Food & Drink

As Hagley staff questioned former Brandywine Valley residents about daily life, the interviewees delved into details concerning food and drink.

Some remembered the taste of the biscuits their mothers made for breakfast and the exact number of loaves of bread their mothers baked each week. Others described taking their fathers' lunch pails to them at work or stopping by the ice cream parlor during a trip into Wilmington. Many spoke of the delivery wagons that brought ice, coal, groceries, and beer to neighborhood households. Still others spoke of the role saloons played in the cultural life of the workers' villages.

The clips below offer insight into foodways along Brandywine Creek.

Ella Fitzharris and the ice wagon

Ella Fitzharris, born 1911, grew up Ice delivery sleigh, circa 1900-1920in Walker's Banks, where her father was a powderman who later worked at the DuPont Experimental Station.

In this clip, Fitzharris mentions her mother's cherry pies and her father's homemade ice cream before describing the Diamond Ice and Coal Company wagon making deliveries and the chore of emptying the icebox drip pan.

Fitzharris: We had a cherry tree outside. I remember getting cherries off that. My sister and my mother making cherry pies. My sister made 'em later, of course. But when I was small, my mother used to make cherry pies. My father used to make ice cream an awful lot. Fresh strawberry and fresh peach. You know. We used to look forward to that. You took the ladle out, so we could have that. You took a spoon and, you know. That tasted better than having a dish of it, you know.

Tremaine: Where did you get the ice from?

Fitzharris: That...I don't...there was Diamond Ice and Coal Company on Pennsylvania Avenue and Union Street. They used to have an old ice wagon come around, too. White. The wagons were white, and they were painted blue on the inside. Drawn by horses, and later on they had cars. But I remember they...we used to have signs we'd put in the window: 25, 50 or 75 pounds of ice, you know. And when the man would chip that, all those little pieces...we used to get on the back of the wagon and ? those, you know. Make a cold drink of lemonade or something like that.

Martin: Where did they bring it?

Fitzharris: House to house.

Martin: Did they bring it around back to the kitchen?

Fitzharris: Well, we had refrigerators...We lived across the crick and there were just doors in front, so they brought it right...The kitchen and the main family room was right next door, you know. Like a long porch. And they would bring it right there. He'd put it in the refrigerator. Mostly they were like top icers. You put the ice in top, and the refrigeration was in the bottom. Two doors.

Tremaine: And then it must have melted.

Fitzharris: It melted. And there was a pan underneath. That was another chore. You had to dump that pan every day. If not it would run over. Then, if it run over...there again, it would be my father. But you could...if we did it every morning, it was no problem. The biggest problem was...on Saturday morning we'd maybe be doing other things, and we'd forget it. And then it would get so full that sometimes we'd spill it.

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Image: Ice delivery sleigh, circa 1910. View image in the Digital Archives

Jennie Toomey’s father makes sauerkraut

Born in 1896 to Irish immigrants, Jane "Jennie" Toomey Henry Clay villagelived in the Henry Clay area her entire life. Her mother died in 1900, leaving her father, who worked in the DuPont charcoal house, to raise seven children.

In this clip, Toomey describes her father's tradition of making sauerkraut in the cellar.

Jennie Toomey: My Father made sauerkraut in our cellar.

Johnson: How did he do that, do you know?

Jennie Toomey: We had a big tub, yeah, I helped to do it many a time. And he had ...

Joe Toomey: I go back to 1925 so I remember some of these things too, I helped to make the sauerkraut. [laughs]

Johnson: Could you tell me your name for the tape recorder?

Joe Toomey: I'm Joe Toomey, I'm Jenny Toomey's son.

Johnson: Thank you.

Jennie Toomey: Well, we got the cabbage, my sister had a yard, a garden up the hill, and they grew the cabbage up there, brought it down the hill, and put it my cellar. My Father made it, but all he did was supervise mostly. I had two sisters, three sisters, we all had to get here that day, and we had this big thing like a cutter, in the - a board with a cutter in the middle of it, you know. We put that over a tub, we had to take turns doing it. All he did was pack it in the barrel and salt it.

Joe Toomey: Great big wooden barrel.

Jennie Toomey: Yeah, great big...

Joe Toomey: Put salt on it.

Jennie Toomey: Put salt on it, then he had a board he put on top of it. Big rock.

Joe Toomey: Wooden top and a great big rock to lay it down to put pressure upon the cabbage. And let it ferment.

