Category Archives: food

on jumping off a truck in the strawberry field

Willie: It might not be so funny, but I can remember picking strawberries, and that’s something I always wanted to do.  I wanted to, you know, ’cause when I was going to school, somebody says, “oh yeah, I went in the strawberry field this morning, and I made so many dollars.”  So I said, “mm mm mm – I  just want to do that one morning.”

So then, when I got old enough to drive, my brother and I would go down to the strawberry field and we’d pick strawberries and come on back home and rushing like everybody else for us to get on the bus, so then we can go tell stories too, that we had picked strawberries that morning.

On this particular day – this was a Saturday. And Ma told me, “Don’t jump off the back of the truck down in the strawberry field.” Because, you know, after we’d get through picking strawberries, we used to always beat it off so the grass and everything, the weeds wouldn’t be high.

I jumped – I didn’t … I jumped off.  Everything was fine. Climbed back on the truck.  And so I jumped off the back of the truck and we were playing and laughing, having a wonderful time. Got back on there, jumped off again.  Didn’t have any problems.  So I says, “I’m gonna try this again.” Climbed on the truck, jumped off – and when I jumped off, I jumped wrong, landed on a stick. Honey, I  yelled and screamed. Ma says, “what’s wrong with you?”  I says, “nothing.”

So when I got home that night, I went to take my bath.  I went in the bathroom and massaged my little muscle in my leg and I said, “Oh my God, please don’t let me have to take my leg off at the knee, ’cause I was doing something Ma didn’t want me to do.”  Man, I thought about that  a few days, and every night I would come in, massage that leg, and massage that leg, put the alcohol on it and then we had Merthiolate and all that stuff.  Man, put that on there, and so one day I was just washing and massaging the leg and I did like this, and a stick about that long came out of my leg.

Lee: An inch and a half?

Willie: Yes.  You think I ever told Ma about that?  Not ever.

Lee (to Christian): You’ve heard that story before?

Christian: Mm mhm.

Willie: No, you think I was gonna … after Ma told me not to do it?  Oh no.  Oh no.  I wanted to make it to my 15th birthday, okay.   ‘Cause she did not play.  Ma and Pa did not play.  When they tell you not to do something, they meant it.  But they didn’t have – you know, just like lots of times, you know, as far as discipline goes, they were disciplinarians, but they simply talked to you and told you what not to do.  We didn’t have all this hitting and carrying on.  It just wasn’t that.  But I tell you, you think I jumped off another truck in the strawberry field?  I don’t jump off a truck now.

from an interview with Prentice Christian and Willie Press, summer 2010.

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“It was pretty big for a country store.”

Norris: [My father’s general store, Bloxom Brothers] was pretty big for a country store. ….

There was an upstairs … the upstairs was where they sold feathers … . They also sold glass … they cut glass for various things. I can remember fiddling around with the glass cutter. …  They sold everything from horse collars to shoes, hats, patent medicines, and of course, the usual groceries and meats.

Bloxom Brothers ad

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… They sold a little bit of everything. Mouth organs, I can remember, horse collars, rope, patent medicines – just about anything you’d need, anything for farmers you’d need. …

Lee: Did people come and hang out there?

Norris : Yes, they did.  The farmers would come in particularly on Saturday nights, and most of them … in the ’20s they would come by horse cart. Dad had hitching posts out beside the store. I can remember that very well, they’d come in horse carts for their weekly shopping. …”

Lee: During the Depression, and even before that – did they trade?

Norris: Oh my goodness, yes. Absolutely. We had, in the back of the store, a separate thing for chickens. They’d take chickens and ducks in trade. And they issued … I’m not sure I can find one … You’ve seen those old store due-bills, haven’t you?

Lee: I don’t think so.

Norris:  … I have one somewhere for two cents. They’d bring chickens and corn also. We had two corn stacks in the back. Corn and chicken and, I guess, ducks – I don’t know, but I can remember the chickens. They’d take chickens and trade them – you’d get a due-bill, which you had to spend there, of course. That’s fair. …

I remember molasses came in huge barrels, but I don’t remember trading anything as far as that’s concerned, but eggs – eggs were a big product. That was the main product, as a matter of fact. The farmers would bring them in. I can’t remember where the eggs went, but … Dad had a little hammer … that he nailed up the crates with. I don’t know what ever happened to it, probably buried with him, I imagine, ’cause I can remember so many times people would use that thing and not bring it back – in the family – and he was tough about his hammer.

… Saturday night was a big night.  …. we would work on Saturday nights and sweep up after everybody was gone.  We would stay open until 10 or 11 o’clock – 10 o’clock anyway.  And then sweep.  It was a pretty big store.

From an interview with Norris Bloxom, summer 2010.

