Old World Cuisine and Native Americans
History in America is a diverse mixture of culture and experience. Here is Chapter 14 from Patchwork And So Froth ©2005 James A. George, All Rights Reserved.
“Chapter 14 Relations and History
While Grandpa Oscar cut my hair at his house before I was big enough to sit in a barber chair on a board, I eventually transitioned to Krouty’s barber shop where Louie Krout was my Grandfather’s barbering partner. I especially enjoyed getting my hair cut and at the end, the barber would ask, “Jimmy, do you want some ‘smell pretty’?” That’s a funny way to describe after shave. I think that it was Pernaud Clubman Bay Rum, and I have liked it ever since.
In the summertime, at a very early age, I undertook a way to make some money. My Dad said that I could collect newspapers and metal scraps and take them to the junkyard where they would pay me. I thought that was a great idea, and this would be the way that I would eventually be able to buy my own ball point pens and model airplanes and such. The junk yard was probably a carryover from WWII reclamation drives as it was located right downtown, unlike most that are in the country on hillsides.
On hot days, usually on a Saturday, Dad would take me with him to the ice house where we would buy ice to be used in the process of making ice cream. In the old days, getting a block of ice for the refrigerator was a necessity. When I was growing up, it was an option.
Dad made his own automatic ice cream maker. He did this by converting a large nail barrel for holding the ice and a metal canister in which cream, eggs; milk, vanilla, and sugar would be combined. The trick was fastening an electric motor to a large wheel and belt so that he did not have to hand-crank the ice cream maker.
Vanilla ice cream is what we made, and it was so good that it was rumored that Grandpa Oscar could smell it being made from a half mile away and would arrive at the back door with a large bowl and spoon. I remember witnessing this.
As a matter of routine, we would shop at the Union Department Store if nothing more than to say hello to Grandma. Scot Wheeler owned the store. He was a short man who my Dad said accounted for the high inventory of short suit sizes and a shortage of long sizes. Sometimes, Grandpa Oscar worked at the meat counter in the basement where I was sure to get a good slice of sharp cheddar cheese.
Novel to me was the shoe department where they had a fluoroscope for x-raying your foot. Can you imagine the potential damage done to shoppers who exposed their feet to x-rays? It is a good thing that the machine was inoperable when I was around.
On Friday nights we would drive to Cardington Ohio that featured the best meat market in the county, according to Dad. This town was his birthplace, and we drove by his house near the town square on the way to the meat market. The town square featured a preserved log cabin and we boys played around there while Dad and Mom picked up their meat.
For chickens, that required shopping at Geyers’ Market in Mt. Gilead. Mel Geyer owned the place and he was one of my Dad’s school mates. They too had a full-fledged grocery where Mom did most of her shopping. Though, behind the grocery in an alley way, Geyers kept chickens. Shoppers could select them alive and by the time they walked to the front of the store, a dressed chicken would be ready for them. Sometimes Mom would complain at home because she would have to continue the plucking as in their haste, some feathers would remain.
Most of the time, Mom made bread at home. It was a rare treat when she would purchase a loaf of soft spongy bread that came in the package with red, yellow, and blue balloons on the wrapper. Hard to imagine that Wonder bread was a big deal. Now, of course, I know it to be glutinous.
In the springtime, we George’s hearkened back to the natural days when people went hunting and gathering. Grandpa Oscar took my Dad, Tim, and me hunting for morel mushrooms. There are only about two weeks a year when this happens, and one must be very aware about when the temperature rises and when the humidity is correct. Usually, there had to be rain followed by the temperature being about 70 degrees or more.
We would head to the woods when the May apples and woods flowers were in bloom, the ferns were uncurling, and the Jack in the Pulpit appeared. It was beautiful in the woods as we slowly and deliberately studied the woods floor to find mushrooms. As soon as one was located, the rule was to squat and to look in a circle around the find. Usually, if one mushroom was located, many more would be found in the vicinity.
It was not uncommon for us to pick a peck of morels. We would take them home and soak them in salt water to kill insects. Then, after rinsing, we would give them a coating of flour and paprika after which they would be sautéed in butter. There is no comparable taste to fresh morels.
Grandpa Oscar once took us to the woods carrying a pitch fork. We walked along Owl Creek as he peered into the water. He taught us to see fish and to see turtles. He used the fork to spear turtles, and we took them home where he made turtle soup.
