It’s a casserole – no it’s just a lot of food piled on one plate. Who cares, it tasted great. That’s what C. H. Brown had to say about the food he ate while working at a Civilian Conservation Camp (CCC) in the early 1940s. After planting trees all day he didn’t care how the food was served: pile the potatoes, green beans, squash, meat and apple pie all into his small camp kit. It was the best food ever!
Three hots and a cot; and all a young man had to do was be willing to work. The CCC was the first of Franklin Roosevelt’s alphabet soup agencies.
The CCC was formed to combat the effects of a national disgrace – America’s lands had been neglected for so many years that a country with over 800 million acres of forests had dwindled to just 100 million. Three generations of water erosion, wind erosion and other poor farming practices had taken its toll on the land; to add to the misery the Great Depression had left 2 million people wandering aimlessly. FDR acted quickly to rescue the teenage tramps of America and the land. He gave the boys of America a chance to work.
Formed to plant trees and fight forest fires the CCC evolved into a “life” training camp for the youth it hired. As Mr. Brown said “I learned to be a man.”
Whether fighting fires or building roads and buildings these boys of the CCC needed food and lots of it and they ate locally. In Michigan workers recall plates of fresh blueberry muffins but here in the South fried chicken was an expected meal –every week. Cookies were staples at some sites: oatmeal, molasses, ginger, and sugar. Energy was needed to plant more than two billion trees, build 13,100 miles of foot trails, restore historic structures, build fire lookout towers and fight forest fires.
It wasn’t just the CCC workers who gained, William Jamerson http://www.billjamerson.com/ has interviewed many CCC alums and tells stories about camp food being bought on Saturday afternoon as the farmers’ markets were about to close. A farmer would receive payment for the vegetables and sometimes as a gift gasoline for his truck as well. When one camp announced it would pay for any deer or other large animal that had been killed by a truck – it was inevitable. One farmer showed up every two or three weeks with his “road kill” (deer and even bear) yet there was no damage to his truck. The animals more likely died from the bullets found in the bodies than any truck crash.
With so much good food being provided changes started occurring in the CCC. Health of the workers improved and it is estimated the average weight gain for CCC workers was 18 pounds.
I started to say that I couldn’t eat as much as they did and gain weight but that’s not true. I could easily gain the weight and more but I’m not doing the work they did so my weight gain would be just another opportunity for my Doctor to discuss my health.
Annually a group of CCC alums meet at Vogel State Park in North Georgia. This year 10 gentlemem arrived. All, at least 90 years old, declined to help with the trail clearing being done that morning. I also declined and I’m a few decades short of 90. We all enjoyed the potluck and conversation in a hall built by the CCC plus we had a chance to tour the CCC museum, a new building which was constructed from the trees planted so many years ago by the CCC.
Unlike their camp days, for the reunion meal the boys didn’t have to mix their squash and meat. There were even separate plates for dessert.
If you know someone who was in the CCC and have stories to tell – please leave a comment below.
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Today I’m taking a day off to guest post for The Ranting Chef http://rantingchef.com/author/rantingchef/
The blog includes one of my favorite recipes for apple tart. Take a look at The Ranting Chef’s site and enjoy the recipe.
The words are the same, chicken salad, but what we visualize when we say them are different images. My chicken salad is chunky chicken with light mayonnaise and chopped grapes, celery, and a sprinkling of nuts. Other people prefer an old-style chicken sandwich with ground chicken mixed with mayonnaise. Who’s right? Of course we both are plus so are the hundreds of variations on this lunchtime staple.
Ancient Chicken Salad Sandwich History
I started my search for the perfect chicken salad in a cookbook from 1930 devoted solely to sandwiches. There are seven chicken salad recipes include: Chicken Hash au gratin, Chicken a la King, Chicken Mushroom, Chicken Salad Finger, Chicken Salad Molded, Chicken Ritz and finally Chicken Sandwich Toasted.
I fudged a bit; the Chicken Ritz isn’t really a salad, its ground white meat of cooked chicken placed in a sauté pan with butter and heated, adding enough raw cream to moisten. After cooking for about five minutes the chicken, now more a paste, is spread on toast, sprinkled with paprika and butter then browned under a broiler. Yum?
Peanut Butter and Pickles…oh my
The author of this 30s cookbook noted that “A sandwich in the hands of a real cook becomes a masterpiece – in the hands of a plodder a fizzle.” Oh dear, I’m pretty sure Mr. Shircliffee would not approve of my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. To confirm that thought I checked the book’s index for peanut butter. PB Sandwich I is peanut butter on a leaf of lettuce between 2 slices of white bread finally garnished on top with a fanned gherkin. PB Sandwich II is chopped fine green olives and sweet gherkins whipped into peanut butter and spread on thin slices of white bread. Call me whatever you want, I’m not even going to try either of those delicacies. I have now firmly closed that book and shoved it to the back of the bookshelf.
My Chicken Salad Journey
But I have wandered – let’s get back to chicken salad. In my youth what I ate was a combination of the two extremes, chunky yet bland. It was pieces of chicken, probably pulled from the leftovers of last night’s dinner, mixed with mayonnaise, yellow mustard, salt and pepper. The years passed and it was the 80s and I was an adult before I ever ate chicken salad with grapes. I was hooked.
Too much typing not enough eating. I’m hungry and I’m heading to Arby’s for lunch – their apple, pecan chicken salad sandwich is back on the menu. If I’m patient I’ll bring the sandwich home and stir in a bit of curry, if not well it’s my sandwich and I’ll enjoy it.
As a taste test on my way to Arby’s I also stopped by a local sandwich shop and bought one of their traditional chicken salad sandwiches. Two different tastes, both were good. What’s your preference – do you like chunky with fruit and nuts or the traditional finely chopped? Let me know your favorite.
Now it’s nap time.
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