Tastes and Smells Then and Now (Part 2)

In the 1930s of my youth, every morsel we ate was homegrown or “made from  scratch.” Filling in for a scarcity of meats was cod fish gravy–actually a white sauce finished with a generous pat of homemade butter and ladled over mashed potatoes, pancakes, or toast. The dried fish came from the store in a petite wooden box with sliding top and required soaking overnight to eliminate some of the strong salt with which it was preserved. When cod was cooked, the salty water was discarded again and the pungent white fish was added to the sauce.

For pancakes, I was allowed to indulge my sweet tooth by piling a couple of spoonsful of sugar and melting it in the center with a moderate splash of hot coffee. I know. Strange for a child, but I had to be coaxed to eat any number of foods–especially vegetables–that were supposed to be good for me. Or I’d slather a pancake with peanut butter directly from the tin pail in which it was purchased or sweeter still, honey from its waxy comb, straight from some grower’s beehive. Chewing the wax was the fun part, totally unrelated to nutrition. Or it wouldn’t have seemed so fun.

Tapping (every other year in March) our stand of  8-10 sugar maple trees, we boiled and sealed enough maple syrup jars to last through most of the winter. My older sister and I were still too short to see the competition over the walls of the shoveled-out “Fox ‘n’ geese” circular snow path. So we didn’t have to step off our front porch for the handy refrigeration of a major snow bank. There we’d set a Pyrex dish of hot boiled-down syrup to cool, stirring with extreme vigor and anticipation till set. NOTE: I’m guessing you can still do this with kids over a bowl of ice cubes. Voila! Pale, sweet maple sugar, a rare anytime treat. Rare for us because we enjoyed many other culinary uses for the precious, prized syrup. Sneaking an occasional teaspoon in the sugar-making process went unpunished–if not unseen.

Life was simple then. Life was, and still is, sweet.


First oil painted by artist/daughter Marti during college break from the “Three-Mile Island episode.” Wooden paddle was used for pressing out the whey of freshly churned butter.  Now, the bowl sometimes holds popcorn or rice puff balls for the holiday.


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