By: Virginia R. Manuel
These last few days of bright sunshine set me to thinking about all the work we did to get the ground ready for planting when we were growing up.
Before winter was over, we would plant the tobacco seeds in a bed so the plants would be ready to set in the late spring. At the end of the tobacco bed some lettuce seeds were sown. The canvas cover over the seeds and the first warm spring days acted like a hot house and before you knew it we would have a nice crop of lettuce. After a long cold winter eating canned foods that early lettuce was always a nice spring treat. When the garden was planted there was also a row of lettuce planted there so we could enjoy it longer. In the spring, killed or wilted lettuce was always a favorite.
Another spring treat was being able to walk barefoot in the freshly plowed ground. All our plowing and planting was done with horses. We would take off our shoes and walk through the freshly plowed ground. After the plowing was done, then came the harrowing, the disking, the rocking, the dragging, the laying off and finally the planting. It was hard work but we didnt think of it as such. It was a necessity in order to have food on the table for the next year. It was always fun to watch for the bits of green as the plants come shooting up through the ground.
After the rains came you could always find us kids sloshing through the fields down by the creek looking for frogs or fish or gathering a bouquet of spring flowers. Wherever there was mud is where you would most likely find us.
Sometimes we would go out foraging for different kinds of plants to cook for greens. My grandmother knew exactly which plants to pick. There would be dandelion shoots, colts foot, pokeberry, plantain, lambs quarters and dock. When we had a flour sack full to take to the house she would clean them and cook them up and we would have greens and cornbread for supper.
Another plant that we would gather in the spring would be creases which were a kind of a dry land water cress. They usually grew in the tobacco patches and cornfields. As soon as the snow was gone in early spring the creases would start to appear. The neighbors sometimes would get together and go out into the fields gathering hemp sacks full of them. Some were for eating today and some for canning for later use.
Creases are flat to the ground and are thin leafed. Those are the kind you want to gather. The other kind are broad leafed and bitter when cooked. The old timers called them he creases and she creases. Make sure you gather the she creases. Also gather them when they are young and before they bud out to bloom. Take a knife and cut them right off at the ground leaving the root. Shake out all the leaves and dirt.
To prepare the creases you cut out the center with your knife and put all the leaves in a big dishpan and rinse them to get all the grit out. You have to wash them three or four times to make sure the grit is gone. Put them in a big stewpot with some water and parboil them for probably a half hour or so and rinse them again. Take a skillet and fry a few pieces of streaked meat or side pork to get grease, take the meat out and then put the creases in the grease and fry them until they are good and tender. To can the creases, parboil and rinse and put into pint jars. Process them in a hot water bath.
A bowl of creases, a little vinegar, some soupbeans, fried taters and a big hunk of cornbread and you have yourself a mighty fine dinner. Even the king would want to sit at your table.