Entertainment for Depression Era Teens . . . by one o’the nine

The other day we were in our grocery store, where a large display of candy had been set up. You could buy those one-pound Hershey candy bars for only a dollar each. Hubby and another, older, man kept eyeing the stack of candy bars. He started to walk away, and my precocious hubby spoke up to ask him, “Do you mean you’re not going to buy one of those candy bars for your wife?”

“Oh no,” the man answered, “I’m diabetic so I can’t eat candy.”

“But I can!”  came another another voice, as a feminine hand grabbed a bar from the top. The man’s wife had joined them and had apparently heard the whole exchange. She flashed a wicked grin and the two walked off together. That incident which Hubby thoroughly enjoyed, because he’s always the trouble maker, plus thinking of the recent Halloween celebration led me to fish this particular story out to share. It seemed an appropriate time.


009_9-2The other day I was in K-mart and decided to satisfy my sweet tooth, so I went to the candy counter and was startled to see how much a nickel candy bar cost today. I remember when I was a boy growing up on the farm during the great depression, for a penny you could buy a Baby Ruth candy bar as big as you get today for thirty-five cents.

We only got a candy bar once in a great while, most of the time we made our own. We would get a gallon of cane syrup (we called it SURP); we would boil the syrup until it was ready, then pour it over the peanuts we had already parched, so sometime we would stir the parched peanuts into the hot candied syrup. Then we would let it cool and have the best peanut candy you could get in those days.

We also had what we called “pull candy.” We would cook the syrup for awhile until it was ready, then we would put some hog lard on our hands to keep the candy from sticking to our hands and pull it until it was hard and about the color of a girl’s blond hair. One of the ways young people had to entertain themselves was to give a candy pull party. Everyone in the neighborhood was invited, and a boy and his girlfriend would be partners pulling the candy.

In those days we did not have refrigerators, therefore we did not have ice tea as most people are accustomed to today. We would get a bottle that had contained syrup and fill it back up with water, shake it up good, and have sweetened water. Sometimes there was rock candy in the bottoms and up the sides of the bottle. We’d get it out for an extra treat.

Another thing of the past is the old time peanut shellings. We called it “pender” shellings. When farmers had peanuts to be shelled to use for the spring seed, he would give a pender shelling and invite all the young people to come shell peanuts together.

I only wish our young people could go to one candy pulling–or maybe a chicken bogg–and experience the good clean fun young people had those days.

Postscript: Many of these customs still prevailed as I was growing up about 20 years later, although I only remember candy pulling once, at school. My teacher from Tennessee (almost a yankee but not quite) wanted us to have an old-timey experience around Christmas time. She was the Principal’s wife and she arranged for us to take over the lunchroom cooking facilities after lunch was finished for the day. I remember candy pulling to be a laborious but wonderful learning experience, and the resulting candy tasted a lot like the salt water taffy you still find today in beach side candy stores and carnivals.

Eventually, as money became more available and people were able to buy sugar at the general store again, we switched from making peanut-syrup candy to the more refined version of peanut brittle–made simply with sugar, peanuts and butter–still very popular today. If you happen to visit any member of my family in Florida around this time, you’re very likely to be offered to try some.

The SURP was homemade from sugar cane grown and processed right there on the farm. Parched is what we called roasting, and penders was what we called peanuts then. Southern history first informed us, but Gomer Pyle came along a few years later and introduced the term “goober peas” to the rest of the world.

Peanuts, in fact, were instrumental in the course of entertaining throughout the year. In the late summer when the peanut bushes were pulled from the ground and a party could be assembled to hand pull each and every raw peanut from the bushes, there would invariably be a peanut boiling at some neighbor’s house. A large iron pot filled with water would be set up in a sandy area, a fire assembled around with it and fueled by logs and twigs. Other portions of the yearly peanut yield was divided into spring seedings, or either parched or boiled. Most people I know born north of the Mason-Dixon line (which we called Masonn-DIXIE) express utter disdain over even the idea of boiled peanuts, but they are revered by most southerners. If you haven’t already, or ever get the chance, you should give them a try although you’d probably have to drive all the way south to find raw peanuts these days. You might be surprised how good they are.

Anything left over after the boilings, which were often frozen in batches, that matured into a harder but not thoroughly dried nutmeat, was “parched” in the oven in single layers in big flat biscuit sheets. As for chicken bogg, I have no idea what that was. Either my uncle didn’t remember to include a reference to that in his article, or an editor in the cutting room had to trim the article down to fit the space reserved for the Looking Back column. Either way, it’s too bad. I really would like to know what a chicken bog is myself. Anybody out there know?