As we move into February, even with more cold weather in the forecast, many folks in rural Texas start looking at seed catalogs, bulb catalogs, and garden supply advertisements. Having been reared by parents who loved and poured over seed catalogs, I still feel a twinge of nostalgia every time I see a seed catalog or a Farmers’ Almanac.
Old timers, like my parents, had many superstitions about when to plant, along with strong “only way” opinions. To them, two Presidents’ birthdays were time to plant certain seeds or bulbs, George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s, both in February. These were “must plant” days, and you planted those white (Irish) potatoes on Washington’s birthday even if there was sleet covering the ground. My maternal grandfather had great faith in the Old Farmers’ Almanac telling you what to plant when; next to the Bible, it was his favorite book.
In those days after the Great Depression, nobody had any money, and especially if you lived in small, rural towns like Dime Box. However, the advantage we had over city folks is that even with empty pocket books, we had lots to eat, — we grew the fruit, nuts and vegetables and raised the meat and dairy. One of the fondest memories I have of growing up is having an abundance of delicious food to eat, almost none of it store-bought.
What we ate is what we grew, and by “we,” I mean our extended family which included aunts and uncles, grandparents, and older cousins. For example, my grandparents had wild peach trees which bore much fruit, so that’s where we got our peaches. My parents had fig trees, so the rest of the family would get their figs from us. My family thought that eating pears was tantamount to taking laxatives, so no one bothered to have pear trees. However, our neighbors had pear trees and kept us supplied with what we didn’t want. Blackberries and mustang grapes grew wild in the wooded areas and were plentiful in season. Most aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., had a cow and chickens, so there was always an over-abundance of eggs, milk, cheese, and butter. The unpolluted creeks around Dime Box were teeming with fish, and I don’t remember my parents ever buying fish in my life.
One of my uncles raised sweet potatoes on a couple of acres of sandy land, which the old-timers said was the only kind of soil this root vegetable would grow in. My uncle’s huge yearly harvest of sweet potatoes made our family happy, because we all loved this root vegetable, and we even made “German potato salad” (which is normally made with white potatoes) out of it. We didn’t know in those years that the sweet potato (which belongs to the morning glory family) was healthier than the white potato (which belongs to the nightshade family), we just ate it because it tasted so good!
Although my parents planted their white seed potatoes on George Washington’s birthday, the earliest you can plant sweet potatoes in Texas is April, as they are very sensitive to frost and won’t germinate until the ground has warmth, — no planting sweet potatoes with sleet on the ground! But we left that up to my uncle who grew them.
Some folks then and now referred/refer to “sweet potatoes” as “yams,” but the two are actually not the same. This confusion came about at some point in time when stores started referring to soft sweet potatoes as “yams” and hard sweet potatoes as “sweet potatoes.” In actuality, true “yams” and “sweet potatoes” differ in color, texture, and nutrition, the sweet potato being the more nutritious of the two. If you think you see a sweet potato whose inside is any color other than orange, it’s a yam. I used to think yams were albino sweet potatoes until I saw a purple one! They can be white, cream-colored, purple, brown, or even a yellowish-orange.
The first day of Spring is March 20, 2019, so if February is here, March won’t be far behind; consequently, it’s time to start flipping through seed catalogs, sharpening your garden tools, and keeping an eye out for baskets of white seed potatoes in the country stores.
Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, has recently published a book, It Must Be the Noodles, on sale at amazon.com