Recently following a bout of intestinal flu I decided to make Strawberry Jello and put bananas in it. I thought back to my childhood and remembered that we thought that Jello with bananas was about the most "scrumptious" dessert you could imagine. In fact anything made with Jello was good.
And then I remembered the many desserts that I have made down through these seventy years that I have been cooking and realized how simple that first dessert really was.
I have told you about the Jello salad that our Home Ec Class made when we served the School Board. It was Lime Jello with a topping of whipped cream and grated pecans on top.
All this just reminds me how complicated our lives have become. What was simple and yet was delicious does not seem adequate in this complex age. Food is just one of the many things that has undergone such a radical change.
I remember that ice cream came in Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry. And I preferred the Vanilla. Now the supermarket freezers are crammed with all those flavors and a myriad of others. And there is sherbet in just a rainbow of colors. Choices, choices, choices.
Life was simple in my childhood. We had soft drinks (if we could afford even one) and mostly that consisted of Coke, and Nehi drinks in several flavors. Near our home in Shreveport was a bottling company that bottled Grapette drinks.
My mother would go out to the vegetable wagons that came through our neighborhood, and buy bananas by the dishpan full, which cost about a dime.
These wagons would have all the vegetables that were in season at a very cheap price. Perhaps the turnip greens would be a nickel a bunch, and the bunches were three times the size of a bunch of greens today.
One bunch would feed a family. We would have so many bananas that she would slice a banana in a small bowl, add a little sugar and cover this with milk, and I ate that like cereal with a spoon
There were no cornbread mixes. Mother made cornbread with meal, baking powder or soda, salt and milk (either buttermilk or sweet milk.)
The same was true of cake mixes. There were one or two tried and true cake recipes that Mother always used. She baked all her cakes in layers. There was no 9 x 13 pan in my childhood. Often between the layers she would put Apple Jelly, and then top the cake with Seven Minute Frosting.
Always at Christmas she would grate a fresh coconut and make coconut icing for her Christmas cake. That Coconut cake was a Christmas tradition at our home even down through the sixties, or as long as my mother was up and about any at all.
I loved her mashed potatoes that she made by boiling the Irish potatoes, adding butter, milk, and salt. When my little daughter was small my mother tried the instant mashed potatoes that came in a box.
She was not too pleased with the result but she did use that. However, the cake mixes she spurned.
Now I keep a great assortment of cake mixes and have several innovative ways to use them in a special cake. I occasionally make a cake from scratch, and it is a rare occasion.
Of course our vegetables were either fresh or canned in either jars at home or cans from the store. The day of freezers had not arrived. Today I depend on my frozen vegetables during the winter months to add a fresh taste to meals.
During the summer months I put Purple Hull Peas, Okra and occasionally tomatoes in my freezer for the following winter. The same is true of strawberries, peaches and blueberries.
I have a bookcase that is six feet tall, and about three feet wide. It is filled with cookbooks that my son has given me. He knows that I love to try new recipes ·so he has provided the books that I can use.
Now that my health is so bad, I just stick to the old favorites instead of trying anything new. I am doing good to get anything cooked now.
Also remember our menus during the thirties. If we had dried beans and bread we were satisfied. There was no salad and often no dessert, and certainly meat at the meals was far between.
My mother would take sweet potatoes and do so many things with them. She candied them, baked them, grated them for a pudding, she made potato bread (similar to syrup cake), she fried them like French fries but sprinkled sugar over the finished product.
They added so much to a meal, and they were so inexpensive. Those meals were simple, but in memory I think of how delicious I thought they were.
To walk home for lunch on a cold winter's day and smell the aroma of the sweet potatoes or the spiced up dried beans made the walk worthwhile.
Mama said the way to a man's heart was through his stomach. My husband thought that my mother was the best cook (even better than his own mother.) I learned my love of cooking from her since she loved people with her cooking.
There is nothing so rewarding than to have friends come in for cake and coffee, and as the song says, "Let us break bread together."
The gift of hospitality, and the love for "company" is just another thing that I am grateful my mother gave me.
Now when I serve that Jello and bananas today I will once again be that little girl of about eight, in Shreveport, and I will remember Mama and the love we shared. Do you have special memories, too?
Juanita Agan passed away in October, 2008 at the age of 85. She had been a Minden resident since 1935 and a columnist for the Press-Herald since 1995. A constant writer, Mrs. Agan had many stories written but unpublished. The Press-Herald will continue to publish these articles as long as they are submitted.