Over the years, those cookstoves really turned out a lot of good eats not to mention the much needed warmth in cold weather. They came complete with reservoirs for hot water and warming shelves on the top. Who remembers the cap lifter? I never did learn to like coffee but I love to smell it to this day. Daddy and Mother really loved a good hot cup of coffee.
Mother often kept a radio on the stove shelf. I didn't remember the date at the time but I do remember hearing on that radio about President Franklin Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945. I was just a couple of months shy of my fourth birthday. It's strange how certain things stick in our minds for our whole lives.
The iron skillets and cooking pots were staples in Mother's kitchen. I wonder how many pones of cornbread, gritted bread, fried corn, fried potatoes, gravy and other things were made in those skillets. The big pots were used for pinto beans, neck bones and noodles, and many other vegetables plus chicken and dumplings. Mother or one of the girls would start the beans cooking just after the breakfast dishes were done. We mostly had pinto beans but I still remember the smell of fresh green beans in the summertime. They were cooked for hours and then we put new potatoes on top of them and let them absorb the flavor of the beans and the bacon grease used for seasoning. The boon spean still holds a special place in my heart.
Like most people in Johnson Bottom, we had beans and cornbread for supper one night, then cornbread and beans the next. It's strange that we didn't get burnt out on that meal but I think we all still love pinto beans and cornbread and actually consider them treats. Mother made the best chow chow and it was so good on those beans! We didn't have a mid-day meal so we snacked on leftover biscuits, gravy, cornbread and beans. One of my fondest memories is when Mother would take that big old gravy/bean bowl, crumble the leftover bread, add chopped onions and put the hot beans on top of it all and stir it up. Daddy and us kids would each get a spoon and dig in for dear life. Gosh, I really loved those times!
Mother and that old oven really worked overtime during the holidays. Although we always baked birthday cakes, pies and other goodies, there was something about the spicy smells of pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, everything was made from scratch before cake mixes were invented. I can still smell the pumpkin mixture as I stirred it to a smooth consistency before it was poured in the homemade pie shells. I wish I had one of Mother's old fluted pie pans. I've looked for them but have never been able to find any in the stores.
Lena and I made absolutely terrible fudge but we never gave up trying. Mother would very rarely give us permission to make it because ingredients were often hard to come by. Every time Daddy and Mother went somewhere, we would dig in to the sugar reserve and make fudge. Most of the time we ate it from spoons because we didn't know about boiling it to a certain stage to assure that it would harden. We always got caught because one of the little kids would tell Mother on us and we'd get a lecture. But, sure enough, the next time they went somewhere we were at it again.
Once, Lena was making some of her pudding fudge and Bon was hanging right with her. Reese and Danny were waiting with spoons in hand to sop the pan. Just as Lena turned around from the stove, where she had beaten it until it cooled, she tripped over Bon and spilled the fudge all over her. Never ones to pass up a good opportunity, Reese and Danny ate fudge from Bon's dress until Mother made them stop. The spoons were flying and Bon was crying. We also popped popcorn and made parched corn in those iron skillets. Junior put his popcorn in the big bowl and ate it with a spoon. We always hated it when he ate popcorn while we were trying to hear the television. Looking back, I now realize that he only did it for meanness. Junior's a big Teddy bear now but he could be a real pain in the patoot when we were growing up. I guess he thought he had some kind of squatter's right since he was the big brother. That's one reason I hid his mandolin so often.
Junior liked to bake at a time when it wasn't considered appropriate for a boy to want to bake things. He would pore over Mother's cookbook and find something he thought he'd like to make. Junior always made me stay in the kitchen with him while he was baking and would lock the kitchen door. If anybody came to the door, the spoon was thrust into my hand, Junior hid in the next room and I had to go to the door. One day, he got the bright idea of making muffins. I have to admit the batter really smelled good and my mouth watered at the thought of a sweet, hot muffin. After Junior got the batter in the muffin pan, he was about to put it in the oven when he remembered he had forgotten to add baking powder to the mixture. He thought for a few seconds and came up with an idea. His solution was to sprinkle a heaping teaspoonful of baking powder on each muffin. When he took that pan out of the oven, he had a mess worse than Lucy did when she added too much yeast to her bread. There was no eating muffins that day and he made me clean up the mess.
We had two big dishpans for washing dishes. One had soapy water and the other was for rinsing. One day, Lena and I were washing away and noticed the long icicles hanging from the roof. We had to ask permission before we ate icicles and snow and we knew Mother wouldn't let us get icicles until the dishes were done. Our pans were setting on the stove to keep the water warm. We sneaked out the kitchen door and each of us came back with an icicle about two feet long. Lena and I were slurping to our hearts' content when we heard Mother coming. We had to hide the icicles in a hurry so we put them on the warming shelf on the stove behind the salt and pepper shakers. Mother stayed in the kitchen so long that our icicles started melting. The water dripped down onto the top of the stove and made hissing sounds when the drops hit the hot surface. We pretended that we had accidentally splashed dishwater onto the stove. That sure was a close call and by the time Mother left the kitchen our precious icicles had disappeared. Another wintertime treat was snow cream and we all loved it. That, too, was made in the big bowl and we'd all eat out of it.
For a number of years, Daddy ordered a batch of baby chicks - biddies, as we called them - every spring. When he picked up the box at the Company Store and brought it home, we were so excited to see the biddies. They were all crowded in one big box and one or two of them had been trampled to death by the time Daddy got them. We felt so sorry for the dead ones and held funerals for them. Sometimes, Lena and I would play house with the biddies and they were our babies. Daddy didn't get to pick the gender so we always ended up with more roosters than laying hens. Boy, when those roosters grew up and got mad it was hard to believe that they were once soft, cuddly biddies. They were kept behind the cookstove until they got old enough to be on their own. It seems like I can still hear them cheeping.
Yes, a lot of my memories are of things having to do with the cookstoves. Even after Mother got an electric stove, she used it sparingly and kept the coal stove as a backup.
Kathleen McCoy Eldridge©
July 13, 2005
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