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Monday, November 8, 2010

Recording Our Past IV

This is my third article about recording our past. I am slowly putting together our family history. If you are fairly new to my blog you can go here for my post about keeping track of family heirlooms and here to see my post about old family photos.

Today I am posting about food customs and traditions. Every family has their own memories about their food customs and traditions. Below are my memories and, I bet, you probably have some of the same memories as I have.

There were no fast food places in the old days. Our families never ate out as they do today. Women cooked three meals a day. Baked bread of some sort had a place on the table at every meal. The rolling pin was a much used utensil in the kitchen and my grandma always wore an apron.

The red handled rolling pin was my Aunt Irma's. She had it since she was married in the late 1940s.
The old hand carved one was my moms. She gave it to me when I married.

Flour was bought in 25 lb. bags. Recipes were not always written down and ingredients were put in by the handfuls, instead of careful measuring.

Potatoes, pinto beans and bread were staples at the kitchen table. A huge pot of cooked beans lasted for several days. Neighborhood kids were often sent home with a buttered piece of cornbread in their hands. Fried apples and biscuits were a favorite and leftovers were eaten for breakfast the next day.

I remember visiting relative's homes for Sunday dinners. Colorful tablecloths were spread over the food after eating a meal. It kept flies off and enabled you to come back for leftovers later.

At Christmas, there were not always lots of presents to open up, but there were usually oranges, mixed nuts, chocolate balls, hard candy and lots of pies. Thin pies were stacked on top of each other and baked.

On New Years Day, everyone in our area of Appalachia cooked cabbage with a silver coin placed in it. The person who ended up with the silver in their serving, had luck in money the following year, or so they said. I believe it was also a way to get children to eat their cabbage.

On Easter, eating salty fish and eggs for breakfast was a tradition where I grew up. Mr. Walker's store had kegs of fish in salty brine. You would take them home, scale and bone them, and soak them overnight to get the salty taste out of them.

The applesauce stack cake was a favorite of our family. Layers upon thin layers were baked and stacked on top of each other with applesauce spread in between. If you did not have applesauce, apple butter or even jelly was spread in its place. Grandma made 'sweet cakes' out of any left over dough and put them in Grandpa's and Uncle Doc's lunch the next day. Grandma was not the only one who made them, so did my Aunts. Below is the OLD TIME STACK CAKE recipe that my Aunt Goldie put in the Walker Chapel Church cookbook in the early 1970s. Of course, you roll out many layers, and when stacking you spread applesauce between the layers. It is best if it sits covered for a day or two in the refrigerator before eating.

This cookbook is a treasure in itself. 
It is filled with recipes from my family members.

Grandma made these stack cakes all  the time. They were delicious. I remember coming in the back kitchen door and she would have the cake sitting on the table. She would cut me a piece and I gobbled it down.

Everyone canned, and they canned everything imaginable. I remember washing the canning jars outside in a large galvanized tub filled with hot sudsy water. Sausage was cooked, usually in round balls,  put in canning jars and hot grease was poured over them. They would then turn the jars upside down until the grease became cold and solid. They put away green beans, corn, tomatoes, chow chow, pickles and peaches for the winter. Grandma won ribbons for her blackberries,cherries, tomato preserves,  watermelon and blackberry preserves and blackberry jelly at school fairs in the 1930s. She was also hired by the state to go to people and teach them how to can.

The canned food was stored on shelves in cellars along with the baskets of potatoes and apples.

People lived off the land. Blackberry vines abounded on Grandma's land and they were picked and canned as is or made into jam and jelly. Cobblers were a favorite dessert during the summer.

Apples were made into apple butter. The family gathered in the cool fall air and cooked it in a large kettle over an open fire. It was a big undertaking and took all day. Grandma wrapped her 1891 silver dollar in a hanky and it was thrown into the kettle to keep the apple butter from sticking.
If you beat the squirrels to them, hickory nuts and black walnuts were harvested from the woods.

We raised our own chickens and pigs. Pig slaughtering day was a big event in the fall. They used everything from the pig except the 'squeal.' Ham, sausage, bacon, brains, lard rendered from the fat, feet and cracklins.

Chickens provided people with eggs and they were also the main dish for Sunday dinner!

Cows provided us with butter and milk. A churn and butter mold was a staple in the country kitchen.

One way to preserve your food history is to put together a family cookbook. I have gathered recipes from family members twice and put together a cookbook. The books are filled with pictures, recipes from the past and present and food memories that were shared to me by my cousins. It is a labor of love and worth the time spent in putting it together. It doesn't have to be bound professionally, a spiral notebook works very well, and it also makes it easy to add new recipes.

I have put the recipes from my first family cookbook here on my genealogy site.

Do you share some of the same food memories as I have? Have you ever put together a family cookbook?


  1. Janet, what a wonderful post! I really enjoyed reading it. The old time ways always interest me and make me want to learn more about them. None of my family on either side ever canned; so I learned on my own. Hope to pass the knowledge on to my daughter. Will be going to the geneology site to read those recipes!

  2. Very enjoyable post. I have never put together a cookbook. But I have all my moms old cookbooks and all the papers and napkins that she had written recipes on. I can just like I learned from my mom a nd grandma. How about Blackberry dumplings? I remember grandma making a big kettle of them for dessert on sunday and we would pour cold milk over it in a bowl and eat it. Memories......thank you!!

  3. Janet, this is wonderful! My dad grew up in NC and talks about eating fish on Easter and my mom always canned at home. My husband's paternal ma-maw in KY was well known for her applesauce stack cakes at Christmas time. We tried out her recipe a couple of years ago, lots of work but worth it with every bite~YUM! I think we have much in common.

  4. Janet -- I would like to thank you for the nice comments you left on my blog FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK. You have interests similar to mine. Genealogy is one of them. Wonderful to do a cookbook on family recipes. I will be checking back again to read about your life of writing and genealogy. -- barbara

  5. Janet-great post! It is amazing how much history surounds our ways of cooking and eating too.


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