We had two sources of heat. One was Mama's Red Mountain cook stove in the kitchen. The other was a tiny, poorly designed fireplace in the 'living room'. More heat went up the chimney than into the room. You might ask, why the single quotes encasing 'living room'. Well, our home was a tiny three room house. There were beds in every room. Our 'living room' had two full size beds in it.
As it neared bedtime, both fires were allowed to burn out. We couldn't afford to heat the house through the night and, of course, there would be no one up to tend a fire. In mid winter, if it was zero degrees outside, it was zero degrees in the bedrooms.
I slept under many heavy, homemade quilts. I woke up tired from being under all that weight all night. But, children are resilient. In a flash, I would grab my overalls and run to the kitchen in my long johns (you know, the ones with the trap door in the back).
Mama would have a roaring fire going in the cook stove. I would hold my overalls close to the stove to get them above freezing before putting them on. The same with coats. Taken from a freezing bedroom, you always held your coat near a fire before putting it on.
I will be honest with you. I was envious of other children who had more. Sometimes, I managed to put together enough pennies to make a dime. That dime would get me into the 'theater' on a Saturday morning. I would watch movies starring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and other heroes of the day. Comedy was my favorite genre, though. Judy Canova could make me do a belly laugh right there in the theater, something an inhibited child such as myself just didn't normally do.
There was no ride to town. Bus fare was ten cents, each way. Twenty cents, I didn't have. I walked the four miles, there and back. Once inside the theater, the scent of hot buttered pop corn was almost overwhelming. It sure made my mouth water. No popcorn for me, though. That was another dime I didn't have.
It's hard for children to count their blessings when it seems that most all those around you are blessed with more than you. But, in retrospect, I now know I was more fortunate than many. I always had enough clothes to wear. I never went hungry. I had a Mother's love.
I remember some of my friends came from broken homes. Some did not have proper clothing to walk three miles to school in 20 degree weather. At age eight and nine, many had decayed front teeth. I think what I remember most about these children was how pale and thin they were, a sure sign their diet was inadequate. I even remember seeing a few children with bowed legs due to rickets, a result of vitamin D deficiency. So, while I was born to a poor family, I was more fortunate than many around me.
There were beans and potatoes on our table every day, yet we were a healthy lot. I guess that was because Mama supplemented those 'beans and taters' with lots of greens and such. And milk. Mama bought two gallons of milk a week from a farmer who delivered it to our home for the price of 50¢ a gallon.
The beans I ate for supper may well have been leftovers from 'dinner' (lunch). And you know what? They tasted just as good at the evening meal. I was a growing child with a big appetite. Of course they were good. I 'put away' so much food, some of the older folks would ask me if my legs were hollow.
Sometimes, leftovers were made into an entirely different dish. Mama used leftover black eyed peas to make little fried cakes. They were called 'pea sausage'. I think that was because they were flavored with sage. They were different and quite good.
We never had store bought desserts. Cakes were usually reserved for holidays. Between special occasions we had homemade pies and cobblers. Mama could turn leftover biscuits into a delicious bread pudding. Warm and fresh from the oven bread pudding, washed down with a tall glass of cold milk straight from the country. My, my, my.
Many years later, with Mama and Daddy gone, I still lived at home. Not the original home place. Somewhere along the way, we managed to get another house with a couple more rooms. I remember a married sister coming to spend a Sunday afternoon with me. We had a nice visit. It was one of those rare days when everything seems to go 'just right'. After visiting for a while, we both were hungry. Neither wanted to go out for burgers and neither wanted to cook a meal.
I went to the kitchen and looked around. Leftovers. I found a little of this, a little of that and a little of the other. I could heat these up and make a salad. I did, and I made a pan of biscuits. Those biscuits and those leftovers turned into a meal. A good, satisfying meal. My sister is gone now, but I'll never forget her saying "I believe that's the best meal I've had in a long time".
Even more years later, a customer offered me some cake. She had baked a nine inch, four layer, sour cream, fresh coconut cake.
Jackie: 'Doug, we will never eat all that cake. I want to bring you half of it'
Doug: 'Thanks Jackie, but I can't eat half a cake before it goes bad'.
Jackie: 'You can slice the cake and wrap each piece and freeze them. Just thaw a piece when you want some'.
Doug: 'Freezing will ruin the cake. It won't be any good'.
Jackie: 'No, you're wrong. It will taste even better than fresh'.
Doug: 'We'll see'.
Well, people, every time I thawed and ate a piece of that cake, it was better than the last. I couldn't believe it. Jackie, bless her heart, was right.
I still use leftover stewed potatoes to make potato cakes. Creamed or mashed won't do because there should be many small 'hunks' of potato in the cakes. Sometimes I crank 'em up with chopped onions or shredded cheese. Humble fare, yes. But I prefer them over Chateaubriand.
