Recently on one of the Genealogy Lists I belong to, there has been an ongoing discussion about "Poke" Salad, Cornpone and other reminiscences about the days gone by. It started me to thinking. When I was growing up on a small farm in southern Ohio we had few of the amenities folks consider as essentials today.
I was not always a farm boy. I was born in the great metropolis of Portsmouth, Ohio, (probable population at that time of about 25,000.) It was only about 40,000 when I left there 21 years later. The only major employers in the area was Wheeling Steel, where my Dad worked, and the N&W rail yards, where an uncle or two worked.
Having been raised during the depression years there are a number of things that I remember quite well. Our mainstay meal consisted of Pinto beans, fried Potatoes and Cornbread. Does anyone remember corn meal mush? Mom managed to make us think we were having a treat when we had it. Actually, the cupboard was almost bare, and there was nothing else to eat. We had fried corn meal mush for breakfast the next morning made from the left-overs from the night before.
During the depression years, Dad was lucky to get one days work in a week, which of course was not enough to keep us going. My parents stored their household goods and we had to go live for a while with my grandparents back in the hills in Greenup County, KY. , on Smith Branch. I remember eating "Possum" and Raccoon as well as rabbit and squirrel. How disgusting it is to me now to think of actually eating an Opossum. We also ate "Polk" salad and Dandelion greens which some of you may have heard of.
Grandpa Ison grew sorghum cane and had a sorghum mill and evaporator where he produced a good grade of Sorghum Molasses. He then carried it to Greenup with a horse and wagon, where he "peddled" it to make a little money. One of the highlights of the time was to have him whittle a wooden paddle from a sapling for me to dip into the thickened mass, winding it around the paddle and then eating it like a stick of candy. Talk about being in "Hog Heaven"!!
"Paw Paw" trees and "Persimmon" trees grew wild on Grandpa's farm. The Persimmons, even though they, like alum, would pucker up your mouth. Still they were delicious. The best of all were the Paw Paws. If you have never eaten one you have missed a great treat. I wish I knew where I could find some now. As I recall they were a fruit with a sort of purplish green skin and a soft yellow mushy fruit inside which tasted somewhat like a banana, only better.
Grandpa also raised tobacco on the farm. The smell of the curing tobacco still is fragrant in my nostrils. He had several milk cows and an old dog named "Queenie" who would trot off into the pasture in the evening and bring the cows home for milking (by hand of course).
One day I decided to take a ride on one of calves in the pasture. Remember, this was in the hills of Kentucky. The calves were in a pretty steep hillside pasture. To make a long story short, the little bull calf I had decided to ride had other ideas. He quickly bucked me off and I rolled to the bottom of the hill, stopping only when I rolled up against one of the fence posts. Luckily I was undamaged by either the roll down the hill or the barbed wire fence which kept the cows in.
Later we lived on a small farm in Southern Ohio where we raised and butchered our own hogs and mom made the well known "Souse" or "headcheese". I could never stomach the stuff, but Mom and Dad liked it (or said they did, to try to get us to eat it.)
Mom rendered her own lard to use for all the cooking. Boy, what A treat when she used some of the "Cracklin's" baked in a cornbread batter to make "cracklin bread".
For the unitiated, the fat pork side meat which was almost all fat would be cut into strips or cubes and heated in a large pot, usually cast iron. This was called "Rendering". When the temperature was high enough, the fat melted away from the pork skin (another delicacy). When the pork skin was cooled there was always a little of the high melting point fat still clinging to it or remaining in the pot. (The "lard" had already been skimmed off the top or drained from the pot. This residue was called the "Cracklin's" and was used to season the cracklin' cornbread.
Of course lard was used to season just about everything that was cooked in those days, and all fried foods were fried in melted lard. I can hear some of you now, talking about the high cholesterol levels. That was before we had ever even heard of Cholesterol. It doesn't mean it wasn't there. In spite of this, if you have researched your Sparks Genealogy much you know that many of our ancestors lived into their 90's. I am 73 myself, (I am now 89 in 2018) , with an average blood pressure of 136 over 78 and so far enjoying pretty good health, except for arthritis. My own parents lived into their mid eighties in spite of their high fat diet. Could it be all that cornbread and Pinto beans?
I remember Dad liked Limburger cheese too. I could never get it past my nose to get any of it into my mouth, so I still don't know what it tastes like.
We raised our own chickens for eggs and meat. We had "Chicken every Sunday". Does anyone remember that movie? I think it starred Anne Baxter, I'm Not sure.
Our mainstay was still the Pinto beans, fried potatoes and cornbread. ( No sugar in the cornbread if you please! ) A before bedtime treat would be the "left over" cornbread, crumbled into a glass of buttermilk. I liked salt in mine. Some one asked about "CornPone". I always understood that "CornPone" was just cornbread, baked in an iron "skillet" on top of the stove.
Of course the stove was a huge cast iron thing which burned wood. It was "unfortunately" one of my chores to keep it supplied. The last thing I did before going to bed was to bring in the supply of wood for the stove, so Mom could cook breakfast the next morning. I had previously cut and split the wood earlier in the day.
The stove had four to six removable "lids" for stoking the wood and for removing to "set" a skillet in for extra high heat when needed. There was a water reservoir for keeping a supply of hot water. This was in addition to the cast iron "Tea" kettle which was another source of hot water and always on the back of the stove. The stove also had an oven underneath, and a "warming oven" over the top. I have never eaten food cooked better than what Mom was able to cook on that old stove.
Mom Baked three pans of "scratch" biscuits every morning. Dad had to be at work at seven so he had his before leaving for work. The school bus picked my sister and me up around eight so the second pan was for us. She baked hers and settled down for her breakfast after we left for school.
By this time the depression years were waning and things were a little better, so every morning my breakfast consisted of two fresh eggs, either fried or scrambled, several strips of bacon or fried pork loin, a big bowl of Oatmeal, and butter and home made jelly on those wonderful biscuits. And still I was skinny as a rail. At age 21 when i left to go into the NAVY, I only weighed 165 Pounds at 6 foot, 1inch. I guess it was all that good clean country air and plenty of exercise doing my "chores"
Mom Ironed our clothes with a "Flat Iron" which was heated by placing it on top of the cook stove. These were made of solid "Cast Iron". Some of them had wooden handles on a metal loop cast into the Iron. Mom kept blisters on her hands from those. Later there was a "Two way" iron (sort of oval with a point on both ends). These had removable handles which "clipped" onto the top of the Iron. She had several of these heating on the stove and when one got too cool to do the work, it was placed back on the stove, the handle snapped loose and placed on another iron to continue.
Yep!! Them wuz the gud old days! Maybe I'll think of some more later!