Recipes and Memories

Polly Colbert

Lucinda Davis, a person enslaved by the Creeks and a resident of former Indian Territory, was interviewed and photographed by the Federal Writers Project in the late 1930s.

Polly Colbert was 83 when the Federal Writers Project interviewed her. Her story and dozens of others have been compiled in several volumes of “Born in Slavery” (1936-1939) that can be found in the Library of Congress.

While the Federal Writer’s Project was initially created to provide paid employment to teachers and journalists during the Great Depression, the work they compiled has become some of the best cultural documentation of American people and their histories.

Polly was enslaved by Holmes and Betsey Colbert along the Red River in Bryan County, Indian Territory. Her narrative reveals long-forgotten recipes she learned as a girl enslaved to Choctaws and Chickasaws.

Following a few of the recipes; they have been transcribed by me as they’ve been written by the interviewer, who apparently tried to recreate accents in written form. There is on-going debate if transcriptions like this are professional. The entire interview can be read on the Library of Congress – https://www.loc.gov/resource/mesn.130/?sp=37

(Please note that the interview includes archaic and harsh words that are now considered unacceptable).

“We cooked all sorts of Indian dishes: Tom-fuller, pashofa, hickory-nut grot, Tom-budha, … corn or corn meal was used in all de Indian dishes. We made hominy out’n de whole grains. Tom-fuller was made from beating corn and tasted sort of like hominy. We would take corn and beat it in a wooden mortar wid a wooden pestle. We would husk it by fanning it and we den put it on to cook in a big pot. While it was cooking we’d pick out a lot of hickory-nuts, tie ’em up in a cloth and beat ’ema little and drop ‘e in and cook for a long time. We called dis dish hickory-nut grot. When we made pashofa we beat de corn and cook for a little while and den we add fresh pork and cook until the meat was done. Tom-budha was green corn and fresh meat cooked together and seasoned wid tongue or pepper-grass.”

The photograph is of Lucinda Davis, who grew up as an enslaved person in the Creek tribe and for most of her life, only spoke Creek. She called hickory-nut grot by its Creek name, sofki: “… you pound up de corn real fine, den pour in de water and dreen it off to git all de little skin from off’n de grain. Den you let de grits soak and bile it and let it stand. Sometime you put in some pounded hickory nut meats.”

While the transcription and interview may not meet standards for today, the information contained therein is incredibly valuable.

Roosevelt schoolin’

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The well-built little school in Roosevelt, built by the Works Progress Administration, had two entrances – one for girls, and one for boys.

In Roosevelt (Kiowa County, OK) sits this disused building that appears to have been erected by the WPA. Since the WPA lent labor to public works, and this place was last used as a pub (now closed), I asked Red River Historian readers on the Facebook page if anyone knew what the building’s original purpose was. Mijo Chard explained that it was the Douglass Seperate School (school designated for African American children), and Mijo even shared some documents with Red River Historian!

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Completed in 1938!

 

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I got a kick out of the signs on the door: “No longer a public bar. Closed. Keep out. Unless you’re a hot stripper.” RRH Reader Judy Hilliard Dean wrote: “After the school closed it was opened as a bar by Rube McGee. It was called Rube’s Night Spit. They kept the curtains on the stage closed because there was always gambling going on.
Don’t ask me how I know- lol.”

 

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Mijo Chard shared a report card from 1947.

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A memo for the cafeteria workers at the Douglass School, date unknown. This was shared by Mijo Chard.

 

Works in progress

Hugo 2

There is nothing nicer than finding that a WPA built stadium is still in use, like the sturdy, stone arena in Hugo, Choctaw County, Oklahoma. And there is nothing more frustrating than finding its WPA plaque obscured by electrical boxes.

The WPA is the Works Progress Administration, an agency founded and funded by the New Deal in 1935. The WPA provided work for thousands of Americans in disparate fields – construction of public buildings, interviewing people about their life histories, staging theater plays, providing child care, recording music, creating public service announcements, publishing state travel guides, developing museums, painting murals on public buildings… the list goes on and on.

It’s strange to say, but of all governmental agencies, the WPA is by far my favorite. Though it was not necessarily intended to be a repository of American culture, it certainly turned out to be the most effective documenter and preserver of what makes the United States so darn American-y.

Hugo

Fair Park

Fair Park (Dallas, TX) sports a mural that is, truly, out of this world – it’s the first depiction of space travel in American mural art. Carlo Ciampaglia painted this in 1936 for the Texas Centennial Exposition.