One good neighbor, hold the sawdust

I’ve been taking it pretty easy this week. After spending the last month getting my firewood for next year, I turned the wrong way the other day and something got twisted in my back, and that requires me to take it slow for a while. But I still have a lot of blessings to count, and one wonderful blessing that came up again this week is having a good neighbor.

Now, I know the best way to have a good neighbor is to be a good neighbor, but sometimes even that doesn’t work. My bride and I have been blessed with about the best neighbor you could get. Mrs. Kathryn Lee is our next door friend, and you couldn’t ask for a better neighbor. She is, in all things, pure Rappahannock, and a joy to talk with and be around. And, she is full of surprises.

The other day, Linda and I stopped by to see how she was getting along, and we got to one of my favorite topics: food. She asked Linda if she had ever made sawdust gravy. Now, in my house, as you may know, gravy is one of the three major food groups, the other two being meat and potatoes. Linda and I were both blessed with a country upbringing, and that included mothers who knew how to cook and could make something good to eat from just about anything. Gravy was an integral part of that something good. But, neither of us had ever heard of sawdust gravy.

I have heard the expression “sawmill gravy,” but sawdust gravy was new to us, and it didn’t sound that appetizing. Mrs. Lee said it was made with cornmeal instead of flour. Walking back to the house, we talked about this new food item and decided to screw up our courage and give it a try one day soon.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but when you think about the old days, most country people, especially those who lived close to the ground, were more likely to have corn than wheat, and with the many mills that dotted this county, it makes sense, to me at least, to speculate that folks may have used more cornmeal than we typically use today, and that cornbread, for instance, may have been more of a staple than bread made with wheat flour.

Within a day or two, I was dragging myself to the kitchen for breakfast, and I could smell that sweet, salty aroma of old country ham frying in the skillet. I knew I was in for a good breakfast of old ham and eggs and gravy, but, there on the counter, next to the stove, sat a box of cornmeal.

Truth be known, we were both a bit apprehensive. It looked like gravy. It smelled like gravy. It even tasted like gravy. But, still, we didn’t risk putting it over our entire over-easy fried egg. Not at first, anyway. I guess the jury is still out, but it really wasn’t that bad. It may fall into the category of an “acquired” taste. Certainly, it was better than no gravy at all, and, as Dad used to say, it was better than a snowball. The texture was striking, but it holds true to its name, sawdust. I can’t wait to hear from the folks who will call me with their experience with sawdust gravy.

Until next time, I hope you have found more morels than I have. We have had enough for a couple of messes, but the woods have been so dry at the surface, my luck has been pretty hit and miss. Treasure every one you find, for they are a true blessing, just like a good neighbor.

Richard Brady can be reached at 540-675-3754 or

Richard Brady
About Richard Brady 151 Articles
Richard Brady was born and raised within sight of Rappahannock Peak, as was his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, etc. He graduated from George Mason University and was employed for 35 years with various agencies of the federal government. He retired in 2001, and he and his wife, Linda, live in Flint Hill, Va.