History Of Agriculture in the Greenbrier Valley

Agriculture in the Greenbrier Valley as cited by Farm2U.doc:

Greenbrier County was formed in 1778 from parts of Botetourt and Montgomery (Virginia) counties. It is one of the oldest-settled areas in present-day West Virginia aside from the eastern panhandle. The first permanent white settlements date to about 1750. The early settlers–and later residents–were attracted by the region’s lush farmlands and natural mineral springs.

From the earliest days, cattle raising was a major commercial enterprise due to the limestone soils and bluegrass (Rice, 1986, p. 126). In the 1820s, author Anne Royall wrote that the region produced large quantities of wheat, rye, oats, flax, and “the best Irish potatoes.” In a less flattering tone, she also wrote that the people of this section of the state “were remote from commerce and civilized life, confined to their everlasting hills of freezing cold, all pursuing the same employments, which consist in farming, raising cattle, making whiskey, (and drinking it), hunting, and digging sang, as they say” (as quoted in Rice, 1986, p. 154).

By 1850, Greenbrier was third amongst present-day West Virginia’s counties in agricultural production, trailing only Hampshire and Hardy counties, and fourth in the total value of agricultural products, trailing Jefferson, Berkeley, and Hampshire counties (Rice, 1986, pp. 128-29). As further example of Greenbrier’s corn and wheat production, the county had at least 70 grist mills before the Civil War (p. 131). Much of this pre-Civil War productivity was due to the slaves who worked on the more sprawling farms of Greenbrier County. In 1860, on the eve of the war, Greenbrier County had more than 1,500 slaves, the fourth-highest total of any county that would become part of West Virginia.

During the Civil War, Greenbrier County was the scene of a number of minor battles and more extensive skirmishes. Passing troops virtually wiped out the region’s agriculture as an 1870 article in the Greenbrier Independent noted,

The exhaustion of the necessaries of life, and especially of all and every kind of livestock, deprived the whole stock growing community of the essential basis of subsequent early recuperation. . . . So destitute was the country of brood mares, cows, sows and ewes, that a restoration to the great success of stock growing seemed to present an impossibility (as quoted in Rice, 1986, pp. 378-79).

Despite this setback, agriculture began developing quickly again after the war. The arrival of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in 1869 connected Greenbrier County first with eastern markets and, four years later, when the railroad was completed to Huntington, with western markets. This provided a significant boost to commercial agriculture in the region. In 1870, Greenbrier County was fourth among all West Virginia counties in animals slaughtered or sold for slaughter and seventh in total amount of butter (Rice, 1986, p. 380). By 1898, 80 percent of all Greenbrier Countians were still engaged in farming. Even by the mid-20th century, agriculture was still the leading industry, with 42 percent of the land dedicated to farming. Today, Greenbrier ranks third out of West Virginia’s 55 counties in the total value of agricultural products sold and leads the state in the sale of cattle and calves (2007 Agricultural Census).

The importance of farming has produced a long history of agricultural societies and fairs to promote education about agriculture and to market products. A fair in the Lewisburg area that dates to 1854 was declared the official State Fair of West Virginia by the legislature in 1941. The annual event is held just outside Lewisburg at Fairlea.

One of the most unique sites in in West Virginia–and in the nation–is The Greenbrier resort at White Sulphur Springs. Like many of the mineral springs in the county, White Sulphur developed into an early tourist destination in the late 1700s. The Greenbrier resort at White Sulphur Springs is the last one remaining. In addition to the waters, it is known worldwide for its cuisine and culinary school. Its most famous chef was Ettore “Hector” Boiardi, an Italian immigrant who worked at The Greenbrier in the 1910s and catered the reception for President Woodrow Wilson’s second wedding. Boiardi eventually moved to Cleveland, where he opened his own restaurant and launched the Chef Boyardee brand of canned pastas. The Greenbrier continues to play an important role in the food heritage of West Virginia. The Greenbrier Culinary Arts Center teaches chefs The Greenbrier’s distinct brand of cooking, and annually, the resort hosts the Farm2U’s Cast Iron Cook-Off, which pits the tops chefs in the state against one another in a competition.

Another attraction in Greenbrier County for foodies is the town of Lewisburg, a charming historic town that offers unique places for food and drinks.

Food References about Greenbrier County in Books

Cole, J. R. History of Greenbrier County. Lewisburg, WV: Author, 1917; reprinted by Elkview, WV: West Virginia Genealogical Society, 1995.

This history of Greenbrier County includes the following references:

  • In a description of pioneer wedding celebrations:
  • “The feast consisted of a plentiful supply of meat (often bear meat) and vegetables. Coffee and sugar, except maple sugar, were almost unknown, but one thing was never lacking, a plentiful supply of apple brandy, of which all partook in moderation, a drunkard being rarely met with” (p. 49).

Crayton, Mark. Life in the Irish Corner District during the Civil War (Greenbrier County, W.Va.). Unpublished manuscript was copied and indexed by the John Young Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in 1959 and deposited at the West Virginia State Archives.

