Category Archives: food

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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on turkeys, eggs, and afternoon naps

William Justis, circa 1925 (courtesy of Thornton / Justis family)

Daddy raised chickens and he sold eggs. And he said that he didn’t go by the market price on eggs. He said no egg was worth more than five cents, and he wasn’t gonna charge anybody more than five cents an egg. So that was 60 cents a dozen, and he sold chicken eggs for 60 cents a dozen, and he coudn’t supply all of his customers. They all wanted eggs.

He had a little flock of chickens, and he had one that was a pet. That chicken was the cutest thing. He would go out to feed them and, honey, she was at the head of the flock. She ran up to him just like she knew him by name. He loved that old hen.

Mother … didn’t raise turkeys after they moved up by the railroad track, but she raised turkeys down at White’s Neck, and one day … a storm came up in the afternoon, and she had this little flock of turkeys that were kind of back of the house down this roadway that – they were a right little old distance from the house. She had a little coop down there, and a storm came up in the afternoon, and honey, she ran off there kiting it, because she was afraid her little turkeys would get drowned. They were outside.  And she did get wet before she got back to the house, but when I saw her coming – I was standing out on the back porch. The back porch was screened in, and I thought, “Oh, Mother’s going to get wet.”  And, sure enough, she did get wet and when she came up the steps, I opened the door, held the door open for her, and when I hit that door, I got stung – lightning struck – I got stung and I kind of shook a little bit, you know.  But it didn’t bother me. It soon wore off. But I got her in the house, ’cause it was getting stormy – lightning and thunder and stuff going on, and I didn’t want her out in that, but she got her little turkeys in.  She didn’t want them to get wet.  They were the prettiest little things, those little fuzzy things.

Frances (my sister) said that, when I was little, I would bother the egg basket.  Mother would keep the egg basket in the pantry, and the pantry opened on the porch, and I would go in there, and I would bother the eggs.  She told me – I guess it was so – she said they got so that they would put some feathers in the egg basket.  And I was scared of feathers, so I stopped bothering the eggs.

I guess I was four or five years old.  Mother used to put me upstairs in the afternoon to take a nap, and I didn’t like that afternoon nap – oh, that was terrible. And she would put me upstairs, and this bedroom window opened so that I could see the yard, and we had this orchard out back that had peaches and apples and plums and all sorts of good things in it. Mother and Frances would go out in the afternoon and they’d walk around the yard, and they’d go to the orchard, you know, and they’d pick some fruit, and oh, they were just having a ball.  And I thought, oh if I could just get out there with them.  I didn’t understand why she put me up there – I had to have that nap. But she would – I just had to have that nap.  She’d put me up there, and she thought I was asleep, bless her heart, but I was watching every step they made.

But my, it was so different then.  I think children have missed so much.  So many children don’t know – they don’t realize did the egg come first or the chicken, you know?  I don’t guess it makes too much difference, but to me, I cherish it.

from an interview with Ruth Justis Thornton, summer 2009.

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“Put the plant in this way …”

Frances Latimer, circa 1978

Frances Latimer, Cobb Station farm, circa 1958 (courtesy of the Latimer family)

[Daddy] hired a person when he could, but there were times when he couldn’t hire anybody and it was my mom and my oldest brother and daddy. There wasn’t much help.

Somebody didn’t come to work one day and Daddy wanted me to work on a transplanter, and I was playing the piano. I was grouchy and sullen. I was a teenager. So I went out. And he said, “okay, sit here. Put the plant in this way, and it’ll go in the ground.” I said, “okay.” I turned it that way.

So, all of the plants were – the leaves were down and the roots were up. And he turned around and he looked and every other plant, alternate plants, the roots were up, ’cause there was somebody else riding it with me, right?

He knew it was me. So he stopped, and he said, “Bea.” He said, “Turn it this way.” He never raised his voice. I’m serious. I never heard him yell. I never heard him say ugly things. So, I said, “okay.” I put them in roots up …

You could tell if you looked [at what you were doing]. I wasn’t looking. Did you want me to look? The roots were up, the leaves were down. And he got off the tractor that time and was serious and he had plants in his hands. He said, “I never beat you with a plant. I never beat you. But I’m going to today. Now you’re not stupid. You can do this. Put them in the right way.” “Yes, Daddy.” I put them in the right way.

Putting them in the right way meant that I knew what I was doing before. I hadn’t really planned to do it, but after I started it, it seemed like fun.

from an interview with Frances Latimer, summer 2009

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on slop buckets and homemade scrapple

Richard: My daddy never did have a sow. But there would always be one or two or three people in the neighborhood … one would have three or four sows, and another would have one or two boars. So, you’d take the sow to the boar and get her fixed up and sell the pigs to somebody who didn’t have a sow or a boar. It was always somebody who had pigs for sale. You killed hogs always in December.

