“Take a hoe with you in case there’s a copperhead in the outhouse,” Grandpa warned. That is one of my earliest memories of visiting my Grandma and Grandpa Lucas. Grandpa took the hoe to a couple of copperheads during that visit, one sunning itself on a piece of tin and one in the outhouse. Another of my memories from that visit was of my mom taking me into the kitchen and giving me a bath in a wash pan. My bathwater was a mix of cold spring water and boiling water, poured from a giant coffeepot that resided on my grandmother’s stove. As a child I remember thinking that was the biggest coffee pot I had ever seen. Being accustomed to my mother’s 1970s model percolator, I thought Grandma’s gallon-sized pot seemed like a monster. I can still see Grandpa pouring steaming water from that pot into a pan on the porch and washing the day-long collection of coal dust from his face and hands before supper. Aside from providing hot water any time of day, that mega-pot was also used for boiling coffee. The smell of Grandma’s coffee was legendary. I have heard it said numerous times that a spoon could stand upright in a cup of her coffee. Although coffee was a daily ritual at my grandparents’ house, there were times when it was unavailable, and they improvised accordingly.
Lakie Jane Gibson was born in 1902 in Southwest Virginia. She married Troy Lucas in 1920, and over the next 25 years, gave birth to 14 children; seven survived to adulthood. Although my grandpa worked in the mines, there never seemed to be enough money for the large family that often included additional relatives. My grandmother took in and raised motherless and abandoned children, and for many years my great-grandmother lived with them as well. Store-bought items often ran out, including sugar, flour, and coffee. Honey provided a sugar substitute, and cornmeal was used for cornbread and gravy in the Lucas home, alleviating the need for flour. And in the hands of my grandmother, the ever-present cornmeal was turned into a coffee alternative. The origin of Cornmeal Coffee is unknown. It may have been an original creation. The exact recipe quantities are also unknown. I came up with this method through trial and error.
1/3 cup (more or less) plain white cornmeal
4 cups water
Pinch of salt
Pour cornmeal into an iron skillet on medium to medium high heat. Stir the cornmeal continuously to keep it from sticking to the pan. The goal is to turn the cornmeal deep brown without burning it. Remove cornmeal from heat and pour into a pan or pot with four cups of water and a pinch of salt. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil to avoid bubbling over. Once the brew has boiled for about three minutes, remove from heat and let it set for about two minutes. Pour and drink.
This drink is not filtered, and there will be cornmeal in each cup of coffee. Although not used by my grandparents, milk, sugar, or honey can be added.