A lot of people will throw away perfectly good food rather than eat leftovers. They do it as a matter of principle."I don't eat leftovers". Well, I don't have a lot of time or respect for those people. With so many hungry people on this ship, wasting food is one of the greatest sins against mankind.
These wasteful people don't know what they're missing, anyway. I used to make an apple cake with pecan and cream cheese icing. It was always better the next day. Most of us are in agreement that potato salad is better the next day. So are pinto beans.The best onions for your hot dog? Don't use white. Don't use red/purple. Both are too strong. Use yellow skin, sweet onions. Chop them finely. And most important of all, chop them yesterday. The flavor will have mellowed, and you can pile all you want on that dog. That's right, yesterday's onions make the best hot dog.
Yes, as a child I was poor, but never went hungry. Except for the occasional meat or dessert we had, I could eat as much as I liked, and I did. There was just one rule. You were never to put more on your plate than you would eat. There was no scraping the plates before washing. There was nothing to scrape. Each of us had broken off a piece of biscuit at the beginning of the meal and placed it near the edge of our plate. That piece of biscuit was the last thing we ate, after we used it to sop up every last morsel of food on the plate.
Where am I going with all this? Well, I'm hoping what I've written will give pause for thought to those who are a little too quick to throw away perfectly good food just because they wouldn't want it two times in a row. They might discover that many foods actually taste better the second time around.
I won't burden you with all the current statics on world hunger. One person going hungry is too many. Multiply that by 805 million to get an idea of how grave the situation is. Now, take that figure and put it in the back of your mind. Let it sit there, quietly. It will know what to do and when to do it.
Please, enjoy your food, all of it.
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My parents were Holocaust survivors. We never wasted a scrap of food in our house. When they came to America, they were shocked at what people threw away. Even before the war, food was never wasted. They ate organ meats and chicken feet. This post is terrific, and should be a wake-up call to everyone to use all the food they have. If you do find yourself with too much, take it to the local food pantry!
There seems to be a lot of disparity in our food stamp program. A lot of people who desperately need food stamps, can't get them; while some who get them, sell them for money to buy alcohol or drugs.
I would hope there is more fairness being practiced at these local food banks... and I thank you for adding this information in your comment.
Unfortunately, even some of the local food banks have become difficult to deal with. One of our local roadside vegetable stands had an excess of tomatoes and some of them had started to go mushy, not rotten, just mushy. George offered them to the local food bank in Amherstburg so they could be given away but was told not to bring less than perfect tomatoes. They would have made an excellent soup or sauce but instead, he had to throw them away. Sad but true.
Hi Doug ... Another wonderful sharing. Please check your Inbox.
You make a valid point. Some food banks require a W-2 form;others do not. Some food banks have a sliding fee. They feel that even if a person pays a dime, there is less shame. There is always someone who is going to abuse the system. When I donate I hope that the person who receives is truly in need and will pay it forward when able. This is my way of paying forward to the people who helped my parents when they had nothing.
Thank you Judy & Doug;
Do you remember "pound parties?" When I was a kid, if someone lost their job or couldn't make ends meet, everyone would get together and give them a Pound Party. Each person would bring a pound of something -- butter, sugar, flour, etc.
I also remember those days of milk once a week - - usually on Saturday night. To this day, when at a gathering and asked choice of drink, all eight of us kids still ask for a glass of milk (I bring my own dairy free, but you get the picture.)
I learned to cook for the age of two and every single one of my six brothers also cooks from scratch. We all learned from my most talented of cooks, my mom. Sometimes it was just fried bread with butter and jam, or a whole can of spam cut to serve the ten of us. She was full of wise platitudes and nutrition lessons "I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw a man with no feet," "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride," etc. My mom never bemoaned her lot, just loved us all with all she had. On one occasion she lamented her sense that she had not given her children much in life and I told her that she taught us all THE most essential survival skill - - cooking and an a appreciation of nutrition. She's gone now, but every single day still some twenty-two years later, I still catch myself mid-reach for the phone every day to call her.
I can't recall getting a notice that you had posted a comment to this post. I just happened to run across it, today. I am sorry for the delay in replying.
I don't remember actual 'pounding parties'. I do remember small groups getting together and going door to door asking for food and other items. These things were collected and given to a family in the village that had run cross a streak of bad luck and were pretty much penniless. To go door to door like this was called 'goin' a'poundin'. It's hard to believe such an act of neighborly love and kindness would ever take place in this day and age.
We were fortunate enough to have milk most every day. We rarely had meat, though. When we did, it usually was fried chicken on Sunday. And even more rare were the times Mama could afford to cook country style steak. We sopped up every last bit of the gravy with Mama's biscuits.
