The Noontime Meal at Grandma’s House

It’s always been a bit confusing to label the “noontime” meal. My family always referred to it as “dinner” (and we called the evening meal “supper”) but depending on where you live, the noon meal is “lunch” and the evening meal is “dinner.” Just for clarity’s sake, whenever I refer to “dinner” I am referencing the noontime meal. Old habits are hard to break…

It always seemed to me that, whenever we were at my grandparents (which, by the way, was in eastern Kentucky, Breathitt County, to be specific), a large part of the day was spent eating. As soon as the breakfast dishes were done, Grandma began to work on dinner. There were many times when all of the family was together (before we–the grandkids–started marrying) that Grandma was cooking for 27 people, three times a day. And the amazing part is that she made it look to easy.

Dinner was a whole new meal. It usually consisted of some type of beans (soup beans, green beans or cooked dried green beans which she called “leather jackets” or “shuck beans”), cornbread, fried chicken, potatoes and whatever else she decided to fix. During the summer months, we also had whatever fresh vegetables that were available from the garden.

I cannot count how often I have seen my Grandma go out to her chicken pen which sat behind the house, grab a chicken, and as quick as anything, wring it’s neck and begin to pluck the feathers off. We ate fresh, free-range chicken before the word “free-range” was in anyone’s vocabulary. Eventually, she bought chicken from the store but even then, Grandma kept a few laying hens for fresh eggs and a few older ones to use as stewing hens for her chicken and dumplings.

Grandma made the absolute best chicken and dumplings. And again, it was without a recipe which is sad because no one can quite replicate what she did. In the same big old metal tub of flour that she made her biscuit dough, she would make her dumpling dough. Grandma would then roll this dough out with a drinking glass (usually one that she had gotten from a box of soap powders years earlier) and pinch the dough off into little pieces, dropping them into the rich broth from the stewing hen. When they were ready, she would carry the big old cast iron dutch oven full of dumplings over to the table. There would be a layer of bright yellow chicken fat on top. The thicker the layer of grease, the better the dumplings would taste. My aunts and uncles often referred to dumplings as “slickers.” No wonder.

One of the best fried chickens I ever ate was at Grandma’s house. I always pestered her to let me gather the fresh eggs. Because of black snakes and roosters, she would usually do it herself but she let me go. As I grabbed the galvanized bucket and was headed to the gate, she hollered out to me, “My girl. Leave that old rooster alone.” In the literary world, this is what as known as “foreshadowing.” There was a huge rock that I had to climb to reach the laying hens. I guess I was so intent on climbing and looking out for black snakes that I failed to hear the clucked warnings behind me. I had gathered a few eggs before I noticed the sounds. As I turned, my heart began pounding. It was the old rooster–he was clucking, prancing around and staring directly at me!

I slid off the rock that I was on, grabbed a much smaller one and threw it at the old bird. That was mistake number two… Mistake one was going into the chicken pen in the first place. He immediately stepped up his pace and started towards me. As I made my way to the gate, the rooster did too. Panicked, I grabbed at the gate and couldn’t open it. At this point, the old guy began to flap his wings. Having been previously “bitten” by a goose, I didn’t want to feel the wrath of this chicken. With no other options available, at least none that occurred to me at that moment, I decided, one way or another, I was getting over that fence.

My mother, who was looking out the window above the kitchen sink, watched the drama unfold. Years later she told me it was an awe-inspiring sight: the bucket thrown up in the air with eggs flying in every direction and me, her 12 year old daughter, vaulting over the fence like a conditioned Olympic athlete with the rooster right at my heels. All I can say is that fear is an amazing motivator. I ran into the house, leaving the frustrated rooster flapping his wings against the fence. Wanting to get away as far as possible from that old bird, I briefly relayed the story to Grandma before I shot out the front door, in search of a far less dangerous adventure.

Later, as we gathered for dinner, there was a huge platter of fried chicken on the table. As I sat down, grabbed a piece and began to eat, my family asked me how it tasted. It was delicious (Grandma’s fried chicken always was) so why would this be any different? Laughing, they told me I was eating the old rooster. With Grandma’s help, I got the ultimate revenge. I was taking a bite of the bird that had earlier wanted to take a bite out of me!!12-2

This is my grandma, Malinda Turner Deaton. Behind her is the chicken pen and to her right, you can see where the hens laid their eggs.

