Papa and Mama Said
Papa and Mama Said
About Our Foods, Mostly
W e ate as good as anyone, and better than most. Mama always kept chickens. We had gracious a plenty of eggs. It made for better eating. When we had over many eggs, Papa traded them at the store for other groceries. Papa traded lots of things. Now and then Papa worked at the store as a butcher to earn extra money or groceries, when things were slack.
When Mama went to the chicken yard and wrung a hen's neck, we knew we were going to have a nice pot of chicken and pie bread (dumplings). We watched the whole ordeal from start to finish. She plucked the chicken and saved the feathers for the next pillow, bolster, or feather bed.
When she whacked the lower legs off, Malcolm liked to get a hold of them. It was just another way for him to be hacking. He pulled a sinew in the leg that made the foot contract like a claw. With that he enjoyed worrying the little ones for a spell. Malcolm was in hog heaven with eight younger sisters to pick on. Most boys weren't that lucky.
Mama would draw and clean inside the hen. Sometimes it had a chain of eggs maturing in it, three or four yolks, each one a little larger than the other. They were good in the stew. It was a pleasure to be honored with one of those on your plate.
While the chicken was cooking tender, Mama was busy making a large bowl of dough for the pie bread, or dumplings. She floured it, rolled it thin and cut it in strips to add to the chicken stew. I dearly loved to watch Mama do that. Mama's chicken and pie bread was "some kinda" good.
Papa usually decided what we ate. He brought greens and meat to the kitchen doorway and said, "We'll have this for dinner, Ole Lady." Ole Lady was the endearing name he called my mother.
By dinner, he meant the midday meal. The evening meal was supper.
Mama boiled that piece of salt pork meat, together with the greens, dropping some potatoes in later. After everything tendered, she mixed some corn meal dumplings, scalding the mix with some pot liquor, and laid the dumplings in the top of the pot. Those leather ear dumplings were the best part of the meal.
There were always plenty of sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, and onions that Papa had raised, to go with everything.
In the fall, it was interesting to see him prepare to keep the sweet potatoes for the winter. He dug a shallow, wide hole in the ground and lined it with straw from the pine trees. He laid the sweet potatoes on the pine straw. He didn't believe in handling his sweet potatoes overmuch. He claimed it broke the sap and caused them to rot. He covered the sweet potatoes with more pine straw, putting the dirt he had dug from the hole on top. It made a mound. During the winter, when we needed sweet potatoes, he dug a small hole in the side of the mound, drew out a few sweet potatoes, and covered the hole back up. He saved the smaller ones, which he called slips, for sprouts in the spring.
In the very early spring, Papa boxed up a hotbed, and planted the slips in it. He covered the box with muslin, and painted the muslin with linseed oil. I loved the smell of the fresh linseed oil, as I watched him spread it over the muslin with a brush. He said a cover like that helped to keep the warmth and moisture the sprouts would need to make them grow, so the plants would be ready for planting time.
The continuity of Papa's sweet potato crop was essential to us. We took a lot of nourishment from them. It was a favorite of mine. I don't know which way I liked the sweet potato best. It would be hard to beat the hot baked sweet potato, fresh out of the woodstove oven, but Mama came close when she cut wide, flat slices of sweet potato and fried them in the long, black iron spider (frying pan). I reckon the most delicious of all were the grated sweet potato puddings.
We had a lavish amount of milk, most of the time. It