On Rendering Lard. (Thanks, Nancy.)

posted in: Day In The Life 13
An atlas of Missouri drawn in 1871 by R.A. Campbell. This was the best I could do; not a lot of pictures taken of farm gals like Nancy, which is very sad, no? Image: Wikipedia.
An atlas of Missouri drawn in 1871 by R.A. Campbell. This was the best I could do; not a lot of pictures taken of farm gals like Nancy, which is very sad, no? Image: Wikipedia.


I’ve been a little maudlin lately and you’ve all been very kind about it.

My impulse is to apologize for getting boo-hooey, wingeing on about being sick, being vague, and feeling overwhelmed. But I’m one of those people who tends to apologize when someone else bumps directly into me and I’ve been told that’s bad. (Sorry.) So I won’t apologize for being in a bit of a blue, sentimental place lately. I’ll just tell you that I very, very much appreciate you patting my arm and waiting for it to pass (thanks for all the comments and emails, guys, holy cow) and I’ll tell you that I’m pretty sure this particular mini-Blue Period is done.

I owe it all to Nancy Holman.

I’m researching Log Cabin quilts right now for an Exciting Project and I would like to share with you something that I read this morning that popped me out of my funk on contact. It is a passage taken from the “work diary” of this Mrs. Holman, a Missouri homesteader in the 1860s and 1870s. At one point, she describes her chores in full. These are her chores:

“Shearing sheep and washing the wool; twisting thread; making and dyeing yarn; spinning flax and tow; weaving cloth; planting and tending the garden and preserving its produce; rendering lard and making soap and candles; watering and milking the cows; slaughtering the hogs; picking cotton; sewing carpet rags; making baskets and brooms; and, of course, maintaining the routine of cleaning and scouring floors and furniture, as well as washing, ironing, cooking, and sewing.”

If you’re like me, right now your eyes are very big and you are feeling a mixture of deep horror and wild admiration. You may be shaking your head and thinking to yourself, “None of the problems that I have would exist if I had to work that hard doing all those things every single day.”

I’m with you. Who has time to worry if her jeans look cute if she’s got a hog to slaughter and a broom to make? Penpals and stubborn head colds? Please! Get to rendering that lard and spin some flax. Get over it!

In our ways, of course, we are all as busy as Nancy. I’m serious! We’re as busy as any humans ever have been, but there’s no arguing that things we’re busy with are slightly different now and require less literal blood and sweat. We may feel this or that type of way about the things we have to do in our lives that aren’t 100% fun — those feeling are valid — but I for one am very, very grateful that I do not have to make my own soap. Some people would argue that I might find deep happiness, making my own soap. They can go ahead and argue that. I wonder if they have ever smelt lard as it renders. I have. It is not good.

Anyway, thanks, Nancy. I needed to get out of my head and you did that for me.

And she still found time to quilt.


13 Responses

  1. Jan Hill
    | Reply

    This is a great reminder to get out of my own head too. Wow. Then to make anything it took time to get to the point of the actual creating. We now can buy what we need..and get right to it. Just a big woe..and thank you mary fons.

  2. Anita Brayton
    | Reply

    In my Mom’s kitchen, that rendered lard made the best pie crust ever. Ruined me for modern substitutes. Growing up in an environment similar to Mrs. Holman, I feel guilty if I am not busy every waking minute. What’s up with that?

  3. Mary M
    | Reply

    Mr Roy of the Pilgrim/Roy Collection has quoted one of the most memorable thoughts, from an early pioneer woman: “I make quilts as fast as I can so that my children won’t freeze, and as beautiful as I can, so that my heart won’t break”. After seeing Mary’s post today, this quote has even more meaning. Thank you, Mary Fons.

  4. Jeanann
    | Reply

    Thank you for listing the chores of pioneer women. It makes my obligations seem so frivolous. [I’ve never smelled lard being rendered.]

  5. George
    | Reply

    The funny thing is I do a few of those things as hobbies. I’m learning to spin. Back then you needed to spin to make yarn to stay warm.!

  6. Linda
    | Reply

    I grew up very similar to Nancy Holman’s way of life. We did not make brooms or pick cotton .We did the other things and made our own butter and cottage cheese and oh the pies made with lard. I am thankful for my computer and IPad, my new sewing machine and cool kitchen gadgets. My generation will be the last to have lived both life styles and I think in a way some very important ways of life will be lost. There is something to be said for figuring things out on your own without google. There is a peace in writing letters (in cursive) and receiving letters. A quiet world is nice, Always moving forward is human nature, although its important to now and then say thank you to Nancy Holman and all those like her who had the strength and fortitude to pave the way.

  7. Christina Lee
    | Reply

    So glad to read your mini- blue period is done. No more tears on your beautiful quilts now, please.
    I hope to see you back to your happy self, giving us some more updates about you know who 😉 and the day in the life of Mary Fons.

  8. Carla Gutman
    | Reply

    Well Mary I met a modern day Nancy over the weekend. She was in my Bag a Month Class at my local quilt shop. She is a young married gal with 5 kids; the youngest being 3 years old twins. She makes all her twin girls clothes. She used cloth diapers when they were small. She is a pattern tester for many different companies (both quilts and purses). Last Christmas she made 6 quilts for her nieces and nephews ranging in size from lap to queen (she started them in August and finished them Christmas Eve). She also has an Etsy shop selling childrens clothes and she works full time at a Musical Theater Company as a performer. Fun fact: she was singing to herself when she was pressing the bag pieces.

  9. Denise Braybrooke
    | Reply

    As a soap maker, I’m very thankful for the meat market who supplies my case of 1lb bundles of lard. I feel lazy as I read over that list of chores!!

  10. Beverly Letsche
    | Reply

    The killer is that “his”torians will tell you that men were the breadwinners in that period. Obviously women contributed to the household every bit as much. Glad the funk is getting over. Are you enjoying the essays? Hope you are getting lots of them.

  11. Barbara
    | Reply

    Mary, aren’t we all standing on the shoulders of women like Nancy Holman and even our mothers?

    Happy to read you are smiling once again – love seeing those dimples!!

    Log Cabins are my absolute favorite – waiting to hear!

  12. Sally Groff
    | Reply

    I remember my grandmother making lard soap. She used it to wash the clothes. I’m so thankful I don’t need to do all those things that Mrs. Holman did. There’s no way my health would allow for that. I’m glad you’re out of your funk. One of these days I’ll get out of mine. The death of my 30 year old daughter hit me very hard.

  13. Susan Webb
    | Reply

    Rendering lard? For pies maybe not. I’ll buy leaf lard on Amazon, thank you very much as I live in a rural area and still can’t find a source for lard for my pie crusts. At 6, my family visited cousins in rural backwater Montana. All chores were shared; I was helping to churn butter in a glass butter churning jar. I was awestruck. People made their own butter? This was a hard working Montana family on their farm, doing what they knew and loved. I’m thankful to buy good butter, even as the price nears $5.00/lb. Making quilts is a wonderful thread thru generations that need to be honored for their hard work. Thanks for shedding some light on them.

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