Appalachian Thursday — Apple Pie Days

applesEarly signs of autumn are showing. Ironweed and Joe Pye weed blooming along the road. Cooler nights. A few leaves beginning to turn. And . . . apples! Oh, such an abundance of apples.

We’re blessed with a neighbor who has five apple trees all burdened with fruit this year. My favorite are the sweet/tart green apples that I’ve already been eating for more than a week. Next are the lovely, speckled rusty red apples perfect for applesauce and pies.

What kind are they? I call them Shopestone apples, named for a nearby creek and the neighbor who lets me pick all I want.

There are few things more pleasing than picking apples late in the afternoon and then eating warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream that evening.

If you want to test that theory yourself, here’s the recipe my friend Marilyn gave me written in her own shorthand style.

Marilyn’s Apple Crumb Pie – “The Family Recipe”

Crust: Pillsbury, red box, dairy aisle. Use single crust–put in pie plate, trim, flute.
Filling: Apples–cut, pared, sliced (Granny Smith is the best)
Sprinkle: 1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp. cinnamon
Topping: 1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup butter
Bake: 400 degrees F–40 minutes (sometimes longer)

I find that 5 large, grocery store apples fill the crust. Smaller, homegrown varieties may take 6 or 7. And you’d be remiss if you didn’t serve this warm with vanilla ice cream.

Appalachian Thursday – Staghorn Sumac

sumacIt’s a running joke with my husband and me.

I say shoo-make.

He says soo-mak.

Clearly he’s wrong and just enjoys aggravating me. Oh, I know, I know. If you look up the “official” pronunciation it says that either soo-mak or shoo-mak is acceptable. There’s no mention of tagging “make” on the end. But the folks from Merriam-Webster probably haven’t spent a ton of time in Appalachia, so they can be forgiven.

In addition to offering endless fun with pronunciation, sumac is lovely and tasty. I long thought the velvety red tips were flowers, but I finally looked it up and turns out that’s the fruit–or drupes. You can steep them in hot water, strain the liquid, then sweeten it to make a sort of lemonade (tartness is due to malic acid). The drupes can also be dried and ground to make a tart spice (a key ingredient in za’atar).

Critters will also eat sumac, although I don’t think it’s their favorite. I got tickled by this line from the USDA data sheet about the plant: “The germination of sumac seeds is enhanced by their passage through the digestive system of rabbits, ring-necked pheasants, and quail.”

Indeed.

While I NEVER recommend going out into your backyard and eating anything you aren’t 100% certain is safe, I will set your mind to rest (at least a little) about staghorn and poison sumac. The poison kind has white berries and grows in really wet habitats so it’s somewhat easy to avoid. Which you should do since I hear it makes poison ivy look like a mosquito bite (it has the same urushiol).

So, join me everyone, and let’s say it together . . . shoo-MAKE!

 

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!

An Abundance of Riches–Vacation

Rain galleysI know lots of folks who plan wonderful, far-flung vacations to exotic locales. I’ve never been one of those folks. Vacation for me means time to do whatever I want. Which typically includes eating some really good meals (cooking in and going out), extra dog walks, watching a movie or two I’ve been meaning to get around to, reading, and WRITING.

Oh, the luxury of writing without having to squeeze it into the margins. Now that’s my idea of a good vacation.

And this week, as I take my own little summer break, I not only get to write, I get one last chance to edit The Sound of Rain (releasing in November). The galleys arrived on Friday, as if I’d planned it.

And if I need something else writerly to do, there’s the back cover copy of The Sound of Rain to be finalized, and the first draft of a novella to read before submitting. An embarasment of riches, indeed!

I’m almost giddy with the pleasure of an entire week to focus on doing one of my favorite things.

So how about you? What’s your idea of a great way to spend some time off?

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.

Books! Chocolate! Authors!

No Appalachian Thursday today. I’m at the RT Book Lovers Convention in Atlanta, Ga., enjoying time with readers, authors, and chocolate. Good times! If you’re in the area, here’s one of my events:

RT Booklovers Meme

If you’re not in the area, heads up that my first novel, Miracle in a Dry Season, is FREE this week during the convention. BONUS–so are books by most of the other authors listed! Go look ’em up and I’ll let them know you said, “Hey.”