Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflections upon making peanut butter crackers

The children requested peanut butter crackers for lunch. While making them I was instantly taken back to my childhood with memories of my Granny and Papa.

I grew up on a small tobacco farm, thus the reason my beloved Tobie was really Tobacco. I grew up spending my fair share of time in the tobacco fields. I helped plant the seedlings, hoed weeds when the plants were small, helped "at the barn" when it was time to prime, and help take it off the stick when it was time to pack it to go to sale.

We were small time and did things the old fashion way. I was around four when my grandparents went back to tobacco farming - they had had a larger production earlier but had stopped for at least a few years. At the time they stared back up, they were still stringing tobacco by hand. A year or two later they purchased an electric stringer and I thought we were big time. We never had bulk barns and I don't even know exactly how they work. I just know that in reality we were still way behind the times.

Are you wondering what this has to do with peanut butter crackers yet?

We had to be at the barn and ready to go at 6 am every Saturday morning. We had our "tobacco priming clothes" that we wore every week. If it was a dry morning we came home gummy, if it was a wet morning we wore trash bags over our clothes and came home soaked. On dry days your hands would be a black gummy mess. The only way to get it off was to use gojo, which all the kids called pig snot. Not sure why but it was about the consistency of snot and was stinky...

My first job on priming days was to be "leaf girl." That meant going in the tobacco barn, where the leaves would be cured, and picking up any leaves that had fallen on the floor and taking them back out to be restrung.

This is the barn where we put most of the tobacco. There were two different sections of it. There used to be another barn directly behind this one that we also used at times. There is also a tobacco barn by my parents house that we also used some of the time. But most vivid memories are from this barn. The grassy field you see was one of the tobacco fields and was the largest.

From leaf girl, I got promoted to "stick girl" that meant when the bottom layer of leaves had been placed by the two ladies that did the bottom layer, I put a stick on and then the other two ladies placed the top layer of leaves. Then the electric stringer sewed the tobacco together so that it would stay on the stick. From stick girl I got to be one of the people laying the leaves on the belt - they had a name but I don't remember what it was. From there I became the person that took the finished stick off the stringer and handed it into the barn. Occasionally, I got to be the person that handed the tobacco up to the hangers. And a few times even got to be up in the rafters hanging the tobacco. That person had to stand balanced on two beams about four to six feet a part bend at the waist and reach down to get the sticks and hang them.

The men worked in the field priming, the women worked at the barn. The only barn jobs not done by women were the hangers. My mom typically laid tobacco on the stringer. My sister usually took the tobacco off the stringer. My dad always hung the tobacco.

Are you wondering if I'll ever get to the peanut butter cracker tie in?

The tobacco arrived at the barn on a big tobacco sled. I have no idea how many sleds we did in a morning. When the priming was done the men would come out of the field and we would take a break from stringing and everyone would have a snack. That snack was always peanut butter crackers and glass bottled sodas, never cans. My grandmother made the peanut butter crackers on Friday. They were always made with chunky peanut butter on Ritz crackers, because that was how Papa liked them. She made two huge cookie containers of them. They never bought Nabs, prepackaged peanut butter crackers. The sodas were kept in the freezer for a few hours before snacking so they were ice cold. After four hours of handling tobacco the crackers and soda tasted better than anything imaginable.

I hated priming tobacco. I hated getting up early. I hated not being able to do a lot of the things my friends did because I had to work in tobacco.

I would not change it for a minute! I am so glad I got this experience! I loved listening to the older women talk while we were stringing the tobacco. Ollie and Luciella were a hoot. I thought Fred and Francis, who drove trackers were the funniest men around. I thought it was disgusting when someone would turn a tobacco worm inside out. Though as gross as those worms were and as much as I hated occasionally coming across one, they deserved it.

I wish I had pictures from all of this. And maybe somewhere there are some. I remember taking some once but have no clue what happened to those pictures.

Here are some pictures I found online. From the looks of it, this is a bulk barn operation but gives a good feel for what it is all like.

This gives a better example of what our production was like and shows the hand tying and electric stinger methods.

It always amazes me how something as simple as a peanut butter cracker can bring back so many memories from my childhood. What is your childhood peanut butter cracker and what does it remind you of?

1 comment:

Cici said...

Thanks so much for this and for the pictures and links. I have NO pictures from those days as I guess I thought that we would do it forever and no pictures were needed to remember it. Thanks for the links also.

You were lucky that you got peanut butter crackers and cold drinks. When I was a child, we got water and a "hot" watermellon on occasion for our "treat". Guess it really was "hot" in more ways than one. First it had been in the watermellon patch in the sun so it was "hot".

The patch it had been in sometimes belonged to a neighbor and Mr. Moore, or one of the "boys" priming tobacco were happy to climb through his fence and "fetch" one for us. Of course Mr. Snyder would not have minded.

Remember how the food tasted with tobacco gum on your hands?

Funny how these days are way more fun to think about now than 55 years ago when I was deciding that the man I married could be ANYTHING but a farmer!