While I was growing up on a subsistence farm in Greene County, Mississippi, food was something we ate three times a day in order to survive and be healthy, and to provide energy for farm labor. Food was important to our family social life. Barbecues and watermelon cutting come to mind as ceremonies. With a mixture of tales, folklore and parable, the occasional delicacy captured our emotions. Father was chief provider, Mother was cook and dispenser, and we children had growing appetites.
I was perpetually worried as to how my poor father was going to secure our food. Mother baked fresh cornbread, and grits was always on the breakfast table, even on Sunday. I could read on Mother's face a persistent anxiety as she prepared and served what was available to her. The dishes were far from sensuous, but they were edible and nutritious.
Despite periodic hardships in the 1930s, the Hillman family never really went hungry. Gardens were the secret. That was long before the food processors and distributors had become so dominant in our lives, and before most cookbooks were written. We were hopeful there would always be something on the dining table, but there was uncertainty about what it would be. A local joke was: There's always collards, squirrel, catfish, or possum——and grits!!