Linden Tree Leaves

Genealogy and Ancestry Explorations

Nona’s Stories: Farming Life and Gingerbread

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Me – age 4 years

I remember this dress—it was red with little white stars on it. At home when I wore it, our old turkey gobbler chased me, and when at Grandma Burns house, her old gander chased me.

Our bee apiary was in the peach orchard next to the yard on the East, the hives were under the peach trees to protect them from the hot sun.

Next to the peach orchard was an acre or so of sweet clover, planted there so the bees could make clover honey—much liked by many people. When it was in bloom it looked like a purple sea—and the sweet odor could be smelled quite a distance.

Often I couldn’t resist picking boquets of the sweet blossoms—and just as often I got stung by the bees—it was a joke in the family when they saw me in the clover patch, they got out the bee-sting medicine.

Just beyond the clover patch, the Bottoms lands started. The road in front of our house cut through these Bottoms—the old road was a “cordory “ road—logs laid side by side on the almost marshy Bottoms land—the trees grew so thickly and tall with many vines—including pink wild roses, that it was dark (and scary) in these lowlands. But us kids did venture in there sometimes—but not for very far—mostly to gather the marsh daisies and purple and yellow violets. Only small animals lived there—raccoons, ’possums, rabbits, and wild cats—these were domestic cats that had returned to the wild state.

There were many birds, especially little screech owls, and it made the dark, gloomy Bottoms seem even more eerie with them calling to each other.

In the Fall the cotton, corn and cane fields were cleaned by raking the dead stalks into long ricks in the adjoining fields. These were burned—always at night. There was no danger of the fires spreading as the surrounding field was raked clean, and the ricks were burned only on still, windless nights.

I was curious as to why they were burned at night—Ralph, Harry and I were allowed to go along to watch—Dutch was three years younger than me, so was too small to tag along.

Dad said the night burning custom was for the benefit of the screech owls, they knew this long standing custom of night burning by the farmers—and came in flocks from the Bottoms to catch the field mice and rats, swooping low to catch them. This was a great benefit to the farmers as the rats and mice destroyed much grain. The burning was also to destroy insects, especially the cotton-bole weevil.

A neighbor had a “cane press” and we took a lot of our cane there for “pressing” – extracting the sweet juice—which was made into cane syrup—and the Sorgum cane was made into the thick, dark sorgum molasses.

In Winter, when it was very cold, the sorgum would be so thick we could eat it almost like taffey—first buttering our fingers so it wouldn’t stick to them. And it made wonderful gingerbread— eaten hot with real butter and homemade applebutter. My mother used the recipe that Grandma Burns’ mother had brought with her when she came by wagon train to Texas from Tennessee in 1851, it had been handed down from generation to generation, and it was given to me, too. I’m enclosing a copy of it. It’s by far the easiest and best I’ve ever used.

Dad took our corn to the mill to be ground into corn meal, and wheat to be made into flour. There were big wooden barrels for each in the smokehouse. At hog-killing time—the first real hard freeze of Winter—the fat was “rendered” and 25 lb cans of lard stored in the smokehouse, along with sausage, slabs of bacon, and hams which were “cured” by smoking with hickory wood chips.

The corn fields were always the furthest from the Bottoms lands—otherwise the raccoons would destroy the corn—they dearly loved the green corn when it was in the roasting-ear stage, and a single raccoon could destroy a dozen ears of corn in a single night. We always planted plenty of pop-corn so that we would have corn to pop over the coals in the fireplace on cold Winter nights. We often made pop-corn balls, too. We didn’t have any pecan trees, but had several Black Walnut trees, and in the Fall us kids gathered the Black Walnuts for use in the Winter.


Southern Gingerbread

(from Tennessee 1851)

1 cup sorgum (nor syrup)

1 cup sugar

1 cup boiling water

1/4 cup melted shortening (original recipe called for lard)

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice or cloves

Combine ingredients in order given. Beat thoroughly. Pour into greased, floured iron skillet and bake in moderate oven until top cracks and a straw inserted comes out clean.

Serve hot with butter or cold with whipped cream and applebutter.

Us kids made our own bubblegum—Mae and Gae Marshall taught us how—using a small amount of beeswax, from sunflower stalks and the rubber from snake vine—so called because of the spotted and mottled leaves. It wasn’t poisonous. It produced black berries, under the black peel was a layer of rubber-like material—this made bubble gum that was better than any that can be bought today—and we could blow huge bubbles with it.

I’ll include the recipe for Black Walnut Chocolate Cake in my next story.


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