While in the woods, Grandpa’s George and Irons both would teach us lessons and experiences about nature and history. Grandpa Oscar told a story about grand ancestor Henry George who encountered Native Americans while he was chopping firewood. The Indians appeared hostile to him. He allegedly pleaded with them to help him finish splitting a log and before they killed him as the family needed firewood.
He drove his ax into the log and made a split and asked the Indians to place their fingers in the log on either side to help pry it apart. When they did this, the story says he pulled out the ax and the log closed on the Indians’ fingers as he ran away for safety.
I didn’t like the arrogance of this story the first time that I heard it. I didn’t like the demeaning way in which Indians are portrayed. I didn’t like the implausibility. Most Ohio Indians in the late 1700s were engaged in trading with the pioneers and both learned things from one another that probably saved their lives. It is unfortunate that the Native Americans could not have been assimilated into society instead of being driven westward, and nearly annihilated.
In contrast, Grandpa Roy pointed to a tree that was about 150 to 200 years old that had grown with a distinct bend. He pointed to other trees like this that followed in a pattern down the trail. He explained that Indians bent saplings to provide direction along trails in the woods.
I have read that this is true, and when visiting an old forest where Native Americans once lived, I look for this and sometimes find them. Ever since a child, playing in the woods where Native Americans lived, I can only appreciate the tremendous effort to survive the seasons with only the barest essentials.
My Mother spoke about her experience with the Cherokees that lived in Southern Virginia where her Mother’s Bedwell family lived. Cherokees were there first, and then in the late 1600s, along came the Bedwells from England. They managed to coexist and in fact, a great aunt was a Cherokee which inspired me to write an ode.
Ode to Cherokee
Fast through the trees
Running along Indian pathways
Sticks snap on the leaf-bed
And moss muffles the sound of running footsteps
Stopping to listen
Seeing if they are near
Peering from behind shellbark hickories
I know the spirits are in the treetops where crows soar and caw
Warmed by flannel layers
Cool air and light mist fail to extinguish the heat from my search
I hear only my panting and heart pounding
As I long for their signs
They lived here in the trees above the creek
I see large trees with bends to direct travelers along the trail
They were saplings when Indians did this
And now they are grown
Here they camped and fished
Indians are no more
Rock piles mark their campsites
Clamshells mark their feasts
Upon their death and for Great Spirits
Their bodies were posted high on branches
I yearn for their spirit and wisdom
Running fast through their trees
James A. George, 1997
Just as I had the honor of meeting my Mother’s grandparents, I also met my Grandmother George’s mother, Great Grandma Nevada May Wallace Shoewalter. Great Grandma lived in Fulton Ohio, about six miles south of Mt. Gilead in Harmony Township. Harmony Township featured an important location in my family history as this is where George and Shoewalter families came since the late 1700s.
Great Grandma agreed to look after my brother and me while my parents visited friends down the road. We arrived in the morning, which must have been a Saturday. She lived in a house with a big front porch which had a rocking chair. Adjacent her house was a railroad track, and behind was a large yard that eventually became a pasture. She owned this land and a cousin planted and cared for her garden. Her husband, Great Grandpa Albert Shoewalter died at age sixty, and Great Grandma would live to be 87.
She was most jovial and surely liked our visit. At lunchtime, she called us in from the back porch. Entering her kitchen, she had a hand pump at the sink like Grandma Irons, only Great Grandma Shoewalter would never have city water as Fulton failed to even make village status.
Great Grandma whose maiden name was Wallace was of German heritage and her cooking reflected that style. In fact, she liked to make boiled cabbage, carrots, potatoes and pot roast. I could handle everything except the smell of boiling cabbage. I did not want to insult her, but when I smelled the cabbage I went running down the railroad tracks until I could smell it no more.
Well, a boy gets hungry enough and he will eat anything. She lured me back with the promise of homemade bread and jelly. My Grandmother made bread from her recipes for which they were both famous for baking.
After lunch, we went to the front porch where Great Grandma was listening to music. She asked, “Boys, do you want to dance to the music?”
Why that sounded fine to us, so we began jumping around on the front porch that had much give, sort of like a trampoline. It is a wonder that the porch did not collapse.
When Dad saw our demonstration of the bouncing porch, he returned the next weekend and replaced the weakened floorboards.
When Great Grandma visited us, it was known that she had a heart condition. She often had indigestion and for that she would carry a tin of butter mints for treatment. That is how I discovered those wonderful tasting mints that I love to this day. I also love boiled cabbage.”