Appalachian Thursday — Making Ice Cream

porchOne of our favorite summertime treats growing up on the farm was hand cranked ice cream. Of course, when you have a cow that delivers lots of creamy milk, the ingredients aren’t hard to come by. I suppose we made other flavors, but good ole vanilla is what I remember best.

Dad would set the churn up on the back porch (where we spent lots of time in the summer–see photo). Mom filled the internal cylinder with the appropriate ingredients–cream, sugar, vanilla. Then ice was added to the bucket, rock salt poured over the top, and the cranking began.

We always wanted to help crank, although I suspect we (or at least I) were more hindrance than help. The churn sat on the edge of the porch with the little drainage spout extending into the grass below. We’d stick our fingers in the drip, drip, drip, then taste and marvel at how salty it was.

Once Dad deemed the ice cream ready, we’d immediately pull out the dasher and dig in. Well, after we fought over who got to lick the dasher.

As an adult, my husband and I made ice cream with an old, hand-cranked maker his dad gave us. It was more work than I remembered! After the ice cream was “made,” my husband packed more ice around the cylinder, covered it with a towel and set it aside.

I asked him what the heck he was doing. “Curing it,” he said.

I was mystified.

Well, it turns out you can pack your freshly churned ice cream in ice (or stick it in the freezer) and it will harden. Just like store ice cream.

Who knew?

It was certainly delicious and, well, sturdier, after the ice cream had cured, but I think I’ll always prefer it uncured. Meltingly soft, so you almost have to hurry to eat it–kind of like summer itself, gone before you fully appreciate it.

Then again, I may just be sentimental.

Appalachian Thursday – Berry Season

HelvetiaSummer is a fruitful time in the soft, green mountains of Appalachia. The black raspberries are gone and the blackberries are just getting started. Typically we have MORE than enough to go round–even sharing with the bears!

When it comes to blackberries there are pies, jellies, jams, sauces, salads, and even sweet tea. But really, I think most of two things–cobbler and wine. My great-grandmother was a believer in blackberry wine to cure most things. A family story goes that when my brother was a baby he had an, er, intestinal complaint that doctors couldn’t cure. A tablespoon of blackberry wine from Grandma Jane and he was good as new!

So here’s a recipe from a booklet titled, Oppis Guet’s Vo, Helvetia. It includes recipes, household hints and cures collected by Eleanor Mailloux from the residents of Helvetia–a Swiss Village near where I grew up in WV. I don’t know if the recipe is any good, but the writing is great!

“On a lovely August day, find yourself a blackberry patch and pick a couple of gallons of berries. Put in crock and cover with water. Let set for a day–whenever you think of it mash and stir. Strain into containers and add 3 1/2 cups sugar to every gallon of juice. Usually, blackberries don’t take yeast, but for your first try you might add 1/2 cake dissolved yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water–add to juice and stir well. Ferment until stops working, put in jugs and cover tops with cloth. Let continue to work in warm place until bubbles cease to rise. When completely fermented, seal. Drink the following spring.”

And for a more practical recipe, you might try this cobbler from the Jubilation Cookbook for the Joyful Woman given to me by Anna Cutright in January 1989.

Blackberry Cobbler – Margaret Holmes
-Put 1 stick of butter in a deep dish and put into oven at 350 degrees.
-Mix: 2-4 cups blackberries with 1 cup sugar
-Mix: 3/4 cup plain flour, 1 cup sugar, 3/4 cup sweet milk, 2 tsp. baking powder
Stir into a smooth batter. Pour batter gently into center of melted butter. DO NOT STIR. Gently pour fruit into center of melted butter and batter. DO NOT STIR. Bake about 1 hour at 350 degrees.

My advice would be to serve that with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream!

Four Authors, One Luckenbooth Brooch

luckenboothEven as I’m gearing up for the release of The Sound of Rain in November, I’m also writing next year’s story. It’s a novella that will be part of a collection along with some of my favorite authors and it’s scheduled to come out in September 2018.

At a writer’s conference in 2016 I saw Karen Witemeyer (I love her books AND she’s utterly delightful in person!). After the requisite greetings, she said, “You write books set in the 1950s don’t you?”

Why yes, yes I do.

Karen, Kristi Ann Hunter, and Becky Wade were hatching an idea to write a series of novellas about four generations of women who pass down a beautiful brooch from mother to daughter (or daughter-in-law should the plot require it).

Kristi writes the Regency era, Karen writes books set in the American West, I prefer the 1950s and 60s, and Becky writes contemporary fiction. Perfect! We’d each tackle a generation of the same family, writing about a grandchild of the previous author’s heroine.

