Appalachian Thursday–Homemade Halloween


My brothers and I ready to go trick-or-treating!

No, I’m not talking about costumes, although those were often homemade. I’m talking about treats.

When we went trick or treating in Laurel Fork, WV, we got our fair share of store-bought candy. But there were also plenty of homemade treats. Of course, we knew everyone whose door we knocked upon, and there were no worries about getting anything suspicious.

My Great Aunt Dorothy usually had popcorn balls and caramel apples. They’d be arranged on a tray in the kitchen. We’d come in out of the cold long enough to select a treat, be dazzled by indoor lights, and be admired by the grown-ups.

What I remember about the apples is getting in trouble for eating the caramel off the outside and wanting to pitch the remains. Mom had strong opinions about wasting the only healthy item in our trick-or-treat bag.

The popcorn balls, though, were good through and through. Crunchy, sweet, delicious!


2 quarts popped corn
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup water1/4 cup water
salt to taste
splash of vanilla extract

Pop all that corn. Air popped is nice so that the kernels are fluffy and dry, but I love using an old-fashioned stove top popper. Put the popped corn in a barely warm oven on a cookie sheet or in a huge, metal bowl to keep toasty while you make the syrup.

Add the sugar through salt to a heavy pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Stick your candy thermometer in there and cook without stirring until it hits 270 degrees. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the vanilla. Pour over popcorn (I like a BIG bowl for this) and stir with a long handled spoon until the popcorn is pretty well coated.

Now for the fun! Butter your hands to protect them from the now only slightly less molten syrup and form the mixture into balls. Be careful! This stuff is hot, but if you let it cool too much, it won’t stick.

Warning: Don’t try to eat a still warm popcorn ball unless you want to lose some fillings. Let them cool completely and enjoy!

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Lessons of the Canine Sort

img_1618Last week I took some time off work, but I have a bad habit of tending to just one or two things regardless. On Tuesday, I needed to slip into work to handle a quick task. My plan was to arrive during staff meeting, ghost in and out, and no one would be the wiser.

Except I took my dog.

And instead of a five-minute task, the download I wanted to install on my computer took 15 minutes. And I checked some e-mail. And I made a call.

Thistle, who had been very good and patient all this while, heard footsteps outside my closed office door. She tilted her head to one side, then the other, then she whimpered. Oh! That whimper. How can I not give her what she wants??

Especially when all she wanted was to go out and say hello. So I wrapped up my download and gave in to the inevitable. Apparently, I would have to speak to people in order to appease my dog.

So we made the rounds. She greeted co-workers in the main office, ran up and down the stairs a few times (she LOVES stairs), then out to the parking lot where there were MANY smells. Next we headed down to the garage where the farm crew stores fresh eggs. As long as I was seeing people, might as well get a dozen fresh eggs–right? She greeted a volunteer and checked the mowers.

Then we stopped by the community room to leave dinner in the fridge for a friend who recently had a baby. There was an impromptu meeting going on and Thistle circled the table, saying hello to each person, getting pats and scratches behind the ears.

And here’s what I noticed:

Pretty much everyone Thistle greeted broke out into a smile. There I was, hoarding my precious moments of time away from work, trying to avoid people I actually like and care about just because I was “off.”

Not Thistle. That dog adores people. People give her doggie joy. And I think it must be catching. Because most everyone who knows her is glad to see her. Smiles break out and hearts seem to lighten.

Oh, to be half the person my dog is.

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Appalachian Thursday–Apple Butter


Mom and my older brother making apple butter in 1971. Technically, I’m in this photo, ’cause Mom is six months or so pregnant with ME!

More than a decade ago my husband and I had breakfast in Oxford, MS, as part of a foodways conference. On the table that morning was a jar of apple butter. As soon as we tasted it, we agreed it was the BEST we’d ever eaten. For me, it hearkened back to the apple butter we used to make in Aunt Bess’ huge copper kettle.

The secret? Oil of cinnamon. None of this ground cinnamon or cinnamon stick nonsense–it was pure oil of cinnamon giving the condiment it’s depth.

I put that jar in my purse and once home, read the label carefully. Turned out it had been made in Snowflake, Va. So, next time I drove from NC to WV, I swung by Snowflake which was only a little out of the way.

You’ve heard jokes about small towns. Well, the highway sign for Snowflake is actually printed on both sides. And the only thing there, is the Snowflake General Mercantile. I’m pretty sure it’s closed now, but when I pulled up, they were having some sort of pre-Christmas celebration complete with Dickens carolers.

Inside, it really was a general store with a little bit of everything including a lunch counter and . . . apple butter. They made it from Rome apples growing out back. I bought a case.

When that ran out, I called them up and ordered another case. It was the first and probably only order they ever shipped out. Not long after that, the old folks got old, the young folks moved on, and they stopped making apple butter.

It was a sad day when the last jar in our pantry was empty.