Jennie Toomey: Then when he decided to open it, every, all the neighbors came and got there, brought their little kettles or buckets or whatever they had. We sent the word out, Grandpop was gonna open sauerkraut [laughs] and everybody came and got their dish of sauerkraut, their little pot of sauerkraut. He dished it out for everybody that - ones that we knew well right nearby.

Johnson: How long would it take for it to be ready, do you remember?

Jennie Toomey: I don't know how long, about six weeks, I guess, he let it sit.

Joe Toomey: Couple months as I recall, yeah.

Jennie Toomey: Yeah, I think about six weeks at least he let it sit, you know, before he dared to touch it. We never dared to touch it, he had to do that himself, my father. He was an old Irishman and he was thick-headed.

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Image: Henry Clay Village looking toward Rockford Tower, circa 1910. View image in the Digital Archives

James Kindbeiter identifies local saloons

Born in 1905 at Walker's Banks, James Kindbeiter came Tom Lawless tavernfrom a family of DuPont Company employees and learned his trade as a machinist at the Experimental Station.

The workers' villages on the Brandywine were well-populated with saloons, which, along with the covered bridge over Rising Sun Lane, were popular social spaces for powder workers and other neighborhood men.

In this clip, Kindbeiter identifies and discusses local saloons.

Kindbeiter: Christmas was just another day. It was a holiday and nobody worked. Nobody worked, but the saloons done a pretty good business up there on Christmas.

Bennett: Oh, they were open on Christmas?

Kindbeiter: Oh, they were open. Ned Connaway was at the top of Rising Sun Hill. That's where the bus comes down and turns, next to Walter Carpenter's place. I think Tower Hill's got that now. Well, Ned Connaway got the smallpox up there and they closed that saloon. And then they had Jeff Blakeley's down the middle of the hill, and Jeff Blakeley was a big fat man. He run the saloon. That's right where the bridge crosses the road.

Bennett: Was it on Rising Sun?

Kindbeiter: On Rising Sun. And then Pat Daugherty's - he married a cousin of mine - no credit to him, but he did. That was over at - he bought Tom Toy out. Tom Toy run the saloon over there until he got too old and he didn't run it no more. That's where Catherine Hackendorn lived next door to that. And then up at St. Joseph's Church, Tommy Lawless - well, we always called him Tommy - he was a priest over at Salesianum. We called him Tommy and the Father run --

Bennett: Was it called Lawless Tavern?

Kindbeiter: No, it wasn't called Lawless. Tommy Lawless run this saloon up there right at St. Joseph's Church. He lived up the Kennett Pike, right straight up and then he'd walk down every morning and opened up the taproom. They had it pretty well populated; they had Ned Connaway's and Jeff Blakeley's, Pat Daugherty's and Tommy Lawless'. For a small community they had four saloons up there. You had no business going thirsty. But they didn't pay much attention to Saturday or Sunday. I wouldn't want this to get out where they'd hear it, but they're liable to persecute them people. You'd go around to the back and get in the back door. Up in the coal regions they never closed up. Never closed up.

Bennett: I remember that now - they didn't close on Sunday.

Kindbeiter: Of course, the women would want them to close, but they wouldn't pay attention to the women.

Bennett: How much was a beer?

Kindbeiter: A nickel.

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Image: The Mount Pleasant House, also known as Tom Lawless's tavern, circa 1893. View image in the Digital Archives

Aloysius Rowe's mother’s 52 loaves of bread

Aloysius "Al" Rowe, born 1905, grew up in a company-Dennis and Annie Rowe familyowned house at the foot of Rising Sun Lane as the sixth of Dennis and Annie Rowe's eight children.

His father was a painter for DuPont, and Mr. Rowe recalls the smell of turpentine when he picked up his father's lunch pail, knowing that his mother had stashed an extra piece of cake for whichever child fetched the pail.

In this clip, Rowe describes the extensive baking that his mother, an immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine, did each week.

Campbell: Your mother being quite a cook, I'm wondering if she got her food from nearby stores or farmers?

Rowe: Well, she dealt all around. The store was right across from us and she'd send over there for things that she run out of, you know, but she generally bought on a large scale. Like she'd bake her own bread, and this sounds like exaggeration but it's the truth, and she'd bake 52 loaves of bread a week. Of course, they weren't these big long loaves you get today. They were about like that [Rowe measured with his hands.] When Mom sliced the bread for sandwiches it wasn't thin. You can imagine, you know there were eight of us children and going to work and school, quite a lot was required for lunches. She also baked pies. I remember Wednesday night was soup and pie night. We'd have soup and that was a meal in itself and she'd have pie. She'd bake a raft of pies and we carried part of them to school in our lunch. She was a good cook. She made potato fritters also which were very tasty. She called them Backsties.

