I hope this note finds you well.
Well, it is Christmas time. As most of you know, I was born and raised on Gum Ridge, a rice farm two miles east of Augusta in the White River bottomland. For my father and his brothers, Christmas and Thanksgiving were workdays. Expensive gifts and elaborate celebrations were not a big part of our lives. Money was usually short, but we never felt deprived. One of the most delightful memories I have of my young childhood was Grandma Taggart, her house and her dining table.
Nan Ammon Taggart was a quiet, German woman; she had a squarish face, wore oversized print dresses and kept her hair pulled up in a tight bun. My grandfather had died prematurely at age 56 when I was about a year old, so I never knew him. Several of my father’s siblings were still children so the work of raising the kids fell on Grandma. She tended to dote over her grandchildren; there were five of us who lived within 100 yards of her backdoor.
Electricity and natural gas had arrived at the farm in the late 1930’s but Grandma was hesitant to change. She had a large cast iron wash pot in the backyard where she washed the family clothes. She cooked on an old-style woodstove. When asked why she didn’t get a new gas or electric stove, she was quick to reply: “I know my cook stove and how it works; food just doesn’t taste the same on a gas stove. I would have to learn to cook all over again.”
In the summer, we always had large gardens and she canned anything she could stuff in a jar and seal. The pantry was always full and, as one of her grandchildren, it was a great privilege to be the one to help her choose which jars to open.
Mealtime at Grandma’s house was a major production, especially at Christmas. Just off the kitchen was a modest dining room dominatedby a large round wooden table. Instead of chairs there were a series of benches, each of which could seat two adults or three children. One of the games among the grandkids was who would get to sit on either side of Grandma. As an adult I have often thought that our family around that table could easily have been the model for a Norman Rockwell painting.
As for the food, my mouth waters to this day when I think about her table. Fresh-made bread and home-churned butter were staples. Fried chicken and roasted meats were standard fair. Bread and Butter pickles, corn and purple-hulled peas were always present. Scalloped potatoes with heavy cream, onions and cheese were usually in the center of the table. We generally had slaws or cooked cabbage rather than salads. At the end of the meal there was always a healthy serving of rich, multi-layered German chocolate cake. I believe it is a fact that she never shared that recipe with her daughters-in-law.
I hope you have enjoyed this piece; I have succeeded in making myself hungry!
Have a nice journey,
Dr. Sam Taggart is a retired doctor/ writer/ marathon runner in practice in Benton for the last 35 years. He recently published The Public’s Health: A narrative history of health and disease in Arkansas, published by the Arkansas Times. His two other books, With a Heavy Heart and We All Hear Voices are available at your local booksellers or online at Amazon.com.