicks were produced. The pullets were kept for laying hens, some roosters were kept to replenish the flock, the others eaten as fryers or as roasters throughout the year. In the 2nd generation, Marie purchased the young chicks and thus had more control of the number in the flock the following year. Today, this practice continues.
Butchering chickens has been largely the work of women and children, but Pierre, who had had experience handling meat during the war, looked after butchering the chickens that were sold in Melfort in the thirties. At that time, dressed chickens were purchased at the creamery in Melfort a little before Christmas when the weather had turned cold. For a few days, Pierre and Marguerite spent all their time butchering and cleaning chickens, getting ready for the market and Paul and Anne P helped pluck the fine feathers upon their return from school. The day before the appointed day, they put all the dressed chickens in a wagon and Pierre and his son Paul, left for Melfort, 26 miles away. Being very meticulous in cleaning the chickens, Pierre was always first to sell his lot and thus was ready to come home but not before he had purchased a box of apples. That was our Christmas treat.
Butchering chickens in the 2nd and 3rd generations is done almost entirely by women. Chicken is cleaned, cut, packaged and frozen. Marguerite, Marie, Anne P., Anne Y. Fernande, Brenda, Eva Marie, Guen and Anne Marie have all helped with this work which is very strenuous but once done, the chickens are ready to freeze. Today, Eva Marie sets the day to butcher chickens sometime in the last week of summer holidays when children are around to lend a hand. At times, the farm has had turkeys but that has not been a general practice. The person doing the butchering has passed on from Marguerite to Marie and then more recently to Anne Y., Fernande, Brenda and Eva Marie.
Other chicken-related chores are keeping the laying nests and roosts clean, giving chickens feed and water and collecting eggs. Especially in hot weather, collecting the eggs several times in the day to get them in a cool place quickly is extremely important. As well, collecting eggs frequently, avoids broken eggs which soil the nests thus causing more work.
A daily job that was largely women’s and children’s role was bringing in firewood and kindling for the kitchen stove. In winter, firewood had to be brought in for the furnace as well. Sometimes, when there was a rainy spell, gathering wood was difficult as one had to be selective in locating dry wood. Today with electricity and natural gas, all the work with firewood for stoves and furnaces is a thing of the past.
Looking after water was a chore repeated several times during the day. The well pump had to be primed during the day and water pumped for the animals when they would come into the yard. In most cases, this had to be repeated several times during the day as the well did not have sufficient water for it to be done all at once. Well water had to be taken into the house several times during the day so that fresh water was always available. Rain water gathered in a barrel was brought in on wash day and in winter, snow was gathered and brought into the house to be melted and used for laundry. The work related to water was greatly simplified in the sixties and seventies as water was now pumped by electricity and houses were equipped with running water and water softeners – thus simplifying women’s role considerably.
Chauffeuring children here and there is a new role for women today. Due largely to sparser population in rural Saskatchewan, children involved in extracurricular activities such as sports, music, band, 4-H must travel great distances for instructions or competitions. The onus is on women to chauffeur them great distances. Inconceivable in the 1st generation, it has become a major role of today’s farm women.
Many other roles of women such as looking after children, cleaning and tidying the house, shopping, looking after sick members of the family, etc. . .were omitted in this discussion because they are not unique to farm women. Rural and urban women alike, through time, have fulfilled some of the same roles under different but equally challenging conditions. The roles discussed in this chapter were experienced on the Kernaleguen Family Farm between the years 1920-2005 and having lived through them, they could be seen in perspective.
Treats to Traditions
No matter how little we had, there were always home-made treats for Christmas, New Year, and other events. Living on the farm, the basic ingredients from which these were made: butter, milk, cream and eggs were always available. Marguerite’s signature treat was called Pate Brisee or Gateau Breton. It resembles shortbread in texture and is very crumbly, hence its name brisee. To Marguerite, the way to savor pate brisee was with a small glass of wine, which she substituted with a good cup of coffee. Pate brisee was a special occasion as opposed to an everyday treat.
