I went back home for a visit last night, back to stand in my mother's kitchen. I arrived after dinner, the dishes were done, the drying towel spread over the utility sink in the service porch next to the wringer washer, and the only light was the little light on the stove. A pot of cornmeal mush was bubbling on the burner and I was so happy because that meant Mother would be frying slabs of mush for breakfast in the morning. The mush had to chill in a loaf pan overnight, so she only ever made it after dinner.
My trip back in time was initiated because I took a package of leftover polenta from the freezer for my own dinner last night and decided to fry it up. It's been ages since I've had fried mush (polenta is a fancy word for mush). Daddy preferred his crispy slices with Karo syrup, but I liked it, and still like it, plain with salt and butter.
Standing in the dim light of memory, I looked around my mother's kitchen and was amazed at what she didn't have. No garbage disposal, no dishwasher; people did those chores. I hated going out to the garbage can by the road at night. No electric mixer, not even a whisk. We had a rotary beater. Try making meringue or divinity or the then-popular boiled icing with one of those! We'd take turns with the little crank handle ("Faster! Faster!") until our arms fell off. Cake recipes included instructions to "beat three hundred strokes" with a wooden spoon. There was an electric toaster, but it had to be watched because it didn't pop up on its own. We became adept at scraping off the burned bits. The coffee pot was the perk variety that sat on the stove; you knew it had boiled enough by the smell. Some women made good coffee, some didn't. No electric skillets, no nonstick pans. We had cast-iron skillets only, and everything stuck in our pans. No Cuisinarts or blenders. We chopped, sliced, and diced by hand. If we wanted crushed ice, we took one of the two ice-cube trays from the tiny freezer, ran it under hot water until the cubes fell out, put them in a bag and hit it with a hammer. Mother never owned a microwave oven, and wouldn't have trusted it if she had.
Returning to the here-and-now, I enjoyed every bite of fried mush, as well as my trip back home.