This series of articles was written by Newton B. McDowell, writing about himself in the third person using the pen name Mark Crayon, in 1926 and published in Ronceverte’s The Greenbrier News. It includes various memories of the Irish Corner section of Greenbrier County during and after the Civil War, including the following:

  • Description of food during the Civil War:
  • “Mark never felt the pangs of hunger. His father was a good corn raiser and his mother knew hot to manage the cows, consequently he always had cornbread, butter and buttermilk, and there is no kind of food that he enjoys better. He still eats corn bread twice a day when he can get it. The corn bread was better then that it is now. It was ground on the old mill stones, slowly, about two or three bushels an hour, and coarser than they grind it now. The bran was sifted out of it, and it was baked in bakers and ovens. Cooking stoves and ranges were not in use at that time. . . . Mark’s father raised hogs and sheep, and would have had meal the year around if he had not fed so many soldiers. Pickets were stationed around every winter and they would forage. There was never a soldier left his house hungry” (pp. 2-3).
  • “There wasn’t any coffee and very little sugar, consequently the people had to depend upon sorghum molasses and maple sugar. Sugar-making time was a hard time on boys. The sugar water was carried in buckets, which was quite a job in the large sugar camps. It was evaporated in the big iron kettles. Sometimes they would boil all day and part of the night. When the sweet water was taken home it was stirred off into sugar on into maple syrup” (p. 6).
  • Story of a man falling into a cistern while threshing (p. 14)
  • Regarding liquor:
  • “There was plenty of whiskey and brandy after the war. There were several distilleries in operation and they would distill apples and peaches on the shares, half and half. They would distill rye the same way. The whiskey and the brandy were pure. Of course, they would stimulate and intoxicate, but wouldn’t kill anybody and you would seldom see a drunk man. Mark’s mother was an obstetrician and always kept whiskey in the house. When he would come in wet and cold, she would say, ‘Mark, don’t you want a toddy?’ and she knew how to make it. While he never became habituated to the use of it, yet he never thought himself too good to take a dram. It is hard to make a fellow believe that his mother would do what wasn’t right. He looks with contempt upon the colored, spoiled water that is peddled around now. He never imbibes ‘Coco-cola’ [sic] He might be induced to drink a glass of unfermented grape juice, but the so called drinks, never.
  • “A while after the war there was a revenue tax of ninety cents per gallon on whiskey, and a distiller was required to give bond and security. Some of them ignored the law and got into trouble, and had to pay a fine or go to jail.
  • “A. R. Humphreys owned a distillerery [sic] on Second Creek and made brandy for his own use. He used it all the time, but was never known to be drunk. He represented his district in the state senate in the days of reconstruction and made it a fairly good representative, although his education was somewhat limited” (p. 16).
  • Relates a racist story about Humphreys and an African American man driving hogs (pp. 16-17)
  • Damages to corn caused by raccoons and squirrels (p. 17)
  • Regarding his brother’s rheumatism:
  • “[Dr. Burwell's] remedy was garlic and rye whiskey. He would cut the garlic up fine and put it in a bottle and fill the bottle with whiskey and give two or three tablespoonsful at short intervals. It may not have done any good, but it surely did not do any harm” (p. 19).
  • Note about depending on ponds for water supply (p. 28)
  • Regarding farming:
  • “There was a good deal of threshing done at that time with flails. Farmers threshed all their buckwheat, timothy, and rye with flails. Two good hands could hammer off as much as fifteen bushels of grain in a day. Mr. White had a large threshing floor in the barn. There was a driveway through it and two large doors that opened out, and a small door in one in one [sic] of the large ones. There was a board nailed across the small door to keep the cattle from crowding in” (pp. 28-29).
  • Story about a boy plowing (p. 33)
  • About farming:
  • “There wasn’t very much wheat raised in this country for several years after the war and they wouldn’t be now if people farmed like they did then. Most of the farmers would so it on corn stubble and plow it in with shovel plows, and let it go at that. Commercial fertilizers had never been thought of. The more progressive farmers would plow their ground with a double-shovel plow and harrow the seed in, and where it was covered with manure it would make fairly good wheat. It was cut with cradles. There were no reapers in use at that time. A good cradler was supposed to cut one hundred dozens of wheat a day, and would be paid one dollar for about twelve hours’ work. It took a good cradler to cut that much. Mark cut eighty dozens and helped to shock it one day, and he was tired when his days’ work was done. He tried on another occasion to cut, rake and bind fifty dozen in a day, but he only got up forty-four”
  • “It must have been ten of fifteen years after the war before the drop reaper was used here. It cut the wheat but didn’t bind it. It took four men to bind and keep the sheaves out of the way. Some time later we had the binder. Threshing was done with the old chaff piler. It consisted of a box, with a cylinder full of spikes which revolved through a concave filled with spikes. It threshed all right, but it took quite a number of hands to separate the straw from the wheat and the wheat from the chaff. G. W. Curry was the first man to introduce the wheat separator. It was an advantage over the old chaff piler.
  • “The wheat was ground on the burr mills run by water power. For a bushel of wheat that would weigh sixty pounds the farmer would get forty pounds of flour and about thirteen pounds of bran and shorts. It seemed that they made the best flour at Nickel”s ‘upper mill,’ as it was called. It belongs to Homer Rodgers now, and it still makes good flour. . . .
  • “The corn crops were fairly good. Corn was planted by hand without any commercial fertilizer, except land plaster. The seed was rolled in plaster, and the corn was primed with plaster when it was about knee-high. Some farmers mixed up a compost of ashes, hen manure, salt petre, dirt, or whatever they could get and dropped in the hill.
  • “There wasn’t any improved fruit of any consequences, except from ingrafts. Those old field apples made fairly good apple butter when sweetened with sorghum molasses. They made good brandy and the brandy made good egg nog. Brandy or whiskey, either will cook eggs, if eggs are beaten, and mixed with it. It is really the best way to cook eggs. Mark is very fond of eggs when served in that way. His mother knew how to make egg nog.
  • “There were plenty of wild blackberries, dewberries and raspberries. There were some strawberries, but they were sour and small, and it was a job to pick them, and a bigger one to cap them. Berries were free to everybody. It never occurred to people to cultivate the strawberry. All fruits were dried in the sun. No kind was canned, there being nothing to can them in” (pp. 52-54).
  • Notes about several farms (pp. 62-66, 99, 100, 102, 105-06, 107, 109, 110, 115, 116)
  • Notes about a grist mill (p. 64)
  • “[Sam Mann] was interested in horticulture and his farm contains some of the finest fruit trees in the county. Mr. Mann organized an horticultural society and was elected president, but it proved to be a failure. It is hard to get people interested in anything like that” (p. 66).
  • Note about frost killing fruit trees in 1882 or 1883 (p. 75)
  • “Mr. Lowance is a hustler. He runs a threshing machine in season. He had a fine sugar orchard and was well prepared to make maple sugar. The power people cut down part of his sugar orchard. They cut down sugar trees on Mark’s land that the state couldn’t bear. Mr. Lowance told Mark that he wouldn’t have taken fifty dollars a tree if they had been on his land. Warning: never sign a right-of-way for a corporation to go through your land until the damages are paid in advance” (p. 101).
  • Regarding Prohibition:
  • “[Mark's] father would take a dram, but was never known to be intoxicated. Mark doesn’t think that this [sic] father and mother would be prohibitionists if they were living. Mark considers prohibition one of the greatest jokes he ever heard of. Prohibition has been a [blank] because it is wrong in principle. It is human natute [sic] to want to indulge in something that is forbidden or prohibited. In the language of Dr. James Empringham, Episcopal clergyman, ‘Adam and Ever [sic] never would have noticed that apple tree if it hadn’t been prohibited.
  • “Prohibition has diverted into the pockets of criminals the tax which formerly lifted the burdens from honest men’s backs. Instead of pure, unadulterated beer and wine they have given us poisoned moonshine manufactured by criminals.
  • “Whiskey saved Mark’s life once and it is hard for a fellow to turn against his life preserver. He was accidentally struck in the head by a piece of timber while working on the big saw mill in Ronceverte. It was a hot day in July. After he went home he took a chill. They covered him with blankets, but still he chilled. His pulse went down to forty. His wife asked him if he wanted quinine. He told her that he needed whiskey. He took it at intervals until about twelve o’clock in the night, when reaction took place. He went to his physician the next morning and asked him why he had those chills and why his pulse dropped down so low? He told him that he had seen cases of concussions of the brain with less shocks than he had received and that the timely use of whiskey was all that saved his life.
  • “Mark’s wife thinks that whiskey saved her life. She had pneumonia and it settled on one of her lungs and her physician put her on whiskey and a compound syrup of hypophoshites. It was six months before her lung cleared off. She used a gallon of whiskey about every ten days of two weeks. Mark ordered the whiskey be [sic] the gallon from Staunton, Va. She gave up to die once and told Mark that she wanted him to marry again and keep the children together. There was a girl who taught school and boarded with the family that she thought a great deal of. She told Mark that she wanted him to marry that girl if she would have him. Mark, with all the earnestness that he could command told her that he had been thinking about one down on the Avenue. ‘You have been thinking about it, have you? Well I am not going to die.’ She seemed to improve after she decided not to die. Her physician told Mark that her firm determination to live had more to do with her recovery than the treatment. She has out lived the girl that she picked out for Mark’s second wife” (pp. 113-14).

