Food To Grow On – The Role Food Played
in Survival in The Ozarks
Recently I realized that my parents grew up on farms that were much like the customs of the 1700’s when their ancestors came to the colonies. It took me a while to understand that I was reared in a way that was not all that different – at least in the way we ate.
My maternal grandparents, Lee and Mary Bunch were almost totally out of the money economy – they grew or foraged to meet most of their family needs. Three generations lived together on the farm. My great-grandmother Nancy Miller Bunch and grandpa’s bachelor brother Sam also lived with their burgeoning family. My mother was the youngest of seven children so there were a lot of mouths to feed. They had an 80-acre farm on Big Sugar Creek in McDonald County Missouri. The nearest store was about 3 miles up stream at the well-named Cyclone Post Office.
My grandmother would catch a ride with the mail hack and go to Cyclone to trade eggs, butter and milk for items like coffee, sugar and a few spices. The farm produced chickens, eggs, hogs, cattle (beef and milk cows), sheep, a huge garden, a tobacco patch, (Granny Bunch liked a chew occasionally; Grandpa had a pipe.) fruit trees, greens, berries, nuts and sassafras from the forest.
Their perishable food was kept in a spring house or dangled close to the water in the well. Knowing the winter would be long, major efforts were made to preserve food to keep them healthy. Wheat and corn were taken by a horse-drawn wagon to a distant grist mill. They canned fruits and vegetable, sausage sealed in by lard, smoked hams and bacon, dried fruit on the roof of the house, cracked black walnuts, hazel nuts and pecans for candy and pies.
So how was my early life different?
Not as much as I originally thought. My daddy had a good job as the Superintendent of Schools, but even a good job didn’t pay much. He hunted and fished for a lot of our food. Mom was the farmer of the family and loved it. We also were largely out of the money economy, but did buy a few more items at the grocery store. More items were available due to improved transportation and refrigerated rail cars – coffee, sugar, flour, spices, dried pinto beans, lunch meat, cheese (American and rat-trap), chili that was chilled in a form that made about a 1# brick, occasionally bananas and oranges. We got a mechanical orange squeezer when I was about 6 years old. It thrilled the whole family. Strawberries, cantaloupes, watermelon, apples and peaches were bought in season. Soda pop was a rare treat.
My mom had a big garden and kept chickens for meat and eggs, a cow for milk and butter. She canned and later froze food for year around consumption – We all looked forward to the first hints of green in her garden – leaf lettuce, green onions, radishes (the basis of delicious wilted lettuce in a sauce of vinegar, bacon grease and sugar), tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, cabbage, corn, onions, turnips – even popcorn and peanuts. In addition to the garden, she raised steers (one to sell and one to butcher) and hogs (she smoked hams and bacon in a little smokehouse in the garage.)
Our diets were rounded out by pies baked every week and biscuits, cornbread and other baked goods.
I saved the best for last. Almost every summer weekend, we gathered the whole family for a feast at my grandparents. Mom’s two sisters would prepare the meal; usually fried fish, fried chicken or a beef roast with all the fixin’s. Before the meal, a 6 quart freezer of ice cream was prepared and churned. Daddy’s favorite was banana, but when others got weary of that, a second freezer was prepared with other flavors – vanilla, red hot cinnamon, sour cream peach or nectarines. Those family gatherings are long in the past with the members scattered around the United States, but they remain some of my best memories.
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