Christmas at the Stafford House

Judy:   “Christmas Day in those days, as now, was a joyous occasion, but we knew that there would not be many presents because our parents couldn’t afford them, but there were second-hand sleighs or toboggans, and gifts that were hand-made or hand-sewn.” 

Roger: ” I remember waking up and being able to see our breath Christmas morning. I remember moving wood, both at home and at school (S.S.#4 Bathurst), as both were heated with wood. Neither had running water. Water was pumped into a pail, and brought inside for drinking and cooking.”

Judy Stafford (standing) Audry Stafford seated, front row, left to right – Jackie Stafford, Roger Stafford and Tim Stafford

Arlene:  “One year Aunt Nellie Rutherford sent us a beautiful Christmas ornament.  It was made of brass and had a circular base, with a brass rod that extended up from the base.  Attached to the rod about halfway down were four angels with tiny rods hanging beneath each, and two bells extending out to the sides. On the base were holders for four small candles, and when you lit the candles the angels began to go around in a circle faster and faster, and their tiny rods would strike the bells and ring very softly.  That was one of my favourite decorations.  I also liked the little cone-shaped paper angels that hung on the tree, and the metal birds with tails made of real feathers that clipped onto the branches.”

Roger: “I can also remember Mom and the girls putting the Christmas cards on strings and hanging them up for decorations. I can remember cutting up Christmas cards from the year before to make the tags for gifts. And there were the bells on the doors. I remember one on the door to the hall and I believe one on the front door. “

Jackie:  “I think that at one time almost everything hung on the tree was homemade.”

Tim Stafford with Arlene Stafford

Tim: “I was not able to sleep Christmas Eve.  I had been warned several times that Santa would leave only potatoes in my stocking if I didn’t sleep.  When I actually did get potatoes in my stocking when I was eight or nine years old I was in shock.”

Judy: “Oh yes, I certainly did get potatoes in my stocking…a very clear message on Christmas morning, and it was probably on more than one occasion.  I wasn’t very surprised either!  We were usually threatened and she always carried through. The only candy I remember getting in my stocking was hard candy, and there was always an orange in my stocking – that was a rare treat as fresh, imported fruit wasn’t usually seen at other times of the year.  Soda pop would also be purchased, but only at Christmas.”

Jackie:   “Mother would put our stockings at the end of our bed when she thought we were asleep, and sometimes we were.  If we had been bad we would have a potato in our stocking, along with a piece of fruit and a bit of candy.”

Roger: “I can also remember getting a potato in my sock one year. Mother had warned me that Santa put potatoes in bad boys’ socks. It shouldn’t have been any surprise to me.”

Judy Stafford and Tim Stafford

Judy: “We received what we considered very expensive gifts from our Uncle Jack Rutherford in Alberta, and were allowed to choose one gift to open on Christmas Eve, and we usually chose his.  There was no ripping off of gift paper – the parcels had to be carefully unwrapped and ribbons, if any, had to be handed over to Mother before they could get mixed up with the discards and boxes, which would be thrown in the cook-stove to burn.”

Arlene Stafford and Judy Stafford

Arlene: “I was always excited to go to Calvin Church, on Christmas Eve. During the service I would usually be whispering to my friends Susan and Jane Munro, who sat in the pew in front of us, until Mother would give me ‘the look’ and then I would try to be quiet.  It wasn’t easy being quiet because I knew so many of the kids there. Looking around the church I saw lots of my friends from school – Patti Jordan, Jutta and Judy Siebel, and Barb Patton.  George Jordan and I were in the same grade, Steve Scott, Harold Closs and Bobby Miller were a grade ahead of me, and then there were the older girls who were a little bit farther ahead in school like Janice Jordan, Karen Jordan and Maxine Closs. After church was over, I would see my friends outside and we’d be talking excitedly about what gifts we were hoping to find under the tree the next morning.”  

Jackie Stafford and Tim Stafford in front of the Stafford House

Judy:   “Parcels from the West, or also known as the ‘hand-me-down box’, would arrive from our Aunts in Alberta, twice a year, with our cousins gently worn clothing – every summer a box of winter clothes, and every winter, just before or right after Christmas, a box of summer clothes arrived.  This was always an exciting time when we would crowd around Mother as she opened the box, and decided who would get what, and if any of the clothing had to be altered to fit us.  I remember a lot of the dresses being brown which was not my favourite colour, but I imagine they were practical as they would not show the dirt.  Mother also made dresses and blouses and skirts – shirts for the boys.  I remember a lovely lilac plaid summer dress Mother made for me, and an identical one in pink plaid for Jackie.  Our shoes were purchased from a factory outlet store in Lanark, and we made that trip a couple of times a year to buy shoes for school. “

Tobias ‘Tim’, ‘Tib’ Stafford checking the Christmas lights on the spruce tree

Roger:   “Dad always put lights up outside, usually on the spruce tree near the door. I often watched the northern lights dancing, or heard the whistle of the train at the crossing back of the house, or the sound of the train itself on a cold winter night. I guess those are a couple of the reasons that cities have no attraction for me.”

