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Working hard and eating poor
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Ronda Rich

Glimpses back to childhood always bring forth an odd remembrance of some kind. Sometimes when I go into our kitchen at night, I will think of the kitchen in my childhood home.

At least once a week, we had pinto beans for supper, usually accompanied by potatoes fried in the black iron skillet and a cake of cornbread baked into another iron skillet. I didn’t realize it then but that was a poor supper. That was Mama trying to save money. Even to this day, it’s hard to find a cheaper meal than pinto beans, fried potatoes and cornbread, washed down, of course, with an ice cold glass of buttermilk.

Before bed, I’d go by the kitchen for a glass of milk. There on the counter, in a bowl filled with water, would be pinto beans soaking. For anyone who might not know, beans are very dry and have to absorb water before cooking. Otherwise, they quickly soak up the water in the cooking pot and burn. I tend to like my pinto beans a little harder – Mama cooked hers to pieces – so I don’t soak overnight. Just an hour or two.

Once or twice a week, Daddy came in dusty, greasy, tired and said, “Bonelle, I’ll just have a cake of cornbread and milk.” She’d bake a hot pan for him, tear the cake into pieces, drop in a bowl then pour sweet milk or buttermilk over it.

Lately, I’ve been astounded over food prices. The inflation gives me a loss of appetite. I went grocery shopping for staples one night, the first time in quite a while that I didn’t just run in and pick up a few things. That night I really shopped, filling the buggy.

“Tink, you’re not going to believe this,” I said when I got home. “A-1 sauce cost $5 a bottle!”

He doesn’t know grocery shopping or prices like I do. He buys what he sees and rarely can tell you the price. But I was raised where you studied the prices and then made the best choice. I will say this: Tink does pay more attention now after some Appalachian schooling. He’ll buy something and said, “Look. This size was 14.4 cents an ounce. The smaller size was 18.9 cents.” I appreciate that.

Back to the A1 Sauce. The cost put me into such disbelief that I am still talking about it two months later. I ask people, “Have you priced groceries lately? Like A1 sauce? It’s $5 a bottle!”

If someone is making minimum wage then it takes one hour’s worth of work – after taxes – to buy A1. Duke’s Mayonnaise now hovers near $4 and a loaf of bread is well over $3. This all has me worried. For all of us.

Here on the Rondarosa, we’ve begun cutting back when it comes to food. We eat out far less often and I cook more, with an eye toward economy. I try to get two to three meals out of everything I make, even inventing recipes where I can mix the leftovers in and create something new.

Once a week, we have pinto beans or black-eye peas (cooked with oil rather than costly meat) and corn bread.

Recently, Tink and I put in a hard labor on the Rondarosa. We are still cleaning up after a bad storm that brought a flood, leaving trash and sand behind. Tink, for days, had worked to repair a section of boarded fence that the water took down. I killed thistle and hauled limbs and sticks to the burn pile. As the sun dropped down and closed out the day, we were exhausted.

I came in and made supper: Leftover chicken and rice for Tink and a small cake of cornbread and buttermilk for me.

We saved a lot of money that day, both in labor and food. 

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of Let Me Tell You Something. Visit to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.