1 egg + 5 yolks
3 c. flour,
1 c. sugar
1 c. butter
1-2 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. salt
1 yolk + 1 tsp. water (glaze)
Put in bowl in order given. Mix with hands until dough leaves sides of bowl clean. Press in pan, glaze surface with mixture of one egg yolk and 1 tsp. water; striate surface with fork tines. Bake 2 hours at 250 degrees F. until golden brown. Cake is done when a knife blade inserted in it comes out dry. Cool.
Nothing was ever thrown out so when there were broken eggs, Marguerite made a custard-like cake which she called Far for which, according to a Breton cookbook, there is not one recipe but one hundred, not one spelling but many. The ingredients are milk. eggs, flour, sugar and depending on taste, one could add raisins, prunes or finely sliced apples. Marguerite usually added prunes, hence Far aux Pruneaux. The reason for far being made around lent time remains unknown. It was always an everyday family treat as opposed to a “guest” treat.
½ c sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 c. flour
2 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. cream (optional)
¼ c. butter
Beat eggs with sugar, salt, and flour, a small amount at a time. Let mixture sit for some time. Add cold milk and vanilla gradually. You may add 1 tbsp. of cream to the mixture. Heat oven to 350 degrees, F. Melt butter in baking pan in the oven. When butter is hot, but not browned, pour mixture in it. With a fork, mix the butter that comes to the surface. You may add a layer of prunes. Bake approximately 30 minutes depending on thickness.
Whatever butter could be salvaged from buttermilk, Marguerite made into Muffins or Brioches. These treats, plain, and tasty are remembered by children of the second and third generations as a lunch box treat or as an after-school snack. Marguerite did not have a written recipe therefore the one which follows is from memory and may need adjusting .
Brioche au beurre:
½ c.+ butter
½ c. sugar
½ c. whole milk
1 c.+ flour
1 tsp. + baking powder
¼ t. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
Bake in buttered muffin tin, 350 deg. F. for about 20 minutes.
Marie had many special treats, some of them carried over from Marguerite, others were her own. She made Pate Brisee as Marguerite did; the Far aux Pruneaux, one of her favorites, was always prized by her family. But, according to young and old alike, her rice pudding has stood the test of time as the best.
1 c. rice
½ tsp. salt
2 ½ c. whole milk
5 ½ c. whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. sugar
In double boiler, cook rice, salt and 2 ½ c. milk for 15 minutes. Add sugar, 5 ½ c. milk and cook until it thickens, but is not firm. Add vanilla when cool.
Marie made the following dumpling recipe and used whatever fruit was in season, apples in the fall, raspberries in the summer and frozen fruit in the winter. Accordingly, these dumplings were always delicious.
For the syrup:
2 c. sugar
2 c. water
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ c. butter
For the pastry:
2 c. flour
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
¾ c. shortening
½ c. milk
Make syrup of water, sugar, cinnamon . Add butter. Pare and core apples. Cut in eighths. Sift flour, salt and baking powder, cut in shortening. Add milk all at once and stir until moistened. Roll ¼ inch thick; cut in five inch squares. Arrange pieces of apple on each square. Sprinkle generously with additional sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, dot with butter. Fold corners to center, pinch edges together. Place one inch apart in greased baking pan. Pour over syrup. Bake in moderate oven, 375 degrees, 35 minutes. Serve hot with ice cream. Makes six dumplings.
Marguerite and Marie made a custard sauce, called Sauce aux Oeufs. Marguerite served it over rice pudding while Marie, served it with sponge cake, apricot and ice cream. Since neither one owned a double boiler, making it was difficult as it tended to curdle when made in an ordinary saucepan. It was totally out of this world and a very special occasion treat.
Sauce aux Oeufs:
2 c. cream
6 egg yolks
½ c. sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp. vanilla
Heat 1 ½ c. cream in double boiler. Beat egg yolks in a deep bowl. Add salt, sugar and remaining ½ c. cream to the beaten egg. Pour slowly into hot cream in double boiler, stirring constantly until thickened and coats a metal spoon. Remove from heat. Add vanilla when just warm. Rum may be substituted as flavoring for vanilla.
