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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Supper Time In Appalachia

Although I rarely watch talk shows or daytime television, I nearly always watch the evening news and I have recently fallen into the habit of turning the television on a few minutes early and watching the last few minutes of the Anderson Cooper show.  He is a refreshing change after the wasteland that talk shows had been for the previous several years.  Recently, I saw him talking about his Family Dinner Challenge which prompted a great deal of thought about how I grew up and how we always ate meals together.  I realized that the concept of the family table and supper time in Appalachia was a great idea for a posting. 

Coal or Wood Burning Cook Stove

When most people my age were growing up, the family always ate meals as a group.  This was due to several reasons: 1) most mothers did not work outside the home; 2) microwaves did not exist; 3) few ready to eat foods were being sold; 4) people in general were more frugal; 5) the entire technology "revolution" had not happened; 6) society was less permissive in general and children were better supervised and controlled. There are probably several other reasons which may bubble up as you and I think about this concept.  But the bottom line was that most parents required their children to be home at supper time and to eat with the family not just at supper but at most meals.  The person most likely to miss a family meal in the 1950's and 1960's was the father since he might need to leave before daylight for work and might return later in the evening.  But, even in these case, most parents required the children to eat together with at least one parent present.

Antique Kitchen Cabinet With Flour Sifter

Recent research has generally shown several improvements in overall quality of life for families who eat the family meal together.  Communication occurs at the family table.  Parents know what their children are doing and with whom they are involved.  Children will have a more clear cut understanding of the boundaries being set by parents and will also be less likely to cross those boundaries. Problems which might be beginning with a child can be detected sooner with the added interaction of the family table.  But the real point to this posting was to discuss the concept of supper time in Appalachia.

Antique Table

I can still remember hearing my mother calling me to come home for supper if I was in the yard, at the barn, or in fields nearby.  And when I was late, I could always know that she was serious when she reached the point of using my full legal name when she called.  We did not say grace at our house unless it was Sunday dinner and a few people might have stopped after church to eat with us.  It was always the custom in the Old Regular Baptists to invite people in to eat dinner after church especially if they had come from a distance.  But regardless of who was at the table, we all sat down and ate the meals together.  And since both of my parents worked at home in the store, it was much easier for us to have a schedule which allowed all of us to eat at the same time.  The food might be simple, cheap, home grown, or caught in the woods.  But it was wholesome, delicious, nutritious, and filling.  And we knew we were eating in the company of people who loved us.

Sorting Or "Looking" Pinto Beans

Mainstays of the menus would be potatoes, greens, corn, macaroni and tomatoes, beans (either pintos, green beans, or shucked beans), pork, and chicken.  I think often of the old style meals we ate and still have a few of them at home.  I have been able to introduce my wife, who grew up in Wisconsin, to many of the old Appalachian meals and some of them have become her favorites also.  Although she was 23 when we met in Northwest Pennsylvania, I cooked the first pinto beans, shucked beans, and macaroni and tomatoes she ever ate.  Today, they are three of her favorite foods.  We actually still make shucked beans each summer so that we never run out and can have them at least every week or two.  

Other mountain meals which I remember fondly but rarely have anymore include mush, fried cornbread and gravy, hog lights (lungs) and potatoes, pork brains and eggs, baked ground hog, rabbit, turtle, squirrels and gravy,   and dumplings made with the unfinished eggs from the laying hen with which they were made.  Mush and fried cornbread and gravy were two meals which generally were cooked when a family had little or nothing else to eat.  Although my parents generally had more than their neighbors, they still made a point now and then to have both mush and fried cornbread and gravy.  They are simple, dirt cheap, and filling.  They were meals which poor people could eat and manage to complete a day in the corn field, log woods, or coal mines. Many of these meals may have been cooked on an old wood burning step stove.  They might have been eaten at a table made from rough oak lumber from the sawmill up the creek.  The milk probably came from Old Bossie at the barn. The milk or water was probably drunk from jelly glasses.  The plates might have been an advertising premium which came with a sack of flour.  We might have known the hog by name which provided the meat.  A family member may have caught the fish or shot the squirrels.  The water was probably drawn in a bucket from a dug well. One of the children may have been seated on the fifty pound lard bucket which provided the fat in which the food was fried.  And I maintain that we were better off for all those experiences.

Hand Dug Well With Stone Well Box

 Once in a while, it is a good idea to revert to our childhoods in Appalachia and have a meal with some of these old standbys. It is also a great idea to make every body in the household come in, sit down at the same time, look each other in the eye, turn off all electric and electronic devices, and talk while we eat.   It helps us hold on to our memories, honor our heritage, and preserve our culture by passing it on to the next generation. 

Jelly Jar Glasses

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