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on wartime shortages and ration books

There was a shortage of hunting ammunition down here on the farm. I hunted. Daddy hunted. We had quail, rabbit, squirrel, duck – all of it, but you had to be very careful, you had just a very little bit of ammunition. I mean, you prized a handful of ammunition. It was to be watched and taken care of.

WW II rationing stamp book

WWII ration book (courtesy of Taylor family)

During the war, we had … stamp books.  We were allotted so many stamps for certain things during the war. The books that I can remember, they [were for] … coffee, sugar, cigarettes, beef, tires, gas …

There were no cars available whatsoever during the war.  Most of them had been froze on the first day of the war … by Roosevelt, the President, and daddy was lucky enough to find one new car in the middle of a war, and he had to go through an Act of Congress in Accomack to get a permit to get that car. He hunted from Cape Charles to Philadelphia up in a storage house on the fourth or fifth floor to get one old Chevrolet – it wasn’t old, it was a brand new one – but to get a Chevrolet automobile. I think that must have been the last one on the East Coast. But he got it anyway, and we were fortunate in that respect, because our automobile was getting worn down.

From an interview with Pierce B. Taylor, Jr., summer 2010.

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on soldiers on the farm during WWII and fresh fish cakes

During the heaviest part when there were U-boats and other boats down the coastline here, the fort down to Kiptopeake, right down to the Cape, had a batch of troops in it down there. In the afternoons before dark, winter and summer, they would bring two soldiers up, drop them off on the hill over to the house over there, to mother and daddy’s, and they spent the night there – one of them on duty at all times.  They shifted around.  They brought their knapsacks.  They had a paper bag lunch that was packed down there for them to bring for their midnight snacks.  And one little thermos bottle of hot coffee, and this was some nights when it was snowing, raining, sleeting, not fit for an animal to be out, much less a human being.

They would be dropped off out of a plain Jeep with no top on the thing, most of the time, that brought them up from clean down to the Cape up here.  Now on that same Jeep, they would have started with [soldiers] for other creeks; they did the same thing that they did to this creek here – two at the front end of the creek, the farthest out the creek – … two soldiers, same way, some of the other creeks were placed that way, too.  I don’t know all of them and where they were placed at, but I know they were … there.

We had a cornstack over there that wasn’t in use.  I went in there, and daddy had a lot of bags throwed up under there – we replaced all of them bags in there and made plain old flat bunks out of them, and that was a place for them to go into and at least – wasn’t supposed to be but one in there at a time – to lay down on.  And it was out of the weather.  They didn’t get wet in there, but I wouldn’t say about cold air drawing through there, because it did.

Mother would, most of the time in the evening … we got to the point where we learned the boys.  They weren’t always the same two, but a lot of times it would be a series … it would be the same two boys that would be stopping in there, coming in there overnight to watch on the hill.  And she would fix them hot sandwiches and have hot coffee for them and – if it was too bad, the kitchen was open to ‘em with the woodstove going all night in there, and they were invited into the house. As I said, it wouldn’t be fit for man nor beast to stand on that hill down there, in the winter months down there all night long in a snowstorm or whatever, ice, sleet.

But I remember one thing that some of them enjoyed, which I always enjoyed myself, … [was] salted fish. …  Daddy would soak it out and get it fresh, and it had a little bit of relish from the salt into it, but it wasn’t  that much salt into it after he’d freshen it out like he had, and she would make fresh fish cakes out of that, and she’d give them boys fresh fish cakes, and they thought it was nothing else like that.  And I was just like those boys were, the soldiers – there was nothing like those fish cakes.

From an interview with Pierce B. Taylor, Jr., summer 2010.

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on making do and loving bananas

I remember hearing my grandfather say how much money he lost that he had in the bank, you know, during the Depression.  I don’t remember how much it was, but it seemed like a big amount to me at that time.

They had a bank on Deal’s Island.  And that bank just closed during the Depression.

It was very depressing, very depressing times, but people in that day and time … most everybody had their own vegetables and they had … well, my grandfather raised hogs.  He’d always kill a hog every fall, have his own hams and sausages and all that.  They had a lot of their own meats.  They managed to make do with what they had.

We had a corner grocery store, but it wasn’t a whole lot.  I can remember, very seldom we ever had bananas.  Every once in a while, my grandfather would go to Princess Anne on the bus and get these things that we couldn’t get at the corner grocery.  Once in a while, he’d bring bananas home.  Well, I love bananas, but I didn’t have that many of them, and then, when I’d go to Baltimore during the summer to visit, my father and aunts up there, they had bananas.  Well, I thought that was the greatest thing there ever was.

That was so wonderful to have bananas when you wanted it.  And, in the city at that time, they had what they called hucksters going up and down the alley and calling out what they had on their wagons.  They had a horse and wagon, pulling all the fruit and vegetables and whatever.  And you could just hear them going up and down the alley, hooting and hollering out what they had on their wagon.

