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We did not do lavish Christmas cooking, not in our circle of acquaintances and kin, nor
did we do lavish Thanksgiving cooking. We usually had fresh pork both times and often our meat
would be a huge pot of backbones. If the hog killing had been in the last day or two before the
holiday, we had the most prized meat of all, the loin strip. Our men did not make pork chops of
any cut of hog. That long lean strip taken out without bone and how I looked forward to it. I hated
any boiled meat. Mother and all her acquaintances and kin only boiled or fried meat. One reason
for that is that they did not know of roasting procedures and second that it would have required
oven cooking and use of much stovewood. They could boil a piece or pieces of meat in the black
iron cooking pot on the coals on the hearth by the fire which was already going for warmth.
Mother would make good dressing with that water and we always had small Bermuda onions
growing in the garden all winter. These grew in clusters and did not decay as the large ones did
and were not hot. Mother did not have to buy sage. She grew it, dried it in a slow oven and so we
had sage and onions for dressing and since I always contended for fried meat, she fried something
for me. We sometimes did have a hen boiled but since I wouldn't eat boiled meat, she had to do
the frying for me and I ate dressing with that.
Usually Thanksgiving day was just another day. Daddy was sometimes up to his ears in
corn gathering and we cooked a little better dinner. Some meat as I have described, maybe a
molasses cake with the dried apple filling and frosting. One or two or three of the many
vegetables in storage, canned or dried, the usual dish of pickles, preserves, canned berries, or
peaches, on the table.
Christmas would be the same with the exception of a coconut cake. Mother always cooked
a large luscious coconut cake. She used only her simple two-egg recipe for the batter (2 eggs, 3/4
cup milk, 1-1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup fat, 2 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon
salt), but we always got a fresh coconut and she filled and covered the cake lavishly with frosting
and coconut. Then she always had Daddy to buy the cone-shaped frosted jellied candies, assorted
colors. She topped the cake with those and it looked like tiny frost-covered shapes of color in a
snow bank. That was her specialty. I never saw or read of a fruit cake. With all our folks, just
ordinary cakes were made. A little more lavish perhaps, was a Christmas cake, or was called so.
We often saw no one but ourselves on Christmas Day. The weather would have been too
bad to venture forth. They had bought a little fruit and a few nuts. Oranges still always smell like
Christmas. We had them no other time unless some one was really sick. Those little home-grown
apples smelling like all the scents of Araby would still be crisp and we would allow ourselves a
few more of those unwrapping them from the Sears Roebuck catalog pages that were used to
protect them and out of their cardboard boxes from under the bed in the front room. We got a few
raisins, the seeded ones still on stems, I never taste such now.
If we did not go to Mama Murphree's on pretty Christmas days we would walk to
Grandaddy Morgans. My parents occasionally bought a box of lemon stick candy. At
Grandfather's he would bring out his goodies. he may have sent to town for a bushel of shipped in
apples, which, then I preferred to our small homegrown ones, and he had oranges and several
boxes of candy. He always bagged up a large paper bag for us to carry home. Uncle Alsie's
children made their home at Grandaddy's and Grandmother's. These were Euras, Theda, Roy, and
Lois. Lois was near my age, the youngest. So I would get to see the cousins there.
One favorite toy at Christmas time for parents and teachers to give children was a
harmonica. At that time, all children were given gifts by teachers. A harmonica, which we called a
French Harp, cost all of a nickel or a dime. A good sized professional one might cost a quarter. I
invariably wanted one. Of course, I had not a musical bone in my body. I made noise on it, that
Another gift that teachers most often gave was a "bought" toothbrush. Our toothbrushes
were off the blackgum bush or the blackgum tree. They made a large tree, but the woods were full
of the small ones and we got a good sized twig about as large as a small cedar pencil, peeled the
bark down about an inch and a half and the whole thing was about six inches long. We chewed
the peeled end into a mop shaped thing and brushed our teeth with that. We used ashes or baking
soda. I recall that Daddy used ashes.
I had bountiful Christmases. I always got one special large gift and one or two small ones.
Also there were the oranges and raisins which we did not get at other times, not often. There was
candy too, then, but seldom at other times. My victory over my nice pretty things was a little
hollow, with no one to show them to or to play with them with me.
