Meat and potatoes: A look back at life through food

Probably 20 years ago, I was prevailed upon by my late cousin Peg Townsend to write down recollections from my childhood.

At first I was reluctant, but I finally did it.

The following ramblings are excerpted from those memories through what we ate on our farm during the 1940s.

Sweet as sugar. Before the war, Mom made root beer, which we all loved. She bought Hires (I think) Root Beer Extract, mixed it with sugar and water and sealed the concoction in Mason jars that were stored on a shelf in the cellar.

Sometimes a jar would burst because of the carbonation, but most of them turned into excellent root beer. Unfortunately, due to wartime sugar rationing, she had to stop brewing her root beer.

For the same reason, we stopped using sugar in our iced tea. I still prefer my iced tea unsweetened.

Milk shake

Even though we had our own milk, Mom seldom churned butter. It probably just took too much time. Once in a while though, she’d give me a half-gallon jar of milk and tell me to shake it until it turned to butter.

It took a long time and a lot of shaking.

We mostly ate oleo margarine on our bread. In those days, because of the dairy lobby, they weren’t allowed to sell oleo that was yellow colored. The oleo was dead white and came with a small cellophane packet of orange food coloring that you could mix in it if you wanted.

Sometimes Mom would go to the trouble of mixing it, or make either my sister or me do it, but most of the time we spread our bread with white oleo.

I don’t think it bothered us.

A toast to breads

My sister and I ate a lot of what we called milk toast for breakfast. It was toasted, homemade bread with butter and sugar and covered with milk. Our favorite snack was a slice of bread with butter and sugar.

We also ate warm rolled oats, probably in the winter, and dry breakfast cereals with milk and sugar.

Playing with my food

I remember Wheaties and Jack Armstrong, the “All-American Boy.” We ate Shredded Wheat, and some kind of a Ralston cereal that was promoted by Tom Mix and his “TM-Bar” ranch.

I saved box tops and, when I could either save up or con Mom out of the 10, 15 or 25 cents, I sent away for some of the great offers that were touted on the backs of those cereal boxes.

I had a Jack Armstrong pedometer — a round metal gadget, about 3 inches in diameter, painted blue with a yellow dial — that you hooked over the top of your shoe or sock and it recorded how many miles you walked.

I had at least one Tom Mix pocket knife that had the red and white checked colors of the Ralston Purina Company, along with the brand mark of the TM-Bar Ranch on each side.

I also remember a “Secret Decoder Ring” put out by someone, probably Little Orphan Annie.

Meat and potatoes

My favorite meal was meat, potatoes and gravy and Mom’s homemade bread or rolls. I wasn’t much for vegetables, although I know I ate some of them, and we had lots of corn and tomatoes from our large garden.

I would pull the soft inside out of a fresh, homemade roll, smear butter all over it, and gobble it down. Then I’d stuff the outer crust with meat, or whatever, and eat that.

Really good!

Good morning

I loved hot cakes. I had a child’s book called Little Black Sambo in which the small hero ate stacks and stacks of hot cakes and Mom teased me about being just like him.

She used a long black griddle that covered two lids on the coal range. She could probably make five or six cakes at a time.

After everyone had eaten their fill, there was usually a cake or two left over which our dog really enjoyed.

In the spring we ate a lot of dandelion greens. Mom would pick the tender, young dandelion leaves over which she’d pour a concoction of vinegar, crumbled bacon, and hot bacon grease. She also fixed leaf lettuce the same way.

Good pickings. We raised a lot of strawberries. Several of the neighbors came to pick them and presumably paid for the privilege.

I didn’t much enjoy picking strawberries, but I loved to eat ‘em.

Mom sometimes made shortcake, but most of the time she just mashed the berries with sugar and I ate them with bread and butter.

Sunday eating. For Sunday dinner we frequently had pork and baked beans, probably out of a can.

I suppose Mom could put them in the oven before church and they’d be ready when we got home.

In the summer, she’d sometimes pack a picnic lunch and after church we’d take off on a long afternoon drive, stopping along the road somewhere to eat.

I only remember the destination of one of these drives; we went to the Allegheny County Airport and got to see a plane or two land and take off.

I think we also once went to see Brady’s Leap on the Allegheny River northwest of Butler.

Boxed lunch

We always carried our lunches to school in a tin lunch box with a Thermos bottle. I can’t remember what Mom put into the Thermos, but I remember I often managed to drop mine and break the glass liner, much to my mother’s chagrin.

My favorite sandwich was Velveeta cheese with Heinz brown mustard and leaf lettuce. We usually had carrots, celery or cucumber sticks in the fall.

Once, I was eating a cucumber and one of my small schoolmates, who didn’t speak too plainly, said, “Hey! Where’d you dit dat tutumber, tid?”

A good look

It’s fun to write down your childhood memories. I recommend that everyone do it.

Not only will it bring back a lot of memories, but it will afford your kids and grandkids a lot of amusement.

(Send suggestions, comments or questions to Sam Moore in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460-0038; or via e-mail to: editorial@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules. More Stories by Sam Moore

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