Salt Pork and Dandelion Greens

threeofusIt has been most interesting to read articles about school lunches and nutrition facts for youths of all ages. I had finished reading such an article and upon glancing out the window, noticed all the yellow that had shot up over night on our front lawn.

Dandelions!  Ma is bending over on the side grass ( I say grass as we did not have a lawn in Greenwood Center.)  She has a big dented silver colored pot set to one side and a little pair of snippers or whatever in her hand. Bent in the shape of an upside down letter “U”, she moves from one green plant to another. Soon, she crosses the brook carefully, balancing on the two rocks and planks which affords us access to the path to my grandparents’ farm. Apparently my Grandfather Ross does not mind her digging and soon the pot is full.

Even though the kitchen is hot, Ma takes two sticks of wood and lifts the lid to make sure the stove is hot enough for her meal for which she has been waiting. I watch as she pours water over and over into her silver pot and with a resounding “THERE”, covers the treasure with water and on to the stove they go.  We are in for the season treat of dandelion greens! She cuts a piece of salt pork and sticks it on top the greens and remarks that they will boil down so there will probably be just enough for a “taste” for everyone. I know a couple in the household that will pass on their taste to someone else.

The greens bubble and the kitchen is beginning to have that dandelion smell. Ma reaches for her frying pan and cuts up slivers of salt pork and soon it is crisping and snapping along with the bubbling of the greens. A symphony of music coming from the old wood stove!! Out comes the salt pork and into the grease goes the slicing of the left over potato from last night’s meal. It is golden brown on both sides now . The table is set , glasses of water at each plate, and we all set down to our potato, salt pork and dandelion greens ( with vinegar on top, of course) supper.

As I stare at the yellow in the yard, I wonder the nutritional value of that meal. There was no such thing as a food pyramid in our house. We ate what was on the table if we liked it and if we didn’t, we waited for the next meal to come or plain picked at it and hoped Keno, the husky, was under the table waiting for anything a stealthy hand could get to her.

Looking back, it is hard to believe how much we lived and ate off the land. Dad was a voracious fisherman and hunter. We ate smelts in the spring, yellow perch ( but not in August because they were wormy), white perch ( if he was trolling and ran into a school of them) and brown trout. We had deer each year, with the hind quarter nailed to the side of the house. It was high enough so the neighbor’s dog could not get it, but low enough so Dad could cut off slabs with his hunting knife and hand to Ma, who dumped them into the hot fat in the frying pan.

We seldom had dessert unless it was a holiday and certainly no candy unless we found bottles to turn in and bought some 2 for a penny sweets.  We ate plain food. Sometimes there was plenty; other times not, but somehow, some way, Ma always found enough to feed her four kids. If anyone could make something out of nothing, it was Ma…

When I read about school lunches and students protesting about the food; parents up in arms because this or that has been taken from the menu, I wonder how we survived. Each of us carried our own little brown bag and usually there was a biscuit with peanut butter, sometimes jam on it, and maybe a marshmallow cookie if Ma thought she should pay the extra at Vallee’s store for the treat.  In warm weather, we sat on the school grass, ate, talked and shared with the neighborhood stray dog. Our drink was water from theschool fountain in the hallway.

Dad shot partridge, rabbits and the Lord only knows what else that Ma put on the table at one time or another. The only thing I tried that I can honestly say I would not care to try again was bear meat. Now that was a wild taste and Ma would have nothing to do with it at all.

I look out again at the yellow and know there are chemicals that can kill the dandelions. Not on my lawn. There are too many chemicals and too many preservatives in the world as I see it today. Perhaps had I not survived almost seven decades of living, I would not see such a difference in the way we were and the way we are this day.

I would give anything for one more day in the old kitchen with Ma bustling around the old wood stove stirring up the greens and making sure we knew before they went on the table that they “were good for us.”

Dandelions…good for so many things. When I was grown, my friend Charlotte Cole introduced me to dandelion wine. But therein lies another story.


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