Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Everyday Fare

“It ain’t much, but such as it is, you are welcome to it.”

Those words were Dad's stock invitation, issued to anyone arriving at the Rapp residence, unannounced, at meal time. Frequently the invitee declined, but not always. It may have depended upon what they anticipated being included in the offer. The “it ain’t much” gave no clue. It very well might not have been more than bologna, spread with mustard, on white bread with cold beans on the side. But it could be ham and mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans and corn, biscuits, and apple cobbler for dessert. One had to use their nose to tell. It was best to make one’s appearance at the back door. It looked in on the kitchen and, when open, conveyed the aroma of the fare being offered.

Meat was not a part of every meal. It was expensive and, even into the middle forties, it was reserved for Sunday dinners and occasions when company was expected at mealtime. Chicken was the most notable exception since there was always a rooster or hen within reach if needed. But even chicken more often found its way into chicken ‘n dumplings or chicken ‘n noodles where it could be stretched to serve many people and perhaps made to cover several meals. Fried or baked chicken was Sunday fare, or prepared to be taken to a picnic.

Breakfast often consisted of toast and fried eggs. We had no toaster so everyone toasted their own bread – often home-made bread – by spearing it with their fork and holding it over the open flame of the gas or kerosene cook stove. If company came, larger quantities would be toasted on a cookie sheet under the oven broiler. Pancakes were a frequent alternative to toast and eggs, as was biscuits and gravy. Sausage or bacon strips were weekend treats in those early years.

Dinner was the noon meal and it was a lighter affair, again unless company was known to be coming. The uncertainty of who would be there, coupled with the likelihood that not all would arrive at the same time made it into a do-it-yourself event much of the time. Bologna and cheese sandwiches, or left-overs, supplemented with pork ‘n beans and canned fruit sauce, served us and any guests who happened to be there at dinner time. On Sundays, dinner became the main meal. Guests were not frequent but when they did come it was often a “traveler” or preacher who had been invited at church that morning.

Supper was served in the evening and, until work schedules began to fracture the family’s togetherness, everyone was expected to be home and ready to eat at meal-time. The meal might consist of left-overs from several previous meals but that was unlikely in the years when we kids were young and had the appetites of youth. More typically we were fed potatoes, and gravy prepared with grease saved from some recent roast, ham, chicken, or wild game. It was especially good if the gravy contained bits of the meat itself. Vegetables, fresh from the garden, or from quart jars, canned the summer before, helped fill the plate. Home-baked bread or biscuits served as “mops” to make sure no nutrients were left on the plate. There was always the hope that the meal would conclude with a fruit cobbler or fruit and dumplings.

But the very best supper of all was cornbread and beans. The beans were white navy beans bought in bulk and put to soak overnight in salt water until they were somewhat softened. The next day they were drained, rinsed, and put in a large pot of water with a generous portion of pork rind from a recent ham, or pork bones bought from the butcher shop just for the occasion. The pot simmered all day, sending its tempting aroma through the house. An hour or so before supper Mom would mix up a “batch” of cornbread, usually baked in a shallow cake pan. It all arrived, steaming hot, at the table. In summer fresh green onions would complement the feast, out of season quartered pieces of onion would do. Scarcely was a meal of beans served without some reference to the “musical effects” the beans were expected to produce, perhaps even a popular little ditty to that effect would be sung.

Meals at the Rapp house weren’t much, but if you dropped in unexpectedly, as we were sitting down to eat, you were welcome to it – such as it was.

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