Appalachian Thursday – Onion Sets & Sweet Peas

farm market

It’s officially the time of year when seed catalogs become irresistible. I pore over gaudy pictures of corn with luxurious silks, scandalously red tomatoes, strawberries glinting like jewels, and squash that make me wonder why I don’t eat vegetables ALL the time.

And I begin to dream of gardening.

Of course, the dream is nothing like reality. There’s no thought of the tractor breaking down while disking the garden. I forget the bazillion rocks we “harvested” from the freshly plowed rows on the farm each spring. And weeds? Come on . . . as long as we don’t let them get ahead of us . . .

But my husband is the voice of reason. And he reminds me that I’m not even very good at gardening. Last summer I estimate that I got at least $15 worth of cherry tomatoes from the $14 plant I kept in a pot out front. (We won’t talk about the cost of potting soil.) And my herbs are certainly a savings over buying those plastic packs at the grocery store. As long as I remember to use them. Last summer’s potatoes were certainly a savings since I just planted some old, store-bought spuds that had sprouted in the pantry. I at least broke even on that one.

And yet . . .

When I see the sign at Southern States advertising onion sets. And picture sweet peas flowering on a trellis made from baling twine . . . well. Thank goodness for nostalgia. I think it’s mostly what sells my books.

Appalachian Thursday – Maple Syrup Season

maple-syrup-set-4734523Vermont gets most of the maple syrup press, but Appalachia produces it’s fair share of the sticky, sweet stuff. West Virginia has 75 or so farms producing more than 2,500 gallons of syrup in a given year. And February into March is harvest season.

The trick is to tap maple trees when the days are getting warmer and the nights are still cold. This makes the sap rise and you can literally drill a hole in the tree, stick in a spout (spile), and let the sugar water run out into a bucket. Then the water is reduced into a syrup (or even further into maple sugar).

Of course, if you’re thinking about drilling a hole in the maple tree in your backyard you should know that it takes 40 to 50 gallons of sugar water to make one gallon of syrup.

My home was far enough north that folks in the area made syrup and celebrated at the Maple Syrup Festival in Pickens, WV. The event has been happening for decades and will be held March 16 and 17 this year. The festival includes crafters, music, a quilt show, wood chopping, ax throwing, and–of course–pancakes, pancakes, pancakes!

There are pancake “feeds” at various locations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Of course, there’s also a bean supper (it IS West Virginia) on Saturday evening. And you can buy West Virginia hot dogs all the time. Even for breakfast if you get tired of pancakes with maple syrup.

If you can’t make it to Pickens in March and you’d like some West Virginia maple syrup, here are a few links:

Appalachian Thursday – You’uns or Y’all?

bean supper

You’uns come get some beans and cornbread!

A reviewer recently commented that she really enjoyed one of my books but took issue with my use of you’uns instead of y’all. Now, in both of our defenses, I’d like to point out that she thought the story was set in Wise, Virginia. Now, that’s a real place where locals probably do say “y’all.” My story, however, is set in the fictional Wise, West Virginia, where locals definitely say you’uns.

So, what’s the difference between the two colloquialisms?

Growing up I knew lots of folks in central WV who said you’uns. As in, “You’uns come on in for supper.” Or, “Are you’uns going to the swimmin’ hole today?”

Then I moved to South Carolina and fell in love with y’all. And, honestly, I’m much more likely to say y’all than you’uns. It just trips off the tongue.

It’s true that you can use the terms interchangeably. They mean, essentially, the same thing. And yet, there are nuances to each.

Here’s a definition of you’uns from urbandictionary.com – “A term used in southern and central Appalachia and adjacent areas to address a group of people.” Or, to be more specific, “An expression used to describe a group of people that can fit into the cab of a 1964 Dodge Stepside truck.” 

I do enjoy specificity.

The definition for y’all, on the other hand, is simply, “a contraction for you all.” The urban dictionary does go on to make the point that the term is NOT singular and using it to refer to one person will point you out as a non-southerner faster than a chicken on a junebug.

I think the main difference is, well, regional. Both terms are a way to refer to a group of people without having to expend the breath and energy required to utter two words–you ones or you all. The main difference is that y’all has achieved a higher acceptance level in general usage. It might even be kind of cool.

So I suggest it’s time to lift you’uns up to the same mainstream status. My challenge to you (no, you’uns–assuming there’s someone other than my mom reading this) is to work it into conversation at least once in the coming week. Do it. Then come back here and tell me how it went.

Appalachian Thursday – An Empty Larder

Snow DayIt’s January.

In case you hadn’t realized.

At the grocery store these days, I can buy strawberries and asparagus. This (along with an occasional warmish day) adds to my delusion that spring is just around the corner. The sun stays up just a little longer, rises just a little earlier. And yet . . . we still have February to get through. I’m just dreaming of sunshine and wildflowers.

My great-grandmother had no such luxury. The turn of the year was the lean time back in the early 1900s when she was growing up and raising her family. It was when last season’s put up food began to thin out. It would have been a long time since last fall’s hog killing, the shelves in the cellar would have more empty jars, and even the wild game would be getting thin (in quantity and quality).

Lean times.

Running to the store for fresh produce wasn’t an option. Chickens don’t lay as much in the winter and the cow’s milk has less cream. Christmas is past and Easter is months away.

This would have been the time when mountain folk began to dream of poke, creases, dandelion, dock, and other spring greens.

So in honor of these lean days, here are two recipes. The first is a “lean times” recipe using corn cobs to make jelly. The second, well, you judge what sort of recipe it is. These are both from my “Old Timey Recipes” cookbook.

