“Take nine eggs, one-half pound of butter or a tea cup of olive oil, three cold cooked chickens or one medium-sized turkey, two or three bunches of celery … ”
“Soak a 12-pound ham in cold water for 12 hours, remove bone, fill cavity with stuffing, wrap in cheese cloth, cover with cold water, boil, simmer three hours, remove cloth, rub with brown sugar, stud with cloves, bake three hours, serves 16 to 20 … ”
Today, few if any women could be bothered doing such complicated recipes. It’s much easier to go to the deli, get chicken salad, ready-to-eat water-added ham, a few bakery rolls or bread, and dinner is served.
But in the 1930s, when Hugh Earnhart’s grandmother, mother and aunts were cooking dinner for threshing day on grandfather William Pond’s farm in Champaign County, Ohio, competition was keen among farmers’ wives to be judged “Best Cook” and they outdid themselves.
In Hugh’s Eat Like a Thresherman cookbook with its more than 1,000 recipes from those bygone days – no fast or frozen food ever – he writes, “Feeding the threshers was a theme of major dimensions. Preparations began days in advance with the women planning the ‘award-winning’ dishes.
“The annual event became a matter of pride, a competitive undertaking by the females, each attempting to set the best dish possible.
“The threshing dinner was always the same: The roast beef was well-done, platters of crisp fried chicken, last fall’s home hickory-smoked ham, snowy mountains of mashed potatoes capped by home-churned butter, bowls of garden-fresh vegetables, boats of gravy, baskets of hot homemade breads and biscuits, and large earthenware crocks of baked beans lumpy with good pork.
“To further please the palates of the hearty eaters there were the ‘trimmins’ – homemade pickles and relishes, fruit jams and jellies, corn-on-the-cob, carrots, fried onions, leaf lettuce and radishes extracted from the garden.
“There were also tomatoes picked while still wet with night-time moisture, and eggs gathered yesterday and pickled this morning. And standing tall at the end of the table was the huge blue granite pot of regular ground brawny coffee.
“Next came the desserts: apple, raisin, pumpkin, peach, cherry and mince pies, all still warm. Cakes rich with icing and different flavors were also offered and sometimes homemade ice cream was served.
“Following the dinner there was a pause for rest, neighboring and a self-rolled Bull Durham cigarette. The whistle of the big engine would soon call the men back to the field. Then the women and children ate.
“Once again all acknowledged they had set the best threshing table of the season.”
Hugh admits the recipes in this extraordinary cookbook are not low carb. I do wish there were space to share the entire saga of Hugh’s recollections of threshing day which was, he writes, “the greatest day of the year for farmers in the 1930s when life was slower, harder and more neighborly. It could come on any day of the week but never – never – on Sunday.
“The youngsters remember the noise, the bustle and the big machinery. The older children thought of this day as a fun day and the opportunity for new experiences.
“The men recall this summer day task with recollections of hard and sweaty work, as did the women preparing the food and dealing with the kitchen full of dirty dishes.”
You’ll notice beside some of the recipes a small cat footprint. Hugh’s Siamese kitty, Boxcar Willie, was a “big help” over the five years this cookbook was in the making.
And it’s not just the great recipes or the delightful saga of yesteryear’s threshing days that make this book special. You’ll find an occasional saying at the bottom of some of the pages, i.e.:
“Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education. Of soup and love, the first is the best. The best classroom in the world is at the feet of grandparents.
“Never have I enjoyed youth so much as in my old age. Youth is the gift of nature but age is the work of art.”
And I love this: “The people who sit and rock in a rocking chair all day don’t get anywhere.”
I asked Hugh from where these gems came, and he allowed they were “original Hugh’s” which make them all the better. You’ll find more when you get your book and even though it might not make Oprah’s summer book list, it absolutely makes mine.
Reading a good cookbook and salivating over recipes while not adding calories can scuttle all the day’s work plans, as I’m sure a lot of readers will confess.
Retired from Youngstown State University since 1996, Hugh has no problem filling his days. He’s an Ohio State master gardener, certified flower judge, an enthusiastic gardener and much, much more.
On a 90-degree June day he was “riding range” at a certain golf course where, he jokes, no disagreements are allowed.
Hugh’s inspired epic was done, he muses, “for my family” and there are photographs and dates to acquaint you with his forebears.
The dedication is to his mother, Pauline W. Earnhart, while there is a special thanks to his grandmother, Emma Z. Pond, who had legendary status as the “Choice Cook” on the harvest circuit.
I do recommend Eat Like a Thresherman for a fulfilling – without the calories – summer read!
(To order the book, send a check for $11.95 per book plus $2.75 per book for shipping and handling, to: Hugh G. Earnhart, 2935 Red Maple Lane, Poland, OH 44514. Be sure to include your name and address.)