Dayton, Ruth Woods. Greenbrier Pioneers and Their Homes. Charleston, WV: West Virginia Publishing, 1942; reprinted by Charleston, WV: West Virginia Historical Education Foundation, 1994.

This history of Greenbrier County includes description of the oldest houses–in some cases with details of the accompanying farms–and the following references:

  • Taverns on the James River and Kanawha Turnpike (pp. 78-103)
  • Mineral springs and their resorts (pp. 108-118)

Greenbrier County Bicentennial Committee. Greenbrier County Bicentennial: 1778-1978. N.p.: Author, 1978.

This brief history of Greenbrier County includes the following references:

  • Greenbrier Agricultural Society Fair, West Virginia State Fair, and other agricultural fairs (pp. 13, 14-15)
  • History of agriculture (p. 26)
  • 4-H (p. 29)
  • Pure-bred Shorthorn cattle (p. 41)

Heffner, Larry, ed. Greenbrier Agricultural Society. Unpublished manuscript donated to the Greenbrier Historical Society, 2004.

This booklet includes transcriptions of the minutes of the Greenbrier Agricultural Society from March 28, 1853, through September 1, 1860. A copy is available at the West Virginia State Archives.

Historical Booklet: Greenbrier County 160th Anniversary: 1778-1938. N.p.: N.p., n.d.

This brief history of Greenbrier County includes the following references:

  • Descriptions of the mineral springs, including their medicinal purposes (pp. 12-13, 16)
  • Grist mills (pp. 18, 27)
  • History of cattle in West Virginia and the Greenbrier Valley Fair (pp. 20-21, 34)
  • Dairy business (pp. 22, 35)
  • Greenbrier County Fair (pp. 23, 35)

Lindley, Helen Lewis. For the Wandering Children of This Valley. Lewisburg, WV: Greenbrier Historical Society, 2006.

The author (1905-1987) wrote this history of the county, including her memories, between 1968 and 1970. It includes the following references:

