Saturday, April 2, 2011

Granny Smith's Root Cellar

Papaw and Granny Smith raking hay
My Papaw and Granny Smith (my dad's parents) were the hardest working people I ever knew. They married in the 1930s, it was Papaw's second marriage and he was 24 years older than Granny. She had grown up working on her own daddy's farm and knew the value of a hard day's work. Papaw had been forced to quit school in the third grade in order to work on his family farm... amazingly to me, at the age of only nine years old, he was given the task of driving the mule and wagon to market in town each week to sell hay or corn or whatever his father's farm had produced. He went alone with a pail of cornbread, fried fatback and molasses to eat and had to stay overnight on the way there and back, camping and drinking water dipped from the creeks as he rode along.

When their children were growing up, the grew, raised, or made most of what they consumed. Granny milked the cows, everybody living in the valley around them could hear her singing old hymns as she went to milk early every morning and at sundown each evening. She pieced quilts by hand, and made everything, down to their underwear.

By the time I can remember, they had slowed down a little, but not by much... Granny had indoor plumbing and an automatic washing machine, but wouldn't wash the men's dungarees in it for fear of breaking it... as much as she did for herself and made do with so little, it always amazed me that she sent the denim work clothes out to be laundered... every week the laundry truck came by and picked up the work clothes and delivered them later on hangers, cleaned and pressed.

Until I was half grown I thought Granny Smith apples were the ones that grew in Granny's front yard. She taught us grandchildren a great game with those apples... she would sharpen a flexible stick for us to push into the apples that were laying on the ground in the yard, then like an old fashioned sling, we would sling those apples down through the pasture below. We thought it was a grand game and never realized until years later, that she was getting us to clear her yard of old apples (she wouldn't let us throw the ones still on the tree, sly woman that she was!)

Granny was as prepared for the future as anybody could be, it didn't matter when company arrived or how many dropped in for supper, there was always a jar of something to be opened, a pan of steaming fluffy biscuits quickly whipped up, some country ham or bacon fried up... we never went away hungry. I remember being sent down on many occasions to fetch something from the root cellar... this was a wondrous place for a child to explore... it was dark and cool and a welcome from the summer heat, it smelled of dampness and dirt and faintly of salt-cured ham, and I loved that place. There were wooden shelves all along the walls, lined with blue tinted mason jars filled with green beans, and corn, and pickles and tomatoes, and soup and fruit, jellies and jams, and all manner of food from the previous year's harvest. There were salted sides of pork-- bacon, ham and fatback, and rows of pottery crocks lined up on the packed dirt floor, each filled with pickled beans, pickled corn, sauerkraut, salt-pickled cucumbers, chow-chow and more.

I remember when I was 4 or 5 years old "helping" Granny make jelly from the blackberries that grew on the briar bushes along the fence behind Granny's enormous garden. There was no "Sure-Jell" in Granny's jelly. She cooked the fruit and strained it, then cooked the juice for hours and hours, steaming up her kitchen with the wonderful smell of blackberry juice. When the fruit juice had cooked down and thickened enough to suit her, she would pour the dark purple goodness into sterilized jars and top them with lids to seal up to enjoy the next winter with home churned butter on one of her delicious "cat-head" biscuits. When it got too hot in the kitchen, we were allowed to go out onto the screened back porch and get a drink of water from the bucket that had been drawn up from the well earlier that morning... we used an old tin ladle to drink from, all of us kids taking turns drinking from the same ladle... a coke couldn't have tasted any better than that cool fresh water out of a tin dipper. And later on that evening we would have a homemade blackberry cobbler made with what was left of the juicy berries we had helped Granny pick that morning.

Canning Granny©2011 All Rights Reserved


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  3. Wow! It amazes me just how far away from this way of life everyone is. I'm truly awe-struck with those that stuck with it and I'm going to begin it as soon as I can get some produce and time.


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