Posted 4/15/2021 12:39 (#8953290) Subject: How We Used to Eat (1953 - 1955 or so)
Cumberland County, TN
Remembering back to my childhood and how our family used to eat presents a big contrast to our dietary habits today. Mom usually would cook up a big pot of vegetable soup, chili soup or beef ‘n noodles and it’d stay on the gas range until it was all gone – which would take several days.
The nasties were cooked out of it by each reheating and although it wasn’t very appetizing by the third day, it wouldn’t kill you and it’s what there was. Sometimes the mature pot of beef ‘n noodles would turn into a grey-colored, thick sludge that’d have to be thinned with water so it wouldn’t scorch in the bottom of the kettle and Mom would toss in a can of green beans or peas to extend it a little longer. We didn’t know what to call it by that time. It was just ‘dinner’ or ‘supper’ as whatever the time of day it was presented.
Mom usually had a few dishes prepared that resided on the table. Those would be stewed rhubarb and canned tomatoes with soda crackers. Also there’d be a bowl of cucumbers sliced with onions in sugar and vinegar. The vinegar kept it from going bad I guess. (???)
Over at my friend, Eugene’s house, things were different. They were poor folks who had been sharecroppers in southern Missouri near Morehouse before they moved to central Indiana. Eugene’s mom almost always had a big bowl of butter beans sitting on the table, covered with a plate. The plate held southern corn bread. I didn’t like her cornbread much. She put sugar in it. So much sugar that it was sticky and was akin to cake.
At Eugene’s, alongside the beans and cornbread was usually a bowl of stewed okra. You didn’t need to swallow it just put it into your mouth and it slipped down of it’s own accord.
And then there was my friend, Frank James. He was from southern Missouri too... Dexter. People still look at me funny-like when I tell them that I went to school with Frank and Jessie James. :-) Me and some of the neighboring farm kids were out having a corncob fight one day and I said to Frank, “Hey, Frank? I’m getting’ hungry. Why don’t we all go up to your house an get a samwidge?”
“A samwidge? Well we can go up there and if you’uns can find anything to make a samwidge out of, you can HAVE it!”
So we all went up to Frank’s house and went into the kitchen where he opened the cabinets to show us the salt, sugar and vinegar and the plates, bowls and glasses. There wasn’t any food in the James’ cupboards.
“Golly, Frank… what do you guys eat?”
“We got plenty to eat. You wanna’ see what we eat?” And with that, he took us into a small pantry room off of the kitchen and showed us a 50# bag of white beans. “This here is breakfast, dinner and supper… an’ when Dad gets paid on Friday we have some cornmeal to make cornbread to go with them. O’course we got some tomatoes, onions and stuff out’ta the garden.”
And then there was Dale. Dale came to school with holes in his clothes and a worn out coat with the stuffing coming out of the holes and they weren’t patched like most of the rest of us. One day when my Dad took me into town for a haircut, we saw Dale and his dad in the alley behind the IGA store going through the garbage.
They were picking through the stuff that had been trimmed off of the cabbage, cauliflower and lettuce and collecting it to take home for their supper. Dale threw a piece of some vegetable across the alley and his dad scolded him for it because there was still some ‘good’ in it that could have been used. They were poorer than any us in the class of 46 kids. But we didn’t feel particularly bad about our plight because that’s just the way most everybody was.
Our moms kept Miracle Whip jars and they washed aluminum foil and reused it until you could see daylight through it – but that’s what everybody did. The middle of all the washcloths had all the fuzz worn off so they were just slick in the middle. Nothing unusual about that.
Harry was in a bigger family. They came from southern Missouri too, around Sikeston. He had three brothers and two sisters but they ate pretty well. Their dad brought home a bunch of scrap pallets, took them apart and built a shed in the backyard that he insulated with wadded newspaper so that it could be heated in winter with a light bulb.
Inside were rows upon rows of shelves, filled with glass jars. There was home-canned vegetable soup, tomatoes, carrots and all sorts of other garden produce. I looked at some of the jars and whatever it was, it didn’t look very appetizing. Harry asked me, “Johnny? You know what you’re lookin’ at? That’s canned fish… carp. That’s what you ate with us for supper while ago.”
“No kiddin? I thought that was salmon patties.”
“That was carp patties. You couldn’t tell the diff’rence could ya?”
Every spring when the rains flooded the creeks and drainage ditches, the carp would swim up into the roadside ditches and into the low lying parts of the beanfields. That’s when their whole family would load up into their truck with pitchforks and burlap sacks to go fishin’ for carp.
Other times of the year, they’d go telephonin’ for fish to have meat to put on the table. The game warden was often trying to catch ‘em. “I KNOW you ain’ta CATCHIN’ all them fish! You’re either’a tellephonin’ ‘em or you’re a usin’ carbide on ‘em, but I know you’re not a CATCHIN’ ‘em! Thass okay… I’ll be a watchin… an I’ll catch you’uns one day!”
One day, Harry and his dad were telephonin’ fish and the game warden’s boat came out from behind a fallen tree. “Okay, I gotcha’ now!
So they threw the telephone over the side and it splashed into the creek.
“Now, whad’ja haf’ta go an’ do THAT for? I just gotta dredge it back out now. Pull that boat up yonder by them trees an’ I’ll git it.”
So the warden rowed up and down the creek with his grappling hook but he couldn’t find the telephone. “I seen ya throw it in here! I dunno why I ain’ta findin’ it but I’ll get’cha the NEXT time!”
So after the game warden moved on down the creek, Harry’s dad reached under the boat an grabbed ahold of a chain that was bolted to the bottom of the boat and he hauled the telephone back aboard.
I had some really good cake at Harry’s one time. His mom made a yellow ‘sheet-cake’ on a big, rectangular baking pan and when you scooped up a piece and turned it over – it was pineapple upside-down cake. Except the pineapple had been substituted out with rhubarb and brown sugar and you know… I liked it better!