My husband thinks nothing of having breakfast at 1:30 in the afternoon or dinner at 9:00 at night. This goes against my grain, because I try to hold fast to the routines of my childhood – breakfast immediately upon rising, lunch at noon, dinner around 6:00, and snacks taken at a reasonable midpoint between the meals.
My mother, who grew up with the cow-oriented daily routine of the farm, passed on to me her love of the afternoon coffee break.
As often as we could, we went the farm for the 3:00 – 4:00 coffee hour. For my grandfather and uncles and hired men, this was their time to relax before the late afternoon milking. Although tea was brewed after the noontime dinner, the rest of the day – starting at 5:30 in the morning – was all about coffee, coffee, and more coffee.
In a photo of the farm kitchen from the 1950’s, there are three different coffee pots and a stovetop teakettle. When I was very young, my grandmother Agnes bought her coffee at the A & P on Simpson Court in Wallingford. She ground the beans in a large machine near the store’s front door. The smell was heavenly.
She brewed the coffee on the stove in big double-decker pots. I think they were “drip” pots and not percolators, but if anyone remembers more specifically, please let me know.
We sat around the kitchen table or stood leaning against the sink or the gun cupboard while coffee was poured, lightened with cream, sweetened with sugar, stirred with one of the spoons from the spoon jar, and drunk with cookies, or donuts, or leftover cake.
I wish I could report that the coffee was served in the kind of heavy white mugs one sees at truck stops – to me the ideal container for a warm beverage.
But in my childhood, Melmac was all the rage, and the grown-ups drank out of thick grey-green plastic cups and saucers, sometimes pouring the coffee into the saucer to cool.
Every few weeks, the inside of the cups grew badly stained from the dark coffee, so my grandmother soaked them in Clorox. For days after their cleansing baths, the cups smelled of bleach, and the coffee tasted a bit “off.” At our house, we had the same kind of cups and saucers made in “Boonton, U.S.A,” except ours were yellow and blue. I still have a few of those, and think about the afternoon coffee hours at the farm every time I pick one up.
Over the years tea has replaced coffee for my afternoon breaks, and my grandsons have begun to observe this routine with me. They have cookies and milk, I have tea and cookies, and in this way the customs of the generations before are passed on and cherished.
On Monday: Dressmaking