Appalachian Thursday – A Poor Harvest

I’ve mostly given up trying to grow our food. I keep a pot of herbs and this year I grew a cherry tomato in a pot near the front porch. Based on what I paid for the plant and the number of tomatoes I picked, I’d say I broke even on that one. But, like the local bears, I’m opportunistic when it comes to harvesting food. Blackberries, raspberries, apples, pears, grapes, and nuts tend to be plentiful in our area. We pick them wild and have neighbors who are glad to share. This year, though, there just wasn’t much to harvest. I made an apple pie last weekend and had to supplement with store apples. The walnuts are few and far between. Even the hickory nuts are less this year. Growing up on the farm, we had walnuts, chestnuts, and filberts (hazelnuts). Walnuts turned our hands (and clothes) 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 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 […]

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Appalachian Thursday – Wild Critters

There are people who have never seen an animal in the wild. Oh, maybe a city squirrel or some pigeons, but I’d argue they’re not really wild. My mountains are a veritable zoo of wildlife. Just yesterday Thistle and I encountered a teenage bear on our evening hike. She was easily persuaded to abandon the trail for the deeper woods where she melted into the rhododendron like she’d been a dream. Thistle knows better than to give chase. But she will chase squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits all day long. As well fed as she is, I suspect it’s just for sport. We’re also knee-deep in turkeys and see the occasional deer. Back in WV you can’t NOT see a deer. They’re frankly too plentiful. We’re also treated to sitings of raccoons, possums, groundhogs, foxes, skunks, coyotes, and the truly rare bobcat. I saw more skunks back in WV where we had one living under the back porch for a while. He would come out after dusk and see if there were any scraps left in the dog dish. We’d stand behind the screen door, watching, and he’d squint at us (I think skunks may not have the best eyesight). Adorable, but we knew better than to go out there. I suppose there are folks who would rather NOT encounter wildlife every time they go outside, but it’s one of the reasons I love these mountains so much. Bears on the […]

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Helping to Rescue Smokey Bear

In The Sound of Rain my hero, Judd, is shown a 1950s poster of Smokey Bear. His boss–who is also my heroine’s father–wants Judd to serve as a sort of liaison with the forest service in their efforts to preserve forests. Although I only mention the poster and Smokey in passing, it was fun to do a little bit of […]

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Appalachian Thursday – Berry Season

Summer 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 […]

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The Best Laid Plans

I like to make plans. I like for things to fit neatly together–preferably in an attractive pattern. For example, over the weekend I bought fried chicken at a deli for a church event. I really, really, REALLY wanted to suggest to the clerk that he should put the breasts and wings in one container and the legs and thighs in the other. It would have been more equitable. But this is NOT how life works. (In case you didn’t know.) I took Thistle for a walk up Bartlett Mountain on Saturday. The road starts out paved, switches to gravel, and then becomes a dirt track. If you’re determined, you can go all the way to the top of the ridge on a bear trail. We went high enough to get a good view of the mountains with their first tinge of autumn color, then turned around and headed back down. I was walking along making it a point to notice how delightful life was right at that moment. It was a soft, misty afternoon with the smell of autumn in the air. I had my dog and an evening to do as I pleased. Idyllic really. That’s when Thistle spotted the bear. Thankfully, she’s a smart dog, so she just sat in the road and waited for me. I called her back, leashed her, and proceed to encourage the bear to move along. The bear wasn’t being aggressive, but neither […]

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