  • “Bread was set, battered, set, kneaded, raised, and baked. Butter was milked, strained, set, skimmed, soured, churned, dressed, maybe packed, and carried back and forth from the cellar. Beans were planted, hoed, gathered, washed, strung, maybe dried or canned, and cooked three hours. . . . The Lewis men did all of the hoeing and milking and some of the gathering. . . . Upon the mountain, men who had sold their sang (ginsang) [sic] now put out their trap lines” (pp. 9-10).
  • Description of farming (p. 11)
  • George Lewis, a farmer and distiller of brandy with a wine cellar (p. 17)
  • Story of the Johnson family during the Civil War:
  • “In the archives you will find an old battered tin biscuit cutter three to four inches across. It’s a Yankee cutter. One day, a horseman rode up to the back door, threw down a sack or [sic] flour, and gave orders that it be made up into biscuits. He would be back for them that evening. The cutter was in the mouth of the sack. Caroline [Johnson] cut biscuits until she gave out, and then Cornelia [Johnson] finished. . . . I do not know just what the family ate during the last year of the war. In the last autumn, Minerva consoled herself that one old sow remained. She was there because the grass had grown so high after all the other stock was taken that it covered her from view” (p. 37).
  • Reference to honey and raising bees (p. 38)
  • Reference to John Johnson’s orchard (later Neff Orchards), the first in the region (p. 38)
  • Reference to a flour mill (p. 41)
  • Reference to a grist mill (p. 47)
  • “On this stove, breakfast could be prepared in an hour. The morning fire would get the stove ready for cooking in the first half-hour. The next half hour would bake the biscuits, fry the bacon and the apples, and poach the eggs. Meantime, the cook had set the table, peeled the apples to fry, been to the cellar for cream, eggs, and butter, sliced the bacon off a side of meat, ground the coffee, and made the biscuits. If you are going to have a breakfast like that, it will take you an hour anyway, and you had just as well use a wood stove. In the winter time in an unheated house, you had jolly well better use a wood stove, and much good company it gets you while you cook. . . .
  • “Dinner from the wood stove came at noon; the night meal was supper. At our place, dinner meant meat–’hot and shaking’ as one of the children observed,–two or three vegetables, apples, honey, jam, hot corn bread, and cold salt-rising bread, with dessert optional. Grandmother’s corn bread was for real. It consisted of meal, salt, soda, and buttermilk. Mamma Rachel . . . might ad a mite of sugar and bacon grease, but that was neither orthodox or necessary. What it lacked in ingredients, it made up in baking time. It was baked in an old, round black pan about eight inches deep and ten across. This went into the oven at nine-thirty and took advantage of the whole morning’s fire. When turned out at noon, upside down for cutting, the crust was red-brown and chewy, the crumb mealy, and the top crust too hard to bite. It was laid aside. The bread is toothsome, and since corn bread is filling in proportion as it is not adulterated with flour, this bread is ultimately filling. For November corn huskers out in the wind, baked sausage with this bread, pot greens, sorghum molasses, and coffee will outlast the afternoon. The only corn bread more reverend than Grandmother’s is corn pone. . . .
  • “Supper in some households was another dinner. In others, summertime supper was arranged by cooking a double portion at noon and eating again such things as were good cold–and many foods are. We Lewises usually made a small fire and fixed an entree to accompany dishes already cooked. In winter, all meals were hot and hearty. In many homes, pie was de rigueur; the pies and cobblers consumed in my old world would have made a ladder to the moon. At home we usually had fruit, fresh, or canned, with good cream. Papa’s idea of good cream was that it was a substance which was kept in a pitcher but which needed a spoon to assist its flow. We should have weighed a ton each, but then we did a lot of moving around.
  • “Beyond the back porch was the meat house; opening off the kitchen was the store room; and descending from the dining room was the cellar. These three spots, when winter came, stored most of the food that the family would need until another harvest.
  • “In the meat house, along with bee equipment and stone jars, one would find hams, shoulders, sides of bacon, some dried livers, and a cow. . . .
  • “In the store room were a barrel of flour, a barrel of sugar, tall jars of meal and whole-wheat flour, coffee beans to be ground, tea, spices, soda, salt. There were also medicines, including flax and mustard seed for poultices and the mortar and pestle for grinding them, and equipment such as strainers, sieves, huge pans and cutting boards, iron boilers, mouse traps, a stirrer for apple butter, and more things than one can either read or believe. After butchering there were pans of souse, sausage, mincemeat and whole-grain hominy. The winter temperature in the store room varied from refrigeration to deep freeze, but barring an unusual ‘soft spell,’ it preserved food until March.
  • “Nobody who buys souse in a grocery store has any idea of how it tastes or how it should be eaten, but as served by Mamma Rachel, it was high cuisine. There was burn-tongue too, and white pudding, and those would kill us sedentary folk in short order.
  • “The store room had a kind of suburb upstairs, close around the kitchen chimney. There sat the honey cans to keep warm–never put honey in the refrigerator–and all the dried things packed in cloth bags which were then fitted into tight cans against moths.
  • “I came along well after Pasteur and his new art of canning, but before the good doctor, everything was either dried or brined. My grandparents had drying-houses in which heat was forced around between slatted racks capable of turning out mountains of dried food during a harvest season. We dried only a little, using the heat of a nice flat tin roof under the summer sun. Dried green beans are ‘leather brithces.’ I never liked them much, but they made a nourishing pot in February. They are simple to do. String the beans, wipe (not wash) them, and lay them upon a clean cloth in the sun. Turn each bean over about noon. Bring them in before sun-set. Do that again the next day, and you should have leather britches.