Judy:  “Nothing these days will ever replace the sound of the train whistle as it passed back at the tracks around midnight every night, or the sounds of the sleigh runners cutting through the snow on a crisp winter’s night.”

Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, in the kitchen, preparing some Christmas treats

Mother’s Chocolate Fudge

2 Tbsp. butter

2 c. miniature marshmallows

1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 2/3 cups of sugar

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (if desired)

1/2 tsp. salt

Mix butter, milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat..

Stir in marshmallows, chocolate chips, vanilla and walnuts.

Pour into an 8-inch buttered pan. Cool. Cut into squares. Makes 2 lbs.

Tim:  “My favourite Christmas food –    Chocolate fudge with walnuts.”

Roger:  I certainly remember all the toffee and fudge Mom used to make at Christmas. Mother also baked many specialty cookies for Christmas. As Christmas approached mother would review her stock in the freezer only to find much of our favourites had disappeared. I can remember holding the door while one of my siblings with longer arms would lean in and load up on treats from the freezer. I was never averse to a sweet bribe.”

Arlene Stafford making a snowman

Jackie:  “When I was a kid, Mother bought her Christmas candy through the catalogues – Sears and Eaton’s and bought medium size boxes of licorice all-sorts; bridge mixture; and the cinnamon candies.  I think she probably bought other types as well but I remember the ones I liked.  She hid them in the bedroom, and then, closer to Christmas, in the pantry somewhere, and she would go in there now and then with an empty bowl, and magically come out with a bowl of one of those candies.  A great treat because we rarely had that kind of ‘bought’ candy.”

Roger:  “I also remember that Mother would always buy some grapes and Christmas oranges for a special treat at Christmas.  It makes me feel very lucky to be able to go buy any type of fruit all year long.”

Jackie Stafford with niece, Andrea Ryan, eldest daughter of Judy Stafford Ryan

Jackie:   “Christmas Eve was always an interesting time.  Dad would be late from work, delivering milk for Chaplin’s Dairy, and Mother would usually let us eat at the usual time as she was never sure when Dad would turn up.  When he did come home, he was tired and he had a bag of stuff with him.  While he ate his warmed up dinner Mother would open all of the presents he got from his customers.” 

Arlene:  “Dad used to get five or six boxes of chocolates from his customers.  I was always hoping that he would get a box of chocolate covered cherries.  They were my favourite.”

Roger:  “I remember Dad bringing home Christmas cards from his customers in Perth, on the milk route, and Mom opening them up and taking the cash out to put towards a summer holiday.

Jackie:   “On Christmas Eve Dad’s customers would often give him money – usually $1 or $2 dollars and Mother would have little piles of bills.  Sometimes they would know his brand of cigarette and those were great, but the Export A and Players were traded at his favourite store, if possible.  I would love those because we would get the empty tins and I would love to put my crayons in one and some little bits in pieces in another. He also got single packs of cigarettes and they were often his brand.”

Judy Stafford and Jackie Stafford

Judy:   “I remember that Mother didn’t like anyone in the kitchen when she was cooking, and when we were older and came home at Christmas, she would post a list of duties for each of us on the refrigerator.”

Jackie Stafford, Arlene Stafford, and Judy Stafford

Jackie: ” One Christmas, there was a toboggan under the tree for me. Tim already had one, which was a good size, but mine was smaller, and perfect for me. We couldn’t wait to get outside and try it. In those days, there was a lovely hill to the right of the house, part of the land surrounding the barn. We would slide down the hill, and if you went through the gap you ended up in the next field.”

Roger: “I can remember one year, that Uncle Jack Rutherford, sent Jackie and I, aluminum snow-shoe-shaped sliders. We used to try to slide down the hill near the barn, standing up. We seldom succeeded.”

Judy: “We skated and tobogganed. We went down the hill in the field beside the house, and over a low fence, and that caused a few accidents!”

Tim: “In the early part of the winter, if there was a cold snap and not too much snow, the creek would freeze over and I would skate to school (S.S. #4 Bathurst), passing all through the farms, and coming out at the bridge just south of the school. On days when the ice was too thin, I would arrive home soaked to the knees, and Mom would have to dry all of my clothes as best she could on the wood-stove oven door, as there was no clothes dryer then. The skates I used were Dad’s, with extra socks in them.”

