As we were shelling some cracked pecans last night, I was thinking about all the things that require shelling. If you grew up on a farm, many things used or consumed at home required shelling first. That shelling often meant family togetherness. As I was picking out pecan pieces that were already cracked I was first of all thankful that they were cracked. Although we had pecan trees, Shelling them was not a family activity because I suppose if we had an abundance, they were sold. So my pecan shelling was done on an as needed basis, enough to make a cake that used pecans, especially a fruit cake. Then I would go outside, get the hammer and a brick and crack them on the brick. Or I might crack them on the hearth if the weather was very cold and throw the hulls into the fire.
As we were shelling out our pecans, I was reminded of peanut shelling. Since we weren’t Peanut Farmers and only grew enough for the green market, we saved the seeds and shelled them out by hand when they were dry. So in the winter when the ones we had picked off by hand had sufficiently dried, we’d all gather around the fire in the living room, shell peanuts throwing the hulls in the fire, and catch up on community happenings. Sometimes Mama would take a few cupfulls and try to make peanut candy, but without corn syrup, it was usually a failure. We ate it anyway.
Peanut shellings also were used as a social gathering. Neighbors would gather at the home of someone and shell out their seed peanuts. The children would play outside while the grownups sat around the fire and gossiped. Candy drawings often accompanied peanut shellings and it would sometimes be combined with a woodsawing. The woodsawing was often done alone, especially for a widow who had no man to provide her with stove wood or firewood. When I was teaching four and five year olds at church, Mrs Fannie Dell Johnson, long time public school teacher, loved to tell the children about my parents forgetting me and leaving me at their house. While the men were sawing up firewood and the ladies were visiting, I fell asleep. When my parents got home and counted heads, they were missing one. To their credit, they did go back and get me. I never quite got the rules for a candy drawing. Someone would bring a big box of stick candy and I think it was used in a game for pairing up couples at the teenage parties using red and green striped candy, but I think at the woodsawing it probably just provided a little refreshment.
In the summer, shelling field peas was a daily chore for when they were in season, we ate peas every day along with corn, okra and tomatoes. Then there were the jars and jars we canned that had to be shelled for food for the months when nothing was growing. But that didn’t end the pea shelling, though it was done a different way. As we picked and shelled the peas for the table and sorted hampers and hampers of peas to sell, we sorted out those that had waited too long to be picked and had turned yellow. Those were placed in what we called corn sacks (burlap bags) and hung up in the sun to completely dry. Then we shelled them by flailing them with a wooden stick like a broom handle till the peas separated from the hulls.
Then Daddy usually did this step. He poured the dry shelled peas in a wash tub, and holding that tub up high, he poured them into another wash tub. This chore was performed on a windy day and as he held the tub up high and poured into the second tub, the chaff from the pea hulls blew away. Soon this back and forth winnowing left seed peas for another planting. He purchased newer hybrid varieties of peas for planting that didn’t lend themselves to “saving seed,” but old fashioned varieties were used this way.
Another thing that had to be shelled was corn. For the table, it only had to be shucked and the silks removed for sweet corn or cream style had to be scraped off the cob, but mature dry corn was gathered into the crib for storage and then some of it had to be shelled. Some of it was shelled to feed to the chickens. That was a daily chore, so when it rained or was too cold to be outdoors there was always corn to be shelled. We didn’t have a corn sheller so we learned to get the ear started by using a dry cob then we were able to shell the grains into a pan or bucket. Grandpa had a corn sheller so we didn’t mind shelling corn when we were at their house.
When we needed corn meal, we shucked the best corn we could find, white corn or else you’d have yellow meal. Then we’d put it in the wheelbarrow and go down the hill to Grandpa and Grandma’s to use the corn sheller. That would be taken to the grist mill and ground with the miller taking a certain amount of meal (toll) to pay for the milling. We often had enough ground to package and sell by the pound. Weighing 5 pounds of the warm freshly ground meal was often my chore, one which I did not mind doing as I liked the smell.
Whether it was shelling pecans, shelling peas or shelling corn, one thing we did not do a lot of, shelling out money. Growing up on a farm, we learned a lot of “making do” skills. I am glad I have that kind of background.
Knowing that we can survive on a lot less than we have had to so far is comforting, but we are confident that our God “shall supply all our (your) needs.”
This article originally appeared on Washington County News: Happy Corner: Some Things Have To Be Shelled