pails and biscuits are as foreign to today's children as blacksmiths,
rotary telephones, and typewriters but they played an important part
in the lives of our parents. People cannot remember or imagine the
time before plastic bags, containers, sandwich bags, metal lunch boxes
or the availability of paper bags but this was the environment of
our parents. They had to use the resources of the day. One of those
was the one quart-13 ounce syrup pail that ribbon cane syrup came
in. There was the Steen's Pure Ribbon cane Syrup from Abbeyville,
Louisiana, Johnnie Fair Blue Ribbon (Ribbon cane Flavored Syrup) and
Blackburn-Made Syrup from Jefferson,
Texas. On the can label were the words "Nothing Added, Nothing
Extracted" along with recipes for popcorn balls, Steen's Pecan Pie,
Candied Yams, Steen's Gingerbread, Steen's Sandwich Spread and peanut
candy. My grandparents, John and Allie Madden and Ed and Irene Davis
used Johnnie Fair Blue Ribbon and Blackburn's syrup.
Before the days of plastic syrup bottles, syrup and lard came in metal
pails. These pails had handles and a tight fitting lid much like today's
paint cans. When empty they were used as lunch buckets, milk buckets,
for storage and other uses on the farm. School children used these
pails to carry their lunches. Lunches were made up of what was available
from the farm. Biscuits were a daily morning item and lunches often
were biscuits and salt pork, or biscuits and syrup.
Those were hard times on the farm and harder times during the Great
Depression. Buster Hedrick related a story of a kid in the mid 1930s
at Red Level School in rural Rusk
County, Texas. During the depression one student was tired of
cold biscuits for lunch and thought he would switch his lunch bucket
with that of another child. All of the kids brought their lunches
to school in a small bucket covered by a dish cloth. The boy that
did the switching watched closely as the other kid whose lunch pail
had been purloined uncovered his lunch. When that kid's eyes lit up
at the unexpected sight of several biscuits, the thief uncovered the
bucket he had taken and found hickory nuts and a hammer (personal
comm. Larry D. Hedrick).
It is difficult for today's generation to imagine the hardships our
parents endured. My grandpa Ed Davis had a press and mule for pressing
sugarcane into syrup and grinding corn
into corn meal. His pay for this service called a "Miller Toll" was
one can in four for syrup and one pound in four pounds of corn meal.
My dad Sam Davis said that in the depression they ate sweet potatoes
until all were gone and then they had syrup and cornbread three meals
a day for weeks.
Blackburn syrup was a familiar item in my grandparents, John and Allie
Madden's kitchen. For breakfast we often had hot biscuits with hand
churned butter and syrup with fresh cream on top. Grandma also used
sugar and water to make sugar syrup in the skillet and sometimes added
a drop of vanilla. She also used syrup for peanut candy. I saw grandpa
Madden often taking a spoon of syrup for something sweet, one of the
few sweet items in the house. At the grandparents house there was
rarely cookies, cakes, or pies unless we picked blackberries or plums
for cobbler. As a substitute we would have a sugar biscuit made by
cutting a biscuit in half and sprinkling sugar in the middle and closing
it like a sandwich.
The depression was followed by more hard times during World
War II. Our fathers were at war on different fronts leaving their
wives at home to raise children and struggle to survive. Almost everything
that was not grown on the farm was in short supply. Coffee, sugar,
automobile tires and other items were severely rationed and not readily
available. Even after the war when things became more available my
parents kept an extra can of coffee and a bag of sugar in the cabinet,
remembering those times without.
Our parents were called the greatest generations and fought and return
peace and saved the world from oppression. As children of this generation
we grew up with discipline, determination, and character and with
an appreciation for order, simplicity, and closure in getting things
done. We appreciated the little things which was not much by today's
standards. At Christmas there was an orange, apple, walnuts, and a
few fire crackers in dad's wool army sock. Wash cloths and towels
came in detergent boxes and drinking glasses of various sizes came
in boxes of oatmeal. Our mothers made shirts and dresses from flour
sacks and boys went barefoot in Spring and Summer. Marbles and other
toys came in cereal and Crackerjack boxes. YoYos, ball and jacks,
hopscotch, red rover, hide and seek, and kick the can, kept us busy
long before the days of television. Our phones were tied to an operator
that asked "number please" and many phone lines were party lines.
We knew our call by ring one or ring two. My parents number was 915
ring two. Operators at the telephone switchboard would give the correct
time if asked and they often recognized the person on the other end.
This is not a nostalgic trip but memories of family and family history
to be carried to the next generation so those of the past are not
forgotten. Things to be remembered about what our parents and grandparents
endured and what it took for today's generation to become a reality.
This was a time and life that many today cannot relate. We could ask
the question are we making things too easy to prepare our children
for the struggles and hard times ahead? Their success and survival
may depend on such skills.
Hot Springs, AR
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and
vanishing Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history
and vintage/historic photos, please contact