Jackie: “We skated until our feet were so cold that we could not get our skates off, so when we were small, we just walked home in them. Mother would get the skates off, and we would sit in front of the open oven door to thaw out our feet.”

 

Jackie Stafford, and niece, Andrea Ryan, in the front yard, Korry’s farm in the background.

Jackie:  “When we were old enough Dad would let us go with him to get the Christmas tree.  As we got older we would sometimes have already selected a few possible trees for Dad to look at.  In the early years we walked back to the bush and brought the tree back on Tim’s toboggan.  I was always half frozen by the time we got back home.”

Jackie Stafford, pulling niece, Andrea Ryan, on a sled, on the side road, near the house.

Roger:  “I can remember trying to find a nicely shaped tree that wasn’t too big, and then getting home and finding it was still too large to go in the house. At one time I can remember Dad nailing a large board to the bottom of the tree to stand it up. That was before we had a Christmas tree stand. I can remember Mom having us check the stand for water to make sure the tree wasn’t drying out too fast. I can also remember all the needles falling off when the decorations were being taken off the tree, and the tree was taken out through the kitchen to the yard. I can remember Mom using some of the boughs cut off to make a wreath.”

Back row: Roger Stafford, cousin Gail Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Judy Stafford, Arlene Stafford. Front row: cousin Peter Stafford, Tim Stafford

Tobias ‘Tim’, ‘Tib’ Stafford, his sister-in-law, Aunt Pat Stafford, and his brother, Peter ‘Pete’ Stafford

Jackie:   “In those days Mother made popcorn, and we strung it on string, and used that as a garland on the tree.”

Roger:  “I can also remember stringing popcorn for decorations.”

L to R: Roger Stafford, Arlene Stafford, Judy Stafford, Audry Stafford, Tobias ‘Tim’ Stafford, Tim Stafford, Jackie Stafford

Jackie:  “Mother bought coloured craft paper, and we cut out strips of paper and glued them together to make a circle, and then a circle within the previous circle, and on and on, until we had a string long enough to go from the corners of the living room to the light fixture in the center of the ceiling.  We usually did them red, green, etc.”

L to R: Judy Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Tim Stafford, Roger Stafford

Arlene: “Board games, and card games were a favourite on Christmas night, after dinner. Everyone gathered in the kitchen, and Mother brought us bowls of fudge, taffy, cookies, and sweet squares. We played Rummy, Monopoly, and sometimes Crokinole, until the wee hours. Mother always bought soft drinks at Christmas, sometimes cola, orange, or root beer. That was the only time of the year we had pop in the house.

Tobias ‘Tim’ ‘Tib’ Stafford and Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, 1968

Judy: “Before the day was out, our Mother would iron the Christmas paper and ribbon, which would be carefully tucked away until next year.  To this day, I cringe when I see anyone rip off gift paper with no thought of re-using it.   We often made our own Christmas wrapping paper in those days, using cut-up brown paper bags, and drawing pictures on with crayons, and tying up the gifts with binder-twine.  We were always appreciative of what we received, because wealth to us was being happy and healthy, with loved ones around to share the joy.”

The Stafford siblings, with their spouses: Back row- Roger Stafford, Sam Wharton, Kevin Wilson, Tim Stafford, Jim Ryan. Front row: Ruth (Parks) Stafford, Jackie Stafford Wharton, Arlene Stafford-Wilson, Marian (Salemink) Stafford, and Judy Stafford Ryan.

Audry (Rutherford) Stafford 1919-2007, Tobias ‘Tim’ ‘Tib’ Stafford 1918-1992

…..and so we’ve come to the end of our Christmas visit to the Stafford House. If you had spent Christmas Day with us you would have never guessed that we didn’t have very much money. Our dinner table was overflowing with food – a huge platter of turkey, bowls heaped with stuffing, a basket piled high with soft homemade dinner rolls, steaming mashed potatoes, gravy, cheese, and pickles, and that was just the main course.

For dessert there was homemade Christmas fruit cake, shortbread, chocolate chews, cherry balls, gumdrop cookies, almond cookies, shortbread, sweet squares, chocolate fudge with walnuts, homemade toffee, licorice all-sorts, bridge-mixture, mixed nuts, and boxes of assorted chocolates.

The Stafford house was filled with laughter, and multiple lively conversations. There were chiming bells attached to the front door and hall door, and Christmas cards displayed, framing every doorway and covering every flat surface in the living room. A fragrant fresh-cut spruce tree graced the corner of the living room, proudly displaying our homemade ornaments, and a few precious glass balls that Mother had saved over the years. Our opened gifts were nestled under the tree, along with the remnants of our stockings from that morning.

