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Stirring up memories


Teacakes, Mud and Love
January 8, 2003

When Julia Bryant was a girl growing up on a farm near Fort Gaines, she longed to squish her fingers and toes in the mud; she ached to play in the garden (she could not imagine gardening as work), to grow flowers and vegetables.  Her father gave her an emphatic no.  She was a lady, and “ladies don’t dig in the dirt.”  Like a good girl, Julia minded him until the year of 1901 when she turned 17.  That was the year she married Colquitt Lee (Collie) Chandler and moved to Doerun near Moultrie.

            The new bride wasted no time in putting in a garden and digging every day in the dirt.  Years later, she told her granddaughter Gloria Powell Coppinger that she “never did catch up” for those missed gardening years. 

Julia never stopped gardening.   When she was in her nineties, she left her South Georgia home and joined her daughter in Atlanta.  Juanita McKelvey lived in an apartment, and Julia sorely missed her garden.  The enterprising Juanita moved some abandoned bathtubs onto the parking lot and filled them with soil.  Julia happily gardened for the rest of her life, growing and sharing abundant crops of bathtub tomatoes.

During her 93 years, Julia did more than gardening.  She was busiest during the twenty years that Collie Chandler wore the star as sheriff of Seminole County.  In those days, the sheriff was responsible for the jail and its occupants.  For some years the Chandlers lived across the street from the jail; later they moved into an apartment in the jail itself.  Julia’s job was providing meals for the prisoners.  She sometimes had one kitchen helper, but whether the guest list was long or short, it fell on Julia to be sure no one went to bed hungry.  They never did.

Whatever fine meals Julia’s family enjoyed, she provided to the prisoners, who enjoyed them as well.  More than once, when a family showed up to bail out their loved one, they’d be told to go on into town and shop while the prisoner enjoyed once last dinner prepared by “Miz Chandler.”

Donalsonville did not have a bank at that time.  Collie would head into Bainbridge when he had banking chores, and often he returned home with an extra passenger, his first grandchild Gloria Powell (Coppinger).  Gloria shared with me some of her happy memories of visits with Grannie. 

Gloria remembers her as the most patient person she ever met.  “She was patient with everything but laziness.”  Gloria never had time to be lazy—or bored.  She remembers helping with every household task.  She stood on a chair to wash the dishes with Octagon Soap (it would never suds) and on a shotgun shell box to help scramble the breakfast eggs on the wood stove.

The shell box also provided a perch when Gloria helped with the ironing.  In the wood stove days, Julia had a sad iron, an iron that was heated and reheated on the stove.  When electricity came, the electric iron was most welcome.  Standing on the shell box, Gloria ironed the cloth napkins (Julia used cloth napkins for every meal), the pillowcases and all the men’s underwear.

Gloria had plenty of opportunity to tie on a sunbonnet like her Grannie’s and squish her young fingers in the dirt.  She helped with weeding the carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes.     In the summer she dug new potatoes for dinner, and then cut bunches of grapes from the vines covering the garden fence for dessert.   On summer afternoons and evenings, Gloria and her grandmother sat on the porch shelling freshly picked peas and beans and sharing stories.

Gloria shared more than household chores and stories with her grandmother.  When Gloria was a child, Julia made many of her clothes.  In later years as Julia found it hard to manage sewing, Gloria returned the favor, and made Julia’s clothes.  Gloria especially remember the wedding dress Julia made for her.  Years later, Gloria altered the dress to fit her daughter Barbara.  What a fortunate young woman whose wedding dress was made by her great-grandmother!

Of all of the memories of her grandmother that Gloria treasures, her most precious is of rainy afternoons at Julia’s house.  Julia would mix up a big batch of dough for teacakes.  Then she would set Gloria up at a long shelf in the pantry across from the kitchen.  Armed with a rolling pin, cookie cutters, raisins, nuts and gumdrops, Gloria would spend happy hours turning out “the fanciest cookies anyone ever saw.” 

Today, if Gloria decides to make teacakes when her own granddaughters Rebecca and Claire Santoro visit from St. Louis, she doesn’t have to look for the recipe.  Several years ago their mother Barbara embroidered a sampler of the recipe.  It hangs near Gloria’s kitchen where it can be checked at a glance.


Grannie Julia’s Teacakes

1 cup sugar

1 cup Crisco

3 eggs

3 teaspoons buttermilk

1 teaspoon soda

Nutmeg, vanilla and enough flour to make a stiff dough

Mix all ingredients.  Roll out on floured surface and cut.  Bake at 350 ° until lightly brown.

            I asked if maybe I could use butter, but Gloria says it must be Crisco.  I used a half-teaspoon each of nutmeg and vanilla and about three and one-half cups of flour.  I rolled the dough to about a quarter-inch thick and cut with an inch and a half biscuit cutter.  In my oven they browned in 8 to 10 minutes.

                        This is a fortunate family indeed.  Not only do they treasure their family memories; they have written them down.  In her ninety-first year when she was living with Juanita, Julia recorded memories from her childhood and those of her children.   Gloria’s aunt and uncle, Juanita McKelvey and C. L. (Buck) Chandler have both written about their mother.  Gloria, too, has written her memories for Barbara, Rebecca and Claire to treasure.

             Remember, I’m looking for good cooks with long memories who will share their kitchen secrets with me and with their children and grandchildren.  Let’s all get these memories written down during the New Year.  It is certainly one of my resolutions.  

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network