There is nothing like a self-made man, or woman, we might add.
If you were a pioneer, then you were pretty much “self-made.”
As we wrote last week, the pioneers made everything they needed to survive on the American frontier — from their log home to the food they ate, the clothes they wore, the tools they needed, their bed and the quilts upon it!
The pioneer woman planted the corn crop right alongside her husband and then tended to the vegetable garden and the medicinal garden.
What most people today call an herb garden was really a garden the housewife kept to not just season her cooking, but to remedy any ailment that came along! If your system was stopped up or just the opposite, Mother could grab the right herb from her garden and make a tea to take care of it!
Of the pioneer woman it was said, “A good man works from dawn to setting sun, but a woman’s work is never done.”
After preparing three meals a day, cleaning house, washing clothes and doing the dishes, she had to also make time to spin cotton or wool, weave cloth on a wooden loom, and cut and make clothes.
And this was in addition to keeping up with the children and the chickens. The feathered fowl’s upkeep usually fell to the housewife.
When crops were gathered, it was the woman who put them up for the winter.
The pioneer woman didn’t have Mason jars to can her vegetables; instead she had to dry them and store them.
As we have mentioned, the farmer’s wife grew gourds for a reason and it wasn’t to decorate her home for the holidays. She grew gourds to make containers for everything from lard to dried beans.
But ever resourceful, the pioneer woman also knew how to make baskets!
One skill we have not written about, but plan to do so in the future, is that the pioneer knew what trees in the forest were good for this or that.
For example, certain trees were better suited to the logs of the cabin, others for making fine furniture and others for making tools or tool handles. Some trees were only good for burning in the fireplace for a good warm fire.
But the white oak tree had a special place in the pioneer’s life.
You can make baskets or chair bottoms with white oak wood!
White oak wood in unique in that it can be split into thin slices. The slices of wood can then be split into different widths and used to make baskets.
Wide strips can be used to make heavy-duty baskets for storage or laundry and narrow strips can be used for smaller baskets.
Many pioneer women gathered eggs in her “egg basket” — a basket especially designed to hold the eggs so that they didn’t roll around and break. Even today, antique egg baskets adorn many kitchen shelves as a reminder of the past.
Women in the late 1700s and early 1800s would have their men cut the white oak tree, split the wood and work it into strips. Then when she had a few minutes of free time she would sit down and work the strips into the basket she needed, using nothing more than a small paring knife to make the cuts and notches she needed.
The woman of the house had learned the skill from her mother and so it was passed down from generation to generation.
Today you can go to the Joe L. Evins Appalachian Center for Arts and Crafts in nearby Smithville, between here and Cookeville, and take a class in basket making and pretend for a few hours that you are a pioneer. You would then display your finished basket prominently in the center of the kitchen table for all to see and fill it with artificial fruit.
But to the pioneer woman — or man, as men could be as proficient at basket making as the fairer sex — making a basket was just another chore.
While she no doubt took pride in a well-made basket to hold her knitting or the scraps of clothing for the next patchwork quilt, it was a mark of self-sufficiency. It was part of living on the frontier and would last until the invention of cheap plastic in neon colors with snap-on lids.