And tying them all together is a Luckenbooth. A what, you ask? The Luckenbooth is a 17th century Scottish brooch that was typically given as a wedding or betrothal gift (see photo of brooch we purchased for the cover above). And there’s a legend associated with our Luckenbooth–when a girl receives it, true love is sure to follow.

I’ve been having a great time writing about Fleeta Brady, a rough and tumble West Virginia girl who was orphaned as a small child. She grew up with her male cousins and is the best shot around, able to handle a rifle with exceptional skill. The last thing she wants is to fall in love because some old story says she will. And then Hank Chapin shows up from South Carolina and throws a wrench in all her plans. (Be on the lookout for Hank in The Sound of Rain.)

The plan is to set our stories around Christmas–which is perfect for my WV story since Thanksgiving to Christmas is hunting season in my home state offering lots of opportunities for Fleeta to show off her skills. (Don’t worry, her heart’s more at risk than are the local critters.)

So while I’m eager to introduce you to the characters in The Sound of Rain, I’m already thinking of what tales to tell you next. If you’d like a mini-preview. check out my Pinterest inspiration board for the story.

Appalachian Thursday–Lost Summers

rocksRemember when June meant school was over and you had long, hot weeks stretching out ahead of you before you had to think about having a schedule again? Of course, I grew up on a farm, so there was plenty to DO with gardening and haying and general choring. But even so, summer seemed like such a FREE time.

I can even remember–are you ready for this? Being bored! Yes, I got bored on occasion and soon learned not to complain to my mother about it. “Bored? I can give you something to do . . .”

And boredom bred creativity. Out of boredom came the idea to transform a rotted out chestnut tree stump (American chestnut–HUGE stump) into a playhouse. We also had the idea to carpet a clearing in the woods with moss, carefully transplanting sheets of the stuff and then trusting the Good Lord to work his magic (and He did!). We also roamed and rambled, built dams in creeks, got dirty, skinned our knees, read books in the hayloft, went swimming, and a hundred other country summer things.

Of course we got in trouble, too. There were bad decisions and mistakes were made, but I don’t think any of my ER visits happened in the summer. (I do remember a broken toe, but you just wrap tape around that.)

The upshot is we survived and I think we were better for having summers to fill with our own schemes and plans. We worked hard when we had to and played harder when we didn’t. It was wonderful and it gave me such rich material for my writing.

What’s one of your best summer memories?

 

Appalachian Thursday–People Like These

alternator
That’s my new alternator in the box at the gentleman’s elbow. Never so happy to see a car part!

Yesterday we returned from a trip home to West Virginia. A trip that didn’t go QUITE the way we planned!

Everything was on track until we passed through Rock Cave, WV, and I noticed the bright red battery light on the dashboard. Uh-oh. My husband checked the manual and it basically said, “Hie thee to an auto shop.”

Or something like that.

It was Sunday evening so we went on to the farm, shut off the engine, and asked my brother to make sure the car would start before he left for work in the morning. It did. So we went to the nearest Auto Advantage, 20 minutes away. They ran diagnostics and said everything was fine, but our battery was getting old. Well then. How about a new one? Carl hooked us up–only that didn’t make the battery light go off. Uh-oh.

Next stop was Tennerton Auto Service where Joe checked under the hood and confirmed our worst fears–the alternator was shot. If we could find one, he’d install it–today or maybe tomorrow. Uh-oh. I had appointments to keep!

Back to our buddy Carl who did NOT have the right alternator. Neither did several other places he kindly checked for us. Finally, he called Rick at Fisher Auto Parts (the competition) and they said they’d could get one by 2 p.m. At Fisher, we paid for the part and pondered how to get everything together in one place for possible installation that afternoon (as we drove around, using up our new battery, which was NOT being recharged by an alternator!).

No problem. They’d deliver the new part. I gave Rick a hug.

So we spent some quality time at the farm walking the dog and having lunch until it was time to go back to Tennerton Auto. I walked in, sat down, and within five minutes here came my alternator. (So shiny!) Joe and Juanita chatted with me about the state of the Mountain State and our families and health care and finally I broached the burning question. Would the car be fixed today? Sure thing. Come back before five.

My mom and Jean picked me up and we went back to the farm for a leisurely afternoon of porch sitting and story telling (practically a sporting event in WV). Then back to Tennerton where Joe and Juanita had me all set to go.

Less than 24 hours after that blasted light came on, we had a new battery, a new alternator, and a car that’ll likely go another 90,000 miles.

And here’s the lesson:  There was a point on Monday morning when I could have easily burst into tears. My plans were in shreds, my car was dying, and if God loved me he wouldn’t let my attempts to take care of my family be ruined. I just wanted to hook up Mom’s new computer and take Dad to his doctor’s appointment. (And cook for my brother–I have a notion he needs someone to feed him.)

