Recipe: Country School, Hot Potato Fridays and Rhubarb Bread

In first grade I attended a one room school house.  We had grades one through six all in the same room.

The school house was white and had a steeple almost like a church with a bell in it.  The sides of the building were dressed up with windows that were widely spaced a part because between the windows on the inside were the black boards.  The play ground consisted of a swing set, and a couple of teeter-totters and lots of grass for kick ball or soft ball.  There were no indoor toilets and whether it was below zero, snowing, cold winds howling, raining, lightening and thundering or warm and sunny you had to walk outside behind the school house to one of the two outhouses to do your business…one for girls, the other for boys.

To enter the school you would first go up a step or two to find yourself in a dark entryway where you would hang your coat and hat and leave behind any muddy boots. The entryway was a special place because there hung the heavy rope that rang the school’s bell . It was a treasured thing to be chosen to pull that heavy rope and ring the loud brass school bell that announced to the entire rural community that a new class day had begun.

There were actually four rooms in our little schoolhouse: the entryway, the large main schoolroom, the library/stage area and a small kitchen with a stove in it.  The main classroom housed all of our desks, the teachers desk, a wood stove for heat, and several kidney bean shaped tables with a hole cut out in the center where the teacher sat for group lessons.

Our entire student body consisted of: 4 first graders, myself and 3 boys; 3 second graders; 2 third graders; no fourth graders; 2 fifth graders and 1 sixth grader.  I was the youngest, as I was only five when I was started in first grade a year early, and the oldest was my cousin Bryan.  There were only three girls in our whole school–the rest were boys!

On nice days we would walk to school across fields and pastures filled with cattle.  On freezing snowy days we would be given a ride by car or snowmobile.  Whether by car, snowmobile or on foot we brought cold lunches from home every day except Fridays. Fridays were special.

On Fridays we would bring a large well scrubbed potato that was wrapped in aluminum foil and stabbed with a fork.  When we got to school we would give our potatoes to the teacher and about mid-morning she would start the oven in the small kitchen and all of our potatoes would go to bake.  After an entire week of hard cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with homemade bread that got drier and more chewy as the week progressed, which were accompanied by a bruised apple or smashed banana, you have no idea how much a hungry kid looks forward to “Hot Potato Friday”.

Hot Potato Friday was a neighborhood tradition where each week one of our mother’s would prepare and serve a hot meal to our entire school.  Those mom’s would treat us to roast beef, fried chicken or breaded pork chops with all the fixings including dessert. They always brought enough food so that everyone got their fill.  The best parts of the meal though were those wonderfully baked potatoes that you had been smelling all morning drenched in melted sweet butter and of course the desserts.

In the early spring Rhubarb desserts were very popular with our moms.  There were pies, cakes, custards, crunches and breads.  The pies, cakes, custards and crunches were served only as the dessert portion of a Hot Potato Friday.  However, if you were really lucky during the week you would find thick slices of rhubarb bread in your lunch box.  Those delicious slices of goodness would be found wrapped in wax paper lying right next to the ever present bruised apple you never ate.

As a Christian child I was taught to never waste food. While I did not eat those bruised apples, they were not wasted. If I didn’t use the bruised apple as a weapon to hurl at an obnoxious bully boy, I  would slice it into tiny pieces with the jack knife I kept in my pocket. During recess, the boys would use the apple bits as bait to try and lure a gopher out of its hole. After all, a country school teacher would be disappointed by her student’s lack of team work, industry and ingenuity if she didn’t have at least one gopher a year jump out of her desk drawer.

Rhubarb Bread

2 cups of sugar, divided
2/3 cup of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups finely diced rhubarb
3 Tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two loaf pans.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together  1 1/2 cups of sugar, oil, vanilla and egg.

In a separate mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda and salt.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to the egg mixture, beating well after each addition.

Stir in rhubarb.

Pour batter into the loaf pans.

In a small bowl combine melted butter with remaining 1/2 cup of sugar.  Spread on top of each loaf.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from pans after loaves have cooled for about 10 minutes.





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