Posted by: acooksca | 06/18/2009

Hobos in Gramma’s Kitchen

Hobo's X

Hobo's X

Jack Randolph was born and raised during the 1930’s in Highland Park, one of the oldest communities of Los Angeles. I met him recently in The Bay Area, where he lives now. He had a lovely story to tell about his Grandmother. He and his older sister, Pat, have many childhood memories of their Grandmother’s kitchen. “Gramma had a huge garden. She raised chickens, had fruit trees, vegetables…it was abundant. My sister remembers specific foods better then I do. I remember the hobos in Gramma’s kitchen.”

Pat recalls “Gramma had a small chicken coop on the left side of the garage and I think she also had corn there. Later that’s where she planted asparagus and squash or melons. On the other side of the garage, next to the path, she had berries, rhubarb and a few others things like carrots, radishes and of course cabbage. The grapes were on the fence and every other space was for flowers. The apricot tree did extremely well because it was planted over the area where the old septic tank had been. Very fertile!”

They both remembered meals at their Grandmother’s house and that sometimes there were strangers there. Their Grandfather worked for the railroad in Highland Park. Where the track neared the house the rails curved into a turn, forcing the train to slow. That’s where hobos, homeless men who had grabbed a free ride across the state or across the country, jumped off.

When Southern Pacific Railroad connected Southern California to the East in 1876 it initiated the great population boom of the 1880’s. Lured by a sunny climate, inexpensive land and grand plans for 60 communities, the Los Angeles Basin exploded with new-comers. The lush rolling hills that grazed sheep and cattle between Pasadena and the town of Los Angeles were sub-divided and named Highland Park. Homes were built on lots large enough for a garden, a few fruit trees and a chicken coop such as Grandmother Randolph’s. Families could take care of their needs and often, the hunger of strangers as well.

Hobos identified the houses of good hearted cooks by an “x” marked on the fence post. It was a sign left by another wanderer who had received a free meal at that house. It meant you were welcome to a home cooked meal, something like a hearty vegetable, beef and noodle soup that Pat recalls.

 “All my girls know how to make noodles like Gramma’s…it’s simple but time consuming.” Pat told me. “Gramma said 1 egg to a cup of flour, however it depends on the size of the egg (needs to be extra large). You can tell the dough is right when it’s a little sticky to roll out. Add flour as necessary. Dry on one side, then on the other. When dry, roll the dough like a tube and slice into strips. Spread out to dry. Use Short Ribs for the broth but they need to be at least 1/3 fat. The more meat, the richer the broth. Cook for a couple of hours and do not salt the meat. You add salt and pepper when you add the noodles.”

Pat goes on and on about her Grandmother’s cooking. “Do you remember fried apples?” she asks Jack. “You fry a couple strips of bacon, eat the bacon and fry the sliced apples (4-5) in the bacon grease with sugar to taste. Not green apples… Red! Jonathans are the best, but Gala, Ambrosia work just as well. Oh, and I forgot her applesauce…” These enthusiastic memories are a loving tribute to their generous Grandmother.


California: A Bicentennial History by David Lavender. American Association of State and Local History Nashville, Tennessee, 1976


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