I am Dolores Isom Olds. I was born in 1929 and grew up in Hurricane, Utah. My parents were Eugenia Walker McAllister and Thomas Irving Isom. My Dad was a farmer and mainly grew fruit trees. He and his three brothers each had an orchard. Uncle Leslie and Uncle Bernard grew apples and pears. Uncle Orville and Dad grew apricots and peaches for packing and shipping for the Muir or Mear? fruit packing company. Dad let me drive the tractor when he sprayed the trees. I spent summers packing fruit for shipping.
They had to pick the fruit early so it would ship well. Dad always saved one peach tree and one apricot tree for Mom’s use. That was the best fruit because they could wait to pick until the fruit was perfectly ripe. If you haven’t eaten a warm peach right from the tree you don’t know what you’re missing.
Hurricane is in southern Utah, also called Utah’s Dixie, not too far from Zion National Park, so it was a warmer, dryer climate than northern Utah. It didn’t often snow, but one winter there was a big snowfall and Dad hitched the horses to Grandpa Isom’s old sleigh and took all the cousins for a sleigh ride.
In that climate fruit grew very well. But there were years when a late freeze would spoil the fruit blossoms, even though smudge pots were used to try to keep the air warm in the orchards at night. That was a big worry for fruit farmers. Those years there wasn’t any fruit to sell, so Dad had to rely more on his alfalfa crop for income.
There wasn’t much rainfall so we relied on irrigation ditches. My Grandpa had helped dig the Hurricane canal in the late 1800s which supplied irrigation water from the Virgin River. Each farmer had rights to the water on a schedule. Sometimes Dad’s turn was in the middle of the night and he would go out to open the gates for his turn. There were occcasional arguments when someone took a longer turn and deprived another farmer of his fair share of the water.
The orchards were in the South Field and the road to it was lined with almond trees. The nuts were allowed to drop and people could gather what they wanted. Pomegranates grew well too. We made a local dish called Dixie Salad which contains only local produce. Back then everyone ate locally produced foods. It’s a little like a Waldorf Salad, but with apples, pomegranate seeds, pecans, raisins and whipped cream. This is still our family’s Thanksgiving tradition.
We also had a garden near our home which Mom tended. She grew tomatoes, peppers and onions to make chili sauce. We put chili sauce on everything. It was chunky like the salsa people use now. We didn’t use tomato cages to contain the vines back then. We grew beets and cooked and ate the young greens with butter, salt and pepper. We always had yellow crook neck summer squash, which just tastes better than straight neck. We grew chard, cucumbers for pickles, and sweet corn. We ate mostly whichever vegetables were in season all summer long and had pickled beets and cucumbers with Sunday dinner, a tradition my own children still enjoy. These weren’t the same as pickles that were heated and preserved in mason jars though we also made those. Just sliced cucumbers in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, water, salt and pepper and marinated overnight. We grew and dried pinto beans and often made bean and ham hock soup. You can still buy a meaty ham hock at the Honey Baked Ham store and it makes delicious soup.
Mom also grew hollyhocks, irises and tulips. As children we made hollyhock dolls by attaching a bud head to a frilly flower dress with a toothpick. My grandchildren still make those. My mother-in-law Gladys Olds was known for her large garden of glorious gladiolas. Those are the tall colorful flowers you often see in funeral flower displays.
During World War II we had food and fuel rationing like the rest of the country. But it wasn’t too bad because everyone in Hurricane had a big garden and canned fruit, beets, pickles and tomatoes for winter. I don’t know why we call it canning. We always used mason jars. We bottled tomatoes, beets and grape juice, still a family favorite for Sunday dinner. Dad slaughtered a cow and hung it on the north side of the house and would cut off a piece for dinner. We also had a few sheep.
During the war, my sister Opal had a boyfriend in the service. We would pick jujubes, which are a fruit like dates, and dry them, then ship a coffee can full of jujubes to him.
My Grandpa kept milk cows and Dad would walk down to milk in the evening. Grandpa had a grape arbor too, with red seedless grapes, so Dad would bring back a couple of big bunches of grapes with the milk and we’d eat a bowl of homemade bread, milk and grapes for supper. Sometimes we had bread and butter and green onion sandwiches.
As a girl I picked strawberries for ten cents a lug. I also got to “tromp” hay. Hay was cut and let dry, then tossed into a wagon and we’d tromp it down so more would fit, making for fewer trips to the barns.
When I married Kent Olds, we lived in Fillmore, Utah and had a few chickens and fruit trees. We later moved to Salt Lake City and always had fruit trees and a small garden. One year when the kids were older and not using the back yard to play I planted a bunch of dwarf fruit trees so I could have all the varieties of fruit I wanted. It was like a jungle of shoulder high fruit trees! Eventually we cut them down and left one standard apricot tree. We pick loads of apricots most years and make delicious frozen jam and fresh apricot cobbler.
Salt Lake is a great city for gardening, even though it is a dry climate. The new gardens at Thanksgiving Point are beautiful, but the primary influence is the beautiful garden tended by volunteers at Temple Square. There’s a book called Temple Square Gardening that shows a certain style and color palette that is admired and reproduced in home flower gardens all over Utah. Also, the Mormon influence is seen in vegetable gardens. Latter Day Saints are encouraged to be self sufficient and to grow vegetable gardens, so even tiny yards have tomatoes and peppers tucked into the flower beds.
There’s a Salt Lake style in the older neighborhoods here: with tiny old bungalows with huge front windows and colorful flower gardens. Lots of people in Salt Lake have flower gardens lined in poured concrete edging to keep the weeds out and filled with masses of color. I haven’t seen that elsewhere. I have flowers all over my yard, but never really planned it. If I saw a flower I liked I’d buy one and plant it wherever there was an empty space. People gave me plants and I picked seeds of flowers I liked. I probably have hundreds of plants in my tiny yard.
The mountains and canyons close by are full of aspens and evergreens and many gardeners here use those in their landscaping too. A young man my daughter was dating once gave me an aspen tree and planted it in my front yard, but the roots sent up runners all over the lawn so I finally removed it. I always have thriving plants in my house too.
My love for gardening has influenced two generations so far, with three daughters and many granddaughters involved in gardening, one professionally and one as a side job. One daughter grows masses of rudbeckias (which I can never remember the name of and call rutabagas). All grow vegetables and flowers. We find great satisfaction in planting, weeding and picking from our gardens and enjoying all of creation.