  • “Dried corn is excellent, and preferred by many to frozen corn. So are dried apples. For all succulent foods, you need a wire or cheese cloth cover to keep off flies. Almost anything can be dried, even apple sauce or tomato paste. They are called apple or tomato leather. Berries and small fruits are split and put out only on the hottest days. Apples and peaches are sliced thin and are less sensitive. If the weather frowns on the process, you may have to finish the work in a very slow oven with the door open. . . .
  • “A cellar is not a basement, it is a cellar. It is for the storage of food. In the summer, it keeps milk, meat, and cooked foods cool in lieu of refrigeration. In the winter, it prevents freezing. . . .
  • “When furnished for the winter, the cellar will contain shelves of canned food along one wall: half-gallon jars of tomatoes, green beans, apples, and black-berries; quarts of corn, greens, soup-mix, the other fruits, pickles, and some processed meat.
  • “Along the opposite wall and the end wall are slatted bins with apples, potatoes, and the remaining vegetables which are not either left in the earth, such as salsify, or buried under leaves in the side yard, such as cabbage.
  • “On the four by ten foot table in the center, sit the year around pans of strained milk waiting for the cream to rise and be skimmed, the five-gallon can into which cream is skimmed to sour for churning, the wooden buttery tray and paddle to keep damp lest they split, and sometimes kegs of packed butter.
  • “After butchering, there will be also cans of lard and crocks of baked sausage. Maybe you will not believe it, but crocks of sausage do keep from year’s end to year’s end. Pack fresh winter sausage into a gallon crock and bake the crock in a slow oven for some four hours, or until the sausage looks brown on top. Push the cake of sausage down with a long handled spoon to see if the fat form the sausage will cover the top of the meat by about an inch. If not, bring some lard to boiling temperature (it won’t boil) and add enough to cover well. Remove the jar from the oven, weight the meat down with whatever is handy and allow to cool. When you remove the weight, run a little more hot lard over the scar where the weight was, and when quite cold, set in the cellar. Next August, cut out slices, brown slightly in a skillet, and eat with hot biscuits. It has a different flavor; enough is plenty, the but the good Wilson household bakes enough sausage that they may eat it for breakfast every morning in the year. Nothing sticks better to a farmer’s ribs.
  • “While we are in the cellar, I had just as well prepare you for making butter in case of war and hard times and the failure of margarine. The first law is scrubbing and scalding. Every vessel for milk or butter must be scrupulously clean, scalded and sunned. Milk from the milking pen–from the barn in the winter time–is put through a strainer to remove chance hairs, gnats, or other distresses. Often the strainer is lined with a soft cloth for double effectiveness. The milk is strained into containers, preferably shallow, and set in the cellar for twenty-four to thirty-six hours. Some has been skimmed for the table in the meantime, and the milk beneath has come up in a glass pitcher for drinking. While it is skimmed milk, it is not entirely white, for the ladle does not get as much cream as a separator. The rest of the cream goes into the big can until it begins to be ‘blinky,’ that is to say until it begins to sour. Then a new can is started and the ripe can is taken upstairs to clabber. Cans of cream must be well stirred twice daily. Seventy four degrees is the prime temperature for churning.
  • “Scald the churn. It has been scalded and sunned after the last washing, but you now swish boiling water around it again, empty it, and set the churn to cool. In a few minutes, put in the cream and churn. How long you churn depends upon the time of year, the state of the cream, and the Lord. Probably you average a half-hour. You peek at intervals to see if the butter has ‘broken.’ That means that you can see tiny flecks of butter in the cream. If the breaking is very long delayed, you may try adding a cup of hot water, or in very hot weather you might try cold water. Shortly after the butter breaks, you cease to churn and begin to gather. That means that you waggle the dasher back and forth or turn it over very slowly. And then, behold, you will have some pounds of butter looking at you.
  • “Now you bring the butter tray and paddle up from the cellar, scald them and cool them with cold water. Lift the butter out with the paddle, pat it together, and cover it with cold water. Wash the butter by cutting through it with the paddle and moving it around in the water. Gather it together again and press it into hollows and ridges by texture. Repeat the washing through about three waters, or until the last water pressed out runs clear. Now the milk is cleared out of the butter, and it will not grow rancid with time unless it is allowed to get too warm. Just a little milk will shortly spoil the flavor, and nothing is worse than bad butter.
  • “Weigh the butter–you already know what the tray weighs–and sprinkle over it a tablespoonful of salt per pound. Work this in thoroughly, allow the butter to stand some hours in the cellar and work it again. Water will ooze out and be drained off. This carries away a good deal of the salt that you added. Form the butter into prints, and take it back to the cellar. Do all this whether you have a refrigerator or not, for the fact is that a good cellar is better for cream and butter than any refrigerator. Cream can be gathered in a refrigerator, but it is more likely to produce the wrong bacteria, the kind that gives suggestion of decay, instead of the kind that makes a sharp clear sour.
  • “If you do all that I tell you and still get the wrong flavor, something ails your cow. I think that the men call it mastitis. The milk from the cow cannot be used until she is cured of the ailment. Often she is put dry, fattened, and sold for beef.
  • “For classic butter and cream, you must find raw milk. Cally Corling–bless her–makes fair butter from pasteurized cream, but it is not classic. And you will not know the flavor of peaches and cream until you try raw cream. . . .
  • “I have been thinking about what we bought. Oatmeal. Not the effeminate rolled oats, but the steel-cut oatmeal for which you now have to go to Scotland. Coffee and sugar, tea, soda and baking powder, crackers and cheese, rice and macaroni, lemons, spices, and an annual keg of salt fish. A cake of yeast if the potato yeast had gotten stale. That was about it. . . .

