Appalachian Thursday – Time to Plant the Garden

farm market

A Farmer’s Market haul from late June last year. As pretty as the catalog pictures!

I still have to work hard to resist them.

The catalogs filled with beautiful, full-color images of corn and strawberries and squash and green beans . . . The displays of candy-colored seed packets at the store . . .

I don’t even have a garden.

Oh, sometimes I grow a pot of tomatoes on the porch or plant some herbs in the flower bed, but I don’t have a place to grow rainbow blend carrots no matter how gorgeous they are in that picture. All clean and perfectly straight.

The problem is, I know all too well how wonderful fresh garden produce is. And it’s been long enough that I’ve mostly forgotten the agony of weeding, harvesting, and putting up.

So when the catalogs start rolling in and the displays start going up, I begin to have delusions of grandeur. I can envision glossy, yellow ears of corn; watermelons that split open with a satisfying crack; and multi-hued peppers hanging like Christmas ornaments.

Bush beans, sugar snap peas, heirloom tomatoes, and baby lettuces wilted in a little bacon grease. Oh, the seed companies have my number!

When we were kids, Dad would sometimes let us choose something to grow in the garden. One year it was popcorn (which didn’t do well at all!). I always wanted watermelon, but the only time I remember it growing satisfactorily that far north was when we pitched rinds over the fence and the vines came up on their own.

I’ll probably attempt to grow something this year. I’ll succumb to the bedding plants at the garden center and tuck some peas between the cosmos or plant a hill of squash under the mock orange. There are already herbs in a pot on the porch.

I’ll be surprised if it all amounts to much. Mostly it’s just a nod to memories that grow prettier each spring when I pull them out and polish them once again.

Tomato and mayonnaise sandwich, anyone?

Close the Laptop and Enjoy Some Family Time

My older brother and his family came to the mountains from their home on the coast of South Carolina for spring break. Of course, dogwood winter showed up to greet them with a blast of cold air that pretty well froze their thin, southern blood! Nevertheless, we got out to enjoy a hike with some spectacular views.

Then, having earned our lunch, we went to Wild Thyme Gourmet Restaurant in Highlands followed by a trip to Kilwin’s, because fudge and ice cream are delicious no matter how cold it is outside!

Some days you just need to put the laptop down, put the “out of office” sign on the door, and enjoy some family time!

 

Appalachian Thursday – Ramp Recipes

ramp omeletteIt’s ramp season once again! The patch on my neighbor’s property is flourishing. I dug a few ramps Sunday and added a few to a tomato and avocado relish last night in place of green onions.

That’s my preferred way to use them–as a seasoning or embellishment. But there are plenty of other ways to use them to add some zing to your spring menu. Goodness knows all the trendy restaurants are doing it!

Which put me in mind of that scene in the movie Forest Gump where Bubba is listing all the ways you can eat shrimp. So I thought I’d compile a ramp recipe list for your Appalachian edification!

  • Ramp pesto
  • Ramp carbonara
  • Ramp omelet (one of my favorites–see picture)
  • Ramp focaccia
  • Pickled ramps
  • Ramp-aroni rolls (see Fish Hawk Acres in Buckhannon for these!)
  • Ramp dip
  • Creamed ramps
  • Ramp kimchi (hmmmm)
  • Fried eggs and ramps
  • Buttermilk-fried ramps (yes, please!)
  • Ramp chimichurri
  • Potato ramp soup
  • Ramp jam
  • Ramp pizza
  • Bacon and ramp vinaigrette
  • Ramp aioli
  • Fried ramps and potatoes
  • And, of course, boiled ramps with a splash of vinegar

There’s more, but I expect you’ve got the idea. Suffice it to say ramps are almighty versatile! (And if you want to see a menu that weaves ramps throughout, check out this one for a ramp dinner to benefit the library in my home town.)

What’s your favorite way to enjoy them?

Stepping Into Another Time

frying chicken - CopyThis past Saturday I had a chance to travel to the 1700s French & Indian War at Ft. Dobbs near Statesville, NC. Friends of mine are reenactors who planned to attend the War for Empire weekend with their Dragonfly Traders tent. Lorraine offered to outfit me.

Well, YES.

I’ve been to living history events before, but always as a visitor. This time I got to don period attire and walk around in the 18th century. It was SUCH fun!

I think the main difference is that I got more of a look behind the scenes into the life of a reenactor and while I realize it’s not for everyone, I definitely get the appeal! These folks aren’t just putting on a show for a weekend, they actually live as if it were the 1700s for several days. Well, mostly.

Many of them sleep on cots or pallets in their tents. They eat food cooked over open fires (see frying chicken in a spider above). There were woodworkers, seamstresses, a stone cutter, women doing laundry, a shoe maker, and soldiers conducting drills and demonstrating artillery. The camp was abuzz with activity! And there I was, walking among them like I belonged.

Which is just how I felt. I hadn’t anticipated the sense of community among the reenactors (although I should have!). These are people who are passionate about history and want to get it right.

As someone who reads and writes historical fiction, it was like stepping into a book. It was a heady experience and one I hope I’ll get to try again.

So, I know the #1 question is, what did I wear? Here’s an overview of my mostly accurate period attire. (No stays is the main departure–I stuck with my modern undergarments! The stays would go on OVER the shift.)

  1. Don a shift. The idea here is two-fold. The garment next to the skin protects your clothing from sweat (and would have been washed more often) plus it’s soft and comfortable (like REALLY comfortable!).
  2. Add pockets. Women’s clothing didn’t have pockets so these flat pouches with slits were tied on under skirts which also had access slits. The trick is to not stick your hand in there and miss the pocket!
  3. Add a skirt and a short gown. The skirt tied front to back AND back to front so it fits really well. The short gown is the jacket or shirt that is pinned closed. No buttons or snaps, although you might have had hooks and eyes.
  4. Top it off with an apron to keep your clothes a smidge cleaner.
  5. Fichus were worn over the shoulders and neck area for modesty and to protect skin from the sun. Pale was in. Hair was tucked into a cap with a ribbon to keep it in place and the flat, straw hat was pinned over it all. Works almost as well as sunglasses and you don’t have to fuss with your hair!

 

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.