The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Can Of Salmon

By J. Carlton Smith © 1992

Issue: March, 1992

Nothing upsets a homemaker and cook more than having unexpected company and not being prepared for it. They want to have a clean, orderly house and a meal they feel worthy of company. She feels a pride in her ability as a homemaker and wife and mother.

In these days, people are expected to call in advance to see if it would be convenient for them to visit. It was not always this way across the hill and mountain country of the rural south. In days when communications were poor in the back country, people just came and assumed they would be welcome. They did not always arrive at the most convenient time. The code of the mountains and hills was you asked even strangers who came along at meal time to eat. If they asked for a place to stay the night, you accommodated them the best way you could. When there wasn't a bed for them, you fixed a shakedown (pallet) for them. Sometimes this was in the barn on a pile of hay.

It would not have been unusual in those days for a large family to arrive unannounced. The most popular way of travel was on foot. This was called hoofing it, footing it, or putting your foot in the road. Imagine the anguish a housewife would feel at seeing a large family heading their way at meal time when there was no time to fix anything extra. They could not run out to a convenience store to pick up what they needed. In the days before there was electricity across rural areas, there would have been no refrigerators or freezers to keep things frozen or cool. In a lot of instances, people relied upon a spring box.

Housewives learned to rely upon quick hands and wit to do the best they could with what they had on hand. Unexpected visits happened often and most learned to keep something in reserve for an emergency or special occasion.

The following drama or varieties of it was played out untold thousands of times in those bygone days...

Well, all of the clothes are on the line at last. Oh! My back sure aches with all that bending and scrubbing on the washboard. Mary, you take the wash board and put it up while I empty these tubs and hang them up on the back of the smokehouse.

Bobby, you put the wash benches in the smokehouse and run down to meet the mailman. I am expecting my order from Sears and Roebuck any day now. You and Mary sure need your new shoes to wear to church. It is OK to go barefoot around here, but I want you to have shoes to wear to church.

Mama, Mama, Mr. Prilliaman, the mailman, said he passed Uncle John and Aunt Polly with their kids Joe and Annie about a mile down the road. He said they told him they were coming to our house.

Lordy, Lordy, here it is almost meal time and I don't have a meal fit to set before company and there is almost no time to fix anything. We were just going to have cabbage, cornbread, mustard greens and pinto beans left over from supper last night. What can I do? I would just die if your Aunt Polly went back down the hollow and told they came to see us and I didn't have a meal fit to feed the hogs.

Mary, you run down in the cellar and bring me a jar of peach preserves and then you can boil some eggs to go with the mustard greens. While you are in the cellar, bring me a jar of beet pickles. They go well with cabbage. I was saving my eggs to take to Bryant Smith's store to trade for sugar, coffee and lamp oil (kerosene). Guess we will have to make do with what we have a little longer. No more starting fires with oil. We will have to get some pine knots to start the fires.

Bobby, you split me some real dry stove wood to make a hot fire so I can bake the biscuits quickly. Now what kind of meat can I fix? There is no time to kill and fix a chicken. I dare not cut our last ham. Your Pa said we would save it for the big meeting when the preachers come to eat with us. By that time we should be getting corn and Ritteninghouse beans from the garden. That old Rusty-Coat apple tree is just loaded and they are so good with ham. There will be lots of blackberries ripe by then. Blackberry cobbler with some of my good top cream is good enough for anybody. I am not worried about then, but what can I fix now?

They will probably be here in a little over half an hour. Expect they will stop and talk with the old man who lives at the foot of the hill. He never lets anybody get by without finding where they are going and why. Nosy old busybody.

I know what I can fix. There is that can of salmon I have been saving. It is the very thing as salmon cakes cook quickly. Bobby, put another firing of wood into the stove. The biscuits are ready to go in and I want them to cook quickly. I'll pull these salmon cakes back so they won't get too brown.

Mary, you sweep the floor and set the table so we will have that done. When you get that done, go out in the yard and cut some lilacs. They make a house smell so good. They are certainly pretty this year. You can put them in that old milk pitcher.

The biscuits are about done. Bobby, run to the spring and get the milk and butter. Mind you close the lid to the spring box real good. I don't want a stray dog to get into my crock of clabber milk. It should be ready to churn by morning.

I will start dishing up the food. Mary, run out and ring the bell for your Pa. Oh, never mind, there he comes down the hill. There comes John, Polly, Joe and Annie through the gate. You kids go to meet them while I change into a clean apron.

Hello John, Polly and children. What a surprise to see you! Come on in. We are just about to sit down for a bite to eat. You will just have to take pot luck. This was wash day and I haven't had time to fix much.

