Having been born during the real depression of the late twenties and thirties of the last century, I have a true sense of what poverty really was. This modern government thinks that if you make less than thirty or forty thousand dollars a year and are eligible for everything from food stamps to free medical care, that you are in the throes of true poverty. I’ll tell you this much: poverty today would sound like upper middle class living to my family back in those days.
I was thrown back into time at breakfast-with-the-boys at the M&M Diner this morning. What caused it was eating a piece of “sour-dough” toast. I’m not casting dispersions at M&M. They don’t make the bread there, and most restaurants don’t, either. They are stuck with having to buy what passes for bread these days from whoever sells them bread. It’s the same at all the restaurants nowadays, it seems. Bread is lightweight, tasteless, and leaves your plate half-full of fine dry crumbs after you’ve eaten it.
Back in the olden-days, during the days of my upbringing, bread was not made from batter and including a list of ingredients no one has ever heard of. Look at the ingredients list on the loaves you buy today. A sample follows: Enriched whole wheat flour, malted barley flour, reduced iron, niacin, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), Riboflavin ( vitamin B2), water, honey, whole wheat flour, yeast, wheat gluten, soybean oil, wheat bran, sugar, salt, preservatives (calcium propionate, sorbic acid) datem, monoglycerides, cellulose gum, natural flavors, monocalcium sulfate, calcium sulfate, soy lecithin, citric acid, grain vinegar, and (to top it all off), potassium iodate!
Wow! Doctor Frankenstein’s helper, Igor, must have been raised on those things. Sounds more like a science project than a list of ingredients for a very popular brand of bread.
During our impoverished youth, bread and potatoes were the principal ingredients in our daily diet. These were plentiful and affordable. Potatoes were twenty-five cents a peck. About fifteen pounds. Bread was ten-cents a loaf if you didn’t make your own.
My mother usually made biscuits. I think the ingredients were flour, lard, cream of tarter, and soda. If you were rich, you used milk in the recipe, but if you were poor, water had to do. Potatoes were either boiled and mashed or fried in lard or rendered salt pork fat. Pork fat made them taste much better.
A real taste treat were fried biscuits. Just roll them out a little thinner and fry them in salt pork fat. Doesn’t sound like much, I know. but they were delicious. The meat in our lives was usually hamburger or sliced baloney.
I was sent to a neighborhood store with a quarter in my pocket and bought twenty-five cents worth of either meat product. A whole pound of baloney or hamburger? Unheard of! (A little aside note here. Ground beef was called hamburg, not hamburger. A hamburger was what you made from hamburg.)
Sugar and salt were inexpensive, also. So, when apple season rolled around, the biggest treat of the year might be an apple-pie. If we could find a big enough patch of blueberries, that might be added to the pie list. Usually though, we ate the berries as we picked them. Wild raspberries and blackberries were handled in the same manner. Pick until you were filled and take some home to our mother.
You can still get some fairly decent toast today, if you look in the right places. A couple of the super markets have their own bakeries and sell whole loaves of bread that you can cut a slice off as thick as you want it to be. Drop a thick slice into the toaster, then slather it with real butter (or, peanut butter), and you can almost fool yourself into thinking you have traveled back in time to the days of the real depression. To a simpler time when simple things, such as a slice of toast with butter made you forget for a few moments that you were living in real poverty. Mmm, mmm! Good!
Bud Simpson writes a weekly column to be published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.