Sometimes Facebook conversations turn into blog posts. Recently, it was the anniversary of my dad’s death, and soon after that, I saw an article about Cornbread and Milk: It’s A Mountain Thing”, written by Kim Holloway Stalcup in “Appalachian Magazine.”
I shared the article and wrote the following:
This definitely reminds me of my dad. He loved his cornbread and milk on the occasions my mom made cornbread, and would even bring home leftover cornbread from dinner at a restaurant to have later as a snack in a glass of milk. Interestingly, the woman who wrote this article is from Cherokee County, NC, for a few generations, which is where my dad was born and raised. I think my dad grew up having cornbread every day and they certainly had milk every day, living on a farm. My grandmother never threw food away, so even the tiniest piece of cornbread got saved. I guess to a little boy growing up with nine siblings, and he was next to the youngest, that seemed like a wonderful snack. He might have been lucky to get it lol. Both my parents loved milk, though my mom didn’t do the cornbread thing. But they would each have a glass of frozen milk at night sometimes, chopping and chinking away at it, just plain milk, which is when I knew for sure I was in a weird family lol. I didn’t know any other people who did that, so it definitely seemed strange to me. A lot of work for little reward. For some reason, though, I always hated milk.
Interestingly, that share got more comments than anything I’ve posted on Facebook lately. People love hearing about folksy, homegrown things like this. People shared their own memories of cornbread and milk, white bread and milk, warm bread, brown sugar added, and as for the frozen milk, I agree with a friend who said it needed sugar, chocolate, something. And in regard to buttermilk, which people seem to either love or hate, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground there, one friend shared her suggestion for using it to clean out your septic tank! While I like cornbread, I never ate the cornbread and milk because I only drank milk if I absolutely had to, like at school or my grandma’s house (unless I could get to the fresh grape juice first). I never did become an expert cornbread baker either, though I’ve made my share through the years, but not like my grandma would have made it. I have eaten quite a variety, liking it best very hot, slathered with butter, and maybe a side of beans and chow chow (by the way, I now use Earth Balance for the buttery component).
Cherokee County, North Carolina, includes Murphy and Tomotla and my grandparents’ farm, divided among their many children after their deaths, part of it sold now and developed with new houses. But the last time I rode over that way, the house was still there, barely, and overgrown in weeds and brush, with a family who were friends of one of my uncles still living there. They lived with him during the last years of his life at the old home place. Thinking of trips to Murphy when I was much younger, they had to include a stop for a chili bun (hot dog with all the fixings but without the dog even back then) at Nabers Drive-In in Bryson City, a ride through the Nantahala Gorge, sometimes accompanied by a little carsickness (did you ever see the Andy Griffith Show where his date, Lydia, had to hang her head out the window “like a dog”)? That was me on more than one occasion. I’m reminded of taking a walk on the property when we’d visit, swinging on the porch swing, drinking cold water out of a long-handled dipper, helping gather eggs when I was a little girl, chickens all over us when we got out of the car (which my mom hated, but I thought was kind of cool), walking across the old swinging bridge with a cousin over the Valley River down the road apiece, the route my dad would walk to school as a little boy, an old out-of-tune piano I’d try to play, with half of the yellowed keys sticking, my uncle strumming the banjo or telling a story, and my grandma showing me how to make those delicious boiled chocolate oatmeal cookies, the ones everyone thinks is a special recipe that only their grandmothers make. She was a quiet, sweet, but no-nonsense woman. It’s also where my love affair with cats began when I brought home my first little black and white kitten, Bootsie. My grandpa died when I was young, and while I do remember him, the memories are few.
We usually just visited for the day, rarely spent the night, but we did eat lunch and sometimes supper, and there was always cornbread and real butter (made in a round mold with the imprinted flower design) and, of course, always green beans and corn, too. I remember seeing my grandma churning butter a long, long time ago. After we ate, I’d help clean up, and every little dish with even just a spoonful of corn or three or four green beans got saved in the corner cabinet for the next meal. My grandparents were hard workers, and with ten children and two adults to feed, they wasted nothing. The milk came fresh from their cows, and I hated it. I would drink it down with one gulp, holding my nose. But I understand where my dad got his love of cornbread and milk. Yes, it’s probably mostly a southern thing, but from what I’m hearing it’s also a mountain/country thing, not fancy, but something good to fill the bellies of a lot of hungry mouths. I never gave it a lot of thought, but for my dad, that was probably comfort food that reminded him of long-ago times with his family, his Mama and Daddy, brothers and sisters, growing up on the farm. It was a hard life in rural North Carolina, in the twenties, thirties, and forties, but my grandparents, like so many others similar to them, originally hard-working tobacco farmers, filled their home with faith, lots of love, good fresh and filling food, laughter, music and games, and some happy memories, and seven of those children went on to graduate from college and become teachers. Food really is powerful beyond satisfying our physical hunger. It’s about family and love and connections. It’s nourishment for the soul and the body. I was grateful for the reminder of my own sweet family memories from an article about cornbread and milk.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge
(I’m hoping to find a couple of photos to scan soon to add to this article)