Pa, will you return thanks?

"Lord, for that which we are about to receive, may we be truly thankful."

Paul, you don't waste much time saying a blessing, do you?

Well, John, I know hungry folks aren't interested in long winded prayers at meal time.

I do dare Addie, these are the best salmon cakes I ever ate. How do you fix them?

Just the way I always do, Polly, salmon, eggs, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. I think they go well with mustard greens, don't you?

Polly, you must get Addie to teach you to make biscuits like these. They sure hit the spot with peach preserves.

Paul, I came to see if you can spare me some seed of that Southern Snowflake corn you always plant. It makes the best meal for cornbread I ever ate, especially if you take it to old cousin Nat's mill to have it ground.

Yeah, John, old man Nat Deshazo sure does grind good cornmeal. He grinds it real slow and the meal doesn't heat up. Old man Spencer Kallam and him are always jawing at one another. Old man Kallam said a dog could lick it up as fast as he ground it. Old cousin Nat said he needn't think he was going to wear out his mill stones just to please him.

You are right, Paul. He sure does grind slow. One time I was there and old man Kallam and Cousin Nat were fussing. I think they got ashamed of themselves. They decided that everyone had a right to their opinion. Old Cousin Nat said, "It wouldn't do for everyone to see like I do or everyone would want my wife Jenny." Old man Kallam said, "If everyone saw like I do, no one would want her." This almost caused a fight. Old man Taylor from over near Mayo Church got so tickled I thought he had lost his breath. I had to hit him hard on the back. Out flew his chew of tobacco. This was so funny that old man Kallam and Cousin Nat forgot what they were fussing about.

I go over to D. E. Moore's mill when I am in a hurry, John. He really can grind fast. He said he believed in getting all the power from the river he could. If you go over there you had better watch out for his boys. They are real devils, always playing pranks on people. One time when I was over there, D. E. sent Uncle Ashe, the hired man, to clean out the mill race. Them young devils waited until Uncle Ashe was in the deepest part of the race. They opened the sluice gate and the water came rushing down the race so fast that it knocked Uncle Ashe down and had washed him down to the mill before he could get out. He came running into the store saying, "Mr. Moore, you got to do something about them young devils. They tried to drown me." Of course none of the boys were to be seen.

One of the funniest pranks they played on their father. D. E. Moore was a very religious man and a staunch Methodist. His mother's family had helped organize and build Mt. Zion Methodist Church.

Mary J. Smith Moore Robertson gave the land for the church and cemetery on a hill above Moore's mill. One preaching Sunday, the minister was unable to come to preach. He sent word to D. E. Moore he couldn't be there and for him to take his place. D. E. Moore took this responsibility very serious. He worked on his sermon all week.

Evidently his boys found out his topic was, "The evils of working on the Sabbath Day." He was well into telling the congregation about the evils of working on Sunday. Suddenly the boys started up the mill and the noise echoed up and down the river valley. The congregation was at first startled and then tried to hold back their laughter.

Molly Robertson, D. E.'s sister-in-law, stood up and said, "D. E., I think you should preach this sermon down at the mill to your boys. They need it worse than we do." This really caused laughter.

Yes, there used to be a mill on about every stream. There was old Anglin's Mill down the Mayo; Mullins Mill on South Mayo; Deshazo Mill on Fall Creek; Smith Mill on Pawpaw Creek and Moore's Mill on North Mayo. Now there is only about two left.

We will go and look for you some seed corn, John. I have mine already shelled and plan on planting it tomorrow. The hickory leaves are about the size of a squirrel ear. That's an old Indian sign for planting corn. They planted corn long before we did so they ought to know.

You children run out to play so I can rest awhile. Why, Addie, are you finished washing the dishes? You should have waited. I always like to let my dinner settle a while before I wash up. You had better quit working so hard. It will kill you or make you old before your time.

Here come the men with the seed corn. Come Joe and Annie. We must be going. Addie, we sure did enjoy the good dinner. You folks must come and eat with us some time. Be sure to let me know, it takes time to cook a company meal.

Mama, you sure look tired. Yes, lam a little bit. I will rest a little and iron the starched clothes. It doesn't do to let them lay long. It makes them harder to iron. Don't know what I will fix for supper. Most of what I fixed for dinner was eaten. Well, I guess there will be some cabbage and mustard greens pot liquor we can eat with cornbread and milk. Thank goodness I had that can of salmon.

Mama, you can thank Mr. Prilliaman, the mailman, for letting you know they were coming.

Yes, I know, Bobby. That was real fortunate. Now you and Mary run out to play. Tomorrow will be a hard day for we have to plant the corn.