Mama’s Country Cooking in the 1920s


When I was growing up some eight decades ago, we had a hearty breakfast, dinner and supper. Supper usually consisted of leftovers or in the wintertime we might have crackling cornbread and milk. For breakfast we always had oatmeal, bacon or sausage, eggs, hot biscuits with jelly, preserves or sorghum molasses. The adults had coffee and the children drank milk. That was breakfast 365 days every year. Dinner in the summertime was fresh vegetables from the garden with cornbread and a dessert such as strawberry shortcake, peach or blackberry cobbler or gooseberry pie. One of my favorite Sunday dinner menus was fried chicken, butter beans, fried corn, sliced tomatoes, hot rolls and strawberry shortcake. In the early days Mama never had a recipe, she didn’t even have measuring cups or measuring spoons, but she knew how much of everything to use. It might be a pinch of this or a lump of something else, but it always turned out tasty. Cooking on a wood stove with no oven thermometer or temperature control was a science-defying feat in itself. In the wintertime after the hogs were butchered we had spareribs with baked sweet potatoes, turnips and turnip greens and apple pie. Or we might have backbones with sauerkraut. For supper we had scrambled eggs and brains with hot biscuits. Mama made head cheese or souse from the head and feet of the hog. Nothing went to waste.

Mama made the best chicken and dumplings, peach cobbler and strawberry shortcake. Try as I may I can’t duplicate these dishes. She rolled the dough out thin and cut strips for the dumplings. For the strawberry shortcake she used pastry similar to but not as short as pie crust, which she cut into plate size rounds and baked. When it came from the oven she spread it with country butter and stacked it three layers high with crushed sweetened strawberries in between. She served it in pie-shaped wedges topped with real whipped cream.

Mama made cottage cheese. She took whole milk and let it clabber, then she poured the clabbered milk into a cheesecloth bag that she fastened to the clothesline to allow the whey to drip out. She took the remaining curd and added salt and pepper and served it with sliced tomatoes.

In the wintertime she made hominy from shelled dry field corn and used lye water to remove the husks from the kernels of corn. After many washings to remove the husks and the lye, the hominy was boiled until it was tender. She made sauerkraut by shredding cabbage with a kraut cutter. The shredded cabbage was layered with salt and packed in pottery crocks. A plate on top with a clean heavy rock was used to weigh it down. The crocks were then put in the dark cool cellar to ferment. When the fermentation was finished the kraut was canned.

We produced most of our food and we lived off the land. We picked wild poke greens, wild blackberries, huckleberries, wild muscadines, black walnuts and hickory nuts. Apples and peaches were dried and saved for fried pies and stewed fruit compote. String beans were canned with vinegar water and salt. Since these were non-acidic foods they would not keep when canned by the water-bath method, hence the vinegar. Cucumbers and beets were pickled, also watermelon rind. We saved dried peas and beans to cook with a piece of streak-of-lean or a hambone. We made peanut butter from shelled roasted peanuts. The red skins were rubbed off and the peanuts were ground in the food chopper and salt was added. We canned tomatoes, peaches, applesauce, grape juice, blackberries and plums. Preserves were made from strawberries, peaches, pears, plums and figs. It was always my job to wash the jars for canning because my small hand would fit in the jar to get it clean. We canned and preserved 200 or more quarts and half-gallon jars of food each summer to carry us through the winter. All we had to buy at the store was sugar, flour, coffee, flavoring and spices. Occasionally we would buy a box of raisins, coconut or a box of crackers to go with the peanut butter.

Whether our meals met the RDA or not, they were mighty good and we were fairly healthy on that country cooking.

(The author is a member of the White County Historical Society.)