But God had something else in mind. Instead of me swooping in to be a help, I was helped at every turn. My husband hung in there with me all day. Carl at Auto Advantage didn’t quit making calls until he found me an alternator. Rick and his guys at Fisher Auto Parts got me the part and delivered it. Joe and Juanita at Tennerton Auto Service not only fixed my car, but treated me like family come to visit. And Mom, instead of getting her computer running, ferried me around like the old days.

God surely does love me. So much so, that he let me face a challenge that reminded me of how miracles often look a lot like mundane problems being solved by good people taking care of each other.

Jim, Daniel, Mom & Jean, Carl, Rick, Joe & Juanita–thanks for being angels disguised as regular folks.

 

Appalachian Thursday – The First Cutting

grassesWe’re finally having some truly warm weather with days that might even be what you would call “hot.” And as summer approaches, I’ve seen some folks in the area start to put up the first cutting of hay.

When I was a kid, the first cutting typically came pretty close to the last day of school. For so many children, summer meant freedom–going to the pool, plenty of time to play, vacations. For my brothers and me it meant working in the hayfield–or the garden.

Until I got old enough to be more help than hindrance in the field, my job was to carry Mason jars of ice water out to the workers. Not a hard job, though fresh-cut stubble is mighty hard on bare feet.

When I got a bit bigger, I stacked bales as they were tossed onto a wagon moving slowly through the fields. It’s important to alternate rows for a secure stack. Some days I got to drive the tractor which is almost fun until you get to a steep hill and have to stop and start without jerking bales (or people) off the wagon.

And there was always the need for extra hands to unload the wagon (we used a hay elevator to carry the bales to the barn loft) then to stack the hay inside. I can remember more than one rush to the barn as dark clouds swarmed the sky. Rain is NOT good for hay.

And then the best part–a long shower or a trip to the swimming hole to wash the chaff from places you wouldn’t think it could go. It’s almost worth getting that hot, sweaty, and dirty just so to feel cool water sluice across your skin. Then a well-earned supper perfectly seasoned by the day’s labor. I don’t remember what we ate, but it was good.

Now don’t let me fool you. I worked, but nearly so hard as my brothers and the other boys and men my dad hired to help. Sometimes it pays to be the girl.

And now, as an adult, when I drive by a field of freshly mown hay, or see a farmer tedding in preparation for the rake, then the baler, I roll down the car window and breathe deeply. The smell reminds me of the satisfaction of a barn full of hay ready for winter. And it almost makes me wish I could spend a day sweating under the summer sun.

Almost.

The BEST Reference Books

Hevenly Highway HymnsWhile you can look just about anything up on-line these days, it’s sometimes nice to have an actual book you can take down from the shelf and flip through to find what you need.

That’s what I do when I want to include hymn lyrics in one of my novels. When a character sings, mentions a favorite hymn, or is touched by lyrics, I reach for my 1956 copy of Heavenly Highway Hymns from Laurel Fork United Methodist Church.

By the time I was a kid in the 70s, we’d replaced the worn, softcover hymnals with foil stamped hardback copies. But, of course, no one threw away the old ones. So, probably 15 years ago, I asked for one of the 1956 copies (turns out to be the first printing). And now I treasure it. And refer to it often when working on a manuscript.

The problem is, once I dip into those fragile pages, I am typically lost. On the way to Rock of Ages–#225–I stumble across #241. And I have to sing it (aloud if no one’s around). Who can resist a chorus like, “Lord, build me a cabin in the corner of glory land . . . In the shade of the tree of life that it may ever stand; Where I can hear the angels sing and shake Jesus’ hand; Yes, build me a cabin in the corner of glory land.”

I can hear Smutt and Anna, Uncle Willis and Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Bess, Mom & Dad, Glenn and Mary, Freddie and Mary and all the others singing a capella because no one could play the piano that almost always sat silent at the front of the church. Freddie hit the bass notes.

And what’s even better, is that my book is a shape note hymnal. It’s an old-style of singing where each note (do, re, mi, etc.) is assigned a specific shape (diamond, square, triangle, etc.). It was a way to teach folks to sing without having to teach them to read music.

Trust and ObeyWhile my impromptu hymn-singing when I’m supposed to be writing can turn into a serious distraction, I think it’s also really helpful. Because I write about Appalachia–where shape note (or sacred harp) singing still hangs on. And those side trips back to my childhood in a one-room church where I first learned to call God by name–well, that’s why I write. It’s good to be reminded. And maybe to sing a few verses of #99, “When we walk with the Lord, In the light of His word, What a glory He sheds on our way!”