The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge


By Ivalien Hylton Belcher © 1985

Issue: January, 1985

mush 1Cleo Hylton Wray, Roanoke, VA, left. Clarice Howell Belcher, Meadows of Dan, VA, right - Circa 1914.How many of you have eaten a big bowl of mush on a cold winter's night? The dictionary defines mush as "Cornmeal boiled in water or milk." It has a much larger definition according to the older generation. Many times mush was used to fill in when there wasn't much else in the line of food.

I am old enough to remember eating mush as a child. It was delicious, and I still love it. People in the mountains still make mush. I heard a girl at work say one day recently, "I sure would love to have a good pot of mush."

My Dad could make the best ever. This is the way I remember Dad making mush. Bring some water to boiling and add salt to taste. I can see my dad now, letting the cornmeal sift slowly from his hand, a little at a time, stirring vigorously all the while. The secret to good mush is adding the meal slowly and stirring right. Mom Gracie always let Dad make the mush at our house because hers always turned out "doughy." Any left over mush was fried the next day in fat back grease. Mom Gracie says she always loved a slice of fried mush with a cold glass of sweet milk. She told me the other day, "The doctors say don't eat grease, don't eat that, don't eat this and people are just getting sicker all the time. A little fat back grease never hurt anyone except maybe made them a little bit fatter. Probably would feel better if people go back to a lot of the old fashioned cooking. They should try fried mush sometime."

My favorite way to eat mush is with lots and lots of butter melted in it. Mmmm good! I decided to go around and ask how other people like to fix their mush. My neighbor, Anna Wood, says, "Always use plain cornmeal. Self-rising does not do as well for a good mush. My mother always loved it with butter and Daddy loved sweet milk over his." As Anna and I finished talking, she said, "I might just fix me a bowl of mush for supper".

mush 2Children of Albert & Dollie Hylton. Front: Ray, Cleo, Stowell. Back: Elva and Ava. Circa 1914.Clarice Belcher doesn't like her mush too thick and puts black pepper in for extra seasoning. Her mother always made mush in a big black skillet. Her father liked to use part yellow cornmeal and part white. To this day Clarice likes mush. Lillian Wood said they always put sweet milk over their mush after adding lots of butter.

Elder J.B. Conner said his family always had their mush at supper time, sometimes with cream. Elder Conner said it had been so long since he had eaten any mush that he had almost forgotten about it. I think he may even make a pot full now, as he is quite a cook anyway. He remembers his mother making mush many times. Mrs. Claudia Wood says, "We made mush, heaps of times for supper. If any was left, it was fried for breakfast. Since we always had a lot of homemade butter, we fried our mush in it."

Ocie Goad's son tells me that his mother always made a big pot of mush on a wood stove and baked a big pone of corn bread. They would crumble the corn bread in a bowl, then put in mush and stir it all up together, add salt and pepper, then pour sweet milk over it. Mr. Goad says, "Boy, it was sure good. There were 11 children in my family and this dish with mush was our supper many, many times."

Well, by now you can see that mush has a larger definition and can be fixed different ways. In these modern and hectic times, we can still enjoy a good dish of hot mush. Take time and relax a little, enjoying the gift of life to us. Why, I think I'll just get up and fix me a bowl of mush because all the time I was writing this, my mouth has been watering. (And that's just what I did!)