September 5, 2003
PennyAnn Poundwise Newsletter
Dedicated to the memory of my grandmother, Elizabeth Crowley 1918-2003
A Note from Penny
This past week we buried my grandmother. She was active right up to the last moment, and as I entered her house, it was, as usual, spotless. Grandmother had grown up poor, the oldest of six, five of whom she raised while her mother worked in the cotton mill. Her upbringing made her especially careful of her possessions. 30 year old living room furniture looked brand new. Appliances were
polished until they gleamed. To the end, her life was personified by the great care she took to preserve her home and make it attractive.
I've written often of Grandmother and her frugal ways. She was my inspiration when I first married and began keeping house. It has taken me many years to transform my life in such a way that my home was able to reflect the calm and peace that hers did. And I sincerely believe it was the tranquil peace within her that shone out in her home. It was attractive, clean, and well arranged. No one ever entered her door without being offered something from her plentiful pantry. She gardened and preserved foods, she sewed, and she renovated her home. Grandmother never walked anywhere without trotting a little as she went. She was forever about the business of homemaking and rushing to get it all done, but the moment company came in, she sat right down and enjoyed them.
Grandmother's Frugal Kitchen
Grandmother was raised during the depression under extremely poor conditions. As it did to many of the oldest children at that time, the household fell to Grandmother's care at a very early age. She
learned cooking and cleaning in the thriftiest manner possible in the hardest school: that of necessity. The hardships she knew led to a lifelong dislike of wasting food. If one tablespoon only of food remained in a dish that bit went right back on the table at the next meal and the next until it was often eaten out of sheer desperation to keep from seeing it again, lol.
Yet, Grandmother always had a full pantry. I never saw it empty or bare. Her table was laden and there was always plenty of everything. How did she manage so well? There were several ways she maintained a slim food budget.
Potatoes. Grandmother began using instant mashed potatoes in later years. Instant potatoes had the advantage of being bought in quantity without spoilage. But Grandmother didn't just use them
to make mashed potatoes. She'd been stretching her ground meats with leftover mashed potatoes for as long as I can remember. She also used them to make potato pancakes and a very old recipe of hers
was for potato candy. These peanut butter filled pinwheels were always a sweet treat, and a great mystery to me as a child.
Grandmother bought ground beef and chicken. She had dozens of recipes for these two meats, and the family was never heard to complain. I don't ever recall seeing pork or other meat cuts on her
table. Meatballs with brown gravy were one of my childhood favorites. I'm told she fried the best chicken, often made chicken and dumplings and a tasty chicken pot pie. True to her upbringing a
tender boiled chicken was the ultimate luxury dish. Occasionally she might bake a ham or a turkey but that was reserved for holidays. I don't recall ever seeing roast beef or pork chops or any other meat on her table, at least not store bought meats. Honestly, it wasn't missed. If they happen to have butchered a cow or had pigs at some point we might see those meats come to table then but as a rule, we didn't. I vaguely remember bacon but not sausage on her breakfast table.
She gardened and preserved the harvest. Her freezers abounded in the winter with summer's labors. In summer, we ate well of fresh vegetables. I recall many a dark summer evening spent on the front
porch shelling peas or butter beans. With the radio playing in the background, fresh bottles of icy cold colas, and plenty of talk and laughter it was never a chore to us kids to stay up late and help.
And the 'cold cream' break didn't hurt as incentive either. About halfway through the bushel we were always served a dish of ice cream.
Store brand was good enough in most things. Ice milk instead of ice cream, store brand bread and mayonnaise were her thrifty finds. However, she always used Crisco shortening. That was her big
indulgence, pure vegetable shortening and Hershey's Cocoa and Syrup. Her homemade fudge was a family favorite, often requested. We kids loved a cold glass of milk with Hershey's syrup stirred in to it, not complaining over the fact that it was likely powdered skim milk.
She used only skim or canned milk, never fresh, except when she and Granddaddy kept a cow. Then she went back to her roots, churning butter and having the added benefit of rich honest to goodness
buttermilk to add to cakes and biscuit dough.
She cooked from scratch. There were no pre-packaged, pre-prepared foods on her table (save the instant potatoes and the inexpensive cookies she bought for her dog in later years). When I was younger Grandmother made everything from scratch. Meals were started from basic ingredients. Convenience food for her was leftovers! She made cakes, but generally reserved that for holidays as well. She used saccharine to sweeten tea and seldom used sugar, harking back to those days when sugar was a precious commodity.
Grandmama never gave up her frugal ways. When she learned to make cakes during WWII with little or no fat and eggs, she continued to make those cakes the rest of her life. They were delicious, frugal
She developed specialties. Grandmother had a repertoire of recipes that worked for her. Whether entertaining, or preparing a family meal, she used those recipes over and over. We were assured that
her congealed salad would show up on the holiday table, and that her meatballs and gravy would be served at least once a week without fail. She did experiment now and then, but tried and true was what helped her stick hard to her budget.
