Nellie Witt Spikes (1888-1977) was a true pioneer woman and the wife of a West Texas plains farmer. For two decades spanning the thirties and forties, she wrote columns for several small town newspapers in Texas, under the title “As a Farm Woman Thinks.” These days, she might be called a blogger. In July of 1942, she wrote the following:
“Well I must get dinner ready for the men in the field. Would you like to put on this bonnet and go with me? First we will get the chicken. Look how wary that young rooster is of crumbled bread and the wire hidden behind my back. Just a jiffy and he will be dressed and cooling. It will not take long to pick some string beans; better get a few cucumbers and onions, and three or four beets, we like them buttered. After the beans are strung and on cooking, we will go to the smokehouse for a hunk of bacon to boil with the beans. Next, to the potato patch, where some small potatoes can be gotten. They are pretty easy to scrape while the skin is so tender. You may beat this bowl of cream for butter. I will make a peach cobbler. Syrup sweetens peaches now as well as it did for our grandmothers. It is so nice to have milk and butter in the refrigerator instead of in the well. Yes, we have walked a good piece, several blocks if we were in town. Meals are so scattered this time of the year, but how nice it is to pick your own.”
This short column says it all about what life was like for women in rural West Texas during the thirties and forties and even the fifties. What a lot of work for just one meal! This passage reminds so much of my childhood, it’s almost painful for me to read it. I cannot count the number of times I tagged along after my grandmother out to the chicken pen around mid-morning, both of us wearing our bonnets she had made. There she would pick out two pullets and wring their necks. No wire to use as a garróte for my grandmother! She had too much to do to be inconvenienced. … She would then bring the chickens back into the house, clean them and cook them for dinner, which on the Texas high plains, was the noon meal. When chickens are dunked in boiling water to loosen the feathers, a distinct odor meets the nostrils. To this day, sometimes when I cook an egg, that smell comes back to me. I contribute that to the sense of smell being our most ancient.
Of course we grew a garden and had an orchard, which called for spending the summer of every year canning and preserving. We had no microwave and for a long time, no refrigerator. With the exception of flour, sugar, syrup and spices, everything we ate, we grew. And my two grandmothers cooked it from scratch every single day, including cornbread and biscuits. I can remember thinking sliced bread was the ultimate in sophistication....And in the middle of all of that, my grandmothers and my old aunts did quilting.
It’s hard to believe the changes in eating and food preparation that have occurred in my lifetime. Giving it some thought, I think I’ve just answered the question of why our society has an obesity problem. Eating is too easy nowadays.