February 6 – I have mentioned several times in this blog that my mom had a lot of family to take care of as we were growing up. If she was anything, she was a good cook! And we all agreed that it was when we had nothing in the cupboard to cook with that she really showed her ingenuity.
Those were the meals where “slumgullion” appeared, a curious mixture of odds and ends that you could never give a recipe for, because that particular combination would never appear again. Each time the ingredients would be different, depending on what happened to be left over from previous meals (and that usually wasn’t much, with seven kids to clean everything up). Only tomatoes and kidney beans were necessary. Other than that we might find onions, peppers, diced potatoes, cheese, eggs, other kinds of beans, celery, gravy, or any one of a dozen other things, all thickened together with flour to make a sort of thick mouthwatering stew. Each of us would receive a huge bowlful of the “slumgullion,” and that would be the meal, along with milk. Our bowls would be refilled and sometimes refilled again until our tummies almost popped from being overloaded.
Often in the wintertime we would come home from school to be met with two aromas, strangely intermingled. One would be the smell of damp clothes drying on lines strung crisscross in the living room and on through into the kitchen. All the drying power came from the glowing heater set up in a place of honor in the corner. The other aroma wafted its way to our noses as soon as we opened the front door and dashed inside to escape the bitter winds. Navy beans!
I can smell them yet as they tantalized my nostrils and gave promise of a filling satisfying upper. After simmering on the back of the stove all day, they were juicy and tender and delicious. Bowls of the steaming beans disappeared, along with thick slabs of homemade bread with dark crusts. Sometimes I would put a spoonful of salad dressing into the beans, mixing it thoroughly for a special tasty treat. What a delightful supper to enjoy while inside safe from the snow and cold outside.
During the autum season, you might see two or three of us little kids squatted down on our “honkers” around the tiny smoky fire and helped to feed twigs and bits of grasses to keep it going. Ma, in her expert way, molded and patted the dough in the pan into round little baking power biscuits, all ready to be baked over the coals. The lamb’s quarters had been pulled up by the roots and the leaves and stems broken in parts, ready to toss into the water when it should boil. Those kids liked to sit and drool, licking their chops in anticipation of another of Ma’s real outdoor meals, fit for a king. The tin pie plates were passed to be refilled after the first round, and the biscuits, with a somewhat smoky taste and smothered in melted butter disappeared like the proverbial hotcakes. They were good!
Our mother had done it again, and added another memory to our childhood file. Long years afterward we could look back and smell again those biscuits, feel the heat of the fire on our faces, and see the wisps of smoke curling up into the blue sky. We were certainly thankful for a mother who must have had more chores to do than anyone else we knew, what with seven kids to take care of and hardly anything in the world in the way of modern conveniences to do it with. A mother who took her precious time to share with us the good feeling of togetherness and family, a mother who helped us to see through little things like this, that ours was a real heritage of love. – CHRIS