“On One point I think that our diet fell short–on vitamin C. We ate vats of tomatoes, but oranges were for children at Christmas. Sometimes Grandfather might ride home from Lewisburg with an orange in his overcoat pocket. It was divided among the three children. So we ran short on citric acid and waited for sassafras tea. Folk lore says that sassafras tea is good for the blood; the chemist says that sassafras root is rich in vitamin C.

“Along one side of the garden ran the grape arbor, the asparagus bed and the rhubarb patch. Along the other side, we gathered currents [sic] and gooseberries form bushes brought from Miss Cornelia’s old home near Alderson when Father was a boy. Along the south side, nature provided elderberries.

“Grandfather Lewis was a great apple lover. He had a fine orchard on the hillside below the house until the winter of 1917-18 left only two trees. After that, we used apples from his planting on the Hollow Place until the new orchard came into bearing. On the lower edge of the new orchard, Father had his big blackberry patch. Each year he cut out swaths with a scythe so that children could get in to pick, but even so, it was best to go stumblingly overshod in his high boots. The berries were many, for many years.”

She goes on to describe the farm in more detail and then details the process of milking a cow:

“The milkmen–or maids–took up their buckets and milking stools, said ‘soo’ or ‘suck-cow’ and addressed themselves to the right side of the cows. Few cows will allow themselves to be milked from the left side; that is not done among nice cattle, any more than well-bred horses accept riders from the right.

“Our milking stools had only one leg, on the theory that a one-legged sitter can roll away from a kicking cow a good deal faster than he could arise from a three legged stool. Upon one leg, then, we snuggled up to the cow’s flank, held the three gallon bucket between our knees, and pulled a stream of milk. It looks easy, but it is not. A strong man may get no milk until he has learned the sleight of it, and if he milks much, his hands will grow stronger.

“Learners always began on cows with suckling calves, for the calves had already induced the cows to ‘give down.’ If the calf has been weaned, the milker must expect a meager stream and may perhaps massage the udder a little before the milk flows freely. Then at the end of the milking, he will get small short spurts of milk, but he keeps at it, for this last bit of milk is the richest. The cream comes last. Besides that, a cow that is not milked clean goes dry sooner. In order to turn cows dry when they have been bred, one milks only enough each time to prevent congestion of the udder. . . .

“The farmer’s day began and ended with milking. In the winter, much of the work between consisted of feeding stock and watching new born creatures. In other seasons, to plow, to plant, to cultivate, to harvest to repair–there was much to do, and it must be done in tune with the weather. So milk, eat breakfast, and get up the horses” (pp. 51-55)

She then describes meals:

“The most time encompassing memory is that of the family at meals. Three times a day we gathered, all of us. No one had any ideas about sleeping through breakfast or leaving before supper. It was not forbidden; it just was not envisioned. Father sat at what we called the foot of the table and served the meat. Mother sat at the head of the table and poured coffee, or whatever was being poured. For one period Aunt Janie sat there, flanked by babies, but mostly the children and other comers ranged themselves between Clarence and Rachel. Mother and the children ate and talked. Father ate and listened, smiled, said ‘Hum,’ and poured his fifth glass of water from the pitcher at his elbow. His only objection to dining out was that no one ever gave him enough water. Although–or because–his observations were few, they are remembered. Mother’s sallies were sometimes superb, but Father’s summaries are timeless” (p. 56).

