Friday, February 24, 2012

Dad's Old Lunch Box

This is my father's metal lunch box and collapsible tin cup that he used as a child for his mid day meal at school. He would have been of school age in about 1921. It's pretty banged up, bent and dented. I remember asking him if that had happened over the years since he used it as a child, as it had laid around the house all that time? He smirked a little and said, "Nah, it got banged up from me being a kid...getting in fights, going fishing...boy stuff. After that Ma just used it for a button box." It was indeed still full of some of grandma Hall's large button collection. I don't know if it was used before he got it or not, or if it was made as a lunch box or for some other purpose.

 The cup, he had always kept in his small chest of drawers that he used as a bed side stand. One of my favorite things was going through those drawers with him, searching for some small drawing or measuring tool I wanted to borrow. He would pull all kinds of little treasures out of there and tell me about them. I never tired of hearing the stories. He had an old cigar box with a black tire inner tube rubber band around it to keep it secure and in it he stored the old drinking cup along with his old report cards, small rulers, and mathematical/drafting tools from his school days. His favorite subject was physics. And he was always very science and mechanically oriented. I think I got my interest in science and nature from him, along with my love of gadgets. He taught me a lot about wild plants and flowers and could do complicated calculations in his head at a snap of the fingers. He knew all the formulas by heart. He graduated from high school, but I think he always wished he could have gone to college. He got kind of a wistful or a sometimes obstinate attitude when he talked about his love of math and science, and especially physics. I think he felt it had never been an option for him, growing up in a coal mining family during depression times and then beginning a family of his own.

My Dad, Thomas J. Hall, was the youngest of the family
shown here with his four older siblings and an older neighbor girl.

When I asked him what was packed in their lunches for school he said usually pasties, which were like meat pies that the miners always took for lunch. I was surprised since I'd never heard him mention them before, though I knew what they were from researching his Welsh ancestry. He said Grandma Hall made them from whatever left over meat was available and whatever she had on hand, and packed them still hot from the oven in newspaper so that they might still be warm at lunch time. And for dessert there were often homemade cookies, and water to fill his cup from the well at the school. Though sometimes on bread making day, he had fresh homemade bread with butter and jelly and maybe a hunk of meat or cheese. And sometimes fresh fruit was available. On very cold days he might have a jar of hot coffee or tea tucked in with the hot pastie. I never found a recipe that was written down for pasties in any family recipes, but have included one below that was found online. There are many variations, with various meats including ground beef, potato's and other vegetables. A modern version can be made easily with prepared pie dough. They can be picked up like a sandwich and dipped in a condiment, or eaten with a fork when smothered in gravy or some other sauce. Or just eat them plain like my Dad's family took in their packed lunches or picnic baskets.


  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups lard
  • 10 tablespoons ice water
  • 2 pounds top round steak, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 5 red potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 turnips, peeled and cubed
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt


  1. Place the flour, 2 teaspoons of salt, and the lard in a bowl. Quickly rub the lard into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles small peas. Pour in the ice water, and form into a ball. Add more water if it feels too dry. Divide the dough into 6 balls, and wrap in plastic. Chill one hour.
  2. In a bowl, combine the meat, turnips, potatoes, onions, remaining 1 tablespoon salt, and pepper.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C).
  4. Roll out one of the balls on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Using a cake pan, trace a 9 inch circle in the dough; cut out the circle. Place about 1 1/2 cups of the meat mixture into the middle of the circle. Fold the edges of the circle up to meet along the top of the meat filling, and crimp the dough along the top to seal. Repeat until all dough is used up. With a spatula, transfer the pasties to an ungreased sheet.
  5. Bake the pasties for 45 minutes, or until golden. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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