In Praise of Buttermilk

Growing up in the years of the Great Depression, we didn’t have milk except from a can.  My mother loved buttermilk but there wasn’t any available in those hungry years.  When my mother was 73, she made an audio tape of family stories and her personal memories.  She said, “It was depression time and we all lived together – one big happy family!  And when you went to the table to eat you had better fill your plate up because it was never going to be passed around again – that was the only chance you were going to get.  But John (her step-father) would not take any kind of welfare or anything, he insisted on working.  And then we moved to Cincinnati where he got a job shoeing mules and the house went with us and the two boys, Frank and my husband, drove John around with blacksmith tools in the back of the car and he would go around and tell the farmers that their horses needed shoeing whether they did or not – even just a re-setting, that was $1.00 a shoe – and he would always come home with some groceries.”

The “house” consisted of the grandparents, my parents and their two children, two teenage boys, two teenage girls and an infant, all living together and trying to survive on the meager earnings of the traveling blacksmith and his two young sons.

In 1935, my father was able to get on the WPA as a laborer and he moved his little family to a one-room flat in downtown Cincinnati.  My mother always said the happiest day of her life was the day she moved into that little room and was finally able to have a place of her own.

My little sister and I continued to have our evaporated milk diluted with water and heavily sugared.  When I went to the first grade at old Raschig School on Central Parkway, imagine my delight at seeing a table wheeled into the room with apple butter sandwiches and huge metal pitchers of honest-to-goodness milk.  My father, remembering the farm-fresh milk of his childhood, straight from the cow, said this was just surplus skim milk provided by the government.  No matter, nothing ever tasted so good to me.

I always loved milk and as I grew older, I learned to appreciate my mother’s favorite, buttermilk.  Whenever we went to a county fair, Mother and I had the treat of a fish sandwich and ice cold buttermilk.  My father was sure we were going to get violently ill from such a combination but we never did.  We both loved that little half-pint carton of milk with big flakes of butter floating around in it.

When I have a cup of buttermilk left over, I like to make these yeast rolls – very simple – very quick – and very good.

EASY BUTTERMILK YEAST ROLLS

  • 5 to 5-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 3 Tblsp. granulated sugar
  • 2-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 package fast rising yeast
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil

In a large mixer bowl place 2 cups of flour, sugar, salt, soda, and yeast.

Heat the buttermilk and water to 130 degrees F.  Add to the flour mixture.  Add the oil.  Beat with mixer paddle at medium speed for 3 minutes.  Insert dough hook and beat for 6:30 minutes longer, adding flour as needed until dough is elastic and no longer sticky.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Punch down dough, form into rolls and place on greased cookie sheets.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for another 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake rolls in a preheated oven for approximately 12 minutes until golden brown.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Makes approximately 18 rolls, depending on size.

Valentine’s Day in the 1940s

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In the 1930s-40s, I lived in downtown Cincinnati and attended old Raschig School on Central Parkway.  In those days, Valentine’s Day was a major holiday in school.  A week ahead of time, the teacher brought in a big cardboard box which we decorated with cutout hearts and bits of paper lace doilies.  A slot was cut in the top and we were encouraged to bring a Valentine for each person in class and put it in the box, waiting for the big day.  The Valentines were “penny Valentines” and probably cost less than a penny apiece in those depression-World War II days.

Then on February 14, it was time to get the Valentines out of the box and distributed to the class.  A boy was chosen to be mailman (never a girl!), outfitted with a paper hat and mailbag.

In 1993, I wanted to make a Valentine for family members and did a sketch of the scene, incorporating my memories of two boys in my class.  Rollo was the only black boy in the class, always well dressed in knickers and argyle socks.  Otto was from the poorest part of the school district and seemed always to be a little grungy with a sole-flapping shoe.  I was a proper little girl with waist length finger curls and a dress made by my mother.  In 1993, I didn’t have a color printer and printed the cards in black and white, then hand watercolored each one.

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Imagine my surprise when about 10 years later, my oldest daughtergave me a Valentine gift of my sketch in redwork.  I had just started quilting at that time and put together a wall hanging with the redwork as the centerpiece.

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The dress on the card was actually a black and white check which my mother later made into a doll dress.  I took a picture of the fabric and printed it in a nine-patch to use as two of the blocks…..

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I also printed fabric blocks with vintage pictures of myself and old Raschig School to add to the history.  I wish I had pictures of Rollo and Otto, but they didn’t take class pictures at our school in those days.

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When I see my grandchildren laboriously writing their names on their little Valentines to take to school and pre-school, I remember musty old Raschig and all the fun of Valentine’s Day.