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Food
How sweet it was in that one-room school

Sunday, September 08, 2002

By Suzanne Martinson, Post-Gazette Food Editor

It's fall, but I don't have my plaid dress and sturdy "school shoes. " The dress and shoes were for the first day of Baker School, a one-room red brick school 3/4 of a mile from our farm -- and one of the last country schools in Michigan. Our teacher arrived each morning in her Hudson Hornet with enough time to shovel coal into the furnace. With 12 miles to drive, she never called off because of snow. We hated that Hudson Hornet, a snowplow in disguise.

Schools hours were more civilized then. One teacher for 20 or so students K-8, and we all started at 9 a.m. The kindergartners went home at 11:30 a.m, first- through third-graders at 2:30 p.m. and the rest at 4 p.m. -- in time for evening chores.

Our teacher was Evelyn Schultz, and I had her for seven years, until eighth grade. She taught me to diagram sentences, a skill I dredged up recently when my husband, Ace, was teaching editing at Point Park College. When we discussed a point of grammar, I grabbed pencil and paper and started diagramming.

Thanks to Mrs. Schultz, I still remember that a gerund (a verb acting as a noun) requires a possessive, though I'm a little foggy on participles. A one-room school without running water is not a good place for a science lab, but it didn't matter because we studied agriculture. "A weed is a plant out of place," something one remembered when hoeing beans and spotting an errant corn stalk. Does that apply to flowers?

Our library consisted of six bookshelves 12 feet long in the back of the room. While Mrs. Schultz listened to the kindergartners read or did multiplication flash cards with the third- and fourth-graders, we were free to read a book. It didn't take long to go through the fiction, but there was always the red-covered World Book Encyclopedia. Mostly I focused on H (horses), C (cattle) or I (ice cream). I had planned to start at A and work my way through Z, but Mrs. Schultz kept interrupting me for geography, government and history (that catch-all morass, "social studies," hadn't been invented yet).

Geography and economics often intersected, and I can remember making a map of the United States and pasting on a picture or product representing each state's most important industry. No doubt it was autos for my home state of Michigan, and Pennsylvania was probably steel, but did Louisiana get the sugar cube, the rice grains or cotton ball? Did Washington state or New York get the apple?

The three-county area where we lived produced 97 percent of the world's navy beans, so I probably thought we should paste on some of those (we had bushels, though we were forbidden to bring beans to school because bullies would stick them in the little kids' ears, where they would swell and necessitate a trip to the doctor. There were no HMOs, of course).

Our lunchboxes were stored in a cabinet by the boys' entryway. (The girls and boys entered through separate doors with their own cloakrooms. Even then, kids didn't know what a cloak was.)

My lunchpail had neither E.T. nor Roy Rogers. It was basic black, and the top half had a Thermos for my raw milk. Usually I had a bologna sandwich with mustard on balloon bread, which my mother cut into triangles and wrapped in waxed paper with an air-tight fold. Sometimes there were homemade bread-and-butter pickles or an apple. Always, there was dessert.

When I turned 10, I learned to make my own cookies, and this recipe is the only one I've ever committed to memory. I write it as it races through my mind.

Sometimes the apple came home in my lunchbox, but never the cookies.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Lunchbox Cookies

Preheat oven to 370 degrees. In large mixing bowl, cream:

1 cup soft butter (our milkman took our cows' milk and left cartons of butter, each divided into two rectangular 1/2-pound blocks -- no fancy quarters with the measurements marked for us) and 3/4 cup brown sugar and 3/4 cup white sugar (to measure, pack the brown sugar into a 2-cup glass measuring cup until it reaches 3/4 cup mark, then fill to 1 1/2 cup with white sugar).

Beat with electric Mixmaster until light and creamy.

Add 2 eggs, one at a time, and beat well. Mix 1 teaspoon baking soda with 1 teaspoon warm water. Add to mixture, along with 1 teaspoon Watkins vanilla; add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 cups flour (spoon into a glass measuring cup -- I don't think I ever saw measuring cups for dry ingredients until high school home ec); beat well. Mix in 1 cup broken walnuts.

Mix 1 large bag chocolate chips (real chocolate) with 2 cups oatmeal (not quick), then stir into batter.

Try not to eat all the dough before you bake them. Drop by teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. (If you have a jelly roll pan with sides, rather than a flat cookie sheet, flip the pan and bake on the bottom.)

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes until brown. (The oatmeal makes them puffy, not flat.) Wash down with a glass of Guernsey Gold milk and hide some for tomorrow's school lunch.

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