A TOUCH OF CHICORY

The young woman with the green Ingles apron touched my arm startling me out of my reverie. I didn’t know she was anywhere around…in fact I didn’t know anyone was around. I did know where I was, I wasn’t that far gone. I was standing in the coffee aisle at a local Ingles.

With a huge smile on her face she laughed, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to scare you. You’ve been standing here so long I was wondering if I could help you. You aren’t ill, are you?”

From her nametag, I ascertained her name was April. I wanted to say, “No April, not ill, I’m just an old fart who got lost in his memories and lost track of time. How long have I been standing here?” Instead I simply told the little blond, “April, I’m just trying to make up my mind on whether to buy this Luzianne Coffee with Chicory rather than my normal Folgers Classic Blend.”

Attempting to be helpful, April pointed out, “More people buy Folgers than Luzianne and I’m not sure what chicory is.”

Oh no, an opening for a retired history teacher. E explained, “Chicory is a plant people use for medical purposes and is used as an additive or substitute in coffee. During the Civil War, and again during World War Two, coffee became scarce and people looked for substitutes, chicory was just one.” With April showing signs of nodding off, something a retired history teacher should be familiar with, I simply finished with, “It’s real popular in New Orleans.”

She disengaged, still smiling, “Well if I can be of help just let me know.”

My grandparents drank Luzianne Coffee and if my memories haven’t failed me, Luzianne Tea. I had just noticed the brick of Luzianne on the shelf below my normal brick of Folgers and had a flashback to a Luzianne tin filled with bacon grease sitting next to my grandmother’s stove. In my reminiscence, she was preparing a winter meal. I could see my grandfather sitting at the head of the table preparing to dine on “breakfast at supper”; eggs, grits, biscuits and those canned smoked sausages that I really didn’t like as much as breakfast sausage. The casing was too tough and back then I didn’t know what the casings were made from…which made them even less delightful. Sitting off to the side of Paw Paw’s plate was a steaming cup of black Luzianne Coffee. It must have been winter; a summer supper would have involved fresh vegetables and cornbread. The beverage would have been the Luzianne Tea or buttermilk not coffee. As I fell more deeply into my remembrance I wondered why my grandparents chose to drink “New Orleans” style coffee instead of a more traditional brew. I can only suppose…it had to do with trying to survive hard times.

My grandparents began their matrimonial bliss during hard times, the early Twenties, trying to scratch out a living on land far enough removed from the river to not be fertile bottom land. Before their marriage, they had lived hard with their own families while “farming on the lien.” After their marriage, money became even more scarce when the Great Depression hit. Maybe it got scarce. My grandmother allowed things were already so bad they hardly noticed the Great Depression. To survive, they stretched their money, sewing dresses from colorful feed sacks, my grandfather wearing overalls with patches on top of patches, turning gourds into martin houses, stretching the costly orange juice by adding less expensive tea…you get the idea. It was all about stretching. Nothing was ever so worn out it couldn’t be repurposed it seemed. Later their Spartan life would become even more frugal to assist the war effort during World War Two and many of their practices carried over to better times during the rest of their lives.

One of those carry overs were “Victory Burgers.” Nannie didn’t call them “Victory Burgers” but whatever they were, to me they were the best burgers I ever ate. She mixed the meat with crushed soda crackers or oatmeal, added onions and then fried them crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside. Try as I may, I can’t get my attempts at reproducing them right. Might have been the “special spices” I don’t know about, the lard she fried them in…or the love she prepared them with. Could be any or all but I haven’t found the correct combination. Nor have I been able to recreate her biscuits.

What does this have to do with Luzianne Coffee? I can mentally envision them adding chicory to their coffee to stretch it, just like adding soda crackers and onions to their meat, or sewing dresses from feed sacks…and just getting used to it. Later, when the times got better, maybe they quit adding chicory on their own and just started buying it already added in the Luzianne Coffee. Or maybe Luzianne was the only coffee stocked at Pettus’ Store just down the road from their house. I think I like my first thought better.

April was happy to check me out when I finally made my choice of coffee. She was probably relieved to know I wasn’t a serial killer stalking the coffee aisle. I am enjoying my first cup of freshly brewed Luzianne Coffee. It’s good. Richer than regular coffee…which is the way I view my life. Richer due to the memories of people who now live in my head. My own touch of chicory.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

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