By the evening, Mother would be resting on the couch, and Dad would be lounging in his lazy-boy chair. They often discussed the events of the day, while sharing a box of chocolates Christmas night – she preferring the hard toffee centers, and Dad enjoying the soft creams, which worked out very well indeed, over their many Christmases together.

You would have found the Stafford children in the kitchen, playing cards, or board games, sharing a dish of fudge, a bowl of nuts, and some homemade cookies. We’d often be sporting the paper crowns from the Christmas crackers we’d pulled at dinner time. You would have heard genuine shrieks of laughter, and some friendly jabs, many hilarious jokes from Roger, and witty remarks from Tim, with his dry sense of humour. You’d likely hear the girls scolding the boys for some of their occasional off-colour comments, followed by more laughter, and a few groans, as we all complained about how much food we’d consumed, all the while everyone agreeing how delicious it was.

As Christmas Day wound down for another year, one at a time, people began to trail off to bed, weary from the fresh cold air and outings during the busy day, and stuffed full of our Mother’s delicious food.

We hope you enjoyed hearing our stories about growing up, at the Stafford house, and the ways we spent Christmas Day. The sights and sounds and smells from our childhood Christmas are something we carry with us every day.  They lift our spirits in times when life seems cold, and harsh, and unforgiving.  We need only to close our eyes and we are back on the Third Line, walking up the lane, through the yard, and entering the bright, warm kitchen.  We are home again.

Quotes and stories from Tim Stafford, Judy Stafford Ryan, Jackie Stafford Wharton, Roger Stafford, and Arlene Stafford-Wilson, and the recipe for Audry Stafford’s Chocolate Fudge, are excerpts from, “Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen”

Available at:

The Book Nook & Other Treasures https://thebooknookperth.com/shop/

The Bookworm – https://www.bookwormperth.com/

Mill Street Books – https://millstreetbooks.com/

and

http://www.staffordwilson.com

Balderson Cheese – Craving the Curd

Whenever a kid in Lanark County heard the word ‘Balderson’ spoken at their home, most of the time their thoughts turned to cheese.  The Balderson Cheese Factory was a short drive up the Lanark Road from our place, and they made the best cheese in the world.  People came from miles around to buy Balderson Cheese, curds, and butter, and our family was no different. Usually a visit to the cheese factory took place as part of a Sunday drive.

Balderson was a small hamlet situated about halfway between Perth and Lanark and was one of the earliest communities settled along with Perth.  Balderson, a suburb was also settled partly by soldiers, and partly by Scottish immigrants from Perthshire in the Scottish Highlands.  It was founded by Sergeant Balderson in June 1816.

When we spent time in Balderson during the 1960s and 1970s some of the family names were: Bell, Burns, Davidson, Devlin, Haley, Jones, Kennedy, King, McGregor, McIntyre, McTavish, Myers and Newman.

 

Balderson Cheese factory 1954

The ‘new’  factory, built after the 1929 fire

cheese curds

cheese curds

The Balderson Cheese Factory had already been operating for many decades by the time I first remember it.  The factory was established 1881.  It was formed by a group of dairy farmers of Lanark County.  They were known as the Farmer’s Cheese and Butter Association of Balderson. They decided to use the excess milk that they were each producing on their farms, build a factory, produce Cheddar cheese and sell it locally. They built a small, plain-looking, wood-frame building near the Balderson Corners crossroads.

Balderson Cheese factory

 

Loading dock Balderson Cheese factory

Balderson Cheese Factory – Loading Dock

In the early days, each dairy farmer would bring their milk by horse and wagon and drop it off at the factory.  Later, to become more efficient, special milk wagons were built and routes were established and workers from the factory would go from farm to farm picking up the milk.

Balderson 1905

‘The Perth Courier’, Sept. 20, 1962

 

Just twelve years after opening, the Balderson Cheese Factory was one of the twelve factories that contributed cheese to create the ‘Mammoth’ cheese for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The old timers said that it was six feet high and weighed over 20,000 lbs.

 

Mammoth cheese

In 1929, a fire burned the original factory and all that was left was the concrete floor.

