Goin’ Sallet Huntin’ by Callie Melton

 The following is taken from an article written by Callie Melton for The Standing Stone Dispatch in the early 1980’s.  I present it verbatim

Going sallet hunting in the Spring was a necessity even more important than making soap.  The holed-up cabbage, turnips and Fed Allreds had long been used up… so had the kraut and the smoked apples.  We were tired of leather britches.  Bacon, hominy, pone bread, Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes were ood to fill an empty belly, but did nothing to satisfy that craving for a mess of something fresh.  So when the first touch of green appeared in the woods and fields, we knew it was time to go sallet hunting. 

The women would take their baskets and knives and make an occasion of it, for it was rare indeed for the women to be away from the house like this.  They would start out right after breakfast, and would wander all through the nearby fields and woods until they got their baskets full.

They picked blackberry brier leaves, rabbit lettuce, pok weed shoots, broad leaf plantin, narrow leaf plantin, spotted dock, sour dock, creasy, violet leaves, lamb’s quarter, sheep sorrel, pepper grass and dandelions.  You picked only the very young tender leaves, and just the right amount of each kind o plant.  You couldn’t pick too much sheep sorrel or dock, or pepper grass for their flavors were so strong that they would spoil the whole mess.  When you got home, you picked over your sallet, washed it seven times under running water, and then you put it on to par-boil.  In the meantime you had put a good-sized hunk of smoked hog jaw in the pot and put it over the fire to cook… you had to cook your meat almost done before you put in your sallet.  After you sallet had parboiled for a few minutes, you drained off the water, then put the sallet in the pot with the hog jaw to finish cooking. 

Cooked Greens.jpg

The pot simmered over the coals until the sallet was tender.  The liquid in the pot was pot likker, and it was saved for the youngest and the oldest in the family… most usually there were three generations in every household.  You would put a big piece of pone bread in a bowl and pour some of the pot likker over it, then feed it to the baby.  Grandpa and Grandma would do the same way with theirs, except they would cut up an onion in their bowls.  If you didn’t have scallions in the garden, you just went out and hunted wild onions… sallet was’t sallet without an onion to go with it.

Callie Melton’s “Spring in Appalachia”

 

A cousin recently shared some old newspapers another cousin had been saving for a few decades and I will be sharing some excerpts from them over the next few weeks, very much like the Soap Makin’ article last week.

This week’s article comes from The Standing Stone Dispatch.  There’s no date on the paper but based on some of the advertisements I deduce it was printed in the early 1980’s.  In “Spring in Appalachia” Callie Melton mirrors many of my own thoughts so I’ll share some excerpts from this article verbatim.

 

Ever since we were discovered, we of the Appalachian Area have been probed, prodded, surveyed, measured, evaluated, talked about, and written about… and most of the people doing this have had no earthly idea of what they were seeing or hearing.  They were… and are… people who have come in, stayed for a year or two at most then become instant authorities on the whole subject.

Almost to a person we have resented this.  We are what we are, and we are proud of it, for our heritage is second to none.  There are a few natives who have written about us honestly and truthfully… but it’s like trying to describe a taste or an aroma… this describing us and our ways.  You have to live a mighty long time among us to understand our talk and fathom our ways.

…Most of us were cut off from the outside world for more than 300 years.  No roads, no waterways…only the Buffalo Trails and Indian Traces leading in, and once in nobody wanted to leave.  What we had came in with us over-moutain on pack horses from North Carolina and Virginia… and what we brought consisted of wife and youg’uns, a few iron cooking pots, a few iron tool heads, a few precious seeds wrapped in deerskin and carried in the cooking pot for safety during the traveling.

We settled on the rivers and up on the steep hillsides, and always by a big sweet-flowing spring.  Trees were cleared, a cabin built and chinked, a few out-buildings thrown u, with room for truck patches nearby.  Wild game furnished the meat, and the skins were tanned to furnish the leather.  Eating utensils were carved from the soft buckeye wood, while the harder woods furnished the tubs, barrels and piggins, and the ax, maul and the hammer handles.  And thus we made our first homes in the new area in a corner of what is now called Appalachia.

But what makes us of this area so unique is that along with ourselves, our seeds and our cooking pots, we brought along our beliefs, our habits, our customs and our superstitions.  And down through the years through thick and thin, we have hung onto them… we have always fought change like we fight sin and the devil… for what was good enough for Pap and Grandpa was, and still is, good enough for us.  Mostly we were English, German and Scotch-Irish… and we came to this new country for two main reasons… homes and religious freedom.  We had known hard times, fear and deprivation in the lands from whence we came… so even though the wilderness and the Red Man held terrors for us, we faced them willingly just ot be able to have our own bit of soil and to worship our God in our own way. 

…We were not so bad off… danger and hard work abounded, but so did food and shelter, and the other necessities of life could be obtained here the same way we got them before we came to this area.  So, we dug in for a long hard struggle… and in this struggle we developed a way of life and a character that you will not find the likes of elsewhere in the world.

Soap Makin’ per Callie Melton

The following is from an article written by Callie Melton for the Standing Stone Dispatch in the early 1980’s.  I present it verbatim.

Soap making was a full day’s work and it just didn’t start on any day you up and thought about making it.  You had to look ahead and figure out the next time the moon would full… then you set the day, for if you made the soap on the waning of the moon it would all dry up to nothing.  All winter the meat scraps had been carefully saved in a big oak box in the smokehouse.  It is true that we used all of the pig but the squeal… soap making proved that. 

