foodways

It’s got a little twang to it.

Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. worked as a janitor at Five Points (later Winstead) School and did gardening odd jobs at the home of school superintendent Charles L. Coon. His great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks, whom he adopted, told this story:

“Papa was up there cutting grass. ‘Go in the house, and ask ‘em for some water, a pitcher.’  Talking ‘bout my daddy wanted some water. And the first time I ever seen a grapefruit was there.  I said I’d never forget that.  ‘Cause I went in that house and asked for some water, and I said ‘Daddy said’ – I called him Papa.  Anyway, ‘he wanted to know if he could have some water.’  And the lady said, ‘Yeah,’ and she got a pitcher and a glass.  And I took it on out there, and then I just sit on the steps.  So Papa stopped and drinked him some water. But I was just standing there while they was fixing the water, and I looked on that table, and all ‘round the table there by the plate they had a salt cellar and half a grapefruit and a cherry sitting in the middle.  And that thing just looked so pretty, looked so good.  And I said, ‘Unh, that’s a big orange!’ I said, ‘Well, next time I go to the store I’m gon get me one, too.’  And sho’ nuff, I asked Papa, when we left – I don’t remember whether it was, it wont that particular time, but we come out and were on our way to Edmundson’s store in Five Points, and he wanted me to go in and get a plug of tobacco. Part of a plug.  And tell Old Man Edmundson to put it on the bill. So he waited, he was out there on a wagon, he had a little horse, and I went in and told Mr. Edmundson Papa wanted a, whatever amount it was, he didn’t get a whole plug, ‘cause I think it was three or four sections to a plug of tobacco, and for him to put it on the bill, and I said, ‘He said I could have a orange.  And put that on the bill.’  And it was boxes sitting up – I’ll never forget it – the boxes sitting up with all the oranges sitting up in there.  And I got the biggest one out of the group.  The one that wasn’t even orange.  I made sure I was gon get me a big orange!  I got that and come on back out there and got on the wagon and coming from Five Points to almost home, I was peeling that thing and peeling it ‘til I got it off, and it was sour, ‘Ugh, that’s a sour orange!’  I never seen a orange that sour. And I said, ‘Now, that didn’t look like, that’s a light-complected … yellow.’ But it was still like a orange, and it was so big.

“From then on I didn’t want no big orange. Now I always get little oranges. Today I don’t buy no big orange.  ‘Cause the little ones is sweeter than the big ones.  But, honey, that was a grapefruit, and that was the first I’d ever known it was a grapefruit.  We ain’t never had no grapefruit.  And so, I told Mama that was a, ugh, sour orange.  And I told her ‘bout what the Coons had on their table when I went up there.  And she said, ‘Well, that was a grapefruit.’  ‘A grapefruit?,’  I said, ‘well, what’s a grapefruit?’  And she said, ‘It’s like a big orange.  But you have to put sugar on it most time.  It’s a little sour.  It’s got a little twang to it.’  She said, ‘But your daddy didn’t never like none, so I don’t care that much about it.’  And I said, ‘A grapefruit?  I got myself a grapefruit.’  I said, ‘The cherries, where they get the cherries?,’ I said. ‘That little red thing where was on there.’  She said, ‘Well, you buy ‘em in bottles from the store.’ But, anyway, it was sour, but I learned the taste, you put a little sugar on it, makes a little bit sweeter.  I swear, Lord, I think about those things that I did when I was little.”

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The house with the grapefruit was at 109 North Rountree Street in Wilson’s College Park neighborhood. Charles L. Coon’s house has been demolished, but was catalogued in Bainbridge and Ohno’s Wilson, North Carolina: Historic Buildings Survey (1980):

“This house was built c.1915 for Wilson’s foremost educator, Charles L. Coon. He served as superintendent of the Wilson Graded School from 1907 until his death in 1927 and was County School superintendent for the last fifteen years of this period. Coon, credited with the creation of a model school system in Wilson, also served on the North Carolina Child Labor Committee, the State Teachers Assembly, the editorial board of the North Carolina Historical Review and was the author of North Carolina Schools and Academies 1790-1840 and Public Schools of Wilson County. His house is sturdy and simple. The tile roof is unusual in a house of this vintage, and it enriches the texture of the facade. The front porch was constructed in typical Bungalow style, with square flared columns supporting the overhanging hipped roof.”

