By Beverly Belcher Woody
One hundred fifteen years ago today, on May 5, 1906, my grandmother, Lydia Underwood Belcher, was born.
When she was six years old, her mother died in childbirth. Grandma was plagued by health problems all her life, but she was resilient and kept going. She spent the last thirteen years of her life at the Blue Ridge Nursing Home in Stuart.
In the 1980s, Blue Ridge Nursing Home staff compiled a book of recipes from their patients. These recipes were recorded verbatim, and you will notice they all begin with “go to the garden” or “go to the barn.”
In these days of Amazon and InstaCart delivery, it is hard to imagine all the hard work and effort it took for our ancestors to put food on the table. The following is an excerpt from the Blue Ridge Nursing Home recipe book. The first recipe we will start with is from my Grandma Lydia, which will demonstrate just how strong she was.
Baked Chicken by Lydia Belcher – “Go into the henhouse at night. Pick out a hen that is rather plump, but not too fat. Grab her by the legs and hold her neck to keep her from squawking. Chop her head off with the axe. Pour very hot water over her or stick her down into the very hot water. Test to see if the feathers are loose. When the feathers are loose enough to pull from the hen, then you can easily pull off all the feathers. Wash the hen. Cut a round hole at her bottom and take out the insides. Wash the hen again, inside and out. Shake salt on the hen inside and out. Take leftover biscuits and put them in the oven and get them real brown. Crumble them up and pour enough water over them to make them soft. Season to taste. Stuff the biscuits into the hen until you can’t get any more into the hen. Then put what is left over on the wings. Put the hen into the roasting pan and put her in the oven and bake about three hours or until done. The length of time you cook the hen will depend on the size and age of the hen. Can be served hot or cold.”
Butter by Vergie Moran – “Save milk straight from the cow. Let the cream rise and let it sour. Then, skim the cream off the milk and put it into the churn. Let it get warm by putting near the fireplace in the winter or in the sun in the summer. Churn the milk until the butter rises to the top. Skim the butter from the top and wash thoroughly in cold water. Add salt to taste. The butter may be patted into balls or put into a mold to form the shape. Keep the butter in a cool place.”
Snap Beans by Maude Hopkins – “Go to the garden and pick tender fresh string beans. Wash them and pull the strings off and break the beans into short pieces. The children help do the strings and the breaking. Wash and rinse again. Put the meat seasoning on to cook in a big pot. The seasoning should be a hunk of fat back about the size of a large egg. This can be cooking while you string the beans. When the meat begins to get a little tender, you can put the snaps in with it. When the snaps are almost done, salt to taste. It takes about an hour to cook the beans.”
Stewed Corn by Nannie Belle Adkins – “Go to the field and gather fresh corn. Pull the outside shuck off and pull off all the silks. Wash the corn. Cut off the grains with a sharp knife. Put it in a saucepan and pour enough water to cover well. Put salt to taste. Add butter to taste.”
Pickled Beets by Bertha Cockram – “Go to the garden and pull nice medium size beets. The large ones do not make as good a pickle. Wash the beets well. Cut the tops off about an inch from the beets so the juice will not cook out of them. Cover the beets with water and cook until tender. After they are tender, push the peelings off with your fingers. Then trim off the rough places and the stems. Slice the beets and have them ready to pour into vinegar. Make a syrup of about half a cup of sugar to one cup of vinegar. Bring this to a boil then add the beets and bring to a boil again. Then the beets are ready to eat or can.”
Soap by Elroy Banks – “Save all bones and scraps from hog. Put all the ashes from the fireplace in a wooden barrel. Let it rain in the barrel and that will cause the ashes to turn to lye. Mix the bones and hog scraps with the lye. The amount of lye will be decided by how much hog scraps you have. Make the hog scraps and lye about equal. Boil this in a big pot for several hours. You can tell when it is done by the way it looks. Leave it in the pot until it is cold. It will be thick like cream. Take it from the pot after cutting it into pieces.”
Fried Eggs by Luther Bowling – “Slice some fatback real thin. Put it into the frying pan and let it cook until most of the grease is gone. Take the meat out and break the eggs into the grease. Stir them until they are done. Eat the meat and eggs together with some good homemade biscuits.”
Are you hungry yet? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could sit at our Grandma’s table one more time? I can see the flour on her apron and smell the biscuits baking now.
(Woody may be reached at email@example.com.)