CORNCOB JELLY

Boil 12 bright red corncobs in three pints of water for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. Add enough water to make four cups liquid. Add on package fruit pectin and bring to a full boil. Add four cups sugar and boil two or three minutes until jelly stage. 

Allegedly, this tastes like apple jelly and the red corncobs give it a rosy hue. I suppose you could use any color corncobs if you weren’t particular about the shade of your jelly.

PORK CAKE

1 lb. mild sausage
1 pint black coffee
1 box raisins
1 cup walnuts
1 box dark brown sugar
1 T soda
1 tsp cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg
Enough flour to thicken

Put sausage in pan to simmer until grease seeps out. Drain and add all other ingredients. Bake 1.5 hours at 250 degrees.

Is it a dessert? A breakfast food? And is that a teaspoon EACH of those spices? I don’t know. That would have been expensive. And I haven’t had the courage to actually TRY this recipe. If you do, let me know.

Car Commercials and Birthdays

birthday giftsIt’s that time of year. The time when car commercials begin subtly hinting that this year a Jaguar or new SUV would be the perfect gift.

And while I wouldn’t say no to a Jaguar (even if it DID have 981 miles on it), that really isn’t my idea of a good gift. Rather, this past weekend was my idea of good gifts.

Yup, I turned 39 + shipping on Saturday. (I’m 47, I just get a kick out of that phrase!) And the people who love me best knew EXACTLY what kind of gifts I’d like.

There was the delightfully thoughtful gift from my husband–a new office chair for all my writing (plus dinner out!). We’ll actually shop for the chair this week since he’s also thoughtful enough to know I’ll have a strong opinion about it.

There was the collection of items from Mom & Jean. They commissioned a bookmark painted with watercolor thistles (my dog’s name) and queen Anne’s lace (my bridal bouquet). There was also a Luckenbooth shipped all the way from Scotland with a “stone” made from the compressed stems of Scottish heather. Sigh. If you don’t get that one, read The Christmas Heirloom. Now I have my own brooch passed from mother to daughter.

Then there was all the singing. The ladies at church sang to me (and Meg, who shares my birthday) as we decorated for Advent. Dad sang his own made up version of a birthday song for me. Mom sang. And best of all, my almost eight-year-old niece belted out Happy Birthday twice. And she remembered that 12/1 is my birthday. Remembering birthdays is her super power.

Finally, we extended my birthday into Sunday to celebrate with my adopted family (also Thistle’s godparents–dogparents?). Since mom’s far away and not up to baking anymore, I called her for the recipe for MY chocolate cake and made it myself. My friends asked me what I wanted for supper (adobo chicken and these AMAZING crispy potatoes) then we topped it off with Mom’s cake.

So am I just bragging about what a great birthday I had?

Oh, maybe a little bit. But mostly I’m pointing out that the very best gifts aren’t something you park in the driveway. Rather they’re anything laced with LOVE.

Now these three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Happy birthday to me!

 

Appalachian Thursday – Thanksgiving Hog Killing

cookbooks

Additional source material.

I was talking to Dad about Thanksgiving when he was a child and learned that it was often hog killing day in Appalachia. Everyone was off work and gathering together anyway, so it was a good day for many hands to make light work.

While I’m glad NOT to be spending today scraping a hog (they have hair) or boiling down lard, knowing that folks used to do that just might come in handy for a future story. And because there’s a long-standing tradition of “using everything but the squeal,” I thought I’d give you some idea of how those various pig parts were used–from head to tail as it were.

  • The Head – I know, I know. These days you’ll find “pork cheeks” on menus. That’s the head folks. The whole head was typically boiled to get all those tender bits of meat off. The pork was then used to make things like souse meat which was also called headcheese (spiced pork–kind of a terrine) or scrapple (pork mixed with cornmeal, molded, and fried).
  • Some parts of the head were held back. The tongue would have been cooked much like beef tongue and the snout (rooter) was sometimes roasted.
  • The Liver – This would be for your liver pudding or liver mush. You could slice and fry it or eat it cold like lunchmeat. (Well YOU could. It’s liver after all).
  • The Lungs – These were also referred to as the “lights.” One recipe calls for boiling them in salted water to the consistency of gravy. Hmmmm.
  • The Intestines – You may have heard of chitterlings (pronounced chitlins). You clean them WELL, boil in salted water, and fry. Or . . . some people do.
  • The Feet – Well, we’ve all heard of pickled pigs feet.
  • The Tail – Toss it in a stew!

Of course, most of that makes me grateful for the turkey we’re planning to eat today. But there is one recipe that I’d happily add to many a dish . . . cracklins. This is what’s left after all the pieces of fat have been cooked down to make lard. The bits of meat are basically rendered out and deep fried. Man, mix that in some cornbread and you’ll forget all about the liver pudding.

The Church in the World

BBQ 10-18This year, our church opted to do something a bit different in place of our usual homecoming. We hosted a party for the community.

Instead of focusing on our history, reminiscing, and then feasting in the fellowship hall, we invited the neighborhood to come out for free BBQ. And it was great!

This wasn’t about getting people to come to church and then feeding them. While they were welcome to come to services, they were also welcome to just come eat and enjoy some great bluegrass. It was about getting the community together to talk, eat, tap their toes and . . . well . . . spend time together.

Instead of a homecoming that focused on our past, we focused on our present. Our here and now going on right outside our door each and every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love history. (Shoot, I write historical fiction.) But it was nice to look out instead of in this year.

I hope we do more of this type of thing. I hope we continue looking beyond the walls of our church building to get to know our neighbors. Seems like there’s some scripture that mentions that very thing . . .

Mark 12:28b-31 – “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”