by Ran Zheng
On March 15, 2012, I interviewed Mrs. Maggie S. Smith at JABA Mary Williams Community Center. Mrs. Smith was a good talker and told me quite a lot about her early childhood memory of food.
Mrs. Smith was born and grew up in Charlottesville, and she has lived here her whole life. She experienced the great depression in late 1920s and early 1930s when she was a child. And for this reason, there were not many options for food she could eat during that time. She did not even recall any favorite food, since she could only eat what was available at home and what was affordable by the family. Most of the time they had potatoes, such as potato soup, fried potato, mashed potatoes, etc.; beans, e.g., pinto beans, black eyes beans, red beans; and also greens. Only occasionally did the family have meat and eggs, because those were very expensive and they could not afford them. I think she must have experienced a very hard time. However, when we were talking about it, I could feel that she had a very peaceful mind.
The most memorable childhood food for Mrs. Smith was homemade biscuit her mother cooked for her. She sometimes helped with the preparation, and could still remember how to make it even after so many years. Her mother used flours, baking powder, soda, and salt to make the dough. No cut-out were used for cutting the biscuits, and her mother used hands to press each dough into a round shape, which brought Mrs. Smith a lot of fun. After the biscuits were baked and ready for eat, they would put some old fashioned butter on them. She said it tastes really good, and she was still missing the taste.
If she were to cook something by herself (her daughter is cooking for her now), it would be mostly like a long time ago. A lot of seasonings are added to most of products sold in supermarkets today, which cover most of the food’s original flavors. And she did not like this way.
She likes planting tree tomatoes by herself, and she said she could tell “good” tomatoes from bad ones by just smelling. The smell of the tree tomatoes she planted is good and is very different from tomatoes sold in retail stores.
I really appreciate Mrs. Smith who has shared with me such a beautiful story. I have learned a lot about local food culture in America and began to understand the meaning and importance of protecting local heritage food.