The night before you were going to make soap, bucket after bucket of water had to be carried from the rain barrel and poured in the ash hopper to leach out the lye.  Then, the next morning right after breakfast, the big was kettle was set up and filled with water also from the rain barrel… you had to have soft water to make good soap and leech out lye.

A fire was put under the kettle, and while the water was getting hot, the women were busy getting the meat scraps ready.  When the water was boiling, the lye was put in.  You kept adding the lye until you could swish a feather from a chicken’s wing through the water two or three times, and then when you pulled it through your fingers it would slip… slipping meant that all the feather part would slip off from the shaft.  Now that the lye water was strong enough, you began putting the meat scraps in.

You put in a handful at a time, stirring all the time with the soap stick…the soap stick was a stout stick made from a limb of a sassafras bush.  The sap from the Sassafras made your soap smell good.   When you stirred, you always stirred clock-wise, for if you didn’t stir your soap right it wouldn’t set… and a woman was judged not only by the way her young’uns acted, but also by the kind of soap she made.  You added the meat scraps a handful at a time until the lye would not eat up anymore.  Then you stirred your soap carefully and cooked it slowly until it began to get thick.  Now the fire had to be raked out from under the kettle, and the soap let cool.  When the soap was cod, you covered the kettle with wide boards to keep out the dew or rain until morning.  The next morning you cut the soap out in blocks, and put it on wide planks in the smokehouse to cure.  Good soap was hard and creamy smooth when it was cured, with not bits or pieces of uneaten meat, and it lathered up good when you washed with it… Soap you took a bath with was made from butter or lard and was whiter and finer and you always stirred it with a fresh sassafras stick. 

 

What’s on your Breakfast table?

I’m not good at breakfast.  I’m happy eating leftovers or a sandwich or something and I realize how weird that sounds to yu’ns.  I’m a fan of cereal – all those nutrients and the protein from the milk all in one neat little bowl.

So when I saw an old advertisement for breakfast cereal it got me to thinking about how different that morning meal looked a few years back.

I don’t know about you but I always think of the “traditional” country breakfast containing meat, eggs, gravy and biscuits.  And that’s certainly been an enduring standard among hard-working farmers who needed a breakfast that would strengthen them through a tough day. 

However, we’ve mentioned many times that on the Cumberland Plateau – if not throughout Appalachia – wheat flour was a luxury for many, many years.  That kind of rules out biscuits for everyday eating, doesn’t it?  Of course the meat that was not available for lower income families in larger metropolitan areas was more common on the farmer’s table since he could raise or hunt for it.  And eggs are easy enough to produce. 

 Both of my grandfathers remembered eating cornbread for breakfast and maybe the reason that generation was so attached to bread at every meal was because they hadn’t always been able to have it.

Certainly, one of the early challenges for cereal manufacturers was the growing prosperity in early 20th century America.  For centuries people in the old country were sustained on porridges or gruel which would resemble today’s oatmeal.  This is still common fare in undeveloped countries.  So when those early Americans could afford meat for every meal there was no way they were going back to the food they’d gotten by on before. 

Cereal sales didn’t really take off until the 1950’s when baby boomers were targeted with marketing campaigns and cereals were sugared for better flavor.  Today, statisticsbrain.com reports that 92% of American households buy boxed cereal at least once per year and 2.7 billion boxes are sold annually. 

New Potatoes

Most homes on the mountain have a little vegetable garden – okay, most of the gardens are pretty big.  And potatoes are one of our main staples.  You may recall I mentioned here that I was raised to understand you needed bread with every meal, well you gotta’ have ‘taters too. 

This time of year (or a little earlier if you were ambitious in February) the gardens begin to yield little new potatoes.  We boil them in their skins with a little oil (bacon drippings or lard if you’ve got it), slather them in butter, add salt and pepper and it’s one of the best meals of the summer.  Well at least it seems like it at the time because if you raised your potato crop by this time of year they’re pretty shrivelled and soft.  And after all, we only get “new” potatoes for a little while before the skins start to get thick and you’re wanting to peel them.

Maybe I’m so thrilled to get these potatoes because of the childhood memories they trigger.  My whole life I remember going to the garden with Grandpa Livesay and digging out a mess of taters.  The dirt around the plants was loose and piled high on the stems so my fat little-girl fingers could just about scoop them right out of the ground.  He’d carefully drive a pitchfork in and we’d all exclaim over the number of little white spuds that popped out – after all this is the prediction of the winter’s potato crop and we thought we’d starve if we didn’t raise a bountiful enough crop. 

My grandpa was not a Christian until the very end of his life yet he always knew The Good Lord was providing this produce by the sweat of our brow – well mostly his brow.

Joy and Ricky Orias

Joy and Ricky Orias

With our day’s harvest in a bucket we’d go to the barn where there were barrels of rainwater caught for cleaning things like this.  Since we no longer needed to catch the water for drinking, you could plunge your hands straight into the cool barrels, cleaning both the food and the child.

We have missionaries from The Phillipines staying with us, and partaking of tonight’s early summer treat.  I asked if they grow this kind of potatoes – sweet potatoes are a staple for them.  She said, yes but we don’t eat the skins.  I bet she has a similar childhood memory for she grew up on a farm as well and little girls on farms have gotta’ have similar memories, don’t you think?