As many of you know, I grew up in Tennessee, in an unincorporated community in Davidson County just north of Nashville. Joelton ran along the top of a ridge of hills called Paradise Ridge. In the winter, it could be tough for people to get home from Nashville on the icy hills. But the local men always seemed to head to the hill to help out. On at least one evening after work, my mother had to have her car pulled up Germantown Hill by someone with a truck.
Our high school, part of the Nashville school district, was quite small. There were just under 100 students in my graduating class. Even though it was called a high school, it actually housed students from grades 7-12. On the first day of school each year, everyone went to the gym. Each grade level had its own section. There were never any signs to indicate this, everyone just seemed to know, even the seventh graders on their very first day. The seventh and eighth graders sat in the smaller, visitor bleachers. It made you feel important on the first day of ninth grade when you got to move over to the home side. The teachers read out the names of their home rooms, and kids would leave. one classroom at a time.
The school had a long history. My mother graduated from the same high school in 1949 although it was a wooden building in those days. The main hallway was lined with group portraits of each graduating class. I’m not sure how far back, certainly from the 1930s, maybe even the ‘20s. The main secretary was Miss Pauline. She started working at the school in 1948, so she knew you, your siblings, and most likely one or both of your parents.
When I was in school – and this is completely politically incorrect – in eighth grade all the boys took shop and all the girls took home ec. This was required. You could finagle your way out of PE, but not shop and home ec. Looking back, I wish they had required shop and home ec of both genders. I think I’d be less leery of power tools today if I’d taken shop in junior high.
Mr. Hall was one of the shop teachers. He always wore bow ties so his tie wouldn’t get caught in the equipment. He also taught math, and I had math one year in the shop room. We sat on high stools at the big square workbenches surrounded by a cement floor. Bookends and lamps the boys were working on would be distributed around the room in various stages of completion. My brother also made a chess board one time, maybe as a choose-your-own project.
While the boys were in shop, we girls were up on the second floor in home ec. One semester of sewing and one of cooking. In sewing, we made a pillow out of a terrycloth bath towel. We drew one-inch squares on the “wrong” side and created a complicated gathered surface. I wish I had a photo to show you my bright orange towel pillow.
Cooking was much more fun. My home ec teacher for both semesters was Mrs. Durham. She was a nice lady, but she had her hands full with us. I didn’t give her any trouble in sewing, but cooking was another matter. Even then, I couldn’t resist tweaking some of the recipes. We made sugar cookies one day, and our group added quite a bit of extra sugar because we just didn’t believe they would be sweet enough. Poor Mrs. Durham tried to explain that it wasn’t a good idea to change the recipes, but our cookies had turned out delicious, so we weren’t buying.
Hands down the best recipe I learned in home ec was for baking powder biscuits. It is still my go-to biscuit recipe, and I haven't changed it a bit. A couple of readers requested that I post my biscuit recipe after my steak and biscuits post, so here it is. Straight from eighth grade home ec to your table.
Baking Powder Biscuits
2 cups sifted flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons shortening
1 cup milk
Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in shortening. Add milk. Dough will be soft. Pat out on floured board. Lightly knead 5 or 6 times. Pat out dough to ½ inch thickness. Cut out biscuits.
Bake on greased cookie sheet at 450 degrees F. for about 12 minutes.