Balderson rebuilt

‘The Perth Courier’, Sept. 13, 1929

 

Although Dad was familiar with the original factory, we had only seen the one that was rebuilt in 1930.  It was a plain-looking building and was built in a similar style to many of the other local cheese factories, in and around Perth.  There was a small sign outside and the inside they had a very small counter and sold three products: cheese –  yellow or coloured orange, cheese curds, and butter. You could buy mild cheese or old cheese, and Dad preferred the older ‘sharp’ cheese and liked to enjoy it with a slice of Mother’s homemade apple pie. The cheese was cut from rounds, wrapped in waxed paper and sealed with a piece of scotch tape.  There was one person working behind the counter that would get your cheese and ring it up on the cash register. Everyone else worked in the back.

Balderson Cheese factory cheese-maker

Cheese-Maker,  Balderson Cheese Factory

Dad would often know the person working behind the counter, and he’d ask if we could go back and watch them make the cheese.  Now, that was really interesting!  There was always a distinct smell in the factory, even at the front counter.  It smelled kind of like buttermilk, and the air always seemed very warm and humid.  It was behind the counter where all the magic took place.

Balderson 1962

‘The Perth Courier’, Sept. 20, 1962

 

There were huge metal vats, filled with heated milk.  I don’t know what they use now, but in those days, they added rennet to the milk to make it curdle.  Rennet was an acid which could be found in the fourth stomach of calves and was used for digestion.  When the rennet was added to the milk it curdled and formed into clumps.  The workers in the factory would walk around with long wooden paddles and stir the vats.  Some were newly curdling and were very easy to stir, others in later stages required quite a bit of muscle to stir because the curds were forming in large, heavy clumps.  In the last vat the salt was added and some of the curds were strained out and sold, but the remainder would be pressed into huge round wooden molds.  The molds were lined with cheesecloth so that the cheese wouldn’t stick when it was time to remove it.

At the rear of the old factory, double walls were built two feet thick, with sawdust packed inside as insulation to keep the cheese cool as it cured.  After the cheese was strained and pressed into molds it was stored in the curing room. The whey, the liquid that was strained from the cheese, was stored in big tanks.  In the old days the whey was returned to the farmers to use as feed, but later when tighter government regulations were introduced the whey was dumped.  Each cheese was waxed, boxed, weighed, molded, inspected, cooled, turned and shipped. The cheese was regularly inspected by Government inspectors and the stock turns over every ten days. The cheese remained in the curing room until it was shipped.

Balderson cheese vat of curd and whey

Vat of Curd and Whey

 

Cheese making was an art form in Balderson and their Master Cheese Maker when I was a kid, was Omar Matte. Mr. Matte had begun making cheese when he was fifteen working for his father in St. Albert.  By the 1960s he had been making cheese for 27 years. In those days, Mr. Matte would mold 120 tons of cheese per year and most was shipped to the Sanderson Grading Station in Oxford where it went on to foreign markets. Ten tons of cheese on average was sold locally in the Balderson area. Over 100 tons of cheese and 9,000 pounds of butter produced yearly by the mid 1960s and sold all over North America.

There were many Master Cheese Makers before him – Chris J. Bell of Perth, James Somerville of Boyd’s, Walter Partridge of the Scotch Line, James Prentice of Perth, Charles Gallery of Perth, Robert Lucas of Jasper and Percy George of Christie Lake.

 

Balderson Cheesemakers

1881-1887  W. Brown

1888-1891  J. Milton 1888-1891

1892-1901  W.D. Simes

1902-1904  E.E. Haley

1905-1911  J.M. Scott

1912-1917  T.K. Whyte

1918-1921  M. Haley

1922-1929  A. Quinn

1930  G. Spencer

1931-1937  P. Kirkham

1937-1939  J.L. Prentice

1939-1941  C.J. Bell

1941-1942  J. Somerville

1943  W. Partridge

1944-1955  C. Gallery

1956-1958  R. Lucas

1959-1960  P. George

1961-1966  O. Matte

1966-1974  Y. Leroux

1975-1980  L. Lalonde

1980  N. Matte

As the years passed by, the cheese gained tremendous popularity, news of the product spread, and the little business was bought by a large company.  After many decades the Balderson Cheese business has changed hands many times.

You can still find Balderson cheese today, and many types and grades of cheese available in all of the major supermarkets.

I smile whenever I see the Balderson name and think of the little hamlet outside of Perth. I remember our Sunday drives to the old cheese factory, and how they made the best curd in the world!

 

cheese curd 2kid eating cheese curd

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com

(story is an excerpt from  ‘Lanark County Kid: My Travels Up and Down the Third Line’ ISBN: 978-0-9877026-16)

LC Kid

available in local book stores: The Book Nook & Other Treasures, and  ‘Bookworm’ in Perth, Mill Street Books in Almonte
Vintage Photos: ‘Perth Remembered’
Newsclippings: ‘The Perth Courier’