Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What's for Dinner?

Some folks peruse the old historic narratives to learn more about the big events and the great people. But I gravitate toward the passages that reveal the mundane events in the lives of the little people. For instance, let’s return to the chroniclers that I’ve been quoting recently to find out what’s on the dinner table.

Turning back to 1864, the narrator was a fugitive whose adventures eventually brought him through Cashiers and Webster. But few meals during his journey were as welcome as one he enjoyed in Virginia:

A luxurious repast was in preparation, to be eaten at the quarters before starting, but a frolic being in progress, the banquet was transferred to the barn. The great barn doors were set open, and the cloth was spread on the floor by the light of the moon. Certainly we had partaken of no such substantial fare within the Confederacy. The central dish was a pork pie, flanked by savory little patties of sausage. There were sweet potatoes, fleecy biscuits, a jug of sorghum, and a pitcher of sweet milk. Most delicious of all was a variety of corn-bread, having tiny bits of fresh pork baked in, like plums in a pudding.

In July of 1883, another correspondent writing from Cullowhee described the dietary preferences he observed in this valley:

If you are fond of rice, corn bread and milk, come along. All fresh meat is scarce except chickens, and eggs are plenty. The natives of these mountains prefer simple living. Once a lady who was invited to the minister’s to tea, found a boiled custard on the table. This was a new dish to her, but one that tickled her palate immensely. She passed her saucer the second time with the remark, "I’ll take some more of that soft stuff with no kiver on. It tastes nation good."

For the final course of this little banquet let’s hear from R. H. Graves, writing from Springdale in Haywood County July 6, 1901:

On the dinner table is piled an array of food that would pale the sufferer from indigestion, but the mountain air is supposed to kill that malady, and the stranger finds his appetite voracious in the face of green soda biscuits, greasy fried ham, ill-cooked trout or bass, chicken, mutton, cornbread, bad coffee, and good milk. The average farmer of the middle type will have set before him all of these eatables at the same time, sometimes without condiments or extras, but most often supplemented by the best of butter and such home-made seasonings as the different dishes require.

It’s enough to make me hungry just reading about it.

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