By Phil James
Ahhh, to return once more to those earlier days of life out in the country. Mom and Dad. Dinner on the table. Family gathered ’round. Home, sweet home.
Spending quality time with members of an earlier generation can help bring a clearer perspective on those old days. Life’s simple pleasures, like favorite foods, genuinely were some of the best pleasures, and they are the ones most often recalled. It’s interesting, too, the ways that food memories are triggered.
A favorite comfort food for this writer’s father was “Milk and Bread.” Momma would bake four portions of old-style cornbread in a well-greased black iron skillet, and place them, pipin’ hot, on the table alongside a pitcher of buttermilk. After lifting a blessing of thanks for the food—aloud if others were seated at the table, or whispered if he were sitting alone—Daddy would remove a section of the coarse, crusty cornbread and crumble it into a tall drinking glass. Then he would slowly fill the glass near to the brim with buttermilk and devour the concoction a spoonful at a time.
Clyde McAllister’s family lived on a lower slope of Little Flat Mountain in Blackwell’s Hollow. He recalled the movings of some of his neighbors prior to and during WWII. “So many people from this part of the country went to work at the Maryland shipyards,” Clyde recalled. “When they would go down to work for the Bethlehem Steel, they would try to stay together. They were clannish. Maybe every other month or so they would come up in this part of the country: Brown’s Cove and Boonesville section. They would buy up meat from freshly killed hogs, eggs, vegetables and what not, and take it back. Now they did not go back and sell it. They would go back to people who would pay them the same price for it. They took turns on that. Gas was rationed and they would actually pool their gas. They would come up here and ‘go through the hollow’ as they called it. Buy some hams or the shoulders or the middlin’s—meat—and take it back. And somebody would say, ‘If you can, get me a gallon of apple butter, some creasy greens or mustard or whatever.’ And they would, and try to get back the next day. They visited as well, you see. So they’d make the trip and accomplish two things.”
Mamie Parrish’s hand-written recipe for mince meat harkens back to a much earlier day when the delicacy was spooned into a bread crust, baked and served as Christmas Pie. For the pie filling, Mrs. Parrish, former Postmaster at Nortonsville and proprietress of L.C. Parrish Store, wrote: “One hog’s head. Just take half of the head; the part that has the nose on it. Do not salt meat. Cook meat and grind.” Her recipe added currants, raisins, sugar, chopped apples, wine, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, followed by instructions to “Cook down. Put in jars and seal.” And there you have it—genuine mincemeat that you’ll play the dickens finding on your modern supermarket’s canned goods or freezer aisle.
Virginia Wood Sandridge (1917–2013), daughter of Wilson and Bettie Wood and wife of Wallace Sandridge, grew up on Walnut Level Farm, today’s Innisfree Village. She said, “In my family there were seven boys and three girls. I was the youngest girl. Can you imagine raising a family like that now? I declare, I expect you’d go hungry.
“We raised everything. There was 13 of us counting Mother, Dad and Grandma. We had a great big garden. And we canned. Didn’t freeze anything ’cause we didn’t have a freezer. We had an icebox refrigerator, you know. And raised chickens and hogs. Had turkeys, not too many, just had six or eight. Anyway, we didn’t have to buy a whole lot except sugar and meal and flour and stuff like that. If we hadn’t lived on the farm, I don’t know how Mother and Dad would have made it.
“They were good old days. I don’t mean to be disrespectful by saying this, but people in those days were close. I mean they were close. If one family said they were going to make apple butter, two or three families would come in together. Come and help ’em peel apples and make apple butter the next day. When another family would turn in and make apple butter, we’d all just work together.
“Phil and Totsy Wood from Boonesville thrashed wheat. They had this old threshing machine and they would go around and thrash for everybody that had a farm. Who would do that today? This world’s running too fast. It’s the people, not the world. He had three men with him, and Daddy hired quite a few people. You never saw such fields of corn and wheat and all that stuff. We sometimes would have 17 and 18 men to feed two or three days when they were thrashing wheat.
“Mother would have some of them to spend the night, and you know where they’d sleep? They stayed in the barn, up in the loft, on the hay. Slept on the hay. Then, of course, Mom would have to give them breakfast, and dinner too. Aunt Martha Jackson, she would help Mother to cook for the threshing machine men. They would say if they could have two meals a day, they could make out.
“They’d get up in the morning and I reckon they would go to the tank up there in the barn yard to wash their face and hands. I don’t know, but they didn’t come to the house. Great day in the morning—cooking for all of them at one time. Isn’t that something!
“We’d have six to eight hogs to butcher every fall. Oh my, we dreaded the day when they had to butcher them hogs. All that sausage to work up, cold pack and fry. We’d help out when we got bigger.
“Mother would have a hundred chickens. Set hens. Put little eggs under the hens and let it sit. Go out there sometimes and the little ol’ nests would be just chuck full of little chickens, peeking out from under their mother’s wings. That was so cute. And, oh, we were so excited. We had guineas and ducks. Take eggs to the store and buy groceries. Mr. Laurie Sandridge used to ask Daddy: ‘When you going to bring some of them frying-size chickens down here?’ Daddy would say, ‘Well, you’ll just have to wait ’til they get big enough.’ Oh, mercy me. Something to think back on.
“Have you gone through that, or do you remember? It’s not like that today. Isn’t that a shame? I’m going tell you, those days are gone and they will never return. But, you know, I’m still ol’-timey.”
Follow Secrets of the Blue Ridge on Facebook! Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County. You may respond to him through his website: www.SecretsoftheBlueRidge.com or at P.O. Box 88, White Hall, VA 22987. Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003–2014 Phil James