You had to wait for cool weather, see. There was no such thing as ice box, as refrigerators back then. You’d depend on salt. You killed hogs after it turned cold, from the 5th to the 20th of December. And then, as soon as you got straight, January or February, that’s when you got your pigs for the next year.

You had them in the pen, and you started feeding them. In the wintertime, you could turn them out and let them fend for themselves on the rye and stuff, but after you planted your crops, of course, then you had to put them up. Feed them corn and slops. Everybody had a slop bucket in the house.

Nora Lee: Whatever slops you had, even your dishwater. Dishwater – you would use it.

Richard: Put it in the slop bucket to feed the hogs. Everybody had a smokehouse, that’s true. You salted everything, see, and you hung it up in the smokehouse.

Nora Lee: Your sausage, also.

Richard: And we did bacon. It was put in the smokehouse. Of course, it’s salty as brine, you know, has to be to keep.

Nora Lee: Lard. We used to trap lard.

Richard: Yeah.

Nora Lee: Chittlins. I never did eat chittlins.

Richard: No, the blacks always ate the chittlins. They always got the guts.

Nora Lee: We used to make scrapple. It’s the liver and kidneys and …

Richard: It’s some of the – golly they’re awful – heart, liver, kidneys …

Nora Lee: Homemade scrapple is much better than what you can buy today.

Richard: That was a delicacy, and you had that right after you killed hogs. See, you didn’t have any way to keep anything unless you salted it.

Nora Lee: Tenderloin we used to can. My mother used to can that. Oh, it was so good.

from an interview with Richard and Nora Lee Parks, summer 2009

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when a hundred dollars cash money at Christmas would last until Spring

Richard: I heard my father say when he was a boy – he was born in 1900 – when he was a boy, his daddy said if he had a hundred dollars cash money at Christmastime, he was alright until Spring – on a hundred dollars. Isn’t that crazy? Only thing they had to buy was kerosene …

Nora Lee: … flour, sugar …

Richard: …flour, sugar, and doctor bill once in a while, which was probably $5. I mean, when you’ve lived as long as we have … it’s just mind-boggling to see how far $100 goes now. I mean it’s weekly [now] …

We lived on a farm. We got our mail from Pastoria. … Dad let us go to the store most nights. The men always talked around the old country stove, and I’m talking during the ’30’s now, during the Depression, and us boys played Dead Mule and Lost Track and Hide and Seek and all the other games boys and girls play. So, it was a good life.

We didn’t have any money. Nobody had money.

Nora Lee: Nobody, so everybody was poor.

Richard: The store was two miles through the woods. I made many a trip out there with a dozen or two dozen eggs or a piece of fat meat to get mamma’s groceries, and if it was 15 cents leftover, you got what you’d call a due bill. The store master, the storekeeper, gave you this little piece of paper that – owed you 15 cents for a side of meat or a dozen eggs.

That was the hub, yeah. That’s how you – well, you bought everything you needed. You bartered for most of it with eggs or a side of fat meat.

On Saturday night [when we went into Parksley] … we got a quarter. Fifteen cents for the movie. And ten cents for an ice cream cone. Ice cream cone was about a nickel or a Coke or whatever, but it was ten cents to throw away. That was what we got. We got 25 cents Saturday night.

Nora Lee: That was the highlight of your week.

Richard: For working all week. And my job at home … As soon as the boys got big enough to do anything, the boys took over. My brother milked the cow. I never did have to milk the cow, but my job was tend to the woodpile. Keep the wood split and fill the woodbox up when I came home from school. So, that’s kind of quaint, isn’t it?

Of course, you’re talking about ten cents for a gallon of kerosene or fifteen cents or something like that. I don’t know how much a pack of cigarettes was then, but everybody smoked – well, most people rolled their own.

Nora Lee: Cheaper.

Richard: Gosh, a bag of Bull Durham was five or ten cents, and that was a right good size – would make a lot of cigarettes. … It has a string on it that you pulled the string and that tightened it up. When you pulled it open, you could dump it out in your cigarette. And some people, boy you talk about – they could roll a cigarette …

We entertained ourselves if Daddy let us have [time off]. Saturday afternoon most of the time was ours, and we boys – we played in the creek and swam and, like boys will do, did all kinds of throwing mud and mud baths and such as that. There really wasn’t anything real exciting that went on ’til Saturday night when we went to Parksley.

from an interview with Richard and Nora Lee Parks, summer 2009

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