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Hazel Dailey

Caldwell Parish

Hazel Dailey learned to whittle, preserve food, embroider, and make lye soap from her parents in the 1920s and 30s.

Hazel Dailey: "To Make Something Each Day That I Am Here"

By Sylvia Frantom


Born January 7, 1924, Hazel Dailey learned a number of folk traditions when she was growing up on the farm. She learned to whittle from her father and to can (preserve food), embroider, and make lye soap from her mother. Dailey's family moved to a farm in Columbia, Louisiana, in about 1930 when the young Hazel Dailey was in the first grade. Her father was known in the area for the smoked sausage that he made and sold. Many of the traditions that she learned while growing up, she continued in later years after becoming director of the Martin Homeplace Folk Center and Museum in Columbia, Louisiana. Every day at the Folk Center, Hazel Dailey helped to cook a fresh, hot meal for the elderly in the community from the produce that they grew in the garden and canned there.


Dailey said that her father, W.H. Rankin, probably started whittling "because he was bored." She says about her father, "A lot of people can't be still and he was one of them. He had to be doing something." He usually whittled when he was "sitting around on a rainy day and didn't have anything else to do or it was too cold." In the summer he would sit under a shade tree and whittle. Neighbors would come to talk to her father, and a man might "pull his knife out and start whittling too."

Hazel Daily whittling a flower. Photo: Sylvia Frantom.

Her father usually whittled little animals or flowers and trees like the ones Hazel Dailey made. When she was a child, her father made her a miniature doll house and whittled furniture to go inside it. She still had some of the furniture, she said. He also whittled utilitarian objects to use on the farm like ax handles, spokes for wagon wheels, or a dash for a wooden churn when one needed replacing.

Hazel Dailey started whittling at about the age of five or six after her uncle bought her the first knife she ever used. It was a pocket knife and her father sharpened it for her. She imitated her father after watching him. Dailey loved to do everything her father did. She said, "If he went to the field, I went to the field. If he went to get wood, I would go to get wood." She didn't like to help with housework.

They used whatever kind of wood that was available to whittle. A branch of bitter pecan, red bud, or hackberry was used to make the flowers or trees. Some wood, like cedar, isn't useful because it "crumbles" too easily, she said. She liked to get the wood in the spring when the sap is in it. If it is too "green," it won't curl and if it's too dry, the flower petals will break. She explains that you have to "catch them just right." She placed twigs in the freezer to keep them at the right stage. She said she knew a woman who bought some of her flowers and even ten years later the petals still could be "squeezed" and not break. She didn't know if red bud would last that long because she had only used it for three years, while she had used other types of wood longer.

Hazel Dailey's father would carve animals out of old sticks he found out in their yard. They didn't have any patterns to go by, but instead used their creativity to decide what to make. Dailey describes how sometimes they used old pieces of scrape wood and tells her philosophy on creating things:

See, we lived in the country and there was all kinds of woods [to use]. There was all kinds of scraps laying around, or left over from working on the barn. [I wanted to whittle because] I wanted to make things. I'd like to make something each day that I'm here. I don't feel like my day is complete, unless I make something. One thing each day! I'm satisfied with the day because I made a big pot of soup, but before the day is over I'm going to make an angel.

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See we lived in the country

Hazel Dailey realizes that usually whittlers are men. She thinks that some women might be afraid they would cut themselves. Hazel said she never cuts herself, even when she draws the knife toward herself when making a petal for a flower. She said, "you'll cut yourself with a dull knife, but not with a sharp knife." In later years, she began using an Exacto Knife instead of a pocket knife because it does not have to be sharpened.

At the Martin Homeplace Gift Shop, she sold the flowers for about seventy-five cents each and the trees for about two dollars. She liked to give the whittled animals as gifts to friends and family. The Martin Homeplace Folk Center and Museum has her Noah's Ark with many of the animals that she whittled.

Canning and other Food Preservation

Hazel Dailey's canned vegetables and fruits. Photo: Sylvia Frantom.

When Dailey's mother would can, "all of us kids had to help her and that's how we learned how to." Her mother canned "so that we could eat the following winter. That's why all the farmers canned, too. Everyone in our community canned, and lots of times they would help each other." Her mother would count the number of jars that she needed to can each summer so that her family would have enough food to last throughout the winter. Hazel Dailey started helping her mother can "just as soon as I was old enough to reach the table top probably." She said, "I imagine she had me shelling peas before then. We just grew up with it. If you were going to eat that winter, then you had to help get it ready." In 1994, when visiting the Martin Homeplace, Dailey said that everyone was invited to come to dinner there, but everyone who ate there had to help too.

Hazel Dailey's mother canned string beans and other kinds of beans, peas, tomatoes, corn, and pickles. She used glass containers referred to as fruit jars, and she cooked on a wood-burning stove. However, in the summer, her mother would can outside. They would make a wood fire under a wash pot or any other container that was large enough. Her mother used what is called "a cold water bath," a method of preserving vegetables or fruit in which the jars are placed in cold water and boiled for several hours. The vegetables or fruit can be packed cold or heated before putting them in the jars. They must be cooked about two hours to kill the bacteria in this process. Hazel also used a cold water bath method when preserving some of the food for use at the Martin Homeplace Folk Center and Museum.

