Coffee and Bread and Bowl Weevils
I suppose every family had some distinctive element around their house. Some practice, habit, activity, or food that they used or engaged in and thought it perfectly normal. Part of the Southern culture was the incorporation of the tastes and abilities of the black families that were involved in the raising of children, cooking of meals, etc. There was, also the simple fact that in the rural South after the Civil War, money was in short supply. The War, itself, was devastating but when coupled with the bowl weevil that followed, life and incomes and wealth changed drastically.
Riding from Sandy Point to Macon one day with my Grandfather, James Cicero Hamlin (1891-1960), he pointed out to me that when he was a child, from Knoxville to Lizella on US 80, there were basically no trees as we know them now. There were cotton fields. Cotton was king. It was the “money crop”. In another article, I point out that on the Crawford County-Monroe County Line at Tobesofkee Creek, at Dyas, there was a railroad depot shipping 25,000 bales of cotton annually. You can’t find it today unless you know where to look.
Duke University did a study on the Bowl Weevil and its effects and the impact was amazing. They (the cotton farmers) saw the Bowl Weevil attacking (not a native insect to America) but plantation owners and farmers tried to hang on and get “one more crop” as described in the Duke study. But, in the end, the Bowl Weevil won. And we lost twice: the cotton industry was devastated and it brought rise, ultimately, to DDT! Maybe the worst environmental disaster before Agent Orange.
There is a statue in Alabama that pays tribute to the memory of the bowl weevil. I’m not sure if it is to honor it as victor or vanquished. Maybe, both.
My family did not have large numbers of workers living in tenant houses. They were the workers. They grew their own produce, animals, crops, and gave birth to field hands. Grandmother did her chores and took care of responsibilities in the house, then, put on her “field clothes” and went to pick peas, butterbeans, tomatoes, or whatever was “coming off” at the time. And, when she went to the field, the little kids were left in bed.
There were no microwaves or toaster ovens. Not in the early days. There were no Pop Tarts or frozen waffles. In fact, there was no “frozen” anything. Frozen foods started coming on strong in the late 50’s but few people had a “freezer.” There was plenty of food but it was either fresh from the field or in a can or Ball jar. Some, like hams and bacons and such were coated in salt and hanging from twine in the smokehouse following a stint walking around in the hog pen or feed lot. Transformers, all.
Most people saw “getting a freezer” almost as big as having a baby or celebrating Christmas! An event that was forever indelibly written in the memory of the recipient.
There was also no McDonalds near by with a breakfast menu. No Sausage and biscuit drive thru.
So, when we got up and went to the kitchen as kids, what did we find waiting on us? What was there to feed the hungry soul and belly?
At my Grandmother’s, it was “coffee and bread”. Fresh brewed Luzianne Coffee (with chicory) in a large cup with a perfectly cooked, homemade biscuit placed in the dark black, strong coffee. A spoonful of sugar and a little fresh milk poured in for good measure. This was waiting in the warmer of the Southern Comfort wood stove. And, it never failed to be eaten to the last crumb and drop.
I believe that Dunkin Donuts could sell these by the ton every day if they knew how to make biscuits like my Grandmother. The secret may have been hidden in the chicory, since I don’t know a soul who knows what that stuff is.
According to the Orleans Coffee page, I got the following info:
“Chicory is the roasted and ground root of the cultivated plant species, Chicorium Intybus, subspecies Sativum. Common names include ‘large rooted chicory’ and ‘chicoree a café’. Coffee chicory is grown in many parts of the world, with the largest producers in France and South Africa. The root is grown and harvested much like sugar beets. The roots are pulled from the ground with specialized equipment, cut into small pieces, kiln dried, roasted, ground and packaged”. Apparently, people in Louisiana love their coffee with chicory and so did my grandparents.
When the Luzianne Coffee was properly percolated on the wood stove, the biscuits properly mixed up and slow cooked in the Southern Comfort wood stove and then combined by the loving hands of my grandmother with a spoonful of sugar in a big mug, I can tell you one thing: they made for a delicious treat and a lasting memory.