Appalachian Thursday – Spring Tonics

It’s been a roller coaster leading up to the first few days of spring. We’ve had temperatures in the 70s and then . . . snow. Back and forth, spring has been a terrible tease this year. Of course, it’s not as bad as when folks had to wait for spring to eat anything that resembled a fresh vegetable. Those were the days when country folks indulged in their favorite spring tonics. My great-grandmother would send Dad out to gather young mullein leaves each spring when he was a boy. She dried them in the oven, then crumbled them. She smoked two pipes full and that was her spring tonic. I don’t know if she enjoyed it, or if it was more of a medicine, but it allegedly perked her up. I think most of us are in need of a spring tonic now and again. The idea is to purify the blood and enliven the body after a long winter of being cooped up inside. Some popular spring greens for tonics included dandelion, poke, and ramps. Sassafras and spice bush were used to make teas. And then there was the classic Appalachian spring tonic–Sulphur and molasses. Each has definite health properties, although I wonder if the main purpose of the molasses was to help get the Sulphur down. Regardless of whether it got the blood moving, it would definitely cause other systems to “move.” As for me . . […]

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Love Like a Casserole

It’s day 19 of this ridiculous cold that has apparently morphed into something else. The paperwork from the urgent care clinic says, “Acute upper respiratory infection, unspecified.” I have antibiotics. I think the doctor may have given them to me to appease me, but I don’t care. I’ll take lamp oil in sugar at this point. Anything to breathe through […]

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Appalachian Thursday–Ramp Season

Flowers are blooming, afternoons are warm, the sun moves more slowly across the sky . . . It’s the time of year when the old folks start shunning preserved foods for something fresh. Something green. Poke sallat. Fiddleheads. And ramps, which are somehow getting to be downright mainstream. My great-grandmother would be thrilled with the chance to add all this chlorophyll and vitamin C to her family’s diet. And I, too, could be dining on fresh, wild produce. I know what it looks like. I know to pick dandelion greens in wild places where they haven’t been treated with chemicals. And I know where there’s a mighty fine patch of ramps. But I’m not planning to head out with my foraging basket any time soon. Honestly, I’m just not that fond of these fresh, wild greens that were basically a matter of survival for my ancestors. Maybe I need another generation or two between me and this not very glamorous foraging–not for delicacies–but for sustenance. I have a friend who took a cooking class in France. They prepared creasy greens and rabbit. Hmmm. So. They cooked plants my grandmother would have gathered in the ditches with meat my grandfather would have shot or trapped. I’m sure it was delicious, but it seems incongruous to me that this is haute cuisine. I’m all for home-grown foods; for native foods indigenous to a place. But ramps make you stink. Poke turns poisonous later in the season and […]

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Appalachian Thursday–Stump Water

I have freckles. More than an adorable smattering across my nose. More than a dusting across my cheeks. I have a freckle on my lip, on my eyelids, my ears. And when I was a kid I wanted them GONE. Luckily (or not) there are quite a few folklore remedies for freckles including washing your face in stump water–which is readily available in the mountains of Appalachia. You can also wash freckles in dew before sunrise on the first of May. Or, you can use the water from an urn in a graveyard to rinse them away. (Hint: None of these work.) As an adult I’m delighted with my freckles. I credit them with tricking people into thinking I’m younger than I am. And more innocent. When you still look a bit like Laura Ingalls, people tend to think you’re sweet ; ) Of course, stump water is good for other things as well–curing warts for example. The way I heard it, you were to soak a dishcloth in stump water and then apply it to the wart. But Mark Twain had a different take on things. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom and Huck have the following exchange about curing warts: “Why, spunk-water. . . You got to go all by yourself, to the middle of the woods, where you know there’s a spunk-water stump, and just as it’s midnight you back up against the stump and jam […]

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