The tantalizing fragrance of sassafras tea floats through the house today, while the dark, robust tea bubbles on the stove. No better potpourri can be purchased, and in my opinion, no better tea can be brewed. Mom always said that this brew would “thin your blood” after a sluggish winter.
February has always been the month in which sassafras roots were dug, after the ground had thawed from winter’s freeze. This winter has been mild so far, and the ground soft, so that the roots can be dug anytime. When the sap has gone back into the roots, it is ready.
We drunk gallons of this tea when we were kids, and it is a delightful spring tonic. There is some controversy about the toxicity of it, but generations of mountain people have drunk it without harm. It is soothing on a cold January day.
Wintertime may be dreary, but it has its own special charm. As kids, we would gather in the “front” room after supper was over, and the kitchen cleaned up. Daddy would play games with us in front of the roaring gas stove (Mom was usually busy darning socks or doing embroidery work.) Do you remember “Fistalk?” I wonder where that game originated—we would make a column of fists, joined by grasping thumbs. Then the dialog began, “Whatcha got there?” “Fistalk!” “Take’m off or knock’em off?” We would either remove our fist or get it knocked off.
Sometimes Daddy would bring in a washtub of ears of field corn, and we would shell it to feed the chickens and livestock. It was fun to see who could finish their ear first, or who would find a red cob. We could use the cobs to make corncob dolls, dressing them in scraps of material and playing with them for hours.
The best times were when Daddy would read to us. I believe a love of reading was instilled in each of us, as we are all avid readers. It was so comforting to be cuddled around Daddy, some of us on his lap and the rest on chairs pulled up close as he read with feeling. Sometimes when he read an especially touching paragraph, he would pause and wipe the tears from his eyes.
It wouldn’t matter if the wind was wailing around the eaves of the house, and trying to get in through cracks around the window facings, we were enthralled in a world of our own. These are precious memories that time does not dim. I guess most of us older folks have similar memories of growing up in the country.
I was re-reading a letter that I received from Glenn Roberts (now deceased) that recalled old time memories. He was my Uncle Myles’ brother-in-law, and a fine man. He was 92 when he wrote, and I cherish the letter.
He wrote. “I was born and raised on Mud River, a remote area hemmed in by the hills. As you know, life was primitive and hard in many ways, but as children we did not know it, with the outdoor ‘Johns’ and outdoor wells. Water was carried inside by means of the water bucket, and everyone drank from the bucket using the same drinking cup.
“In those days beginning about Thanksgiving, it was hog-killing time and winter would set in with the creeks completely frozen over and would remain so until spring. In the morning the water bucket would be frozen over with a thin skin of ice. (Oh, yes, I remember that! Our water bucket set on a water table with the tin dipper inside.)
“The fire in the fire place would be ‘banked’ until morning, for we had a family coal bank from which we got coal. But we slept comfortable and warm in deep feather beds, the feathers from the family geese. Who of today’s generation knows what it is like to snuggle down in such a bed, when outside it is blue cold and the moonlight as bright as day? (My three brothers slept in a feather bed when they were growing up, and sometimes snow would drift through cracks in the outside wall on them. But they were warm and snug.)
“We were poor in the things of this world and not knowing it, but really rich at that time and not knowing that either.”
We have one foot in yesterday’s world. Criss is milking again, and our grandchildren are learning an entire new vocabulary of words. How many people have heard the word “beezlin’s?” That is a colloquial word for colostrum or the first milk a cow produces after having a calf. “Blue John” was fresh milk with the cream removed. I think that is what we buy now!
When milk gets “blinky” it is beginning to sour, and after it sours it “clabbers.” I made cottage cheese this week with clabbered milk, and as I gently stirred it I wonder if that was what Miss Muffet ate while she sat on her tuffet—curds and whey? The cottage cheese was delicious and made me think of Mom making it in the spring.
We would have a spring calf, and Mom would fix wilted lettuce and onions, creamed new potatoes, and homemade cottage cheese. That was food fit for a king! There was nothing like food from the good old days.
I found a poem that my Aunt Addie Dawson wrote years ago that is very descriptive of our food of yesterday.
Warm corn bread and fodder beans,
Salt side meat and wild field greens,
Sassafras tea, dried apple pie,
That’s real farm grub, me oh my!
We were young and happy, but very poor,
Back in the good old days of yore,
That sort of eatin’ grows real strong bones,
Now don’t mistake me for Grandpa Jones.
I’m a country girl that used to hoe
Them corn and beans, row after row.
Now the green corn fields are not around,
The old turn plows have rusted down.
Trees now grow where we dug and sweat,
And fought sweat bees, I remember yet.
Now I’m too old to stand the heat,
So I go to the store and buy what I eat!
I found a quote by an old maid school teacher who raised her sister’s three children after her sister was killed in a car wreck. She told me, “No matter how bad the situation, I knew there was a way out if I could just find it—the Lord makes a way out!”
We received a most interesting letter from Mildred Caldwell. This lady amazes me! She is past 94, still lives alone and cooks for her whole family. I have a hand-woven basket she made for me (yes, she does that also.) She cooked Christmas dinner for eight, fixed lunch for her circle meeting-she has had them in her home for 43 years. It wears me out just to read of the busy life she has!
She sent a recipe that she made for her circle meeting, which she says is so easy and so good.
WEST VIRGINIA APPLE PIE
Unbaked pie crust
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cup chopped apples
1 stick butter, melted
Mix chopped apples, eggs, sugar, cinnamon and butter together. Pour into pie crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then for 25 minutes at 350.
This would be good with ice cream.
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