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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A Book Club Quilting Bee


A Tapestry of Secrets has been out for two months now and if anyone out there is considering reading the book as part of a book club, I thought I’d share some ideas I put together with the marketing team at Bethany House.

Ella Phillips, the heroine of A Tapestry of Secrets, is a quilt artist. She uses traditional quilting techniques learned at her Grandma Perla’s knee to create beautiful art pieces. After her grandmother has a stroke, Ella hauls out the old quilting frame to encourage Perla to sew as she struggles to regain her mobility. So what better way to gather and discuss the book than with an old-fashioned (although modernized) quilting bee?

Activities:  You probably aren’t going to actually stitch away at a quilt (although if you do, I want an invitation!), so here are two activities to give your Modern Quilting Bee a little authenticity.

  1. Quilt Coloring Pages – There are dozens of on-line sites that offer printable pages. This site has an incredible variety of quilt blocks. Offer your members a selection of pages along with colored pencils or markers and get into the latest trend—adult coloring!
  2. No Sew Fleece Quilts – Not only are these easy and fun to make, you can also donate the finished quilts to a local shelter, children’s hospital, or other charity. Instructions for making fleece quilts are below.

Food:  If you want your refreshments to reflect the theme, here are a few ideas.

  1. Cheese Tray – Cut cubes of different cheeses all the same size and lay them out on a rectangular tray in your very own quilt pattern. Use pretzel sticks in place of toothpicks.
  2. Quilt Pizza – Top rectangular pizza dough (follow package directions) with sauce and cheese then lay out quilt squares with different toppings—sliced olives, pepper rings, and mushrooms offer lots of room for creativity.
  3. Quilt Cake – Bake your favorite cake mix in a 9×13 pan, top with white frosting, mark off squares with an icing pen, and invite book club members to design their own quilt squares with icing, candies, edible flowers, or other toppings.


  • Two complimentary pieces of fleece that are exactly the same size
  • A ruler
  • Something to write with
  • Scissors


  1. You can make your blanket any size you like from a lap quilt to a large coverlet, just remember it will be smaller once you tie the fringe.
  2. Lay your first piece of fleece right side down on a table or the floor and smooth it out.
  3. Lay the second piece of fleece right side up on top of the first piece, being careful to match your corners. Trim the edges if needed to make them match.
  4. Next, you need to remove your corners. Measure in from each corner the same depth you plan to cut your fringe and make a mark. Four inches is a good minimum. Cut the measured square from each corner.
  5. Now begin cutting your fringe. The distance between each cut doesn’t have to be exact, simply space your cuts 1.5” to 2” apart all the way around the edge.
  6. Begin tying simple, overhand knots to attach the two pieces of fleece. Snug each knot into place until you’ve tied them all.
  7. Ta-da! Your no-sew quilt is complete. Now use it to make someone happy!

Discussion Questions:Tapestry Cover

  1. Ella’s former fiancé didn’t seem to think her art qualified as a “real” job. Has anyone ever written off something you love to do as just a hobby or not really important? How did it make you feel?
  2. Ella finds inspiration for her art in the family farm and the people she loves—what inspires you?
  3. Wedding quilts are mentioned twice in the book. Have you ever made a gift for someone’s wedding? What did you make and what deeper meaning did it have for you?
  4. Ella finds a quilt her grandmother made for her using scraps of fabric from her growing up years. If you had a quilt like that, what are some of the fabrics it would include? What memories do they spark?
  5. Ella creates a series of quilt hangings—including one of Laurel Mountain Church— that she calls, “Appalachian Blessings.” What series of images might you use to depict the greatest blessings in your life?
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Appalachian Thursday–Autumn in the Mountains

Your post for today–the wonders of autumn in Appalachia!

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