Grandmama learned her frugality the hard way, but she never gave up her frugal ways. She saved in good times as well as her lean times. Because of her thrift, her home always had an aura of abundance. Thank you, Grandmother.
(C)2003 Terri Cheney
September 12, 2016
Grandmama was my father's mother. We didn't spend a lot of time with her because of my uncle. Alcoholism ran in my father's family among the males and my uncle was a particularly violent drunk. He lived at home with his parents between his stays at various county jails. Naturally my parents protected us from him as much as they could. We essentially spent time with my grandparents only when our uncle was locked up.
My grandfather was a good man, full of humor, and kind. He and Grandmama married when Grandmama was quite young, about 16, I think. I believe it was at this time Grandaddy began to call her "Woman", which stuck until the end of his life. It was a rare thing to hear him call her by her given name. They lived first with his sister and her husband and later with a brother and his wife before moving into a place of their own. I think of how young she was to be away from home, having moved from South Carolina to Grandaddy's native Georgia.
She and Grandaddy both worked in the early years but later she was a stay at home mom to her three children. Grandaddy worked hard during those years to provide them with a home and nice furnishings. Grandmama told me once that she loved that whenever Grandaddy came home he always brought some little something for the table, if it was nothing more than a pocket full of pecans he'd picked up or a bottle of soda for the two of them to share. I think it was his way of insuring she never felt the hard pinch of want again in her life. And even in the late years of their lives, I know that Grandaddy continued that practice of bringing home something, even if the garden was producing and the freezer was filled.
Grandmama was an exemplary homemaker. She wasn't a morning person. An early start to a day for her began about 8:30 or 9a.m. She enjoyed sitting up late at night, often past midnight. But she was productive from the moment her feet hit the floor until she went to bed at night. During the day her home was dusted and mopped and fluffed and polished. Porches were swept and furniture wiped down. Meals were prepared and cleaned up behind and the sink bleached white. Laundry was done and hung on the line. She had the whitest laundry I've ever seen. And she did this every day. Every single day. She didn't skip a day in cleaning. Her home and yard was always in a state of trim neatness.
During meals she tended to hover, barely sitting on the edge of her seat, always anxious to jump right up if anyone wanted something that didn't happen to be on the table. I don't know how often we all begged her to sit and eat. She promptly cleared things away, making short work of it all.
No matter how old a piece of furniture was, Grandmama had either refinished it or polished it until it looked as good as new and if had been new when she acquired it often it still looked brand new and that was true of all her things. She wasn't wasteful of food or things. She took good care of them and they lasted her lifetime and beyond.
She generally saved quiet work for the evenings after supper and if there were no sewing or vegetables to process, she enjoyed playing games, especially card games. Gin Rummy, Go Fish, Old Maid, Authors were many of the card games I recall she played as well as Monopoly and Scrabble. The radio was more likely to be on than the television though they did have a few favorite programs they watched but mostly the TV was reserved for the local newscasts.
For all that Grandmama was a powerhouse of industry she was able to relax. She deeply enjoyed visitors. With Grandaddy's large family of brothers and sisters and their spouses and children, plus her own large family of brother's and sisters, she seldom lacked for visitors of some sort. She also enjoyed neighbors and just about anyone who stopped by. There was always coffee or a cold drink and a 'bite to eat' to go with it.
A pastor familiar with her in her later years told how he'd stopped by one day while she was working in the garden (which was perfectly weeded, by the way). She invited him indoors, fixed him a glass of iced tea and asked to be excused for a moment. He said when she returned a brief few moments later she'd changed her shirt, washed her face and hands, combed her hair and touched up her lipstick. She then sat down with him and talked until he was ready to take his leave. At that point she returned to the garden to finish the work she'd been doing.
She loved flowers but most of her flowers were in pots on the porch. She had lovely things, old fashioned flowers like touch me nots and Jacob's coat, and something she called silver bells that were actually purple and grew from a little pinecone looking seed, and many others all given as pass-along plants. I think the only purchased plant she ever had was the annual Christmas poinsettia that my aunt gave her each year.
For all that I felt I never really knew her, I knew deep within that she loved us dearly. She only had us three as grandchildren, never any more. In her eyes we were the brightest, funniest children ever to populate the earth. One of my earliest memories of her is of her visiting and feeding me Hershey kisses (she also called those silver bells all my life). Another early memory is of standing in her back yard and smelling the fresh sharp scent of strawberry vines she'd planted in a raised flower bed in her yard. Later she planted that same bed full of black eyed Susan, a flower I love to this day.
It's been several years since she died. She'd been mowing the lawn on a hot day and felt 'a little unwell.' She lay down upon her bed with a cool cloth on her forehead and died. It was so like her to be about the business of her home even at her age.
I might not have been as close to her as to Granny but she certainly was an influence upon my life in many good ways.