Scafidi: Do you think you ate better then than you do now?

Rowe: I ate more then than I do now. I'm trying to get rid of this thing, (my bay window). I joined the Spa and I've been working out there and you have to diet along with it, but not as bad as when you are trying to lose weight without any exercise.

Pizor: Did everyone on your block eat as well as you did? Or were you a little unusual?

Rowe: I always like to say that we had plenty of food and more varieties than the rest of them. I remember the kids used to come around to your house and they'd turn over backwards to get a slice of homemade bread and preserves or jelly. Of course, Mom would fix one for them and it was just great. Homemade bread.

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Image: The Dennis and Annie Rowe family, circa 1909. Aloysius is  the small child, lower left, next to his father. (Hagley ID: 1973314_004)

Aloysius Rowe talks about ice cream and beer

Aloysius "Al" Rowe continues his stories of food Powdermen drinking beerand drink from his childhood in this clip.

He describes going with his father to Kyle's ice cream parlor in downtown Wilmington for a plate of the best ice cream in town. He then recalls his father occasionally bringing home a kettle of beer from one of the saloons.

Pizor: Did you often go to Govatos?

Rowe: Quite a good bit, yeah. But we went to a place, when my father took me in before Govatos, it was Kyle's.

Pizor: Was that homemade ice cream?

Rowe: It was good ice cream. I guess they made it themselves. I know it was very creamy.

Campbell: Was that supposed to be the best ice cream in town?

Rowe: Oh, everybody said that was the best.

Scafidi: How did you eat ice cream in those days? You went into an ice cream parlor, what did you ask for? Ice cream cones or...?

Rowe: No, no. You got it on a plate. They used to have a thing they dipped it out with, shaped like a funnel and that's the way it would come out on the plate. That was Kyle's.

Pizor: Where was Kyle's located?

Rowe: It was on the west side; I think it was on 7th or 8th Street, between Orange and Tatnall. Something like that. I couldn't say exactly now.

Pizor: It was like an old ice cream parlor?

Rowe: That's all it was. Just served ice cream. There were tables and chairs and I remember before I got through I used to shiver. It would freeze the ears off me.

Pizor: Did they have any flavors, do you remember, or just...?

Rowe: I don't recall them having too many flavors. Of course, for me chocolate or vanilla were always the flavors I liked.

Pizor: Did you ever take some home?

Rowe: No. It would melt on the way home?

Pizor: Were they open just in the summer or...?

Rowe: No, they were open all year round as far as I know. Yeah, sure. A lot of people would eat ice cream in the winter time. Quite a treat for them. It was a lot like Lynthwaite's ice cream. I know that the roof of your mouth would be coated with cream when you finished.

Campbell: Were there any beer gardens that were popular?

Rowe: Well, back in my childhood days there were saloons.

Campbell: I was thinking of a place that had a reputation and that women would go to. Nothing like that?

Rowe: No, if a woman wanted a drink she had to go in the back.

Pizor: In other words, women didn't drink in those days?

Rowe: Well, they would go down and get a kettle of beer at the back door. They wouldn't go in. No. They were the dens of iniquity then.

Scafidi: Do you know what the people drank? Whiskey or beer?

Rowe: They drank both. I remember Pop bringing a kettle home. They used to have these little kettles, you know. And they would take and get it filled up. And gee it looked nice and creamy (frothy). I remember him giving me a taste and I never liked it. Even to this day I can't say I am crazy about beer.

Scafidi: What was the brand? Did your father have a...?

Rowe: H & F was one of them. I can't say exactly where they were sold, now. There also was Stoeckle's and the Bavarian Brewery. I remember they used to come around and they would deliver beer to your door. They would have these bottles with the china top on, you know, have you ever seen them? I think you are too young. It's a shame that you young people didn't have the chance to see them. In fact, I'd love to have one today to have for a keepsake. They had like a wire thing on them and they had this china stopper with a red washer on it and you'd take this little wire thing and if you pulled it down that would pull this cap down tight.

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Image: Powdermen drinking beer, circa 1900. View image in the Digital Archives

Mary Braden Jackson goes to Frizzell’s store

Raised in houses on Long Row and lFrizzell's Storeater in Squirrel Run by her father and stepmother after her mother's death in 1897, Mary Braden Jackson, born in 1895, recalls in her interview many aspects of her childhood on the Brandywine.

