When I stand at my sink and my back hurts from doing everyday kitchen chores, I often wonder, how did our mothers do it?

To bake a cake, the hardest thing I have to do nowadays is to open the box of cake mix. No sifting is necessary. When it was flour made from our own wheat ground at the mill, even multiple siftings were done to lighten the texture and catch any particles of husk, or mouse droppings, that might be hidden.

I don’t have to milk the cows, skim the cream, churn the butter, or soften the measure need as shortening for the batter. Just pour some oil from a plastic bottle.

I don’t have to feed the chickens and gather the eggs. Neither do I separate the yolks from the whites, beat them separately, and fold in the whites last to ensure highest-rising layers.

Water to moisten the batter comes from a flick of the faucet, not poured from a dipper floated in the water bucket that was filled by cranking the cistern handle outside the back door--or carried from the spring if there had been little rain and the cistern was dry.

The leavening agent, salt and sugar without lumps, and flavoring are all blended in correct proportions in the mix.
In our mothers’ day, a flat wire whisk was deemed best for beating the egg whites; it incorporated more air into the whites that were folded in last, as we said. A hand-held rotary beater mixed the yolks, and a wooden spoon stirred all ingredients together by arm power; no electric mixer.

Throughout the mixing process, our mothers were checking and managing the fire in the wood range. Sticks of stove wood from the pile out back were carefully selected for their nature to burn slowly and evenly. A steady heat from a bed of coals was needed for best baking, not flare-ups from adding more wood.

Proper oven temperature was ascertained by opening the oven door slightly and sticking the back of the hand in to feel the level of heat. When just right, learned from experience, the pans were slipped in.

Then there was cleanup of the mixing utensils in a dishpan with water heated in the teakettle on the stove. A cake of homemade lye soap was rubbed on the dishrag to cut the grease and sticky stuff. No time could be wasted, as the cake had to be frosted and other foods prepared for the next meal, coming up soon.

How DID they do it all?