No running water, no inside plumbing, no way to run to the store for bread, meat, or butter.
The name of the game was survival.

In our current world, it’s hard to conceive of what it’s like to feed a lot of mouths when you have empty pockets and no promise of help. In 1934, welfare was non-existent, but my long-ago farmer relatives would have died before taking government handouts anyway. Without education, opportunity, and with no way to move up a corporate ladder or go to college to better one’s self, life was lived by prayer, hope, and the sweat of the brow.

Food meant the difference between living or dying for the farmers and sharecroppers of 1930s Oklahoma. I highlight that struggle and life lived close to the earth in my latest novel, Blackberry Road

No Crops ~ No Life

Coaxing the stubborn ground to give up its stumps and boulders by utilizing a small team of horses, mules, or even one of each was the only way to prepare the dirt for growing crops. After that back-breaking task came the planting, weeding, and harvesting of the fields and gardens. Is it any wonder those men and women became experts at preserving and stretching their bounty?

My grandmother was one of those women. The wife of a sharecropper, she gave birth to eleven children, all at home and all delivered by her own husband. Coming from a family of eleven children herself, she was equipped with the knowledge of keeping a horde of hungry kids alive and fed.

If it grew in the dirt or came off a tree, she knew how to preserve it in a jar.

She cooked on an old wood stove, and mealtime was greatly anticipated three times a day. Everyone gathered at the table with a sense of excitement. Family courtesy dictated each person look around and calculate how many mouths were to be fed at the table. The answer determined the serving size each one could take on his/her plate.

Dividing a bowl of milk gravy or fried “taters” by thirteen, or adding up the buttermilk biscuits in the crockery bowl to see how many each could have, made those kids early mathematicians!

No Animals ~ No Life

The family kept cows for fresh milk and made butter from the cream. Buttermilk was considered a special treat, as well as cottage cheese made by letting milk clabber, hanging it on a clothesline in a bag, and then letting it drip dry until it curdled.

Chickens provided eggs and protein. My granddad raised hogs and butchered them when the weather turned cold. This provided bacon, sausage, headcheese, the boiled backbone for seasoning potatoes, beans, and more. Nothing was wasted. Granddad made real pork skins (cracklings)—not the kind you buy today—from the hides.

My seven uncles added to the survival table by killing rabbits and squirrels with slingshots. Like it or not by our delicate standards of today, that was another way to keep empty bellies from hurting.

Because Granddad grew up in Indian Territory, Oklahoma, he knew about boiling sassafras root in the spring to make a tea that boosted one’s health. He knew the herbs, roots, and weeds that were fine to eat, which ones to use in herbal medicines, and which ones to avoid at all costs.

As the issues are hotly argued in the twenty-first century about genetically engineered foods, depleted soils, chemical preservatives, and mass production of food commodities that barely resemble the original foods of yesterday, the simplicity of those earlier times often pulls at our hearts—a time when soil was rich and yielded the best food for our lives.

Survival Recipes

Fried Okra

Pick a good mess of fresh okra

Wash and rinse

Cut into ¼” slices

Roll in cornmeal, salt, and pepper

Fry in bacon grease until slightly crispy


Pinto Beans and Salt Pork

Dried pinto beans

Large onion, thick sliced or chopped

A two-inch piece of salt pork, cubed

1 Tbls. chili powder

2 cloves garlic, mashed

Salt and ground pepper to taste

Go through beans and pick out rocks and sticks. Rinse and drain. Dump beans in a heavy pan and add water to cover plus 5-6 more inches. Add cubed salt pork, onion, chili powder, garlic, salt, and pepper. Bring water to a boil. Cover pan, but not tight. Stir and add more seasonings as beans cook.


Hot Bean Dumplings

Left-over cooked pinto beans made juicier by adding more water

Red or green peppers to make beans hot, optional

Biscuit dough rolled out thin and cut into one-half-inch by three-inch strips (dumplings)

Bring beans and juice to a rolling boil. Drop biscuit dumplings into pot and heat through. It doesn’t take long. Serve immediately.


Johnny Cakes

2 cups cornmeal

¼ cup flour

½ tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 Tbls. sugar or honey

1-1/2 to 2 cups boiling water

2 Tbls. bacon drippings

Measure and sift dry ingredients in a bowl. Heat water to boiling. Pour water and bacon drippings over dry ingredients. Drop by tablespoons into deep fat and fry. If you prefer to bake the Johnny cakes, shape in your greased palm and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake 30 min. at 450°.

For a page-turning mystery, as well as more downright authentic survival food recipes, pick up your copy of Blackberry Road.


Jodi Lea Stewart is the author of a contemporary trilogy set in the Navajo Nation and two historical adventure-mysteries. More are on the way!

Trouble sneaks in one Oklahoma afternoon in 1934 like an oily twister. A beloved neighbor is murdered, and a single piece of evidence sends the sheriff to arrest a black man Biddy, a sharecropper’s daughter, knows is innocent. Hauntingly terrifying sounds seeping from the woods lead Biddy into even deeper mysteries and despair and finally into the shocking truths of that fateful summer.

“Beyond the humor and entertaining antics of the main character, Biddy Woodson, BLACKBERRY ROAD has depth and meaning as it explores stirring universal themes that we expect in great literature” ~ D.B. Jackson, acclaimed Historical and Western author

BLACKBERRY ROAD is engaging, entertaining, and a book that is sure to linger with you . . . the trip is well worth the time ~ Cyrus Webb, Host of ConversationsLIVE, president of Conversations Radio Network, tv show host, author, and publicist



A beautiful display of culture . . . I thoroughly enjoyed Silki, The Girl of Many Scarves. As a Middle School Spanish teacher, I am always excited to find culturally and linguistically relevant literature for our youth. You will fall in love with the characters, and appreciate how authentically the Navajo language and traditions are conveyed. This trilogy is a must read! ~ Tara Moore

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