  • Frank Bell Lewis, Sr., describes the following about school:
  • “Most students had their own collapsible aluminum drinking cups, which gave off a characteristic half-metallic odor. A few contrived by folding paper from their tablets to make cups which were satisfactory except that the blue ink for rulings on tablet paper is not indelible. The dipper was sometimes used by those who were less sensitive to hygiene, but our teachers discouraged the practice” (p. 58).
  • “Teacher and pupils alike brought lunch, sometimes stowed in a paper bag in the book sack, more often in a half-gallon bucket with a lid. Most popular with the Karo syrup buckets, since they were of appropriate size and had a tight lid. Occasionally a lard bucket appeared, but this was the symbol of a shiftless family. Thrifty farmers made their own lard. The normal ration was two sandwiches, a piece of cake, and an apple. Pie could be substituted for the cake, but it was less convenient to pack in a syrup bucket. All baking was done at home in those days, and the status symbol lay in the size of the biscuit. A two inch biscuit suggested family sophistication; a four inch biscuit reflected a grave cultural lag or a reversion to the ways of sawmill hands and logging camps. Sliced bread might be the frothy kind that was made with store-bought yeast, or it might have the honest body of home-made salt rising. In any case, one sandwich–which had to be eaten first–contained some substantial item of meat or fowl. The second sandwich was made with butter and jam–one of the many jams, jellies, conserves, or preserves upon which farm wives prided themselves. For some reasons, it was not good to swap sandwiches with other pupils, but cake and pie could be exchanged freely. We drank only water for lunch, except one teacher who provoked some community comment by bringing a thermos bottle and indulging in midday coffee” (pp. 59-60).
  • Description of thrashing, or threshing, day (pp. 63-64)
  • Story about protecting livestock during the Civil War:
  • “I knew that Grandfather Bell tended cattle during The War. Because all livestock was in daily hazard of being driven away to feed soldiers of one side or the other, Uncle Matt bethought him to drive the cattle into the woods on Weaver’s Knob in the daytime, drive them out to pasture at night, and back into the woods with dawn. Grandfather Frank, in his middle teens, was the chief herdsman, aided by someone else morning and evening. He usually stayed out with the cattle for three or four days, bedding down in the pasture at night with the dog. Then he would be relieved for twenty-four hours to sleep a night at home.
  • “One night, the cattle were grazing in the boundary south of the Knob which was the Lewis Stuart place in my childhood. Frank slept in their vicinity, restless, his pistol at the ready, and fighting with a nightmare about a thousand Yankees riding over him. When the man who was to help him that morning came searching for him before dawn, he stumbled over Grandfather’s sleeping form. Wildly seizing his pistol, Frank shot at a thousand Yankees–and killed his friend. . . .
  • “In a lighter vein, the family always said with a straight face that the young Frank once took typhoid fever because he gobbled butter. Now Frank was not a gobbler of foods, but this time he ate to a purpose. Before the war, he was sent to a military prep school in Virginia, name unknown but now extinct. The house mistress was very thrifty about butter–no seconds on butter. So the boys appointed three of their number to eat up all the butter that was placed upon the room-long table. Then the old lady would be obliged to provide butter for the poor souls who had gotten none. The champion butter eater would achieve much status, no doubt, and Frank was the champion. Whenever the butter was left unguarded, Frank ate up the butter.
  • “Anon he came down with typhoid. In a long delirium, he attributed his woe to butter. Then he went to Hell. In a nightmare that seemed endless, he was in Purgatory at best, and all because of butter. ‘I made up my mind right there that I’d best do nothing to tease or annoy anybody any more” (p. 74).
  • Mildred Carter Bess and Helen Lewis Lindley describe the old town pump in Williamsburg (Greenbrier County):
  • “That was before they went to putting water into houses. It came from the town pump at what was the Community House and is the Red Balloon. The pump had a great long iron dipper chained to the side so that people could drink” (p. 85).
  • Description of picking blackberries at Cold Knob:
  • “The more general fame of the Knob had to do with blackberries. Long, luscious and thornless, they grew along the edges of the woods, and in such quantity that pickers found no end to the supply. Each July, right many families went from the levels to the mountain in road wagons loaded with gear and children and camped out for several days. A hundred half-gallon jars taken empty were filled on the spot (usually on an oil stove by my time) and brought home proudly, a whole winter’s eating. Besides, it was a great picnic for all” (p. 88).

Rice, Otis K. A History of Greenbrier County. Lewisburg, WV: Greenbrier Historical Society, 1986.

