My mom and I have been cleaning out old photos and papers a lot lately, and Mom came across a piece of paper yesterday that instantly flooded her with memories of being a young newlywed in the late 1950's and trying to entertain. It's hard for millennials, I think, to understand what a different world their grandparents inhabited, and how bound they were by societal customs and rules.
Mom was trying to plan out her menu and get all her ducks in a row here, to celebrate New Year's Day with my dad's family. How do I know it was New Year's? Easy. It's the only time we ever serve blackeyed peas to company, here in the South. You eat blackeyes peas for good luck. You eat greens for money.
The peas were dried and they would have needed to be blanched and soaked to bring them back to edible. No self-respecting Southern cook would have fixed them without hog jowl/fatback. I used to love to eat fatback, as a kid. It's actually making a comeback, only now chefs call it "lardons" because I guess it sounds more elegant than hog jowl or fatback.
Mom and Dad got married in February 1957 and she thinks this dinner was Jan. 1, 1959 and she was already pregnant with my brother Bruce. Mom and Dad were still living in a small apartment, although they built their first small house a few months later. The guests included my grandmother Cordelia, her sister Ceph and husband, their son and his wife, my uncle Bobby and his wife and daughters. A lot of folks.
Mom was still learning to cook. That was a huge undertaking in those days. You couldn't buy convenience foods and takeout foods like you can today. Produce was seasonal. For instance, you could get apples in the fall and strawberries in the spring and early summer, but likely wouldn't find them other times of the year - or if you did find them, they were quite expensive.
Mom remembers that she went over the menu on the phone with Mamaw (her mother) who was an experienced cook and had studied Home Economics at Bessie Tift College.
The menu is ambitious -- beef roast, scalloped potatoes, blackeyed peas, stewed tomatoes, pineapple. I asked Mom about the "pineapple on lettuce" - a very elegant food, for that time. Nobody ate the lettuce and the pineapple was from a can and included a cream cheese topping.
I asked Mom to tell me more about the menu. "Sometimes mother would do the same thing with a canned peach half, or sometimes should put some grated yellow cheese over it. That was a pretty salad. My mother didn't eat tossed salad."
The tomatoes would have been canned, probably at least 16 oz.
On the strawberry shortcake, you could buy a pound cake that was a loaf cake. You couldn't buy Cool Whip. You bought fresh whipping cream and whipped it with a mixer. Strawberries would have been expensive that time of year, or I would have used strawberries that were frozen."
The note at the top "Call Daisy" was a reminder to get the apartment professionally cleaned. Mom has a wealth of Daisy stories and I remember her quite well. (When I read the book The Help I was fascinated and appalled, because although we had Daisy as a maid off and on when I was small, we were never allowed to be rude or disrespectful to her. I never saw my parents treat her with anything but respect and courtesy either.)
I think what fascinated me about this little party menu is that Mom was trying so hard to feed Dad's family a lovely and elegant dinner, with a very limited budget. She could barely cook. Dad wouldn't help her at all. Plus, she was trying to fulfill the role that society said, in 1959, a wife needed to play. Most clothes had to be ironed. Many people didn't own dryers, and clothes had to be line-dried. There were few convenience foods. Housecleaning was a lot of hard scrubbing, not easy at all.
Women's magazines at the time were filled with advice like "keep a small makeup kit near the door so when your husband comes in he sees you with hair combed and fresh lipstick, not looking tired." Didn't matter if you had worked yourself to death all day and were exhausted, you had to keep up appearances and look like you had your s**t together or your husband might stray, was the underlying message there.
[BTW, as long as Dad lived, my mom always had a little mirror, comb, and makeup stashed away in the kitchen, so she could "fix her face" when Dad's car pulled into the driveway.]
Nowadays, young people often hook up and break up, and have children without feeling the need to get married. Is that a better way? Or is it better for women to feel burdened and subservient to their husbands? I don't know. I just feel like life works better when a couple forms a true partnership.
below, photos of the dinner guests from around the same time period
left, my grandmother Cordelia and cousin Frann. Above, Dad's brother Bobby, my grandfather Thompson (who had died in 1957) and Aunt Ceph holding Frann. Thompson and Cordelia babysat for Frann when she was small because my aunt worked.
below, Mom pregnant with Bruce, and her parents, in front of Mom and Dad's first little house in Augusta
Below, Mom and Dad on their wedding day.