And I remember one aunt especially, she would always get bananas if I was there.  She always had plenty of bananas.  And they tasted so good to me.  It was a treat for me to have bananas.  I thoroughly enjoyed them.

From an interview with Una Holland, summer 2010.

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on foods that cramp the tongue

They had two black heart cherry trees and then they had another cherry tree – I don’t know what the name of it was.  It was a white cherry.  And my grandmother made the best desserts out of those cherries.

She used to make something called cherry roly-poly. And then she’d fix some kind of sauce to put on top of it.  Oh my gosh, that would cramp your tongue.  That was so good.

And, of course, everything then – there were no instant mixes. Everything … I’ve seen her many a time get up and make biscuits in the morning for breakfast.  Bake them in the woodstove oven.

And then, on Saturdays, she would always make up yeast rolls.  [She] didn’t have a yeast cake.  There was some way they would … well, they did have a yeast cake, but they’d boil a white potato or something … white potato has something to do with it.  And she would make all these rolls up there for Sunday dinner.

Most of the time, you would have chicken – either baked chicken or fried chicken. Young biddies come off or young chickens come off in the spring, and you’d have fried chicken.  But in the winter, you’d have baked chicken.  And the baked chickens then – it was your laying hens, and they always had a whole cluster of little eggs inside and everybody wanted those eggs.  You know, when you bake a chicken, all those little eggs inside.  She was a good cook.

She used to make butter, make her own butter.  And then, she’d have the milk – she’d leave it setting here, would turn the clabber and honey. Those clabber biscuits would melt in your mouth.  She’d use clabber to make her biscuits. They were some kind of good.

I used to love clabber. Did you ever eat clabber? Probably not. … It reminds me of yogurt.  You know, the yogurts you have now, except this was – this was the real thing. The milk set out until it soured and then it turned to clabber.  And then you’d eat it, put a little sugar on it. [It was] nice and solid, pretty good.

From an interview with Una Holland, summer 2010.

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“We growed pretty well every crop you could grow.”

Farmers … didn’t have big acreage, but they always had something coming off.  … Strawberries was the first crop – they come off in the spring.  Then, we have string beans.  We grew two crops of them a year, string beans.  Then, white potatoes.  Then, sweet potatoes.  Then string beans … so we had about five or six different crops, vegetable crops.

We only grew corn enough for to feed the mules.  It was all ear corn.  You had to pick all your corn by hand.  In other words, we break the ear off and shuck it and throw it in the heat and then we pick it up and put it in the horse cart and … then we carry it to the stack, dump it up and then throw it by hand in the stack.  We always picked, went through it, and anything –  little, teeny ears we call nubbins – we fed that to the pigs.   Of course, they were meat for the table in the wintertime.  We’d kill about four or five hogs every year – for family, you know.

So we grew about five, six crops. Strawberries – [my daddy] generally had about three or four acres, and that’s about all he could get picked.  He had to pick them every day.

And then … string beans – they’d grow probably ten acres, maybe more. And then Irish potatoes – he’d have 15, 20 acres of that – depends on what size farm they were growing, but my daddy – he would probably have more than that.

And the sweet potatoes – they usually have 25 acres of them, because all of it’s hand work.  You know, you had to plow them out and scratch them out and throw them in the heat.  Irish potatoes – we actually graded them in the field and put them in barrels and then we shipped them by freight car and carried them through the station about seven barrels, eight barrels at a time.  A barrel of Irish potatoes weighs about 165 pounds.  A lot of the men could handle them by themselves.  But usually two of them would pick it up and put it on the wagon.

… Tomatoes – I forgot about that.  We grew a lot of tomatoes and picked green tomatoes, and then we picked the red tomatoes and carried them to the canning factory.  … There was a canning factory in every town … one in Hallwood, one in New Church, three in Pocomoke, one on Chincoteague, one in Greenbackville, one in New Church.  I think there was one in Stockton.

I heard my daddy say – this was in the 30s – he sold ’em for five cent a basket, a five-eight basket.  So I mean, you know, people don’t know what hard times are.

From an interview with Bev Fletcher, spring 2010.

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when they’re ripe, they’re ripe …

When they’re ripe, they’re ripe. And when they need picking today, they gotta be picked today. You don’t wait ’til tomorrow.

… This was 99 percent local people. I’d say most strawberry bowers were the farmers’ wives, maybe the wife’s friend, that packed these strawberries. … when you said you were going to pick strawberries tomorrow, everybody would say, “we’ll be there.” And they would be there. ’cause it was just something that everybody seemed to like to do. It wasn’t something that a lady couldn’t do as far as weight, lifting or anything like that. Men, naturally, it didn’t bother them any. So, it was a family-type thing.  If you had a family of colored people that worked with you and, of course, picked strawberries and other things, all you had to do was just give them the message the night before that you were gonna be picking the next day, they’d be right there, ready to go.