I don't remember cooking at the age of two, but with Mama often working first shift, at age six I would cook my own eggs rather than let a sister cook them. I wanted them just so, with the 'yellow' unbroken. Again, I sopped up all that 'runny yellow' with biscuits. I would not eat an egg cooked that way, today.
I dearly love your account of you mama. You must have some wonderful stories to share with us. Please do.
We grieve over our losses, but there comes a time when we say to ourselves, 'I have grieved enough. It is time to put away the grief. I will never cry over this loss, again'. And then... I read the last sentence of your comment. I'm sorry, the tears are so many, I cannot write more.
Thank you, J'Marinde.
'Statistics', Y'all (sorry about that)
Hi Doug...I agree, this post is terrific. I also love leftovers, thanks again!!!
I've never understood that attitude of leftovers not being worthy of eating, either. I love to make a dish and then eat it for 3 or 4 days in a row! Most one-pot dishes, casseroles, stews etc. do taste better as time goes on. In fact, I cook my St. Patrick's Day dinner (corned beef, cabbage & potatoes) a day or two early deliberately because I know it will taste better the 2nd and 3rd day than on the day it's cooked. With other foods, like roasts, etc. it's fun to have them with different side dishes from one day to the next. Having plenty to eat makes some people wasteful, I guess. I'm sure our Pleistocene ancestors were happy to have leftover mammoth meat every day, for as long as it lasted!
Love your post. Great writing, as usual, sir! Being the only person who has cooked and baked in this house for the last 10 years, I'm so grateful for leftovers. My purse is happy, my nerves are thrilled, and food just tastes better as the flavours meld together day after day. I do get the dreaded, "Again?!" question, so when I'm challenged with it, I say, "You can make something new yourself, then." Given that we don't have too much to play with (and I'm the creative one in the kitchen), that usually keeps them quiet... And just as grateful. ;)
Leftovers are so good, I wish I could have them first.
When I was growing up we seldom had meat or milk. I ate so many pinto beans and I said "when I grow up I will never eat another bean". Guess what, I love them and eat them every week. Really good for us.
Loved the story and how true it is even today. One never knows what my leftovers might become till they are used.
I think we grew up in different parts of the country because I never had black eyed peas, but I sure remember the potato cakes. I still make them today. I've even used leftover mashed potatoes to make potato soup even if its just one serving. I add a little onion and milk to the mashed taters, oleo, and parsley if I have it... salt and pepper to taste.. mmmmm More than likely cheese on top would be good, but I've never done that.
I sure enjoyed your story about walking etc. My father walked very far to be able to go to high school. Here in the rural area of the Appalachin Mts where we live in PA there were no high schools nearby. He graduated from "Normal School" in the early 1920's; it was a 2 yr college. I am so proud of my father and what he did for our family. You are absolutely right. We were lucky enough to have good parents who taught us about the important things in life!
Thank you for all the posts but especially "Eat Leftovers And Be Grateful". You are so right! It was a pleasure to read your post.
I love leftovers and always have. When I was a kid we ate what was on our plate and there was no "scraping of plates" at our house either!! You brought back some good memories for me. Having no money made us poor but we were happy. I don't think many people say that nowadays.
I appreciate your comment. You know, our lives are not just now, but yesterday and tomorrow, too. I think connecting with the past, occasionally, makes us feel more complete, more whole.
Glad you enjoyed the article.
Well you mustve grown up in the south because only people in the south eat leftovers because theyre poor not people in NY, CT, ME, VT, ME or PA they are rich people should only eat fresh food everyday not eat leftovers for dinner or give it to the poor
I live in the Pacific NW and we eat leftovers all the time. I think there are people who strive for a frugal lifestyle all across the country and the world.
What is your family's favorite way to use up leftovers?
Loved your post!
There are very seldom leftovers at our house, because my husband likes to eat. I used to joke that if the recipe said "4 servings," I knew it was enough for the two of us--3 for him, 1 for me. I do tend to bring home to-go boxes when we eat out, and I can usually get another 2 meals for myself from these. However, I don't think we should push the "clean-plate club" anymore. We've got an epidemic of obesity in this country, and forcing kids to eat more than they want is only teaching bad habits. People in other countries even say that, in America, our poor people are fat.
This doesnt change the fact for me because I hate leftovers with a passion because I was the only kid in my school that ate leftovers, while every kid ate steak, pizza, hamburgers, or ate out I ate something I had the other day, my mother grew up poor and so did my father I would expect them to provide me a better life. Leftovers are only eaten by the poor if you have a good job make good money you dont need to eat leftovers you should be eating fresh food give the leftovers to the poor
Really?? You have some serious issues. My family was upper middle class and we NEVER wasted food. Only the poor eat leftovers? Some of the best meals my mother served used leftovers. Mostly what I get from your post is anger and resentment. Very sad.
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