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South Texas Living

Cold days, a warm chimney, and sweet potatoes

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Julia Castro
Apple Pie and Salsa
January 23, 2013 | 2,824 views | Post a comment

As I am writing this, the weather is pretty cold, and it is supposed to last for most of the week, which is unusual around here. We usually get a cold spell that lasts about two days and then we get summer-like weather. Henry and I agree that when we were growing up, cold weather was the norm during the winter months. Henry likes to reminisce about those days on the farm. I think what he really wants is to let us know how hard he worked. Pobrecito. It seems like he really worked hard.

Early every Saturday he would go with his uncles Carlos, Cristóbal, and Buddy to the pasture to get wood for the chimney and for the wood-burning stove in the kitchen. One Saturday they would chop green wood for the chimney and the other Saturday they would gather dry wood for the stove.

Before going to bed they would put a fat log in the chimney that burned slowly all night long. At four o’clock in the morning, someone besides Grandpa would get up, stir up the fire, and add more wood. By the time Grandpa got up at five o’clock, the house was pretty warm. Not much later, Mila would get up and start the fire in the stove to fix breakfast, and that heated up the rest of the house. After Cristóbal and Carlos left to serve in the Army during World War II, Henry was in charge of feeding the animals -- cows, mules, horses, pigs, and chickens. In real cold weather the water trough would freeze over and he had to break the ice with an ax, sometimes as much as 4 inches deep. After that he would eat breakfast and get ready for school.

And speaking of the chimney, Henry remembers how Grandpa would cook a sweet potato in the chimney. He would gather hot ashes mixed with small coals and pile them on top and around the potato. He knew more or less when it was done. He would dust off the ashes and peel off the skin.

Then Henry started talking about when they would harvest the sweet potatoes. They would take the wagon to the field. He remembers his brother Reynaldo helping them dig up potatoes and load them in the wagon. Grandpa would give a lot of them away to neighbors and relatives. They would store the rest under the screened porch, where they kept good for a long time. I love a baked sweet potato with plenty of real butter. Henry won’t eat them. I guess maybe he got his share growing up on the farm.

Julia Castro, a retired Head Start teacher and mother of 10, lives in Floresville with her husband, Henry. Her email is

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