Cary, NC – Clyde Evans Jr. remembers how his family processed food in the old days.
Clyde Evans Jr.
There were things we had to buy from the grocery store, like coffee, sugar and salt. The rest we made ourselves. We grew our own food and had cows and hogs. We made our own molasses.
We had a grinder, a squasher pulled by a horse. It had two big rollers rolling together, like how flour is ground. We raised cane, then at night after cutting it down, we put it in water. The next morning, we set it between the rollers, with a barrel sitting below them. The horse was harnessed to a big limb out in front that was attached to the rollers by ropes. The horse would go around and around, squashing the molasses out of the cane.
When the barrel filled up, we had a long, flat cooker for it. We would start the coal fire at one end, and the cane juice would come out the other end as molasses, syrup. We made a 55-gallon barrel full. If we cooked it too long, it would turn to sugar, and if we didn’t cook it long enough, it would sour, so you had to know exactly what you were doing. Daddy made a sweet potato hill by piling them into a pyramid, then covering them with pine straw and dirt. Then he put a smoke pipe on top, like a wood stove would use. All the water in the potatoes evaporated up the smoke pipe.
When they were dried out, he pulled the pipe out leaving the hole that he covered with straw. We would reach into the hole to pull out the potatoes and cover the hole back up with straw. It would keep them forever. We had a storage bin under the south side of the house that was open to the weather to store all our white potatoes and onions.
We had an apple and peach orchard. The roof of our house was tin, so we put the fruit on the roof. That tin got hot in the summertime and would dehydrate it. Then we cut them up and put them in a bag in the pantry. We made apple jack by putting the apples back in water to rehydrate them. We made some dough, rolled it out and filled it with apples, folded the dough over and crimped the edge with a fork. Then we put them in a frying pan and fried them. I could eat a stack of them that high. We made peach jack too.
To make sauerkraut, Daddy got a shovel, cleaned it up and sharpened it. He put a layer of cabbage in a 55-gallon barrel, then a layer of salt and built up the layers to the top, then filled the barrel with water. Then he put a white rock on top of the barrel lid. It would stay all summer and all winter. Sauerkraut, that was some dang good eating.
Story by Peggy Van Scoyoc. Photo courtesy of Peggy Van Scoyoc. Much of Cary’s Heritage is taken from the book, Just a Horse-Stopping Place, an Oral History of Cary, North Carolina, published in August, 2006. The book is a collection of oral history interviews conducted between local citizens and Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel. The rest comes from later oral history interviews with local citizens.