Hazel Dailey reported that raising the family's food and canning as a means of preserving food were important food sources during the 1930s. She describes the bounty of food of the family farm and their methods of preserving it:

During the depression, I remember being hungry two or three times. Our family was better off because we lived on a farm. We had chickens and we had eggs. We had pork because we had raised our own. We had our own vegetables. I know a lot of people used to beg to help work in the garden so that they could have something [to eat]. People who lived in town didn't have anything. Lots of neighbors would come and help mother can so that they could have some of the [fresh vegetables or canned food], which was a big job. And they [canned] corn also. And I remember that the days they did corn we would get up extra early, and my dad and my brothers would go to the fields and bring it in. It had to be shucked and gotten ready for the jars just as soon as possible so that it wouldn't get dried up and lose its flavor. You had to cut the corn off the cob and then put it in the jars and put it in the water. They got the corn hot and then put it in the jars and sealed it. Then they put it in the water and put water over the top of it. Then when they got the pressure cookers, it was a cinch then. It was easy to do then. When they first got the pressure cookers, the government wanted to help these people so they sold or gave them a big pressure cooker. Then they sold them tin cans with a sealant that would seal the cans. Then everybody started using the cans and that was great! Because of the pressure cooker, they had canned food just like came out of the grocery store. One time they [her family] canned corn and they did something wrong, maybe they didn't get the cans sealed right or something. Maybe they didn't cook it enough. But the corn started spoiling, and it was just like an explosion! The corn popped all night long! But usually it came out great.

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During the Depression

The main advantage of the pressure cooker was shorter canning time and higher temperatures for killing bacteria. Dailey said that string beans took about 25 minutes and corn about 55 minutes. She still used a pressure cooker to can food at the Martin Homeplace Folk Center. She said that ten pounds of pressure is usually right. She likes to use glass containers.

Hazel Daily preparing the water bath for the canned goods. Photo: Sylvia Frantom.

Dailey said that one of the most important things when canning is to make sure that all of the containers are sterilized. "Everything had to be real nice and clean because if it wasn't it would spoil." She sterilizes the same way her mother did. "Put jars in a big container, put them on the stove, and let them boil. Boil lids also."

Hazel Dailey does not can for her own family because "they don't appreciate it." However, she did can for the Folk Center. Hazel liked to can because "I like to see it in the jars after its canned. I like to look at it because it's so pretty and I like to know that it's there. I like to arrange it and rearrange it." She liked to arrange the canned goods on the shelves at the Folk Center to make attractive displays.

Dailey also would arrange the produce when she put it in a jar to make it look attractive. For instance, she placed the string beans "the long way" evenly in the jar to make it look nice. She often used a process called cold pack in which the produce is packed in the jars cold so it can be more easily arranged.

Hazel Dailey liked to have a large garden at the Folk Center so that she would have plenty to can. She said, "We can anything that can be canned." At the center, they canned soup mix with chicken, celery, and onion. She used the pressure cooker when canning chicken because it kills harmful bacteria better. She canned chow chow which is made of cucumber, cabbage, onion, celery, and hot peppers. She also canned pineapple sage honey, zucchini, blackberries, peaches with cinnamon sticks, tomatoes, hominy, pears, mayhaw jelly, pickles, ketchup, and peppers at the Folk Center.

In addition to canning, drying foods was also an important food preservation technique. Hazel Dailey's mother dried apples and peaches which were later made into fried pies. These were dried outside in the sun for about three or four days. She said that they had to be brought inside each night to keep the dew off of them. Years later, Hazel Dailey had a station wagon that she used to dry okra, tomatoes, green peas, peppers, and onions. The car had large windows and it would get so hot inside that it only took two days to dry vegetables. Thus the tradition continued, but took advantage of newer technology.


As she was learning to can, Hazel Dailey learned to embroider at about the age of ten or twelve from her mother, and she has taught her own daughter also. Her mother embroidered designs on dresser scarves, pillow cases, table cloths, and bed spreads. Dailey embroidered pin cushions, Christmas stockings, pillow cases, and bird pictures. She used a book about birds from her area to draw birds and then to embroider and frame. Her daughter especially likes to embroider small pictures.

Lye Soap Making

Dailey helped her mother make lye soap, and later she made it at the Folk Center. Her mother would prepare the soap in a wash pot outside, but at the center they made it inside. Her mother used hog fat and the water from ashes supplied the lye. Her mother used the lye soap to do her laundry and to scrub floors. Hazel said that people bought her soap to wash their hair and for the treatment of red bugs and poison ivy.


Hazel Dailey lived in Oceanside, California for twenty years. In later years, she moved back to Columbia, Louisiana to care for her parents when they were ill. It was at this time that she began to work at the Martin Homeplace. Dailey died on July 22, 1996, just two and a half years after she was interviewed. She is buried in the Welcome Home Cemetery near Columbia, Louisiana.

Hazel Dailey will be missed for her vitality and her desire to accomplish more than anyone else ever could in one day. Her parents taught her to be resourceful and to create a beautiful wooden object out of an old stick she found on the ground and how to not waste anything. Her mother gave some of her garden vegetables and canned food to hungry people in the community, and later Hazel Dailey followed this tradition by feeding the elderly who lived near the Martin Homeplace. Perhaps the Depression and the hardships she saw as a child didn't stop her or discourage her, but only made her stronger. One thing is for sure, Hazel Dailey knew how to make the most of every day.

Sylvia Frantom wrote this article as a part of the Delta Folklife Project in 1994 and she revised it in 2012 for Delta Pieces: Northeast Louisiana Folklife. She is a native of Louisiana with a heartfelt interest in Louisiana history and folklore.