is something about the month of April that makes even a non-gardener
want to grow something, to see life sprout up from the winter-scorched
earth. The sandy soil of Hatteras Island doesn’t seem to
naturally grow anything but prickly pears and briars, but historically,
people kept gardens and grew much of their own produce.
My grandfather, Ignatious Scarborough, had a large garden. I can
barely remember it – a clearer memory is of the outhouse that
fortunately I never had to use, as well as the cistern used to collect
rainwater for drinking. My mother told me that granddad grew
cabbages and onions and other types of greens. She said the land by his
house had good soil for a garden. Uncle Fair next door had
a chicken coop; I can remember my grandmother plucking feathers to
prepare a chicken for cooking.
Many of the people I have interviewed through the years have passed
away. They shared common traits of longevity and
independence. I’ve had many conversations with them about their
gardens. Most of the people of this generation stayed active
through their 80’s, gardening, cooking, fishing, and hunting.
Oscar Gray grew collard greens and also had a large fig tree. I
can remember seeing “Mr. Oscar” out tending his garden, right across
the street from the sound. Collard greens cooked with salt pork
and cornmeal dumplings are still a favorite here. I cooked some
recently that a friend grew in his Avon garden. The greens were
delicious, as they had gone through a couple of cold snaps, which for
some reason makes collards taste better. Venice Williams once
told me the water that collard greens were cooked in produced what they
called “pot likker” and that it was given to those who were sick
because it was full of vitamins.
There are still a lot of fig trees around Avon. Figs were one of
the staples in Kinnakeet kitchens in the early 1900s. They
were canned and then eaten with biscuits. Biscuits were served at
every meal before sliced bread became available.
Lucy Miller lived to be 99. She once talked to me about her
childhood years spent in Little Kinnakeet village. This village
was next to Little Kinnakeet station, north of Avon. Little Kinnakeet
was abandoned when the lifesaving station was closed down. The
only remainders of that village are some headstones of an old graveyard
as well as the lifesaving station.
“Miss Lucy” recalled helping her dad plant seeds at their home.
When she was a child, she would follow her father as he planted his
seeds and would help by watering each seed from the bucket she carried,
using a ladle. Water was drawn from the family well. She
told me she had the tedious job of carrying buckets of water out to the
garden during dry spells. Young Lucy’s father, John Farrow,
planted sweet potatoes, cucumbers, squash, collards and salad greens.
The seed for his garden was saved from year to year by letting the
plants go to seed, then collecting them once they dried and storing
them in cans or jars. The sandy earth was enriched with soil
collected from the top layer of material under trees, where leaves had
rotted over time to produce a rich compost. The garden was
fertilized with fish scraps and chicken manure.
At that time, canning was not used as a method of preservation, so much
of the produce was not available in the winter. But John Farrow
had a potato house to keep his sweet potatoes in. Seaweed was
used to insulate each layer of sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes
were eaten often and prepared by baking, boiling, and in pies and
Farrow also had fig trees, peach trees and grape vines. He kept
livestock, as did many villagers at that time, and had a
smokehouse. Fish was used as barter to get staples such as
cornmeal, salt and coffee. Years later, when Lucy (Farrow)
married in 1933, she lived in Kinnakeet village. Her husband, Dallas,
had a garden and used many of his father-in-law’s methods. Mrs.
Miller canned vegetables, pork, fish, and turtle for her family.
I have many great memories of childhood summers spent in Avon.
Included in those memories are the times my mother took us to pick wild
blackberries. I’m not sure if they can still be found, but if you
knew where to look when I was a kid, there were plenty of them.
My grandmother made blackberry dumplings covered in hot vanilla
There are still many gardeners on Hatteras Island as well as people who
make fig preserves, now considered a delicacy. I’ve seen cooking
shows featuring collard greens cooked many new ways. But you will
never convince me there is a better way to eat collards than cooked
with salt pork, cornmeal dumplings, and potatoes.