Hot Pepper Mustard/Butter


1 quart prepared yellow mustard

1 quart cider vinegar with an acidity of 5%

4 to 6 cups sugar (I only used 4 cups)

½ to ¾ cups Clear Gel

1 teaspoon salt

36 large banana peppers or 40 medium banana peppers or 50 small banana peppers


  1. Seed and chop peppers. (I use a food processor to chop the peppers tiny).
  2. Add Clear Gel to sugar and mix well. Mix everything together. Put over medium heat, stirring sonstantlyr until desired thickness is reached. DO NOT BOIL!
  3. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars. Cap with hot lid and of course the ring and process in hot water bath for 15 minutes.

This recipe made about 8 to 9 pints.

I canned a batch of this in late October, 2016 and it’s nearly gone. It’s great on sandwiches, to dip pretzels in or mix with cream cheese to spread on crackers. I’m considering raising banana peppers in my garden this year so I can use my own peppers instead of purchasing them at the grocery store.

I do not use flour in anything I can. I only use Clear Gel. It is more shelf stable than

Breakfast at Grandma’s House

Grandma got up before daylight to cook breakfast. As she prepared the food, she sang. The words always sounded vaguely familiar but I never recognized the melody. I was a nearly a grown woman before I found out why this was. My grandparents belonged to a non-instrumental Church of Christ. They believed that the only instrument necessary for music was the voice. So although Grandma knew the words to “Amazing Grace,” she did not sing the popularized melody but rather the one that had been handed down to her from her family–a tune that was generations old. Now I know that had I listened just a little harder and had a little better imagination, I would have heard the songs of my Highland ancestors through an Appalachian filter.

The breakfasts Grandma cooked were wonderful! Certainly not made up of the foods that, in our health-conscious society, we would eat today. All the foods were of the home: homegrown, home-raised or homemade. A typical breakfast always consisted of fried meat (usually some kind of pork but sometimes chicken–even fish on the rare occasion), biscuits, eggs, fried potatoes, fried apples and peaches. Oh! And coffee! The coffee grounds were dumped into the bottom of her coffee pot, water was added and it was set on the stove to boil for hours. Espresso had nothing on Grandma’s coffee. It was certainly an eye-opener!

What remains the most fascinating food of the meal, to me anyway, was Grandma’s biscuits. Even the canned varieties today are not as uniform and exact as her’s were. Grandma kept a big metal tub underneath her sink filled with flour–it usually held 25 pounds or more. When she made the biscuits, she would pull out this tub, make a little well in the center of the flour, dump all of the ingredients in, mix it together and form her dough. If I attempted to do that, I would probably ruin the whole tub of flour. Not Grandma, she only used what she had intended to and she did it with no measuring cups, no recipe and no waste. I asked her once how she was able to do this and she told me she had been mixing biscuits this way since she was 9 years old. I think she was in her early 70’s when I posed the question.

Grandma would then take the biscuit dough, pinch off a piece, roll it around in her hands to form a ball, pat it out and put it into a pan. In no time, the pan was full of perfectly uniform biscuits. Any leftover dough was flattened out and baked to a dark brown–her version of a hoe cake. The biscuits were great fresh out of the oven and even later in the day, substituting as sandwich bread for a piece of leftover breakfast meat. My dad said that when he was a kid, she would take one of these biscuits, fill it with fried potatoes and pack it for his lunch, along with a pint of milk in a canning jar. He would keep his lunch tin the the creek beside to school to keep the milk cool until lunchtime.

Most of my biscuits memories center around using them as fishing bait. For the longest time, to get to my grandparent’s house, you had to walk across a swinging bridge. When they ended up building a flat bridge to drive over on the opposite side of the creek, we would sit on it and fish for minnows. Grandma would take a piece of thread, tie it to a bent stick pin and then give us kids a biscuit for bait. I don’t ever remember catching anything this way but at least those little fish ate as good as we did!

If you mention Grandma’s breakfasts to my sister, she’ll tell a completely different story than mine. For her, this meal stirs up memories of homemade syrup. To achieve the exact dipping consistency, the syrup had to be mixed with butter. Only then was it ready to be eaten with oven-warm biscuits. Karen says that even today, just thinking about grandma’s syrup will make her mouth water.

No matter how I, my sister or any of my cousins remember a particular meal that Grandma fixed, the one consistent story we will share is that whatever she made, it was cooked with large amounts of love.

I don’t have a recipe for Grandma’s biscuits and I have tried more times than I can count to replicate them but I have had no success. Even my aunts, her daughters, could not make biscuits like her. But I am sharing her recipe for syrup. Grandma’s Syrup

Grandma’s Syrup

2 cups water

2 cups light or dark brown sugar

Maple flavoring, if desired (Grandma never used this)

In a heavy saucepan, combine water and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer until mixture reaches the consistency of syrup. Add maple flavoring, if desired, prior to serving.

