Sunday, May 1, 2011

Uncle Frederic Remembers

"When I was a boy, there were no electric lights and hence no electric appliances, no radio, and no one had ever yet dreamed of television. The streets of the villages and cities were mostly dirt, and gas or oil heating for the home was as yet a thing of the future. Horses, buggies, and various types of farm wagons were the major means of transportation, and horsepower and manpower were the major sources of energy on the farm."

Frederic 1912
These are the words of Grandma Minnie's younger brother Frederic, born in 1905, the year the family left the Lock Grocery along the Erie Canal and moved into town. Frederic's words were recorded in 1976, "our bicentennial year"; our family is fortunate to have a copy of this tape, which I have begun to transcribe. In young adulthood, Frederic attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where he was trained as a teacher. He later became an elementary school principal in Springville in the western part of New York State, where he served for many years until his retirement.

But Frederic always had vivid memories of his early childhood in Fort Plain in the early years of the 20th century. He continues:

"Fort Plain was a canal town, one of the myriad villages which sprang up along Clinton's Ditch, and in my early childhood the canal was very active with traffic in both directions. On the north side of the canal, the New York Central Railroad, a four-track line was the equivalent of today's super highway, with two rail lines for westbound traffic and two for east. And on the south shore of the [Mohawk] River was the West Shore Railroad, with one rail line with traffic moving in each direction. With all this traffic, much of the bulky material was still moved by canal boats.

"Where the canal came through Fort Plain, it was about 12 feet deep, and the sides of it were lined for several miles with cut limestone, which probably came from a quarry in the Palatine Bridge-Canajoharie area. The main street of the town was not Main Street at all. Canal Street was the main street, and it paralleled the west side of the canal. It was lined with stores with entrances both facing the street, and even larger entrances facing the canal.

Frederic with his first car, 1926
"The street was not paved when I was very young, and crosswalks were made of brick and arched, so that the rain ran off them after it fell and collected in the mud on either side."

Frederic goes on to describe the blacksmith's shop on Canal Street, where both children and adults liked to pause and look in at the open door as they went by. They liked to hear the sound of his bellows and "to watch the sparks fly that flew like chaff from the the threshing floor. "

Perhaps after watching the blacksmith forge a horseshoe or two, Frederic made his way home to a family meal prepared by his sister (Minnie was about 15 years older than Frederic), or his mother, my great-grandmother "Grandma Nan." Here is Minnie's recipe for a plain and simple old favorite, meatloaf, which she apparently got from another early Mohawk Valley family, the Vroomans:

Minnie's meatloaf recipe

Like many of Minnie's recipes, this one is rather minimal, with a simple list of ingredients and no instructions. Again, an experienced cook would know what to do in order to prepare the meat mixture.

Meatloaf ingredients

Because the recipe is rather plain and somewhat bland, I usually add 1/2 cup chopped green pepper, 1 teaspoon soy or teriyaki sauce, whichever I have on hand, and I often spread a small can of tomato paste over the top of the meat mixture before popping it in the oven.

If you want to get fancy, you could use a mixture of ketchup, brown sugar, and mustard for the topping rather than plain tomato paste.

I was able to bake this in my warning oven, since my larger oven is still door-less. But   --  news flash: I shopped for a brand new oven today, which will be delivered on Friday, so I can branch out to bigger and better baking experiments next week.

In the meantime, I'll be content to bake my tasty meatloaf in a narrow loaf pan in my warming oven:

Meatloaf: ready for oven

Bake at 375 degrees F. for one hour. If you use a glass loaf plan, you should bake it at a lower temperature for a longer time. Here's a piece for you. Enjoy it with classic mashed potatoes and green beans:

Meatloaf: ready to eat!

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