Food History – Talking to Bob Evans

An interview with Bob Evans – “almost 83 years old” – born 1933 – “it’s been a good life – I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
I met Mr. Evans (“please, call me Bob”) at our Ingles Markets Deli café in Mills River.
Bob attended and  graduated  from Kent State University and met his wife Marilyn there. He taught school, served in the Air Force and eventually became an elementary school principal. Bob and Marilyn have three children.  He’s had a home in Western North Carolina since 1999 and is very active in his church, teaches bridge and attends classes.

Where did you grow up and what was your home like?  I grew up in a  small town in Ohio called Diamond  between Akron and Youngstown, it used to be a coal mining community and the name comes from Black Diamond Mining Company but all the mines were abandoned and filled up with water by the time I was growing up.   There were only about 100-150 people who lived there. My parents and my brother and sister and I lived in a rented house until they could afford to buy one, that wasn’t until about 1950, after World War II. We didn’t have indoor plumbing in the rental house.   Dad worked for a tire company and then during the war he worked as a guard at the Arsenal.  My  mother didn’t work, mothers never worked in those days.  My grandfather lived up the street.  He had about 50 acres but only farmed a couple of acres because he worked as a butcher.  He’d buy hogs and beef cows from local farmers to butcher and sell.

Describe your kitchen when you were growing up.
It was a small room with no running water.  We had to pump the water from a cistern.  There was a small table and a stool my mother used to sit on when she had to do chores because she had some issues with her heart and would get tired.  We always had a refrigerator and electricity

Bob Evans at 6 years old seated on wagon with cousins

Where did you shop for groceries?
There were two ‘mom and pop’ stores in town if we needed something but every Saturday night we’d go to the A & P  about 7 miles away.  I remember getting home and my parents would always carefully check the prices of the items against the receipt.

Describe a special meal and a special dessert.
That would have been Sunday dinner and it would have been baked chicken or pork from my grandfather’s shop with green beans from the garden or lima beans or canned beans, gravy, boiled potatoes or corn in season.  For dessert we’d have canned peaches or fruit in season  or maybe apple, pumpkin or a mince pie.  We’d always drink milk, whole milk.    My favorite dessert growing up was a lemon meringue pie. My mother usually make cupcakes, a  cake was a big deal.  I also really liked homemade vanilla ice cream.

Bob Evans (L) with brother Don and sister Lucy

What were some of your favorite foods growing up? What foods do you miss?
My favorite vegetables were corn and white potatoes, not sweet potatoes, I don’t remember seeing them until I was older.  I mostly ate apples and peaches and cantaloupe in season.  I miss the scrapple with syrup my grandfather would make and also the liverwurst and liver pudding.  He also made really good chicken and vegetable with biscuits, but you can get that sort of thing at restaurants.

Did you ever drink sodas when you were growing up?
Of course! I did the paper route for the whole town so I always used my money to buy a pop, usually  orange NEHI.

Were there any restaurants in town? Did you ever go out to a restaurant for a meal?
In our town there was only a beer joint.  We seldom went out to eat and if we did,  we went somewhere that we kids could have a hamburger,  we thought that was a good meal.

Do you remember what food was like during the war?
I remember that we had ration points.  Sugar was rationed and so was meat but because my grandfather was a butcher we always had meat.  We used to buy cigarettes and use them for bartering.

What do you think is the cause of the problem we have today with childhood obesity?
TV is to blame and also not enough activity.  We played softball all summer and basketball all winter – we walked everywhere.

How would you compare an Ingles store with the A &P your family shopped when you were growing up?
 It wasn’t 1/10th the size of this store and there are so many choices here that we didn’t have growing up.  I got tired of eating apples and canned peaches all winter – now you don’t have to do that.

How would you react if someone said we should eat the way our grandparents/great-grandparents ate?
(Laughs) There is much greater variety available now and there’s just more food available.  We can get anything. We don’t have to eat apples all of the time in the fall.  Besides that,  we just have better medicines and medical care. My grandmother had a crippled arm, something had happened to her when she gave birth to my mother.  My grandfather spent lots of money and went to all sorts of charlatans trying to cure her but nothing worked.

As our interview concluded Bob smiled broadly and said, “Well, this sure has been fun to reminisce…I hadn’t thought about some of these things in a long time!”

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