2014-04-02 / Editorial

BANKING TATERS

Burke Banter Boy

Rarely can someone be found this day and time that banks sweet potatoes. In fact, it is hard to find anyone that knows how to bank sweet potatoes or even the reason for banking sweet potatoes. It just so happens that two houses down from my house is a sweet potato bank. Believe it or not, that bank is made of brick. The house was originally built by Doctor Hillis who practiced medicine here for many years. In his back yard along with the ‘tater bank’, he had a number of buildings in which to store, cure or preserve food.

In bygone days before refrigeration, folks used many different methods to save and preserve fruits and garden vegetables. The sweet potato bank was usually a hollowed out place in the ground with a bed of pine straw. The potatoes were placed in the straw bed to keep them from rottening, and to also help them to ripen and sweeten even more. When the cook needed potatoes, she simply pulled back a little dirt, reached in and got the potatoes. The bank is reclosed with dirt until more potatoes were needed. In the spring when the potatoes began to sprout, the sprouts could be broken off and planted. This made more potatoes and continued the cycle. Irish potatoes were preserved in another way. They were spread out under the house where they stayed dry and would not rot.

In the days before there was modern refrigeration and other ways of saving food, folks used a variety of ways to keep food through the winter months. Foods were canned, dried, salted, and smoked just to name a few methods. But from gardens and orchards, fruits and vegetables galore were preserved to grace the tables. Cows, hogs and chickens were slaugthered and the meat cured in one fashion or another. Not only were cultivated crops and animals preserved, but wild berries, fruits and even wild honey. The sweetness of honey was supplemented by crops of sugar cane. From the cane came syrup that was an important part of the diet.

In most rural homes where the husband and wife did not mind working, the tables were usually overflowing with dish after dish of flavorful and delicious foods even in the dead of winter. Rural folks in all likelihood ate far better than their city counterparts. Not only was there more and better food, but it was much tastier than the food that came from the city grocer’s shelves. Farm families, many times, sat down to a grand breakfast of fresh eggs, sausage, bacon and in our beloved South, grits. Probably the only store-bought item was coffee for the adults. Kids drank milk with cream floating on the top.

In addition to milk from the family cow or cows came delicious homemade butter and its byproduct, buttermilk. There was also, clabber, often with its taste enhanced with a spoonful or two of syrup. Of course, there were mounds of rich, thick cream to be whipped and sweetened into a fluffy delight. Look how my mind has gone astray by simply thinking about ‘banking taters’. Oh! How my taste buds long for good old country foods of the past. Many of those tastes are gone forever, but one can still wish.

Jams, jellies and preserves of the past flash through my mind and a mint of the taste crosses my tongue, but I can’t quite possess that taste of long ago. Time and again, I have written about foods, so some of you may think I am a big eater and weigh a ton. Actually I am small and losing weight, but I still love to eat. I just don’t eat as much as I once did. But I can still remember those good foods of the past. We don’t have any taters banked so we get our taters out of the store. Here’s wishing you all good eating always.

F. Leslie Jenkins, Jr. is Burke Banter Boy

Email f291@bellsouth.net

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