by Malinda Dunlap Fillingim
One of my favorite past-times is finding old kitchen tools and utensils in thrift stores. A museum of culinary history awaits me each time I hold an old spider pan, French fry cutter, pewter pitcher, or in a recent visit at the Habitat For Humanity Thrift Store in Southport, an old clamp-style apple slicer.
I was admiring the well-used device when an elderly man approached me and told me how his mother had always wanted one.
“We lived up in the Piedmont and had some hard times in the Depression. Mama made do with what we had, but what we had was nothing much except for what we grew. We had apples in the fall so much she’d make pies, dry ‘em out or whatever else she could do to feed us. She said one day she’d get her an apple peeler. Never did though. Never did. She peeled each one by hand.”
He explained how to clamp it down, what parts I needed to get to make it run again, and how it was a good deal for ten dollars. He laughed as he told me all the ways he and his siblings dreamed of getting rich while picking apples on their fertile land, placing them in sacks slung on their backs. “We were poor, but so was everybody else, poor but had enough sense to know life ain’t about the greens in your pocket.”
I told him I too had lived in the Piedmont area, “I never met anybody there who wouldn’t help another person in need, even if they had to do without.” We agreed that Piedmont North Carolina had some of the most hard working and generous people in the state.
He told me his mama gave away a lot of the apples to people around them who were not fortunate enough to have land with apple trees on them and how neighbors repaid her kindness however they could, with bread or eggs, or sometimes an old quilt. “Life was hard, but kindness was plentiful. Hoarding wasn’t even a thought we carried.”
He gave the apple peeler one last look, then thanked me for letting him talk about the old days when his mama was alive and “grew me up to be a good man. You don’t need money to learn how to live a good life. Just someone to show you the way.”
I walked around the thrift store and admired other old kitchen things, like a well used cherry wood rolling pin, and a 1950’s circa flour/sugar canister set. I thought of my grandmother’s pewter items I still use. They bring me good memories of a warm kitchen and a woman who knew how to feed me well in many ways. I thought about her apple trees and the way she used every bit of the apple, drying them out, making apple preserves and fried hand-pies. I remembered the first time she let me cook alone, making fried apple rings in her cast iron skillet, me standing on the Sears Roebuck Wish Book. I felt so grown up and proud when she said they were better than hers.
A kitchen is a good place for memories to be born and reborn.
I bought the apple peeler and ran to the man’s car as he was pulling out of the parking lot.
“Here,” I said, “I thought you’d like to have this.”
He teared up as he took it from me, “Yep,” he said, “I can tell you are from North Carolina and was raised up right. Thank you.”
It was my pleasure.
Fried Apple Rings
Four firm NC apples of your choice ¼ cup of water 1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Wash apples well. Core each apple and remove. (Some folks peel the apples. I don’t.)
Slice apples into ½ inch rings.
Put water and butter into large heavy skillet and melt slowly.
Add apple slices and cook them on medium heat for about ten minutes. Turn once midway.
After ten minutes, sprinkle brown sugar and lemon juice on apples and let them sit covered on low heat for about ten minutes.
Malinda Dunlap Fillingim had the good fortune to move to her step-father’s hometown, Walnut Cove, NC when she was in eighth grade. Curious by nature, Malinda asked Mama Dunlap so many questions about her cooking that she finally gave up some of the old recipes she carried in her head. Malinda is an ESL teacher at Cape Fear Community College and lives in Leland with her husband.
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