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Hattie H. Ricks, circa 1920, probably a few years after she first tasted grapefruit.

Hill’s Wilson, N.C., City Directory (1916).

  • Plug tobacco is made by pressing cured tobacco in a sweet (often molasses-based) syrup. The resulting sheet of pressed tobacco was cut into “plugs.” Edmundson likely carried locally manufactured product.

Adapted from interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.

Negro curb market.

6 17 1942.png

Wilson Daily Times, 17 June 1942.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 August 1942.

Where we shopped: Hill’s Fish Market.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 August 1944.

Brothers William and Joseph Meade Hill owned and operated a fish market on East Nash Street near Pender (the site later of Dr. Julian B. Rosemond‘s dental office.) The market’s location assured that it served a mostly African-American clientele.

What curious text: “For Your Protection … Always let the little fishes that swim around our adv. dive down into your Telephone Directory or Radio Station WGTM and bring up your Seafood Telephone Number 3291. It’s a number that guarantees fresh seafood.”

“A white friend” speaks of Mrs. Mary Hagans.

WDT 8 12 1921 Mary Hagans

Wilson Daily Times, 12 August 1921.

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Richard Hagans married Ann Faithful 1 May 1849 in Edgecombe County. Lemon S. Dunn was bondsman, and John Norfleet, witness.

In the 1860 census of Edgecombe County: Richard Hagans, 33, wife Alley, 31, and children Lawrence, 10, Laura, 8, Margaret, 6, Richard, 5, Neely, 3, and Charles Hagans, 3 months.

The family is not found in the 1870 census.

On 30 December 1874, Lawrence Hagan, 25, married Mollie Pender, 20, at the residence of William Woodard in Wilson County. Witnesses were R. Hagan, Dobson Powell and Anderson White.

In the 1880 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Laurence Hagans, 30, wife Mary, 24, and children James, 6, and Elizabeth, 3. Next door, Lawrence’s father Richard Hagans, 52, mother Alley, 51, and brothers Charley, 20, Julus, 16, Bisco, 14, Thomas, 11, and Joe, 1.

In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Larnce Haggan, 49, wife Etha, 44, and children Joe, 21, Augustus, 19, Oscar, 18, Charlie, 16, Annie, 13, Connie, 10, Lena, 8, Mollie, 7, William L., 4, Minnie, 3, and Pattie, 1, and Lawrence’s widowed mother Alice, 70.

In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Laurence Hagans, 60, wife Mary, 56, and children Laurence Jr., 16, Minnie, 4, and Pattie, 12. [N.B. Pattie Hagans married Julius F. Freeman Jr. in 1918 in Pulaski, Arkansas.]

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Laurence Haggans, 70; wife Mary; 62; daughter Minnie, 23, and her children Lessie, 10, Mary, 8, Alliet, 6, and Rensie Comb, 4; son Joe Haggans, 35; son-in-law William Pearce, 40, daughter Mollie, 28, and their children Samuel, 7, Ernestine, 4, Wood Roe, 3, and Cleveland, 18 months; grandson Donnie Haggans, 4; and adopted children Jim, 14, Dave, 20, and Ruth Hinton, 20.

Mary Hagans died 30 July 1921 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Her death certificate reports that she was 64 years old and was born in Tarboro to David and Phillis Pender. Her and her husband Lawrence Hagans farmed for Kerby Woodard.

Five months later, on 14 December 1921, Lawrence Hagans, 69, of Gardners township, son of Richard and Allie Hagans, married Maggie Slaughter, 56, of Ahoskie, at Maggie’s home in Toisnot township.

Lawrence Hagans, 75, died 9 April 1926 in Wilson township. His death certificate reports that he was working as a tenant farmer for W.H. Woodard and had been born in  Edgecombe County.

Lawrence & Mary Gray Pender

Lawrence and Mary Gray Pender Hagans.

Photo courtesy of user nikkinaya at www.ancestry.com