All this reminiscing has naturally turned my mind to food. Oh, we were, and are, a family of eaters! My Aunt Nobie used to say that the family would descend on a table and “eat up Hell and drink Jordan dry”! She never said a word of a lie when she said that.
Breakfast in our house was somewhat sparse and nondescript most of the time. Some fried eggs, bacon and/or sausage, and maybe some grits. Some days it was just oatmeal, heavily lashed with sugar and butter. On Sundays though, oh my lord, it was wonderful. For one thing, Dad had breakfast with us. And, always, always, there would be biscuits for breakfast.
Now, I need to stop here for a second or two and talk about biscuits. There must be as many ways to make biscuits as there are biscuit-makers. Some use lard, some use shortening, and still others use butter. Then there’s the liquid. Most folks I know use buttermilk. I know one or two who use “sweet” milk. Mother always used water. Yep. Just plain, ice-cold, spring water. Now, you might think that’s a strange way to make a biscuit and I’d almost have to agree with you. I say almost because I can’t make a water biscuit like Mother’s to save my life.
Mother’s biscuits are smallish; smaller than a bagel for sure. They have the most beautiful golden color and when you split it open to slather just a touch of butter inside the steam rises up from a pure white, almost feathery interior. Are they good? Goodness gracious, they are fit to eat!
Sorry; I almost lost my train of thought there. Back to breakfast. From time to time Dad would make the biscuits. Holy Mother of Pearl, were they big! Mother’s biscuit pan would hold 48 biscuits and that’s how many she made. When Dad made the biscuits it would hold about eight. I remember once he made them so big there were only four! They sure were good, though.
To this very day we poke fun at Mother about her lunch and dinner menus. Or, as we called it, dinner and supper. The joke is that on Mondays we had beans and potatoes and on Tuesdays we had potatoes and beans. Wednesday would start the cycle again. In truth, we did eat a lot beans. Butterbeans, pinto beans, green butterbeans, navy beans, great northern beans, and black-eyed peas. And we had taters! Stewed potatoes thickened with milk and cornmeal and fried potatoes. It was a rare thing to have a baked potato at our house unless it was a sweet potato. And of course, biscuits. We didn’t eat a lot of meat during the week. Meat was generally a Sunday kind of thing.
As I look back, I’m filled with admiration for Mother. If for no other reason, the fact that she prepared three meals a day for a minimum of seven people. However, it was a rare thing that we didn’t have someone “staying with us” as we used to say. This relative or that relative would come round and stay anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. Various siblings of both parents stayed with us several times for extended periods. Of course that meant more cooking. I’ve known Mother to make as many as 150 biscuits in a day. I imagine how difficult it was to stretch the food budget to cover twelve or fifteen mouths 21 times a week.
Fortunately, we always had a garden out back with tomatoes, beans (of course), okra, peppers, potatoes, squash, cucumbers and such-like. Many a summer and autumn day was spent in the hot, hot kitchen helping Mother make pickles put up tomatoes, and everything else from the garden that could be put into a jar. It was hot, hard work but it sure tasted good come wintertime.
Every now and then Mother would take a notion to make some teacakes. Her recipe makes 12 dozen. They never lasted long in our house, though! Teacakes, for those of you who are uninitiated, is rather like a cookie. It’s plain, vanilla, and filled with love and goodness! That reminds me of a time years later when I was in the Navy. Mother put together a Care Package to send to me in Beirut, Lebanon. She made a few loaves of banana nut bread and a recipe of teacakes.
This was during the war in Lebanon, so the airport was prized real estate and was routinely lost and regained. As luck would have it, Mother’s Care Package came at a time when everyone was fighting over the airport. So, here’s something to think about. It was summer in Beirut. Dark, moist loaves of banana nut bread, wrapped in tin foil languished inside a corrugated paper box. The package was kicked, thrown, and dropped. When I finally got it, there was even a tire track across one corner of it!
No matter. I ripped into that box like a young boy at Christmas time. I took out the letter Mother had enclosed and laid it to the side. Do you imagine I was going to read a letter when Mother’s chow was spread out in front of me?
I unwrapped the first loaf of banana nut bread. Mold. It was shot through and through with mold. I was upset, but there were several other loaves so I set to. Every single one was molded and unfit to eat. I was nearly inconsolable. Still, there were teacakes!
My mind filled with decadent memories of Mother’s teacakes baking in the oven. The entire house was filled with the delicate scent of vanilla. Soft, warm teacakes beckoned from the middle of the table. And here they were, in a box, calling my name.
Slowly, my trembling fingers grasped the box containing “Treasure from Mama”. I lifted the lid and my salivary glands went into overdrive. And… the teacakes were completely crushed! Nothing was left but crumbs! There wasn’t a single, intact teacake to be found!
Now, some people might find that off-putting. And I confess to a bit of disappointment, but the important thing is that there was not even a hint of mold anywhere to be seen. So, I went down to the mess decks and got some cereal spoons and my friends and I devoured those teacakes with as much joy as if we had been sitting in Mother’s house eating them fresh from the oven!
As long as you’re out wandering around in blog land, why don’t you stop in a pay a visit to some of my friends?
There’s Caz Greenham, she’s one of my favorite English storytellers. You can find her here.
And Seumas Gallacher. He’s a mad Scotsman, but generally harmless enough. Here’s his blog.
And of course you must check out John Dolan. He’s another bloody Englishman, and hangs his pith helmet somewhere in Thailand these days.
And, for God’s sweet sake, don’t forget that NEW YESTERDAYS is still available over at Amazon.com, and is waiting patiently for you to take it home with you!