I am going back in time again today with memories of the “Traveling Vanilla Man.” Actually, this man was working for The Watkins Company as a traveling salesman selling a various supply of flavorings and spices for cooking and other items to save the “Country Cooks” a trip to town! My brothers and I called him the “Vanilla Man” because mom bought mostly vanilla flavoring to use in pies, puddings, cakes, ice cream, snow cream and much more.
His big black car was amazing — it was four doors, but the back doors opened the opposite way of regular cars — when opened they revealed no seats, but wooden shelves loaded with flavorings, spices, chewing gum and much more. Did I mention that the trunk was open to the back-seat shelves?
We loved this “Vanilla Man” because he had the coolest flavors of gum — teaberry, strawberry, peppermint and much more. Root beer barrels were just one of the candies he had in the “wagon.” Those were the greatest memories that country living offers.
Some of the spices and flavorings that mom bought included sage, which she used for making stuffing, poultry, pork roast, homemade sausage, and sometimes hamburgers. She also bought ginger, which was used with pot roast, pork, veal, beef and some casseroles.
Lemon flavoring was used for mom’s delicious lemon meringue pies, pound cakes, puddings, sweet icings and toppings and cookies. The vanilla flavoring was used for pies, cakes, cookies, puddings, sweet icings and toppings and ice cream. Cinnamon was another powdered flavoring mom would get to make puddings, pies, cobblers, breads, rolls, or mix with butter to smear on toast and to flavor apple dishes.
Mom would make old fashioned bread pudding from bread that would soon be too old to eat — and also biscuits and donuts! I made some bread pudding a couple of weeks ago and I remarked, “Oh my this is so delicious, just like mom-mom used to make,” that is a compliment cooks love!
Let’s make BREAD PUDDING. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, tear and crumble enough bread to equal 4 cups. In a saucepan, heat 2 cups of milk to scalding and pour over bread crumbs in the bowl — let cool at room temperature. Then add to the bread mixture 1/4 cup melted butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 slightly beaten eggs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup seedless raisins(optional), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon flavoring. Pour into a buttered 1 1/2-quart casserole dish and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a silver knife inserted comes out clean. Serve warm with or without topping.
The Watkins man was not the only traveling salesman. There was also the Bond bread man, the potato chip man, the milkman, the Fuller Brush man, the Electrolux man, the Frankie the Fish man, the Stanley man, the Avon lady, and whoever else traveled the country roads to sell their wares. I cannot forget the TV repair man who also served as a part-time constable for Sussex County, and the occasional magazine salesman. Those were wonderful days back in the ’50s.
In the little bustling town of Bishopville, we had a small bank, a small grocery store (my mom and dad opened the second grocery store later), a filling (gas) station, a shoe repair shop that also sold work shoes, a wallpaper shop, a beauty shop in a lady’s home, a post office, a movie theater that had closed in the late ’50s that included a soda fountain, a small elementary school and a very popular Record Hop that used to be a feed store.
The Record Hop was operated by the Bishopville Volunteer Fire Department that sold sodas to make extra money to help pay for their new fire house, and the old fire house was bought by the Dennis family who opened a thrift store, which is still owned by the family today and operated as a thrift store well known by all.
Years later the little former post office building was opened by a local couple, David and Beverly Derrickerson Gault, as a gift shop featuring many of Beverly’s paintings and crafts.
My late brother, well known as Darrell (“Boogie”) Hitchens opened and operated a trucking company known as Hitchens Brothers, still operated today as Shelby Trucking, operated by his daughter Lisa and son-in-law Tim Gray. Another local business in town is Bennett Pest Control, housed in the old Record Hop building owned and operated by Belinda Bunting Bennett and husband whose dad, the late Bill Bunting, raised chickens and drove our school bus and his late wife, Jean, gave piano lessons to many locals for years.
There is also a gun shop owned by a local guy named Blaine Bunting, and many local independent carpenters and painters.
Another column will be forth coming on Hometown Cooking USA because there is much more to share about my hometown folks and more cooking, and one day soon I will share your hometown living and cooking. Until then stay safe and wear the masks.