The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Back Then

By Ina T. Wray © 1990

Issue: September, 1990

A few years after Jennie Wray married Woodsie Brown in 1919, he took her and their children, Ida, Nolan, and Lolene to Brier Mountain, located about two miles from Nola, Virginia. There with the aid of a mule and his sweat, he cleared a foothill of trees, undergrowth and stones. He had their clapboard house built on the crest of the hill. At the end of the ravine nearest the house, a barn was constructed. On the incline and in the hollow where he had uprooted stumps, he and Jennie planted fruit trees and gardens.

Tender spring shoots of early peas and Irish potatoes broke the soil. Cabbage heads formed like huge green rosettes. As the earth warmed, other seeds were sown and seedlings transplanted.

Rows of sweet corn, tomatoes, green potatoes and pumpkins; and a variety of other vegetables were cultivated where briers and brambles had thrived.

Their spring and early summers around the farm were constantly occupied with laboring chores such as caring for the animals, plowing, hoeing and weeding.

When the yield was harvested, Jennie and the girls toiled many torrid days in the kitchen, further heated by the wood-burning stove, canning and preserving for the cold snowy months of winter.

Late fall, after the first freeze, Woodsie would kill a fattened hog. Other family members and neighbors gathered to work up the meat. Hams were prepared for curing, hand-ground seasoned sausage stuffed into casings, patties fried and canned, and tenderloin packed in brown sugar, pepper and salt. The processed meat was stored in the smokehouse which Woodsie had built.

To supply his family with beef, Woodsie slaughtered heifers they had raised. Again it was a family effort to prepare the meat for safekeeping.

The only farm building presently standing which Woodsie built is the log corn crib.

Years later, the Brown family moved to Stanleytown, Virginia and continued to raise most of their produce.

In their large house, Jennie found space for boarders. Her talent and experience in food preparation and serving delicious meals at large gatherings quickly achieved local recognition. Folks began dropping in for lunch. She never knew who or how many hungry men would come to eat. Perhaps the Jewel Tea salesman, a laundry delivery man, an insurance collector, or ice or coal delivery man or truck drivers would show up. Sometimes several factory workers would come.

Nearly thirty-five years ago, when I married Cecil Wray, the Brown's grandson, Jennie was cooking only for her family. But Grandma's meals were always like banquets - both delicious and nutritious. I was introduced to many unfamiliar vegetables and different appetizing dishes like October beans, poke sallet, souse meat and tomato pie. A favorite was her sweet potato cobbler. I needed guidelines, if not a recipe, to imitate her yummy delight. So I established the measurements of the ingredients as she combined them.

"We didn't have many recipes or cookbooks when I learned to cook," she explained with a chuckle. "Mama taught me the way she cooked. Now this cobbler, I just put in what I thought was right."

Grandma is ninety-two now and no longer cooks large meals; however, she has agreed to share her recipe for Sweet Potato Cobbler.

Sweet Potato Cobbler

Biscuit dough rolled 1/4 inch thick

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 2/3 cups sugar
3/4 cups butter or margarine
2 cups water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Grease sides of a round, deep baking pan. Cover bottom of pan with potatoes. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg, 1/2 cup of sugar, and dot with chunks of butter or margarine. Roll out part of the dough and cut in strips about 1 inch wide and 5 inches long, adding a layer for dumplings. Repeat layering twice. Pour in water. Roll remaining dough for crust and fit loosely over the top. Dot with remaining butter or margarine and a light sprinkling of sugar. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.