This comprehensive history of Greenbrier County includes the following references:

  • Mineral springs and their medicinal uses (pp. 8, 147-54)
  • Reference to prehistoric cultures (Buck Garden culture) cultivating corn, beans, and squash (p. 9)
  • Early cattle raising (pp. 126-28):
  • “Its excellent limestone soils and abundant bluegrass also made the Greenbrier region superb cattle country. As in most frontier areas, the original cattle were scrubby and undistinguished. . . . [Matthew] Patton crossed local stock with English cattle . . . in 1785. Known for their milking qualities, great size, and excellence for crossing with native animals, the ‘Patton cattle’ found great favor along the South Branch and in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, to which Patton moved in 1790. . . . Considerable uncertainty exists concerning the English origins of the Patton cattle, which were described as ‘large, somewhat coarse and rough, with very long horns.’ Their beginnings have been attributed to Shorthorn, Devon, Hereford, and other strains” (p. 126).
  • Early sheep raising:
  • “In the 1820s Merino sheep made their appearance in the Northern Panhandle and in the Clarksburg area, and it is possible that some were introduced into the Greenbrier section about that time. Later the Shropshire and Southdown, the latter favored for both its wool and its mutton, were brought in, and Cheviots, Hampshires, Rambouilets, Dorsets, Delaines, and various crossbreeds became somewhat common” (p. 127).
  • Agricultural production in 1850 (pp. 128-29)
  • Greenbrier Agricultural Society (formed in 1853) (pp. 129-30)
  • Grist mills (p. 131)
  • Coffman’s Patent Sausage Cutter, made near Livesay’s Mill (ca. 1846) (pp. 132-33)
  • Notes that Greenbrier farmers supplied the springs and their visitors with “an abundance of beef, mutton, chickens, eggs, butter, and vegetables, as well as venison, bear meat, flour, corn, bacon, and oats” (p. 154).
  • Growth of agriculture from the Civil War through the 20th century (pp. 378-98) includes information about the Grange, an annual agricultural fair, Greenbrier Farmers’ Club, cooperatives, Extension service, and Homemakers Clubs

Yates, Virginia Humphries, ed. and comp. History of Ronceverte, West Virginia. N.p.: N.p., 1982.

This history of the town of Ronceverte includes the following references:

  • A listing of early businesses, including feed and farm supplies, grocers, fruit and produce retailers, millers, stockyards, confectioneries, and restaurants (pp. 57-68)
  • Greenbrier County Cooperative Livestock Shipping, formed during the Great Depression (p. 90)
  • Greenbrier County restaurants voting to fall under National Recovery Act (N.R.A.) code in 1933 (p. 91)
  • West Virginia State Fair (pp. 96-98)

Food References about Greenbrier County in Magazines

Clark, Nancy. “National Awards-Winning Morlunda Farms.” Wonderful West Virginia, September 1981: 22-24.

This article discusses the history of Morlunda Farms near Lewisburg. Much of it focuses on the ownership of Oscar Nelson, founder of United Carbon Company, who purchased it in 1933 and operated it as a working livestock farm with award-winning Hereford cattle.

Cobb, Mary. “200 Candles on Lewisburg’s Birthday Cake.” Wonderful West Virginia, September 1982: 2-5.

This article about the history of Lewisburg notes the continuing importance of agriculture in that region.

Gresham, Perry. “West Virginia’s Historic Greenbrier.” Wonderful West Virginia, September 1981: 4-9.

This article about The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs notes the hotel’s teatime and dining.

Yale, Andy. “Parking the Truck Store: Hale Arbuckle Makes a Change. Goldenseal, Winter 1989: 49-53.

This article profiles a truck-store driver who delivered groceries to rural Greenbrier County for 40 years.

Archival Collections Related to Greenbrier County Food

West Virginia and Regional History Collection (WVRHC), West Virginia University

Title: Belden, Walker & Company. Greenbrier County General Store. Records

Call number: A&M No.: 3092

Creator, Corp name: Belden, Walker & Company. Greenbrier County General Store

Inclusive dates: 1836-1845

From the WVRHC Broadside Collection:

“Notice! Will be sold at the late residence of Thomas Kirkpatrick . . . Greenbrier County, . . . 5th . . . November, 1847, a quantity of corn, oats and wheat, . . . also, . . . will be hired, for one year thereafter, fifteen Negroes . . . Joseph Damron, adm’r of Thos. Kirkpatrick, dec’d. October 22, 1847” (Photostat)

West Virginia State Archives

SC 2005-032 Printed Materials

Results of farmers livestock judging contest, 1924; USDA agricultural conservation program, 1935; Greenbrier Valley fair forms, 1937 and 1941; envelope for Greenbrier Shorthorn Cattle Breeders; members statement Greenbrier Valley Livestock Marketing Association, 1937

Oral Histories Related to Greenbrier County Food

Dr. Robert Conte, interviewed by Stan Bumgardner, December 14, 2011

In this filmed oral history, Dr. Conte discusses the food history of The Greenbrier, including the following: the perceived medicinal value of the mineral springs, the appeal of the resort to Southerners, the Civil War’s impact on The Greenbrier, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s impact, the resort’s water supply, Hector Boiardi (Chef Boy-Ar-Dee), the use of The Greenbrier as a military detention center and recuperative hospital during World War II, Dorothy Draper’s renovations, dining traditions, and the culinary institute.

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