“My father walked six miles carrying a bucket and a pick. The bucket was made of tin and in the bottom of the bucket was tea for lunch, and the top of the upper section of the bucket was a compartment for a couple of sandwiches or some fruit and then the lid. Inside the coal mines the temperature never varied, so the temperature that the food was as it was brought to the mines stayed the same temperature. After a short time every coal miner’s bucket smelled of the coal mines. You could scrub and scrub and scrub but when you pulled that sandwich out, it smelled of coal.
“Each ethnic group had its own cuisine. The Germans used a lot of pork, and they would have a piece of pork between big slices of rogenbrote, as they called it — rye bread — or schwarzbrote — black bread. They didn’t go in for white bread like the Welsh or the Scots or the Irish.
“I can still see my grandmother with one of those big loaves of bread that — when she sliced it she put it in the crook of her arm and held it with her right hand, and she sliced it off while holding it. The bread loaf was so big you didn’t put it on the table, but you held it in your arm and sliced it this way. I never figured out why but that’s the way she always did it.
“So that each group developed its own food styles. A very popular one was ham because it was easier to slice and to put into sandwiches, but almost everybody drank tea. I don’t know why, but I can still see the coal miners going into the grocery store and buying tea by the pound. It was kept in large canisters on the counter where it would be handy because the store owner knew that would be one of the commodities they would be looking for—it was kept handy for the customers.
“I used to enjoy watching the coal miners around the church picnics, around the church activities, for instance, after a dinner at the church, there would be a lot of cake and cookies left over. Everybody would withdraw discretely and let the coal miners go ’round and pick up the cookies or the cake for the bucket. And we knew o’course that was their treat.”
b. Frostburg MD, 1911
1991 interview with daughter Elizabeth Rees Gilbert
Western Maryland Regional Library collection