Some other children of the area did not get anything but the candy, nuts, and fruits.
Christmas was a very quiet celebration then. The weather was usually bad and the roads
almost impossible to travel on, so family get-togethers were never planned. We almost always got
to both my grandparents during the Christmas week. At “Mama” Murphree’s sometimes we got to
see other cousins, sometimes not. At the Morgan grandparents, my four cousins who made their
home there were always at home and I enjoyed them. Friends and relatives did not exchange gifts.
We had no church programs. We didn’t try to plan for such due to not knowing what the weather
Mother tried to see that I had a good Christmas. When she was a child, they had had
usually nothing except a little candy and one time nothing at all.
One Christmas there was a bisque doll with curls for me and one time there was a big
sleeping doll and a cloth body--perhaps a paper mache head with painted-on reddish blonde hair.
That day it rained all day. We never got outside.
When I was about four, Tellie Murff and Winnie Davis gave me some lovely Christmas
gifts. I think Tellie gave me a beautiful ball and some of the best of candy. Winnie gave me a box
of blocks, some of which were painted to form the facade of an antebellum house. They were still
in the house when all of the things had to be sold and/or given away when Daddy got sick.
Some winter Sundays we couldn’t go to church. We’d have Sunday School at home. My
Father was well read in the Bible. He was on speaking terms with the old Bible Patriarchs. We
three would read and discuss the lesson while pork backbones simmered in the kitchen, they for
our Sunday dinner, and while sweet potatoes baked and while perhaps dried peas or butterbeans
Potato Salad, Kraut, and Sorghum Molasses
One other thing we cooked was potato salad, made with a very good tasting vinegar. We
never saw or heard of mayonnaise. At age 14, I was taught to make in mayonnaise in my home
science at Derma school. But we had no olive oil at home to make it with. Our potato salad was
made of coarsely mashed potatoes and chopped onions, boiled eggs and the vinegar. But it was a
summertime dish. We did not make it in the winter.
We made several gallons of sauerkraut each summer. Mother's method of chopping
cabbage was to cut up the trimmed cabbage heads into quarters or smaller and start putting them
into a 3 or 4 gallon stone wear jar that we called them churns for we also used them to churn our
milk in. She had two or three very long and very sharp knives and when a churn was about half
full she would sit beside the jar or put me there and we started plunging those knives slanting
downward through the coarsely chopped cabbage. Surprisingly, that process cut it fine enough
after a while. We kept adding cabbage and adding and adding as it began to be cut finely and
sank to the bottom. After the churn was full enough -- oh yes we added salt as we cut and packed
the cabbage -- Mother tied several cloths around it very tightly and set the jars (usually about two
or three of them before the cabbage season was over) aside in the side room to turn to kraut.
When the chopped cabbage it tasted right, sour enough, she canned it using the open kettle
method. She cooked it in a big vessel and packed it into hot sterilized jars, quart fruit jars. The
jars were left in the hall for a while, sitting on newspapers, to see if any did not "keep" (turn dark
and not look right) before putting them in the small, freeze-proof storage house that we called the
potato house for that was where we stored the sweet and Irish potatoes for the winter. The kraut
was there for the winter in its jars.
Stripping sorghum was done in about September. We took some sharp wooden paddles
and went down the rows and hit the sorghum stalk, severing the leaves from the stalk. These
paddles were homemade. No sharp instrument could do it for it would cut the stalks. After the
leaves had been removed, the stalks were cut down close to the ground and the tops cut off. This
sorghum seed head was wonderful feed for the chickens. A sorghum mill was somewhere in the
community and each farmer would haul its sorghum stalks over at the allotted time and get his
sorghum made. A set of steel rollers powered by a mule which walked around and around were
used to squeeze out the juice. The juice was then cooked in vats until enough water had been
evaporated and it was of the right consistency. The sorghum maker had to be expert to keep it
cooking just right. They burned long poles under the vats. It could not get too hot or it would
burn. I loved to play around the mill. As the sorghum began to thicken, the sorghum maker and
his helpers skimmed off the foam which rose to the top. We liked to "sop" that.
Each farmer paid a toll of so much in proportion to how many buckets he got. We usually
had enough for ourselves and occasionally to sell some.
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