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Cornshucking Day Dinner: 1939

Cornshucking Day Dinner: 1939

September 1939. Granville County, North Carolina. "One of the Wilkins family making biscuits for dinner on cornshucking day at Mrs. Fred Wilkins' home near Tallyho." Medium format negative by Marion Post Wolcott. View full size.


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Sorry, but

I still make my biscuits with leaf lard. I know it will probably kill me someday, but if you surrender all your vices to the god of longevity, I'm really sorry for you. You will live a long and desolate life, devoid of the pleasures that make that very life worth living.

Biscuits are tricky!

Biscuits are like pie crust. The more you handle the dough, the tougher it gets. It's easy to make biscuits that turn out like hockey pucks if you handle them too much.

Before my time

The Whitehouse Vinegar bottle on the top shelf is a highly sought after collectible today. My grandmother never liked the electric stove and Grandpa liked his biscuits baked in the wood stove oven. Biscuits three times a day for 89 years. Granville County is my home.

Maybe what Jay meant to say

Was that back then, folks ate lard, butter, real salt, pork, red meat and eggs, and weren't obese.

And he would be right about that. The general level of fitness of the population earlier in the 20th century compared to today strikes me in photo after photo here on Shorpy. It's almost remarkable to find a single obese person in crowd photos prior to about 1960, whereas today they make up a significant percentage of any crowd photo.

The reasons for the increase in life expectancy during the 20th century are many and varied, but I don't think eating fewer (damn good) biscuits made with lard and Crisco had much to do with it.

Living longer...

Farm folks who lived longer did so in spite of their diet and probably because they got lots of exercise working so hard, and were less stressed than their city counterparts. But living longer was more the exception than the rule even for rural people.

Many of my ancestors died young because they didn't have the money to call in a doctor when one was needed.

"Ain't seen a doctor since the day I was born... Ain't a'gonna call one, now."

One Item menu

My grandfather was an expert vegetable grower although his occupation was a coal miner. On summer evenings in the days of victory gardens, he knew exactly when the corn was "ready", at its sweetest, most tender, out-of-this world apex, and he would say to Gram, "Put the water on to boil, I'll go pick the corn." It had to be picked immediately before cooking so the natural sugar would not run out and the kernels had no time to toughen. That would be our supper, ears and ears (all you can eat) of fresh, pearly, sunny ears of tender corn, with lots of homemade butter, very little salt. There has never been anything to compare with that flavor. My second favorite thing in the summer is a just-picked tomato sliced on a sandwich on white bread with only mayo, salt and pepper. It would have been easy to be a vegetarian with those flavors. No meat needed.

Ersatz Lard

The Jewel shortening isn't really lard, as it is "made from vegetable and animal fats," a midway point between lard and Crisco.

Working Woman

There's something about a clean and orderly kitchen that speaks well of the woman. Shiny clean pots, flowers, a hat. Hat?

Things must have been better

Back then, folks ate lard, butter, real salt, pork, red meat and eggs, and lived into their 90s. Now with our modern diets of margarine, poly unsaturates, egg beaters, greaseless, fatless and tasteless stuff, folks are kicking off in their 40s and 50s. The old timers knew how to eat and live longer.

[You have it backwards. In the United States, median age at death (and life expectancy) increased steadily throughout the 20th century. - Dave]

I know where I'm going for dinner

Mmmm, Chicken & Dumplings

Baking Powder Biscuits
(from a 1933 Recipe)


-- 2 cups sifted flour
-- 2 tsp. baking powder
-- 4 tablespoons butter or shortening
-- 1/2 tsp. salt
-- about 3/4 cup milk

Sift Flour once, measure, add baking powder and salt, and sift again. Cut in shortening or butter. (use your hands and rub the butter into the flour).

Add milk gradually, stirring until soft dough is formed. Turn out on slightly floured board and lightly "knead" for 30 seconds, enough to shape.

Roll 1/2 inch thick and cut with 2 inch floured biscuit cutter. Bake on ungreased sheet in a 400 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.

Makes 12 biscuits.

Ceramic crocks, bucket, wash basin and soap

This is how I imagine my grandmother's kitchen before the well and pump were put in. The crocks with towels over the top were used in lieu of an icebox to keep things from spoiling. Somewhere, if you could look, you would find large bins for flour and sugar.


For long life, eat corn, biscuits, and Swift's Jewel Lard by the bucket.

Jeanette Wilkins

Mrs. Wilkins was Jeanette Wilkins. She died in 1986 at the age of 91. Husband Fred died a few months later at the age of 93. Eat homemade biscuits and fresh corn and live longer.

Just wondering

I cast my vote for less callipygian disclosure. But could I have one of those biscuits, please?

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