Monday, July 6, 2009

40-WEIGHT TEA

RANDOMONDAY X

I had almost forgotten the little battered top-half-of-a-double-boiler with its little metal elbows for handles, given me by the daughter of a childhood next-door neighbor. It has a tiny washer-arrangement in one spot, inside and out, with a wee smitch of cracked black rubber beneath each. EVERYTHING was re-used, repaired, re-modeled in her lifetime, I suppose, mostly by the traveling folks with the big old panelwagons (descendants of those creaky peddlers' wagons with all sorts of metal utensils swinging clank-in-the-wind on the outside).

The tinkers came through town every year in Spring, and ladies (or their kitchen help) came out to meet them, bearing their broken or dented items, or great sheaves of knives and scissors for the attention of the wizened little gnome manning the spinning sharpening stone. The men would fix or polish or sharpen, climb the tallest trees to trim the branches, or whitewash any building or fence, whilst the women of the group shopped in the little stores on Main Street or stayed out at the "camp" on a kind farmer's place. The children were interesting and were shyly welcomed onto the swingsets and sandboxes in our smalltown park, and later on in life, I remember a quite dashing young man in an embroidered vest. I wonder how many of us town girls dreamt of that gleaming smile and cascade of dark hair.

Our neighbor's little pot had already seen a lifetime of use, exclusively for making good ole 40-weight Mississippi Iced Tea. She would put the big white "kittle" on the burner, toss a good handful of Lipton leaves into the small pan with a mountain of sugar, and then pour on the boiling water.
(Her borrowing of a great quantity of tea from my Mother and paying it back by putting a box into Mother's basket whilst they were in Kroger--that's another story).

The tea "steeped" the required time, was strained into a pitcher of ice and water, thence poured over more ice in big clunky goblets almost too heavy and round for my hands. My Mammaw had the same glasses, the clear ones with flocked grapes like clumps of sand on the sides, but they were for the grown-ups, whilst all us kids enjoyed our tea (unsweetened---I don't know WHERE my family came from, but they'd been in the South for generations by then) in Welch's or Garrett glasses.

And Mrs. P. put LEMON in it. Nowhere in my house was ever a lemon for tea; my Mother shuddered at the thought of any kind of sweetener approaching her tea, thence lemon was deemed unnecessary, save for the odd icebox pie, to take "the fish smell" off your hands and kitchen utensils, and perhaps a hair-rinse now and again.

Mrs. Prine's tea was nectar for whatever minor gods were relegated to that hot, steamy Delta we lived in. It was almost syrupy-sweet, extra-flavorful from the unaccustomed lemon, and just the best thing this side of a cherry Coke at the local drugstore. I would shakily lift my half-full goblet, swig it down, then wipe my lips of all traces, fearful that my clean-fanatic Mother would know that I had been sipping something made by a woman she considered just this side of "trashy in her ways." Not in a moral way, of course---Mother would never have let me past the fence---but in housekeeping and yard-tending.

Mrs. P’s parents lived with them for great stretches of time, those seemingly endless Summers of heat and dust rising, and that lovely tea an oasis in all that too-bright atmosphere. Grandma was diabetic, and always smashed her saccareen tablet between two spoons, adding it and stirring it into the already-toothache-sweet tea. Saccharine was available only at the drugstore, was a tablet like medicine, was FOR diabetics, and thus negated all the sugar content.

And I did love that tea, and so inherited the little pot when Mrs. P. broke up housekeeping to move in with her daughter. The little round silver discs will spin on the wee knob-ended pin which keeps them captive, the memories flood in, and the little pan is never used except for remembering.


3 comments:

Kat said...

It's the simple things in life sometimes that bring our memories rushing back. Great post.

Hugs!
Kat

Alice said...

I loved your story about making the tea, even though we drink our tea in Australia hot, not iced. Did your Grandma add saccharine to the already sugared tea?

racheld said...

Yes, she did---she thought that if that little tablet came from the magical DRUGSTORE, and was for diabetics to use, it must kill off all the sugar's bad effects. She was quite a dearie, a little soft dumpling of a woman, in pale housedresses and little sturdy laced shoes. She was the mother of our neighbor, but we called them Grandma and Grandpa, like the children next door.

Perhaps some really hot, dusty day in the Summer you might try sweetening the tea IN the pot, then pouring the slightly-cooled brew over ice, with a squeeze of lemon. We think there's nothing like it, and cannot imagine a hot day without a pitcher or two. My husband quotes Steel Magnolias often, "It's the House Wine of the South."

I'm glad you dropped in!!

Thanks to you, too, Kat!! I'm glad to see your movin' trucks lined up for transporting us all back to the old Home Place. Nothing like going Home.