My first year of school was in a one-room school house. That year was the last year for one-room school houses in Minnesota.
Our one-room school house sat directly across the road from the Jim Johnson farm and held classes for grades one through six. Our school population was quite diverse. There were the Larsons, Johnsons, Mickelsons and a Braatz. On occasion, I am sure that our teacher felt that we were all brats.
There were four students in my first grade class. I was the only girl and there were three boys….Douglas, David and John. We could proudly claim that we were the largest class in our school. There were only three girls in our whole school myself, my cousin and our neighbor Jeanne.
My cousin Bryan was the oldest boy in our school. He was the entire sixth grade class. The fifth grade class consisted of my cousin Bryan’s younger brother and the only girl in the school to which none of us was related…Jeanne. There was no fourth grade at all. The third graders were a Johnson and a Mickelson. To this day these two guys are still best friends. Second grade hosted two Larsons, my girl cousin and my older brother, and another Johnson.
Whether we walked across fields, pastures and swamps or caught a ride all of us came packing a lunch.
I am sure that providing a well-balanced diet was the goal of the adults packing our lunches. In our metal lunch boxes there would be a sandwich, fruit, dessert and an insulated thermos for either hot soup in the winter or cold Koolaid to drink during the warmer months.
The staple of our school lunch diet was the sandwich. Sandwiches would be wrapped in waxed paper, just like a present and were made from homemade bread. It did not take long before you learned two things about home baked bread. First, it is much softer and taster at the beginning of the week, and by Thursday if you bit into the hard brown crusts just right, you could alleviate the need for tooth flossing. Hard end of the week bread crusts were usually just peeled off and used to try to coax gophers out of their holes.
No matter how well the sandwich was wrapped, by the time the noon dinner bell rang it was dried out and a bit stale. However, the guts of the sandwich, the hard cheese with butter or peanut butter and jelly, remained in their prime.
If plastic wrap had been invented it was never used for reasons of safety and economy. A kid smothering themselves with plastic wrap while surrounded by their peers during recess was a real concern. These were the days before social media when there were just no safety guidelines for plastic wrap usage online for parents. Public school officials feared taking the lead on this issue. So, my people had to just use common sense and ban plastic wrap from our school lunches. The rule of thumb was that it was better to be safe and stale, than sorry.
Then, too, plastic wrap was an expensive unnecessary expense. A penny saved is a penny earned. Applying this sound economic principal to public school student sandwich wrapping set a good example of fiscal responsibility the for child and was a boon for playground gophers.
The real fear of sandwich preservation methods was the plastic bag. For adults it was just another way for a child to suffocate themselves in public. You would think that finding a sandwich freshly preserved in a plastic bag would have been considered a perk for the student, but nobody in those days ever bought plastic sandwich bags. If you found your sandwich in a plastic bag it was guaranteed that, that bag had been washed and reused.
Since learning to read was one of the main reasons you were being forced to attend school in the first place, it was best to employ that skill and read your plastic bag before consuming the food it contained. If the bag had originally contained some type of unconsumable product, it was best to dump the food down an outhouse hole, return the bag home with a smile, declare the excellence of your dining experience to the lunch box packer, walk over to Grandma’s house for a snack and make a mental note to repent on Sunday.
If the bag was large, large bags were considered those that could neatly fit around a human foot, it would again be in your best interest to dispose of the bag’s contents in case the plastic bag had been previously used as a liner to keep the wet and the barn out of hand-me-down leaky winter boots.
Fruit for school lunches varied with the season. In the fall, apples were picked off of our farm’s trees whether they were ripe or not. In the winter dried fruit was substituted for fresh. Prunes and raisins where a common commodity. So as external temperatures plummeted, the number of snowy trips on the icy path to the school’s common out door commode exploded.
Bananas could be included in a lunch box at any time throughout the school year without warning. Banana inclusion was based on strict ripeness guidelines. Bananas that were too ripe for adults, but not over-ripe enough to be used for banana bread were lunch box approved.
Home baked cookies, cupcakes or pieces of cake were the gold standard of any school lunch. In fact, most days they were the only food not shared with the outhouse or gophers. As great as these additions were to the boxed lunch menu, their visual appearance suffered from the same malady as the bananas…squished.
There were social norms in those days that were to be respected and followed. Desserts in school lunches were to be positioned above the sandwich, but below the fruit, hence their squishing was inevitable.
Lunch box lids had to be securely closed. It just would not do to have a lunch box burst open revealing its contents for all the world to see should a student have to out run a black Angus cattle stampede while crossing Mrs. Johnson’s pasture, high jump over a barbed wire fence to escape an angry cow, long jump over a water-filled ditch just to see if you could make it or sprint away from a surprised skunk on the way to or from school. On the bright side squished lunches required less chewing so there was more time during lunch break for adventure.
There are several great lunch box cookie recipes on this blog. Bumpy Crunchy cookies make a huge batch, freeze well, retain their crispness, can survive a lunch box without turning to crumbs. Snickerdoodles are always a cinnamon-spiced favorite. Grandma Esther’s Sugar Cookies with all those sprinkles will brighten up any student’s day and a homemade Peanut Butter Cookie tastes pretty good on a cold school day.
This recipe for Unbaked Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies is a quick way to create a tasty snack for a hungry young scholar. This recipe comes from the home of Kate and Wes Nelson from my hometown of Grove City, MN.
Unbaked Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
1/2 cup cocoa
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups quick oatmeal
In a medium-sized sauce pan mix the cocoa, sugar and milk. On medium heat bring to a boil and boil for at least three full minutes. Add the vanilla, butter and peanut butter to the mixture. Stir until butter and peanut butter is melted. Remove from heat and add the oatmeal. Stir well. Drop on wax paper by the teaspoon full. Cool.