When I was growing up in the 1930s, times were hard. It wasn’t much better in the ’40s. If you had a job back then, you were lucky.
I had to go to work at the ripe old age of 13. My first full-time job was as a dishwasher in a cafe. I graduated from dishwasher to assistant cook. It was there that I learned there were other foods besides beans, taters and cornbread.
Don’t get me wrong. To a hungry boy, beans and taters with a big piece of onion was awfully good. There were times when there was no beans and taters on the table.
Let’s look at some of the food and what it was called.
If you wanted some bread but didn’t have the flour to make biscuits, there was a hoecake. You made your dough up real thin. Then you poured a thin layer in an iron skillet on top of an eye of the stove. The hoecake would brown on one side then you would flip it over.
In later years I heard it called fry bread. I grew up eating a lot of hoecake bread. Don’t get the fry bread mixed up with flapjacks.
When I talk about flapjacks, you think of pancakes, but flapjacks was the poor folks’ version of pancakes. There was some other things put in the mixture for flapjacks that was not in hoecakes.
Making hoecake bread, you poured the whole bottom of the frying pan full. For flapjacks, you put small portions of the mixture in the pan. There would be about four in the pan at the same time.
A stack of them with good cow butter in between and sorghum syrup poured on top — this would fill the stomach of a poor boy and keep him going until bean time.
Bean time was at the time most folks call lunch. It was cooked and ready, but most of the time the husband was off working and the kids were in school. The beans were held over for dinner, what was known as suppertime back then. The whole family sat down and ate together. If you were lucky, you had beans and taters with an onion and cornbread. Everyone ate the same thing, with no complaints.
I guess you noticed I spelled potatoes as “taters.” When we were growing up, our mother would give us a few cents and tell us to run to the store and get some taters. The taters would be in a box in the store. You could pick out the ones you wanted. If you picked them out you had no complaint if one was bad.
I can remember when a 25-cent piece would buy a big bag of taters. Nowadays they would not even let you smell of a tater for a quarter.
There were all kind of beans back then. Pinto and butter beans were the most popular. In case you didn’t know, the big lima bean was called butter bean. Among the other favorites was the black-eyed peas. Leftovers were put into the icebox and warmed up the next day. The black-eyed peas were different.
If you had black-eyed peas for supper, you could bet that you would have pea patties for breakfast. The peas were mashed and an egg was broke into them with salt and pepper to season. Flour was mixed into the pea mixture and made into patties. They were fried into a crispy patty.
The pea patty with some eggs and a cathead biscuit made a breakfast fit for a poor boy.
I bet you are saying to yourself, “What in world is a cathead biscuit?” I can remember when it was the thing to have hot biscuits for breakfast.
Mothers thought you had to have a good breakfast in order for you to be healthy.
Biscuits came in all sizes. Some small, some medium, and the big cathead biscuit. If your mother made the small biscuit, it took a lot of them to fill a hungry person. The medium was a little better. The big cathead biscuit only took about one, two at the most. You take and split the biscuit and fill it full of good old country butter. If you have gravy, pour it over the biscuit.
Did I mention gravy? There was several kinds of gravy back then. I remember redeye gravy. Then there was sawmill gravy. And don’t leave out bucksop gravy.
Redeye gravy you got from frying some kind of meat. I remember that the old folks would pour a small amount of coffee into the grease. They would mix it real good and pour it over all kind of greens. If you had no milk or anything but flour, you would make bucksop gravy with water. It looked like gravy but didn’t have the taste. Sawmill gravy was made with milk and if you were lucky, you had sausage to put into it. The gravy without anything in it was great on a big cathead biscuit. The sausage would make it lip-smacking good.
Did I say lip-smacking good? Well now, if you have never had old-fashioned cold bread pudding, you don’t know what you have missed.
The leftover bread was kept and, when there was enough, my mother would make it into cold bread pudding.
I have no way of knowing what was put in the cold bread or how it was made, but after you had your beans and taters a slice of cold bread pudding set off the supper.
If you were lucky, your mother had enough stuff in the kitchen to make up a batch of tea cakes. I have ate all kinds of cookies, but none can come up to the home-cooked tea cake.
I have talked about beans, gravy, and a few other things. There was then, and now, nothing as good as a made-from-scratch chocolate or coconut cake.
I have always credited a lot of the taste of the food back then to the old wood stove. A biscuit baked in the oven had a taste that you can’t find nowadays.
The cathead biscuits are still found in several places. They are good, but Mama’s good old cathead biscuits were the best. Did I mention, to make this taste real good you had a big cup of joe with it?