Recently I discovered several boxes full of old letters dating back to my childhood. One was from my Great Aunt Mae--who lived in Fredericksburg and was related to Wayne Newton somehow or another--to my Gloucester Grandmother.
Here is an excerpt:
September 10, 1975
"....Have you been doing any canning? We have been busy this summer, Pierce helped me. We did twenty eight quarts of tomatoes and I think fifteen pints, so I think we will have about enough for the winter. Then we canned thirty six quarts of peaches, and about two gallons of Damson preserves. We like them, with hot biscuits they will be good. Wish I were near you I would give you some of them. We had one bushel of peaches given to us. Our next door neighbors have some fruit trees, and they share with us, they are very kind. We bought the rest at six dollars a bushel, but even at that they are cheaper than what you buy out of the stores, and better too I think.
Everything is so high, nothing is cheap any more even salt fish. We don't have them too often, we love them, but I have to keep a check on my blood pressure, so that is why I don't like to eat anything too salty...."
There is much more to the letter, but this sample alone brings a flood of thoughts and memories.
Although my Gloucester Grandmother was the best cook ever, this Fredericksburg Aunt Mae could give her a run for her money. Whenever we'd visit her impeccably clean house, she'd have freshly brewed iced tea cooling on the table. Because you never put hot or tepid tea directly into the icebox--this causes it to cloud. Of course the tea would always be sweet, because really is there any other kind of tea?
(Also, did you know that Chesapeake Bay Woman's litmus test for whether you're in the North or South is this: If you order a large iced tea from a drive thru window in the South and don't specify what you want, they automatically assume you want it sweet. If you're in the North, they default to unsweet. For this reason alone, I love the South. But we're not here to start the Second Civil War. We were talking about something else. Remind me what that was again?)
People ate so much better back then. Gardens were the norm rather than the exception and most meals were made from scratch instead of coming from a box or a drive-through window. Around here, fresh vegetables and seafood were staples. The salt fish she mentions was (and still is) a local favorite. One time a gentleman shocked me by telling me his age, a number which far exceeded his youthful appearance. When I asked him his beauty secret he said, simply, salt fish.
In addition to eating foods closer to their sources folks also shared and traded. If one person had a surplus of vegetables, another might have a surplus of fresh fish and after a few trades everyone had what they needed. My father was infamous for his use of the barter system. As a mechanic, he might repair someone's vehicle in exchange for a piece of furniture, or an airboat, for example.
It saddens me to think we're moving farther and farther away from those simpler times. I miss eating my mother's homemade crab apple jelly. I miss walking barefoot through rows and rows of corn, squash, peas and tomatoes. I miss my grandmother's fried chicken and my Aunt Mae's sweet iced tea.
Those homemade hot biscuits didn't sound too bad either. Maybe I could trade a dead airboat for a batch. Does anybody