Eva Marie has introduced the family to Vinarterta, a tradition she inherited from her Norwegian background. She makes it a month before Christmas so that it has time to ripen before the holiday season. This is as regular to Christmas as a visit from Santa Claus himself. The plain white cake, flavoured with almond extract and crushed cardamon seeds is baked in five different round pans and put together with a prune filling seasoned with cinnamon and vanilla.
1 c. butter
1 ½ c. sugar
2-3 tbsp. cream
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. crushed cardamon seeds
1 tsp. baking powder
Divide dough into 5 equal parts and pat each into a floured 9” round baking pan and bake only until edges turn a tint of gold, at 350 degrees F., about 15 minutes
Filling for Vinarterta:
1 lb. prunes
¾ c. sugar
½ c prune juice
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. vanilla
Soak prunes overnight and boil in the same water until tender. Remove stones and put through food chopper. Add sugar, ½ c prune water and cinnamon. Cook until thick. Add vanilla. When cool spread between layers of cake. Wrap cake in foil and store in a cool place for a few weeks before serving.
Eva Marie is also well known for her cinnamon buns. Her family considers them extra special, one bite of which suffices to develop an addiction.
Eva Marie’s Cinnamon Buns:
Step 1 – Bread: Dissolve 1 tsp. sugar in 1c. lukewarm water and sprinkle on 1 tbsp. traditional yeast. Let stand 10 minutes. While yeast rises, put 12 c. flour in large bowl and make a well. Into well, add: 4 ½ tbsp. sugar, 2 ½ c. cold water 5 tsp. salt ½ to 2/3 c. vegetable oil, 2 tbsp. vinegar (prevents crust from cracking), add 2c hot water and mix just before adding yeast. Mixture should be lukewarm. Stir yeast into liquid & gradually mix in flour from bottom and sides. When mixture is too stiff to stir, grease hands and knead dough 8-10 min. If dough is too sticky, gradually add more flour. After kneading, grease sides, bottom & lid of bowl & let rise until double. Punch down & let rise again. At this point, dough is ready to be made into cinnamon buns
Step 2 – Cinnamon Buns: Take some dough and pat it out on a greased board to form a rectangle about 12” wide, 24” long and ¼”thick. Butter the dough, spread brown sugar and sprinkle cinnamon. Roll up as jelly roll, seal the edges. Cut into pieces about 1” thick. Place cut side down in a greased pan next to each other allowing them room to rise. Glaze the buns in the pan with a mixture of cream and brown sugar. Let them rise another time. Bake 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove from oven , turn out immediately unto cookie sheet and scrape remaining sauce and spread it on buns. Enjoy!
Since it was not usual in the Kernaleguen family to make candy, Brenda, provided the missing link in our recipes with the following which is always special.
Brenda’s Creamy Toffee:
2 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. butter
4 tbsp. corn syrup
1 can Eagle Brand milk OR 1 c. cream
Mix together. Stir constantly while boiling till dark and thick and will form a hard ball when dropped in cold water. Pour into buttered pan (add nuts if desired).
Coming from an English/Welsh/Scotch background, Brenda has many recipes which are typical of that tradition. Following is a favorite recipe for scones she inherited from her mother, and one which is a refreshing break from the French cuisine.
½ c. sugar
3 c. sifted all purpose flour
4 tsp. baking pdr.
½ tsp. salt
¼ c. shortening
1c. light raisins
1 large egg beaten
Cut shortening into first four ingredients, add fruit, then stir in beaten egg and milk. Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead 10 times only. Roll out to ½” or ¾” thickness. With sharp floured knife, cut into squares.
Top with 1 tbsp. sugar and 1 tbsp. milk OR egg yolk and 1 tbsp water
Bake at 400 degrees F. for 10 minutes.