In this clip, she's looking at a photograph, seen at right, of Samuel Frizzell and Ned Edler standing in front of Frizzell's store in Henry Clay Village. She describes Frizzell's delivery wagon, the interior of the store, her memories of Frizzell and Edler, and the fire that destroyed the store in the late 1890s.

Bennett: Now, this is a picture of — 

Jackson: Sam Frizzell's Store?

Bennett: Sam Frizzell's Store, that's right. What do you remember about that, Mrs. Jackson?

Jackson: It was a nice sized grocery store and he had a wagon and a horse, there were two horses, but he had a horse and he used to take orders — go around one day, take the orders, and in the next couple of days he would deliver the orders. They used to, at that time be allowed to go up through the Powder Mill Road, and he used to go up to the Upper Banks and up to Charles' Banks and up to the Chicken Alley and riding down through. At one time there was an accident, his wagon bumped into something, a powder car or something on the railroad, a little, small affair it was, and then they were very worried from then on, and then they stopped the wagons from going up through the yard, so they wouldn't have any accidents. But the children were always allowed to go up there and play in the powder yards and carry their fathers' dinners, lunches and breakfasts. And Sam Frizzell Store burned down, I guess in, I'd say in about '98 or '99, and there was a - all the men of the Village got water buckets and carried water from the creek to throw on the fire, but it didn't do any good because it was so far gone and it needed so much water, but there was no fire hydrants up there and there was no fire company, so the store burnt to the ground. Some say it was from oily rags and others say that they thought maybe he was failing in business and might have sold it for the insurance, if insurance was at that time.

Bennett: Did you — excuse me.

Jackson: All kinds of rumors were around.

Bennett: Did you ever go into the store?

Jackson: Many, many times. He sold penny candy and as soon as we got a penny, we went to Sam Frizzell's Store, it was the nearest store, and bought long licorice sticks, or we used to buy caramels or we used to buy sour balls. You got six sour balls for a penny.

Bennett: Can you describe the interior of the store?

Jackson: Well, it had shelves all around, one side of the store there was kegs and at the end was a great big table with big bags of flour on it, and some canned goods was on that side. Then on the other side there was all kinds of canned goods, and there was bags of sugar and there was detergents of all kind and the detergent that was mostly used was called the Gold Dust Twins, it had a lot of lye in it, but it really took the dirt out of the clothes.

Bennett: I see he's advertising Fels Naphtha Soap on the outside, do you see that?

Jackson: Fels Naphtha Soap was the main soap, it was the main soap at that time and tar soap was sold, well Ivory Soap was sold for the face, but tar soap was sold to wash the hair with and shampoo it, and everybody seemed to have a good head of hair from the tar soap, and kept the heads clean. And then he had a post in the middle of the store and around that post was baskets of apples, and basket of pears and basket of potatoes and all like that around the post in the middle of the store. But many a time he gave free pears and free apples to the little children on the Creek Road.

Bennett: What was the color of the store, was it painted or...

Jackson: The store was partly Brandywine granite, but it was whitewashed, part of it was whitewashed, then all of the woodwork on it — the porch and the railings and the windows, was a dark brown.

Bennett: The gentleman with him, do you know who that is?

Jackson: Yes, the gentleman with him was a young man called — they called him Ned Edler, and he had something wrong with his speech, more or less, I'd say, tongue-tied, should have been corrected, but wasn't, and he lived on West 18th Street from a very good family. But all they — they used to tease him a lot — but all the people were very good to him and wherever he stopped in, whatever time of day it was, he was given a cup of tea and a sandwich or whatever he needed. And he used to do a little bit of chores for Webster Blakely, he kept a saloon on Rising Sun Lane, down toward the bottom of it, down near Newport, and he got a little bit of change or money from there and Blakely used to buy him clothes once in a while. One time he bought him a white shirt, and for Christmas he gave him a pair of gold cuff links, or imitation, and he was very proud and very appreciative. And Sam Frizzell also was very good to him, he let him do the chores around his store because nobody would hire him for work and he was very appreciative and he lived a very good life, but he did have a stoppage in his speech, and a lot of the children used to tease him badly about it, but from a very good family.

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Image: Samuel Frizzell and Ned Edler at Frizzell's store, circa 1890. (Hagley ID: 2015212_01_10_004)