One of the newly discovered blogs that I visit every day is that of The Pioneer Woman http://www.thepioneerwoman.com . On her "Cooking" site today, she asked for comments on favorite meals. Just as certain words may trigger my poetry muse, the phrase "favorite meals" immediately called to mind the first meal in my life that I can actually remember: Homemade yeast bread, fresh-churned butter, translucent strawberry preserves, and buttermilk.
Background and details:
My father's mother, Mary Varches Woodall Griffith, a widow, lived on the family farm outside of Fall River, in Elk County, Kansas. I think it must have been the practice of my father, her only male child, to spend a few weeks each year going home to help out his mama, and his sister, my Aunt Minnie, who lived with Grandma. At the time (pre-WW II), we lived in Las Vegas, NM. Daddy worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a sort of Job Corps organization which the government formed during the depression. They built dams and worked in forests, among other things. He was a supervisor in a CCC camp north of Las Vegas, the location of which is buried in my memory at present (well, I was only about 5 years old at the time, and can't recall ever visiting the camp.)
Anyway, this particular summer, Daddy had taken with him myself and and my younger sister, Meg, who would have been around 3 years old. I cannot imagine!! Aunt Minnie, who did all the real work on the homestead, I suspect, was probably horrified to think she was going to have two under-6-years-old children running around the place.
As I recall, Daddy's chores for that visit were to paint the barn (I still like the color barn-red) and to install electricity in the farm house. The REA (Rural Electrification Administration) had just run a main line on the county road which ran in front of the farm house; if one wanted electricity to the house, that sort of work was on your own, I suspect. At the time, after the sun went down, all the Griffith family had in the way of lighting was kerosene lamps. I remember that Aunt Minnie carried a lamp from the kitchen to the dining room table so we could see to eat supper. I know beyond doubt that the family ate three meals a day, but I don't recall any meals during our stay except this one.
At the time of this visit, which I think would have been the summer of 1940, Grandma was almost 72 years old (she was born in 1868). She was a tiny, tiny woman, very thin, and less than five feet tall. (More about Grandma being tiny, tiny in a subsequent post.) However, Grandma still made every bite of bread that was served in the house, and it was the very BEST bread I have ever eaten -- ever, ever, ever! *** My younger daughters come pretty close with their homemade bread, but they have several years of bread-making to get under their belts before they top Grandma! ***
Grandma and Aunt Minnie evidently kept a milk cow, because Grandma churned some of the cream to make butter. She didn't use a regular churn, one that sits on the floor and has a dasher that one pulls up and pushes down. Instead, she used a very large Mason jar; it must have been at least a 1/2 gallon jar (I also remember that the root cellar was full of Mason jars full of canned vegetables.) Anyway, Grandma would almost fill the jar with sweet cream, screw on the metal lid, then sit in the kitchen in her rocking chair with the jar, wrapped in a dishtowel and lying on its side, in her lap and ROCK until the cream had turned to butter! I remember standing by her side watching the cream turn to butter! I thought it was magic!
After the butter had been gathered, the remaining liquid, either still in that jar or in a new jar, was lowered into the well to cool. (No electricity, remember? Ergo, no refrigerator. I can't recall that they even had an ice-box.)
Daddy worked outside until it was too dark to see, so supper was after dark. We ate in the dining room by the light of a kerosene lamp. I can still see in my mind's eye, the red-checkered oil cloth-covered table and the glow of the lamp on the strawberry preserves. A very simple supper, but one I will always, always remember!