Stirring up memories
Here comes the rolling store
January 22, 2003
In 1939, a tiny first grader walked two
miles from her family’s farm home in the Steadham Community about twelve miles
north of Bainbridge, to the Magnolia Elementary School just across the road
from the Pilgrim Rest Church. She did
not have anything to be afraid of—she had six older brothers and sisters to
look after her and a good lunch in her pail.
Helen Lee Sanders remembers the twenty-five or so young folks
ranging from first graders through seventh graders all studying in the same
single room. Two teachers conducted the classes. Helen particularly recalls Mamie Greenlee who taught at the
school for all of the seven years Helen attended. Miss Mamie, as the children called her, kept the school in order,
but with such kindness and good nature that she is remembered with love some 60
cold winter days the one pot-bellied stove in the center of the room was a
welcome sight to the arriving scholars, many who walked several miles, as there
was no bus service to the school. Since
there was no lunchroom or cafeteria, the children brought their lunch from
home. They would gather with Miss Mamie
around the stove and spread out their lunches, then children shared the array
of biscuits and jelly, pecans, peanuts, and sweet potatoes. Once in a while a piece of cake
appeared. “Cake was like heaven,” Helen
says. In most families it was a weekend
treat; if any was left after Sunday dinner, it might make its way to school on
Monday to be shared.
Sitting in her sunny Bainbridge dining
room, Helen recalled her childhood memories.
Mostly we talked about cooking.
Helen loved to cook as a child and loves to cook today. And she still cooks “…from scratch. No mixes here,” she says. She emphatically told me she makes all of
her own jellies. I wondered about this.
All of Helen’s memories are of her farm
home back in the woods near Steadham.
Hers was a blended family. Her
mother, Verdell Lee, widowed young and left with two small children, married
Turner Burke, a widower with five slightly older children. The stair-step children—at three, Helen was
the youngest, the oldest was twelve—joined quickly into one happy, busy family.
“The house was ragged. You could see through the cracks in the
floor right to the ground.” Ragged or
not, the house was filled with happiness and fun. On rainy days, the girls baked all day. The youngest boy sat in the wood box and kept putting wood in the
stove. While the girls cooked, they all
laughed and told stories.
That’s right. The girls cooked, the boys didn’t. There was a strict division of labor in the kitchen. Every child
had chores. The girls cooked, the boys
pumped the well, brought in water and wood and kept the fire going.
the children shared some jobs. Everyone
worked in the garden and the girls and Verdell canned the corn, beans, and
tomatoes. Greens were a constant, eaten
every month of the year—collards, turnips, mustard, and cabbage.
children took turns milking first thing every morning. When the milk came into the house it was
left sitting until the cream rose to the top.
Then the cream was skimmed off and put in a quart jar. One of the children would sit and shake and
shake the jar. Finally a lump of butter
appeared. When the butter was fully
formed and floating on top of the remaining buttermilk, the job was done. After the butter was rinsed in cold water,
there was the refreshing buttermilk to drink.
And perhaps a hot biscuit to slather some of the butter on.
This farm family took care of
themselves. “We raised every thing we
needed—vegetables, cows, hogs, turkeys, corn and sweet potatoes. Papa raised
cane, and we had our own syrup. Any
time we needed meat, there was plenty hanging in the smokehouse.”
However, even a self-sufficient family
needed some outside supplies. The
family made an occasional trip into Bainbridge, but the delight of their young
lives was the appearance of the rolling store.
About once a week a truck pulled up into
the yard. The driver climbed out,
walked around to the back and threw open the doors—there was a store.
“He would have little shelves all around
with different things on them—rice, sugar and grits; all those things,” Helen
told me. But mostly it was the candy.
She went on to explain the store man took eggs in exchange for
merchandise. At the Burkes’ the
children gathered the eggs and saved them for the rolling store. “When we saw the
rolling store coming, we’d just get out and shake those chickens to get eggs
In another column we will continue with
Helen’s country food memories and recipes.
The last time I tried to make jelly, I was in the fifth grade and
it was a disaster. I made it out of
frozen strawberries and definitely did something wrong. It turned into a rock, and I had to melt it
to get it out of the pan. I was
apprehensive about trying again, but Helen’s recipe sounded like I could manage
When I opened the package of fruit pectin
I began to revert to my ten-year-old nervous mode. It was full of instructions about mashing fruit, cheesecloth bags
and exact measurements. And warnings
about the consequences of too much sugar or the wrong cooking times—I might
expect a runny outcome. Maybe that
would be better than my strawberry stone jelly.
Nowhere was there a simple recipe like Helen’s. But I steeled my nerve, opened my bottle of
100 percent red grape juice and gave it a shot.
Helen Sanders’ Easy Jelly
1 cup juice plus ½ cup water
2 tablespoons SURE·JELL fruit pectin
1 ¾ cups sugar
Bring fruit pectin and juice to a rolling
boil, and then add sugar all at once.
Boil one minute; stir, remove from heat.
Can anything be that easy? I made this right before going to bed and
left the syrupy mix. The next morning,
I woke to a beautiful red jelly.
It can be that easy! Now I’m thinking about other juices, maybe
apricot, maybe mango? I only wish I
could get Helen to write down her recipe for biscuits. Or maybe someone else?
looking for good cooks with long memories who will share their kitchen secrets
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network