Chapter 41

Milk and What We Ate

Winters in the past were a time of limited variety of food. I believe that not too many years before my time, just several decades, there were winters when some people did not have enough to eat, especially laborers, single old people, and the improvident. I can only speculate about that. In the depression years, when there was so little money, there was also little to hunt – no turkey, deer, pheasant, and relatively little rabbit, groundhog (which people largely disdain to hunt now but was widely eaten as late as the 70s) or other small game. There are many stories about people working directly for food during the depression. And it wasn’t people only that went hungry. Clifford Jackson told me that there were winters when cattle did not have enough to eat, and people went to the woods and cut small branches for them.

When I was a boy, most of our food was grown at home. Mom kept the garden with sweet corn, green beans, lima beans, onions, beets, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, and lettuce. We always had a potato patch. They are very productive with little labor. Many hours went into planting, cultivating, harvesting and clearing these food crops each year. Mom had learned from her mother and knew all that was necessary to produce all these different things. Her mom had raised seven kids and my mom had only three. And we had a little more money than her mom had had, so we bought a little.

Grandmother Kennedy bought flour, sugar, spices, salt and not much more. Flour and sugar originally came in barrels. Mom bought some canned food – salmon, peaches, pears, and once in a while, soup, kinds of beans we did not grow, soup beans and red beans. She also bought crackers, dried beef, cheese, and once in a while, oranges and bananas and in summer time watermelons. Once Doctor Pletcher told me that I should have an orange once a day. I made sure he meant a whole orange, and accidentally embarrassed Mom by saying, “Oh, that’s great, all Mom will let me have is one half at a time!”

Fresh vegetables were good for summer and into the fall, but we had them only in season. Grandmother Kennedy buried cabbage, carrots and potatoes, and Chinese cabbage for winter, but we didn’t do that. In the early years we always had Chinese cabbage at Christmas – part of the big meal at grandmother’s house. Mom made sauer kraut in a big stone jar. It was about 24 inches in diameter and 36 inches high. I loved that stuff and we had it regularly all winter. She used shredded cabbage and salt, and it pickeled, so it didn’t have to be sealed airtight. Mom also canned green beans, corn, beets, and a lot of meat when we butchered. She usually canned several bushels of peaches each fall. This was a common dessert for our meals, and also was used for cobblers. We bought apples through the season as they were needed. Blackberries were important in season. Many times we made a meal on blackberry pie or blackberry cobbler!

My father’s mother dried corn in the loft of their house when he was young, he often mentioned how good parched corn was. They doubtless dried other things, but drying food was a lost art to us by the thirties and forties. Grandmother Bond lived with my father’s sister, Aunt Lotta, who was a teacher, and they bought a lot more food than we did. I found an evaporating pan for maple syrup in an old shed when we came to Jesse’s Run, and there were stories about making maple sugar on the Lost Creek farm, but making it was so tedious it had been abandoned years before.

What I am getting at is that the vegetable matter in our diet was high in the growing season, and fell off when it was over. The rest of the year there were more potatoes, bread, meat, and always sweets. We all had a sweet tooth. Cookies, cakes, pies, cobblers and so forth were available all the time, along with fudge, home made ice cream on special occasions, cinnamon rolls, fondant, and other kinds of candy. We worked it all off, and with the exception of Mom, were reasonably thin. I still love sweets today.

Oysters were available in the fall at church socials, Oyster soup and oysters padded in cracker crumbs, always made from crackers, so they would be fresh. A real delicacy.

Milk played an important part in our diet, even after the dairy was closed. We always had one or two cows milking. There was plenty of milk to drink for us and for Grandmother and Aunt Lotta. Mom made butter from it, but we didn’t drink the buttermilk. It went to the pigs, along with any excess fresh milk that wasn’t needed. They also got the whey left over from making cottage cheese.

Dad would milk the cows and carry it to the house. A clean white cloth, used only once, held over the edge of the bucket was used to filter the milk into crocks. These were one gallon ceramic bowls with a heavy rim and a very smooth glaze, easy to clean. They were common at the time, but seldom are seen now. They do not make efficient use of space, but have large surface area. They were ideal for the sunken cellars described above, which were barely cool enough to provide minimum refrigeration. Now, in mechanical refrigerators, the air is cool enough and circulated, so one can use square containers with the same cross sectional area from top to bottom.

After the cream had risen on the milk stored in crocks, usually after six hours or so, it was skimmed off with a cup. We used cream on our breakfast cereal, to make butter, to make whipped cream, ice cream, and so on. The milk was also used for cooking and puddings. Not we, nor anyone we knew, made cheese. Just cottage cheese. But we used lots and lots of milk.

Recently I read an article by someone who hypothesized that a hormone in milk is causing girls to mature earlier these days as compared to the past. What a joke! Milk has been a principal source of protein and calories in the diet of rural girls (rural people) fortunate enough to have it, for thousands of years. It is about 7 or 8000 years since cattle were domesticated. (Cattle were domesticated in the Near East because they could survive on straw left after the grain was threshed out.) My theory is that early menarche is caused by too many calories and not enough exercise.

The food available in my old age at the supermarket: seafood, vegetables, fruit of all kinds, ethnic foods (Mexican, Chinese, Italian, to name a few), convenience foods (cook and serve, no preparation needed), drinks, desserts, and non-food items which would be beyond the belief of my grandparents. The prices would, too. We are very fortunate to have them for our health’s sake. I particularly enjoy fruit juices, orange, apple, grape and berry, papaya and mango. Pasteurized juices in unfermented form are a recent innovation, only a few decades old. Various wines (and drying) were the only option for saving the “fruit of the vine” until pasteurization. Our local Kroger carries 110,000 different items, the manager informs me.

Ramps are a traditional food, inherited from the Indians. It is a relative of the onion, and was favored by the Indians and early settlers because it is one of the first plants to grow in the spring. Ramp dinners are popular now, but I do not like the taste, and never eat them.

The only food species I know of that I have not eaten but would like to try is the durian, a fruit available in Southeast Asia. It smells bad, does not keep well, and can not be transported, but is said to be the most delicious fruit in the world. Pineapple is second, and we can enjoy it anytime we want.

Aside When I was a teenager, I saw the sale of the first bull ever that sold for more than a Million dollars. It was at Chester, West Virginia, in the extreme Northern panhandle. I don’t remember either the name of the farm or the man who sold the Hereford bull. Recently, I saw a Red Angus bull sell for $102,000 at Sheridan, Wyoming, and bought a bull there myself for about as much as a high end personal computer. It was maybe sixth or eighth in price at the sale.

Copyright © 1998, 2006, 2008, 2011 S. Tom Bond (stombond at