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Autumn is Here!

I’m enjoying a bit of a stay-cation this week. I typically try to take some time off in October so I can enjoy this favorite season of mine and this year I think I pegged it. Normally, peak color would have been last weekend, but with warmer, drier weather, fall seems to have been delayed a bit.

On Saturday, we took advantage of time off and gorgeous weather to go on a hike complete with picnic lunch–one of my favorite things to do. Here are a few shots of the spectacular scenery we enjoyed. That would be my husband carrying the picnic–he’s the best!

How about you–how’s autumn coming along in your neck of the woods?

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Appalachian Thursday – Nut Harvest

Cutting walnutsThe apples have fallen, the pumpkin’s carved, and the leaves are turning orange and yellow and red. Must be time for the nut harvest! Of course, if we don’t hurry, the critters will beat us to it.

Growing up on the farm, we had walnuts, chestnuts, and filberts (hazelnuts). With walnuts, it was best to let nature dry the husk and expose the shell, which would still turn our hands black. Chestnuts could be removed from their prickly casing by pinching them between the soles of our boots and pushing them out. Hazelnuts we just let dry a bit and then whacked ’em but good with a hammer.

Mom probably made things using nuts, but mostly the pleasure was in just eating them straight from the shell. And eat them we did! Chestnuts in particular were an easy target and the crisp texture and flavor of that buttery, yellow nut was SO good. You can score them and roast them briefly to make them easy to peel, but we just bit ’em until the shell cracked.

Even here, on our little ole plot of land in NC, we have walnut trees (can’t plant tomatoes under them) and several hazelnut shrubs. But it’s a lot of work and not always worth it if the weather hasn’t been right or worms have gotten there first. So mostly Thistle and I sit inside the French doors and watch the squirrels feast. Their leavings streak the porch black when I go out to sweep them away.

But I kind of like that.

Reminds me of how God provides for squirrels and children growing up on a farm just the same. And how what he provides nourished my body back then and my heart today.

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Puppies & Finding Your Purpose

Thistle, come!

When Thistle was a puppy, she had a penchant for chewing things. Sticks, shoes, area rugs–whatever. Once, while out for a walk, she spotted a green, plastic cup on the side of the road. I’m not sure what qualities she looked for in shreddable trash, but whatever it was, that cup passed muster and she grabbed it.

Thistle’s standard mode of walking on leash is to rush ahead, find something interesting, and stop to give it her full attention. It’s not the smoothest, steadiest way to move down the road. Many times I have to draw her attention away from a stick, bit of trash, or remnant of unfortunate critter in order to make any progress at all.

Not so once she had her cup. Cup in mouth, she pointed her nose toward home and did not look to the right or the left. When a squirrel crunched through the leaves in the woods nearby, she barely gave it a glance. When I spoke her name she shot me a look over one shoulder and kept on moving toward her goal.

Focus. Work to do. A purpose. That’s what Thistle had. My normally scattered puppy suddenly acquired Zen-like focus when there was a task at hand.

I think what happened to Thistle when she found just the right bit of trash is what happens to people when they find just the right work to do. The normally distractable person suddenly has focus. She gets in the flow. Time passes without her noticing. Squirrels run right in front of her and . . . oh wait, that’s Thistle.

I think this is one of the best clues to finding your purpose. What holds your attention so strongly that normal distractions fade into the background? The way it does for me when I get in the flow of writing . . .

Oh, it isn’t always that way. Sometimes I write for an hour without stopping and when I do stop it’s like waking up. Other times, the writing comes in drips and drabs that I have to squeeze out like the last bit of toothpaste. But the flow happens often enough that I think writing must be the thing. The gift. The irresistible work that gives me purpose.

So how about you? What utterly captures your attention?

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Appalachian Thursday–Signs of Winter

acornsEven though fall is really just now getting underway, there are already signs of the coming winter. Two weeks ago I took Thistle to the woods and had to practically dodge falling acorns. I stood up the trail from a massive oak and listened to so many pelting through the leaves I couldn’t even count them.

You know what that means.

A hard winter!

I suppose it makes sense that nature would provide a wealth of food ahead of a long, cold winter. Of course, there are quite a few other signs you can be on the lookout for if you want to know what sort of winter is in the offing.

  • Woolly worms – Each of the worm’s segments is meant to represent a week of winter–black is cold and brown is mild. I have yet to see one of the critters, though, so no prediction yet.
  • Wasps Nests – The higher the nests, the worse the winter. If you see hives low to the ground, snow should be light. If they’re high in the eaves and in the trees–look out!
  • August Fog – Every foggy morning in August equals a winter snow. Did you pay attention?
  • Spiders – If it’s going to be a rough winter, they’ll spin larger webs and move into your house in abundance.
  • Pigs – Keep an eye out for pigs gathering sticks–it generally indicates a dramatic change in the weather AND it’s pretty funny to see.
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