Monday, August 01, 2011

Cooking From Scratch in the 1930's

Cooking From Scratch in the 1930's. When one "cooked from scratch" in the thirties, it was from the first "scratch" of a match. We had a large iron cookstove in our kitchen when I was a child. The iron cookstove burned wood. (The picture to the left looks much like the stove in our kitchen in the late 1920's and early 30'except our stove had white metal on the oven door and warming closet doors)

Wood had to be cut in "stove wood" lengths, brought from the backyard into the house and stacked in wood boxes behind the stove. A fire had to be started with crumpled up newspaper and kindling wood. Then the fire was kept burning by the constant additon of larger pieces of "stove wood."

The stove had , what we called "a warming closet" near the top. It had two decorative iron doors to open and place cooked food to keep warm until time to set on the table. A large reservoir was built in on the side to heat water. I remember one of my jobs was to keep water in the reservoir. The "eyes" on top of the stove could be removed to build the fire. There was a little iron utensil to fit into a hole in the stove eye to lift it and then put back in place so large pots of beans or potatoes or meat could be cooked on top of the stove. I remember my mother cooking beef roast, pork roast, and chickens on top of the stove in water. We called them "roasts", but they were sometimes boiled or simmered on top of the stove. This was used possibly for tougher cuts of meat than the roasts we cook today.

Chicken, pork chops, and cubed steak was fried in a large iron skillet. I have seen my mother take a hammer to pound steak to tenderize it. She would then flour and fry it in serving size pieces. Meat was not served every day.

Some kind of dried beans (a wonderful sourse of protein) were cooked almost every day - large butter beans, small limas, pinto beans, navy beans, or black-eyed peas. Salt pork was plentiful and added to the dried vegetables for seasoning. Potatoes were boiled with butter and sometimes dumplings...probably bits of leftover dough from the biscuits that were cooked at every meal. The term "low-fat" had never been spoken!

Large pans of sweet potatoes were baked often. Sweet potatoes seemed plentiful and were sometimes fried or made into pies or puddings. In the summer fresh vegetables were cooked in place of or in addition to the dried beans which were a staple and inexpensive proten food nearly every day, Fresh vegetables were seasoned with fat meat (uncured bacon). Thankfully my mother did not add the fat meat to fresh vegetables as lavishly as some cooks did.

My favorite summer vegetable plate was fresh crowder peas with a few tiny pods of okra boiled on top of the peas, corn freshly cut fine off the cob, and sliced tomatoes. On a cold winter day nothing was better than chicken and dumplings, one of Mama's really great dishes. What kind of bread? Cornbread, of course and hot buttered biscuits.

Mama made great vegetable soup from fresh tomatoes and an assortment of vegetables from summer gardens. She also made soup in the winter using canned tomatoes and canned corned beef with potatoes, rice, or macaroni and any vegetables she had. We had canned salmon made into patties fairly often and sometimes fried fish. The fish meal was often fish that Mama caught from the nearby Yellow River. ( My father died when I was nine after being bedridden for a years, so I was reared by a widowed mother. My two older brothers , Grice and William Bogan...whom we called "Willie B "and two older sisters Louise and Vera (whom we called Sis and Vek) were already married when my father died. I was nine and my youngest brother Jack was 14.)

Cheese and macaroni, rice, and rice pudding were common dishes in the 30's. Grits and eggs were often served for breakfast with fried salt pork or streak-o-lean. Sometimes we had ham to go along with biscuits and butter and jelly or jam that had been prepared and put away in jars in quantity during the summer. It was not uncommon to have pork chops or fried chicken for breakfast along with the regular homemade buttered biscuits. Real butter.

The first margarine I saw looked like a hunk of lard, and, for a long time, tasted like lard to me - as it did to anyone who had been raised on country buttered biscuits. The margarine of the late thirties was white and came with a vial of yellow coloring. To make it look more like butter, the margarine had to be left out of the refrigerator to soften at room temperature. The yellow coloring had to be worked in. I suppose the butter lobbyists mandated this. In a few years the margarine people prevailed and they were allowed to make margarine that looked as yellow as butter.

An after dinner speaker named Baldy White was popular when I was young. He was a big man and used to keep his audience laughing with such comments as, "We were so poor when I was a boy, all we had for breakfast was ham, eggs, buttered grits and hot biscuits with an assortment of homemade jellies and preserves. We didn't know there was such a thing as Post Toasties!"

I remember Aunt Cora bringing her two granddaughters my age, Mildred and Allene, down from their home in Atlanta one week-end and how excited they were to have homemade biscuits for breakfast. I was amazed. I would have been more excited to have cereal and milk or toast made with "store bought" bread. Rare!