They were allowed to carry a few home, not many you know – don’t be a pig, so to speak – but if you want a few to carry home, most farmers would say, “no problem, no problem.”  Most farmers were that way.

Charlie Wilkins … he farmed down in Jamesville and if you went to him and asked him, “Charlie, get some strawberries out of your field?  Or peas?” Or any crop, as far as that goes.  Charlie would say, “yeah,” but he’d say, “they’re not ready yet.”  He’d say, “come around next Monday or Tuesday and help yourself.”  But he’d say, “I’m not gonna pick ’em for you.”  As far as he was concerned, if you wanted some, you were certainly invited to them.  He never would say no to anybody, but he would tell you quick, “I’m not gonna pick ’em for you.”

from an interview with Winter C. Cullen, III, fall 2009.

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on picking strawberries for auction

The idea of planting strawberries on a farm was it was early money. And, of course, back in those days, early money was very nice to have. It was one of the first crops you could harvest first of May. Consequently, most all farmers had a patch. We called them “strawberry patches,” but sometimes it would be three, four, five acres, maybe even as much as ten acres. (As a matter of fact, a hobby of mine is collecting [local] strawberry tickets from back in those days).

Strawberry Tickets (courtesy of Cullen family)

… I’d go up on my bicycle to the field and pick until school started, and right before school started, my mamma would come pick me up and carry me to school.  And then, in the afternoons when I got home from school, took care of my chores, took care of the chickens and the eggs and everything, I’d go back and pick some more for the next day’s picking.

We had what you’d call “strawberry flats,” and when you carried them up to what we called “strawberry bowers,” where the ladies packed them, so when you opened the crate, there were all these pretty berries on top.  You didn’t have any ugly berries … because they were always thrown away.

Depending on how many quarts you had on that flat, you were awarded thses tickets, and it could be one, two, five, ten, twenty-five, fifty or a hundred.  Of course, the twenty-five, fifty, a hundred, they would be awarded to a fast picker who … you knew was going to pick that many in a morning’s picking, so rather than give them all these individual tickets, you’d just wait until they brought twenty-five, [and] give them a twenty-five strawberry ticket.

Of course … they kept them.  And then either on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, they’d be paid off, if you had a hundred – let’s say you picked a hundred quarts that week … they paid ten cents a quart, you’d end up with $10 for your week’s work … which, back in those days wasn’t a whole lot of money, but it was more than some money, so to speak … and a lot of people would pick a hundred, a hundred fifty in one morning without any problem, even two hundred, a good fast picker.

Some pickers would eat more … well, they’d start eating more than they were putting in the quarts and then they realized, “hey, I’m not getting paid for these I’ve eaten, so I’d better slow down eating them and start putting them in the quarts.”

Those strawberries were carried by truck to what they called auctions, strawberry auctions.  … We had one here in Exmore, and used to have one in Painter, they said.  I don’t remember that one. We always carried ours to Exmore.

from an interview with Winter C. Cullen, III, fall 2009.

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“You find me a cow … and I can milk it”

When Pat was born … she cried.  I thought she was crying a lot.

Old Dr. Dick Fletcher, down to Sanford, I carried her down there – he was our doctor, you know.  He examined her.  He said, “I can’t find anything really wrong with her.” Miss Nancy, his wife, she came in that room. She heard the last sentence he said to me and she said, “Hattie, you get some milk and give that child [some milk]. Dick will let [her] starve to death if you listen to him.”

Milton said, “I don’t know how to milk a cow.  I’ve never milked one in my life.”  His dad … didn’t have cows.  He said, “If you want one, I’ll buy it for you.”

We used to have Hargis Taylor who used to sell beef from the back of his pickup.  And you know, they wouldn’t allow that now.  I said [to Hargis], “Do you know where I can get a cow, a nice cow?” He said, “Yeah.”

I was raised on a farm and, I didn’t have to do it, but I knew how to [milk a cow].  I said, “Could you get me a cow?” Milton said,” I’ll get you a cow, but I can’t milk it.  I’ve never milked one in my life.  I said, “Well, you just find me a cow – get Mr. Hargis Taylor to find me a cow, and I can milk it.”  So that’s what they did.  Sure enough she didn’t have enough food.

You didn’t go to  a hospital unless you had troubles.  We had this [midwife], I forget her name now, anyway she stayed with me for two, two or three weeks.  Usually they only stayed about a week or eight days or something like that, but she stayed with me [longer].  … So, Pat … got special [milk], from her mom milking this cow.  You pull down on it … Have you ever seen anyone milk a cow?

Lee: It’s probably harder than it looks.

Hattie: Yeah, it is.  And if you have long fingernails or anything and hurt [the cow], you know, they’ll hold up [the milk].

from an interview with Hattie Killmon Baxter, summer 2009

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