I have always been a breakfast eater. Although I have known friends through the years who were not breakfast eaters, I could never understand how they could function without breakfast each morning. I remember one friend in Augusta, Ark., who had a cup of coffee for breakfast, more coffee for lunch, and then he had his meal for the day at the end of the day after working all day. I could never understand how he could do that. Without breakfast, I always run out of gas about 11 o'clock in the morning.
As I grew up on the farm, we usually started the day about 5 a.m. by starting the milking. One of my jobs, early in the morning, was to bring the cows in for the milking. Then, we boys, as we got old enough, had a few cows to milk, usually two to four, depending on our age. We might be able to finish milking our cows before breakfast, but breakfast time was set according to when we kids had to get on the school bus. We had to eat breakfast, wash our faces, brush our teeth, put on our school clothes, and get to the top of the driveway by about 7:20 a.m. when the school bus would stop at our house.
Breakfast was always a major meal on our farm. Of course we used the rural terminology for the meals in those days. You had breakfast in the morning, dinner at noon, and supper in the evening. We were vaguely aware that some people had dinner in the evening, and that they called the noon meal "lunch." But that seemed weird to us, like something that would happen in New York City, but never in farm country in Arkansas.
Our Mom, I think, always considered food as fuel for working people. Nobody was overfed in our family, but Mom thought we shouldn't run out of energy for our busy lives, so she was committed to being sure that we were well fed. Breakfast usually started with a bowl of cereal. The kind of cereal varied widely over time. Sometimes we would have hot cereal, like oatmeal or cooked rice. We ate all our cereals with milk and sugar added, although sometimes Mom would have us sweeten our cereal with Karo syrup or sorghum molasses. That was kind of a reminder of the hard times, such as during the Depression and its aftermath, or during World War II, when such things as sugar were very scarce and rationed.
Mom had discovered during those days that she could make sweetened things like pies and cakes by using Karo syrup as the sweetener. She may have been motivated to feed us oatmeal early on because Quaker Oats came with things like bowls and drinking glasses as "prizes" in the box. Those were not cheap things either, they were quality bowls and glasses, and over time a person could accumulate quite a nice set of glassware just by keeping what came in the oatmeal.
We also were pretty big on having a bowl of dry cereal to begin a breakfast. The earliest dry cereals I remember were Post Toasties and Cheerios. In those days, I don't think there were so many brands of corn flakes and oat cereals as we see on the grocery shelves today. But I remember that very early on we had companies such as Post, Kelloggs and General Mills. We boys were much into sports as we grew up, especially playing basketball and baseball and softball in school and out. We were great fans of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team on radio and later on TV, and on both radio and TV we were always aware of the advertising that was related to sports. In the 1950s, the ads often featured a sports star (usually a baseball player) touting Wheaties, and how Wheaties gives you energy for playing sports. So we had to have Wheaties on the shelf, and we often used Wheaties as our breakfast starter. I was never sure if we played better when we ate Wheaties!
Anyway, we often had a variety of other cereals, like Wheat Puffs, Rice Puffs, Kelloggs Raisin Bran, Wheat Chex, Rice Chex, Rice Krispies (Snap, Krackle and Pop!), and even Cream of Wheat.
Our breakfasts were usually large, real farm breakfasts, geared to bolster your hard working morning. We almost always had a fried egg or two, (over hard). I never did like a runny yellow, and even today, when I ask for a farm breakfast at the cafe, I ask for it to be fried "over hard."
When I was very young, I didn't eat the yellow of the egg at all, just the white. But by the time I was in the mid-teen years, I learned to like the whole egg. I've often been amazed in ordering eggs at restaurants how so many cooks are anxious that they may be over-cooking my eggs. They needn't worry about that, just keep cooking until the yolk is solid, and you're good! Occasionally at home we would have boiled eggs or scrambled, but mostly we had our eggs fried over hard. Along with the eggs we would have either bacon or sausage. I don't remember ever having ham for breakfast. Ham was for other meals.
Then there was fresh-baked biscuits. We could eat the biscuits with gravy, or pour out some Karo syrup or sorghum molasses and sop that up with the biscuit. We nearly always had cornbread on the table. I used to like to have a glass of milk at breakfast. I would drink about two-thirds of the glass of milk, then chunk some cornbread into the remaining milk, and that way I would have cornbread/milk mush. That was some good eating, I thought!
Editor's note: This column was originally published Sept. 18, 2019. The late Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and an award-winning columnist, was vice president of Pea Ridge Historical Society and retired pastor.