Past Repasts

From an article by Mel Graykin published in the Communicator


As much press as Christmas gets, some folks allow as how Thanksgiving is really their favorite holiday. It’s a chance to get together with family and enjoy a good meal, a warm and pleasant holiday, without all the frantic preparation, colliding logistics and obligatory spending of the December celebration.

And of course Thanksgiving, aside from its higher purpose, is all about food. Folks save their best cooking for this special meal. And indulge in special taste treats. The ad for “Inlagd Sill” accompanying this article is from the old Deerfield Post. The Post was a source of local news and information from 1955 to 1964. Published monthly, then just during election season, it was all volunteer and devoted to keeping the community up to date on events, activities, and politics, not unlike the Communicator. (You can find complete collections of the Deerfield Post, the Communicator, and other local publications in the Philbrick-James Library and in the Deerfield Historical Society).

Folks often took great pride in their cooking, especially in dishes from their old country heritage. For many in Deerfield, like Alf Lindahl, that was Sweden. Wherever people came from, they brought their recipes with them, to be shared at neighborhood pot lucks, or sold for a little supplemental household income. Some cooks gladly shared their secrets while others jealously guarded them. Often, a recipe was shared, but a key ingredient was left out, so the dish never tasted quite as good as the original. Thus a cook could appear to be generous, but still held on to their reputation.

So, if this represents the best of cooking, what might represent the worst? Ask the kids, and they will probably answer, “School hot lunches!” The cafeteria lunches served up by the school have a bad reputation, let’s face it. And one that is hardly deserved, considering the careful consideration and hard work that goes into planning, preparing and serving them—on a tight budget, too!

Ever since hot lunch consisted of a pot of soup heated on the wood stove in the corner of the one-room school house, taste, nutrition and economy have been issues. When Marion Stewart, the Hot Lunch Supervisor at the old George B. White School set about learning how to do the job best, she attended a host of demonstrations and lectures from Manchester to Washington DC. She got ideas for how to get children to eat vegetables (“a universal problem” she admits in a Deerfield Post article) including a “real new taste treat…a salad we call ‘harvest’ or ‘Halloween’ special. Put carrots through a fine blade of the salad maker, or chop, add raisins and mayonnaise – real good!” She also advises adding raw chopped beets to a salad to add color and “a new delightful flavor.” I know what my kids think of raw beets; how about yours?

Back in 1957 they charged 25 cents for lunches and fed as many as 100 children. Local gardens supplied the vegetables, including fresh parsley for a garnish. Marion had a copy of a Catholic calendar, and planned on macaroni and cheese or similar dish for holy days and fast days, and clam cakes for Fridays.

Consider what we eat today, and how we get it. It’s true that in the past we didn’t have the luxury of supermarkets with wide assortments of every kind of fruit and vegetable available year round. But the quality of what we buy now cannot match the nutritional richness and wholesomeness of food in days gone by, when you knew the farmer or even grew and harvested it yourself. It was a lot of work; not nearly the convenience of modern fare. But food was a community affair, shared and talked about. Food brought people together, and more than just for Thanksgiving.