Note: You can add more brown sugar to thicken the mixture more quickly.

Attached is a story about breakfast at Grandma’s house. Breakfast at Grandma’s House


Gardening, January, 2017

Here we are, at the end of January, and I haven’t ordered any garden seed yet. I say “yet” because usually thumbing through seed catalogs and garden planning is what helps to get me through the winter. Well, that and chocolate…

We have what some people call a “truck patch” garden. It’s big enough to provide what we need with some left to share or sell. We give away what we cannot “put up” (can, freeze or dehydrate). We are going into our fourth year of gardening and we have learned some key lessons, namely in space planning and seed amount and type. Now I grew up on a farm where we planted acres of various foods so space planning was really never a concern. Our first year, I wanted to plant gourds. I had some grandiose idea of creating awesome art projects with them after harvest. Big lesson learned that year? Never, ever, never plant gourds in a vegetable garden. I grew up listening to and reading Bible stories but I truly never understood how the gourd grew up so fast around Jonah to provide him shade until I grew some of my own.

In addition to the gourds, we also planted an entire row of yellow summer squash. Other than waiting until after the first frost, I only have specific planting guidelines for potatoes and cabbages. According to my grandmother, cabbages need to be planted by March 17 and potatoes need to be planted on Good Friday. Somehow, inadvertently, we must have planted under the squash sign because that one row produced over 800 harvested squash. To replay a scene from Forrest Gump about Bubba and his shrimp, we dried squash, froze it, had it in various casseroles, stir fries, etc… We also gave it away. It was so bad that our friends stopped answering their phones when we would call.

The second year, we had an abundance of green beans. It was a puzzle to us because no one in our area had any luck with green beans that year. We planted Half Runners and Kentucky Pole Beans and ended up canning around 150 quarts. That doesn’t count the bushels we picked and gave away. That was 2015 and we are still eating on those beans. This was also the year that I planted milling corn because I had the grandiose idea of grinding my own cornmeal. The two varieties I planted were White Nighting and Cherokee White Eagle. I ordered them from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. (Here’s a link to their website where you can order seed or a catalog Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.) It wasn’t a completely foreign concept as my grandpa had a grist mill and always ground his own meal. But here was the rub to growing milling corn–I don’t have a grist mill or access to one. As such, you had better have a friend that owns a mill or a deep pocketbook to purchase a top of the line mill.

Unbeknownst to me at the time of planting, corn is one of the hardest of all kernels to crack and it must be cracked prior to grinding. I read story upon story of people who had ruined Kitchenaids, Cuisinarts and VitaMix machines trying to crack corn. Thankfully, since I don’t have deep pockets, I did have a friend that owned a mill and cracked the kernels for me. (“Denny, cracked corn and I sure did care!” Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) We finished grinding the corn in my mother in law’s VitaMix. Between the grinding and sifting and regrinding, it was a lot of work and it is still somewhat gritty. I re-sift the meal prior to using and put the grits in a bag in the freezer. I will either grind it again or attempt to cook them as grits.

Last year, 2016, was kind of a bust for us, garden-wise. The rabbits ate our pea vines faster than they could grow. It got unseasonably warm early so the cabbage never took off and the potatoes were somewhat stunted. I decided to plant “eating” corn and put in four rows of the Kandy Korn variety, a super sweet yellow corn. About two weeks prior to a full harvest, we had thunderstorms go through our area with high winds that knocked every stalk of that corn to the ground. That is one of the pitfalls of sweet corn–it has a very shallow root system. It was a shame because the sample of corn that we had tasted was delicious. I got what bit I could but we lost probably 90% of the crop. The one thing that did grow for us was tomatoes. This was the first year that we had any luck with them and we don’t have a clue why–they just grew and produced in spite of any effort on our part. I ended up canning about 25 quarts of tomato sauce and still gave a bunch of tomatoes away.

So what are we planting this year? I’ve been thumbing through the seed catalogs and I’m thinking I would like to raise peanuts! If I plant any more sweet corn, I am going to pick a variety that grows roots and weathers storms. Maybe some eggplant and peas that can grow faster than rabbits can eat them. While I’m indoors this winter eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring, gardening daydreams help to pass the time. And so does snacking on chocolate!1a.jpg

This is a harvest photo from our 2014 garden.

(Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Baker Heirloom Seeds and I am not receiving any compensation from them for the link.)