In the fifties, sixties and seventies, it was customary for Marguerite and Marie to make a dark Christmas cake. Gradually through the years, Anne Y. made it a practice of baking a light fruit cake (same recipe for a period of 25 years) and to giving each household a piece. As a result, she has become known for her valuable contribution to the establishment of this special treats traditions.
Anne Y’s Light Fruit Cake:
6 c. flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ c. shortening
3 c. sugar
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 ½ c. butter
1 1/3 c. orange juice
900 g. candied cherries
680 g. candied pineapple
226 g. candied orange peel
454 g. blanched whole almonds
850 g. golden raisins
226 g. candied citron
1 ½ c flaked coconut
454 g pecan halves
Heat oven to 275 degrees. Line loaf pans 9x5x3, with aluminum foil and grease. Mix all ingredients except fruits and nuts in large mixer bowl on low speed, scraping bowl constantly, for 30 seconds. Beat on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally, 3 minutes. Mix batter into fruit and nut mixture. Spread in pans. Bake until toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, 2 ½ to 3 hours. If necessary, cover with foil during the last hour of baking to prevent excessive browning. Remove from pans. Cool. Wrap in plastic or foil and store in refrigerator 3-4 weeks or freeze. For richer flavor, pour wine or brandy over cakes or wrap in wine-soaked cloths, then wrap in plastic or foil.
In the Kernaleguen family, it has been the tradition to celebrate all birthdays with a cake and very often, the cake was either an angel food or a sponge cake Since eggs were always available. Marie, adept at making angel food cakes from scratch, seldom if ever bought an angel food cake mix. Birthday cakes have also been a plain white cake with a variety of icings. Both Marie and Marguerite made the Gateau aux trois Maisons for special occasions and it has remained a favorite over the years. Fernande, who has developed quite a name for her culinary successes, often makes this cake when she wants to have a special treat and in so doing, promotes the tradition a step further.
Fernande’s Gateau aux Trois Maisons :
2 ½ c. sugar
1 c. butter
1 c. milk
2 ½ c flour
2 tsp. baking powder
Mix well all ingredients and divide batter into three equal parts:
Add ½ c. raisins,
½ c currants,
1 ¼ tsp. nutmeg or cinnamon
Add 1 tbsp. grated chocolate ,
1 tsp. vanilla
Part III: Add 1 tsp. lemon extract
Bake in three pans at 350 degrees until done. Cooled cakes are assembled with a butter icing between the layers and on top. Cake may also be baked in a high pan, much like a marble cake, in which case baking time needs to be extended.
Through the years when pate brisee was made, one always looked for a way of using left over egg whites. Macaroons have been the answer since they are easy and quick to make, they freeze well, are light and to everyone’s liking.
Anne P. Never Fail Macaroons;
Whites of 3 large eggs or 4 pullet eggs ( app. ½ c.)
1 c. sugar
1 tbsp. corn starch,
1 ½ tsp. vanilla,
2 to 2 ½ c. (200-250g) sweetened fancy coconut
Make sure egg whites are at room temperature. In top of double boiler, put egg whites and sugar. Beat at high speed for 7 minutes or until mixture is firm and peaks hold their shape. Sometimes, they have to be beaten more than 7 minutes. Remove from heat, add cornstarch, vanilla and coconut. Mix lightly so mixture is uniform. Butter or pam may be used to grease the cookie sheet on which the mixture is dropped by teaspoons. Since macaroons do not spread, so they can be put close together and the whole recipe may be baked at one time. Bake in slow oven – 300 degrees for about ½ hour or longer at lower temperature. Macaroons are done when lightly brown. Makes about 3 ½ to 4 dozens.
Special treats over the 85 years since Pierre and Marguerite Kernaleguen landed on Canadian soil have contributed to the development and maintenance of family traditions thereby reinforcing family ties. Traditions brought in from other families have enriched our own and together, they are the glue that binds the generations across time. The production of special treats has always been one of the more pleasant roles of women. Indeed women’s work has never been done until special treats were prepared and proudly served to family and guests to the enjoyment of all.