Doris Porter, 1950’s Farm Wife
This article is first in a series on women in agriculture, whether at a farm, desk, or both. The articles are in celebration of the Department of Agriculture, Markets, & Food’s Centenary year, 2013-2014
When Doris married Clifton Porter in 1946, the couple’s dream was to own their own farm. After renting Gile Farm for about a year, the couple bought the farm, renamed it Cottage Hill Farm, and lived “in the hills behind Lebanon’s Riverside Restaurant where everything was uphill” for 35 years.
Trusting that “if I don’t know how, they won’t ask me,”Doris resolved never to learn how to use the milking machine. Instead, she chose to name and nurse the calves, care for the chicks that were often found in a cardboard box behind the coal-burning stove, and bottle feed the occasional orphaned lamb.
As she had been raised, Doris followed the growing seasons by making her farm as self sufficient as possible. In the spring, after caring for her calves, she dug the dandelion greens in the pastures, washed them, and then at her insistence, Clifton plowed the garden with the horses so as not to compact the soil.
The total size of the garden was about a quarter of an acre including the potato patch. Peas were the first to be planted, then came string beans, carrots, peppers, pole beans, sweet corn, broccoli, and cabbage. For tomato plants, before transplanting, she put little forkfuls of the farm’s manure in the base of each hole. Without access to running water and hoses, Doris carried water buckets up the farm hill each day. She cared for her plants as she did her animals.
When the wild strawberries ripened in the cow pastures, she spent hours with with her sons John and Norman sorting berries around the kitchen table. Some were best for preserves, others more suitable for freezing for winter pies and shortcakes. Come blueberry season, she pulled the milk pails down from the barn racks, packed a picnic lunch for the family and headed to the old blueberry patch at the Colby Farm in Enfield. Everyone picked until each had filled at least two buckets. Then came the blackberries around the hen house and elderberries behind the shed to be turned into jam for toast and rolls during the winter.
As the vegetables ripened, Doris canned quarts of some and froze others. “At first,” says Norman, “the family rented locker space downtown until we got large, chest-type freezers.” During the pickling season there was always something simmering or brewing and the kitchen smelled of spices and vinegar brought up from the cider barrels in the basement. Also below ground were potatoes stored in a long shallow bin in the dirt floor cellar, layers of carrots and beets in sawdust while cabbages were hung with their leaves still on.
During the summer months when the schools were closed, Doris had extra milk to use and, says son John, “She brought out her big enamel kettle from the closet and heated the left-over milk until it coagulated, then strained off the whey, and dried out the curd. There was nothing better than Mom’s warm, fresh cottage cheese with salt and pepper.” Doris’s second son Norman preferred the tapioca puddings and custards.
Doris reveled in preparing the food she had grown. The kitchen was her domain, “she was almost territorial about it,” says Norman. “There were always three meals a day served at the dining room table with everyone present, plus “lunch” at 4:30 PM just before the evening milking.” The meals were substantial, consisting of meat, potatoes, and two or three vegetables. “Her trusty gas stove with four burners, divided by a wide middle area over the oven, lasted for the 35 years that they lived in the farmhouse,” says John.
Today, what is most valuable to sons John and Norman is Doris’s diary. She recorded such things as the boys’ goings on, the weather and temperature, crops planted and when, and other key farm events. The family often referenced it to verify when a calf had been born, a piece of equipment replaced, or where a pipe was buried. In the winter it was common to see an entry that read, “It was cold, windy, and snowing, and Clifton had to put chains on the pick-up tires to take the milk to market.”
Devoted to her life on the farm, Doris believed that, “There was no place better than Hardy Hill.” After her sons left in the 1970s, she continued to grow vegetables and bake for the Meriden Grange, Lebanon Garden Club and Suburban Club and she fulfilled a dream with the publication of her book Favorite Recipes from Cottage Hill Farm, which can still be found and used in kitchens throughout the Upper Valley of New Hampshire today.
Sources: John & Norman Porter
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