Who else is stress baking? I have kept myself busy these past few evenings and weekends making cookies and bread to try and remain calm during this stressful time. My family, like many of yours I’m sure, has even celebrated a birthday remotely. We all made cupcakes and ate one together, on screen, separated by the miles.
Marion Post Wolcott photographed the Wilkins family from Granville County, NC, in 1939. In this image, Mary Wilkins is alone in the kitchen, making biscuits on corn husking day—the day in the autumn when farmer Fred Wilkins harvested his corn crop each year. After a long, grueling day of work, he was given a hot meal.
Mrs. Wilkins must have had a stressful day, too. Her surroundings hint at the details of her day. A tin bucket of Swift’s Jewel Brand vegetable shortening sits on the shelf above her head, probably used in the biscuit dough. The deep pots on the table to her right may hold the rest of the evening’s dinner, perhaps chicken? The soda crackers on the far right of the shelf were a Depression-era staple, but couldn’t compare to the fresh homemade biscuits she is preparing.
The bittersweet quality of the events unfolding in this photograph is what gets my attention here. The enjoyment found in baking to celebrate the day with family is tempered by the isolation she might have felt in the kitchen. This is something I think we can all understand a little too well these days.
Wolcott took this photograph while working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). It was a project of the New Deal from 1937 until 1944 for which photographers were hired to travel across the county and document the lives of those who were affected by the Depression and needed federal assistance.
~Contributed by Assistant Curator Whitney Richardson