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.”

Appalachian Thursday – A Poor Harvest

applesI’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 them easy to peel, but we just bit ’em until the shell cracked.

Hopefully 2018’s poor harvest is just an off-year–a down season in the cycle. And since there’s not much out there, I guess I’ll leave most of it to the critters. I kind of like it when the squirrels sit on the back deck methodically eating nuts that leave smears of black, walnut leavings.

Reminds me of how God provides for squirrels and growing children just the same. And how what he provides nourished my body back then and my heart today.

Appalachian Thursday – Old Timey Recipes

recipe bookMy friend Valerie recently gave me a treasure. It’s a copy of the 8th edition of Old Timey Recipes from 1975 as collected by Phyllis Connor. Inside the front cover someone wrote, “West Virginia, August 1976.” Since I would have been five years old then, I think I can safely say this is the food of my childhood!

Books like this one are priceless when I’m writing a novel and want to describe a meal or a way of preparing food. In addition to recipes “current” in 1975, Phyllis added this note, “We have put in a sprinkling of old timey recipes which are really out of date (such as sassafras jelly or hog jowl with turnip greens) but these are added because of their special interest.

Well, thank goodness–those are just what I need! There are also recipes for hickory nut cake, molasses candy, corncob jelly, vinegar pie, lime pickles, leather britches beans, clover tea, and moonshine. Talk about Appalachian cooking!

Since hickory nuts are in season right now, I thought I’d share the cake recipe with you. Of course, the REAL first step in making it is gathering and cracking all those hickory nuts. Warning, if you hit one wrong it will go flying!

HICKORY NUT CAKE

1/2 cup butter and shortening, about half and half
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1 cup chopped hickory nuts
4 egg whites beaten stiff

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Sift flour, baking powder and salt. Add alternately with the milk to creamed mixture. Beat until smooth. Fold in nuts and egg whites. Pour into 2 greased 8x8x2 pans. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Cool. Before serving put layers together and frost with sweetened whipped cream. Sprinkle with chopped hickory nuts. -Mrs. H. T. Matthews

End of Summer

cropped-gedc0131.jpgSchool starts here today. I used to look forward to the first day of school, but even so there was a bittersweet feeling in the air. Now I miss having the definition–the segmentation that came with the seasons. Life anymore is a bit of a blur.

And Labor Day weekend is right around the corner. When I was growing up that meant time for the annual hot dog roast at Toad and Berle’s. Yes, his name was Toad and he lived in what had been the community schoolhouse when my dad was a kid.

There would be a big bonfire and the men would cut sticks and sharpen the ends for spearing hot dogs and holding them in the flames. The women would bring every side dish you could think of and there would be watermelon. Oh, and desserts. My goodness the desserts. Plus marshmallows. Although I think s’mores were too fancy for us.

The creek was nearby (see photo above) and we were meant to stay out of it but we didn’t. There was also a cliff over on Uncle Willis’ land (that’s somehow not nearly as high as I remember). We were meant to stay away from there, too. But we didn’t.

After eating, folks would sit around smoking cigarettes, talking, telling stories (otherwise known as lies), maybe playing some music. We kids would set fire to the hot dog sticks and write our names with burning embers against the night sky. Until someone made us stop. And then we’d do it anyway and sometimes we’d get in trouble and sometimes we wouldn’t. We’d go to bed late that night, smelling of smoke, hot dogs, and burnt marshmallows.

I guess people still have picnics on Labor Day weekend. I guess they even have hotdogs. But I’ll just bet they don’t cook them on a sharpened stick over an open fire while dusk settles like a soft blanket and the voices of just about everyone who’s ever cared about them hums in the background.

This Labor Day I might build a fire out back and roast me a hotdog, but I have a feeling it won’t taste the same. Not even a little bit.

Appalachian Thursday – Pawpaw Season

Pawpaws-with-spoon

Earthy Delights offers pawpaws by mail along with a blog featuring pawpaw (and other wild food) recipes. Check them out at http://www.earthydelightsblog.com.

No, it’s not a pet name for your grandfather.

September is when pawpaws–also known as Appalachian bananas–are getting ripe. A pawpaw is a large, greenish oval that’s the largest, edible native fruit in the U.S. Folks say it tastes like a cross between a mango and a banana with a pudding-like texture. I’ll confess I’ve never had one since I really, really, REALLY don’t like bananas.

They’re beginning to show up in farmer’s markets and some folks are even growing them commercially. They haven’t really caught on at grocery stores, though. They don’t last long once picked and bruise easily. And, of course, our current food system depends on being able to ship huge amounts of produce long distances. Hence rock hard peaches and cardboard tomatoes. (Don’t get me started!)

In the 1800s, Agronomist E. Lewis Sturtevant described the fruit in his book “Edible Plants of the World” this way: “… a natural custard, too luscious for the relish of most people. The fruit is nutritious and a great resource to the savages.”

The fruit has been growing in notoriety since NPR did a piece in 2011 and again in 2017. You can even order frozen pawpaw pulp pretty much year round with the whole fruit available in season.

I’m hoping pawpaws don’t become the next ramp for the local food scene. The last few Aprils in the Asheville area have seen ramps worked into the menu of every trendy restaurant. I kind of like the idea that pawpaws resist being mass-marketed. There should be at least one food that really, truly is seasonal. You may be able to buy strawberries in October and asparagus in January, but here’s hoping pawpaws remain a foraged delicacy of early fall.

Pawpaws on NPR

 

Summertime Supper (+a recipe)

Fishhawk plate

A summer supper at Fish Hawk Acres in Rock Cave, WV.

Summers when I was a kid meant supper from the garden. These days it would be a stretch to say I’m doing much vegetable gardening. There’s a pot of herbs on the porch, potatoes growing in the front yard, and a cherry tomato plant that’s almost produced enough fruit to cover it’s expense.

In short, we’d starve if we depended on what I’m growing. But that’s okay because there’s local produce at the grocery store and a farmer’s market on every corner. Which means we can still have supper from the garden–it’s just not OUR garden.

One of my favorite suppers this time of year includes buttery corn-on-the-cob, sliced tomatoes, fried okra, and corn bread. And if you really want to garnish that plate just right, you can add some crisp cucumber salad. And you should probably finish the whole thing off with peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream.

Then go hoe the garden some more.

CUCUMBER SALAD

4-5 pickling cucumbers peeled and thinly sliced
1 sweet onion (Vidalia if you an get it) halved and sliced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 garlic clove chopped fine

Alternate layers of cucumber and onion in a glass dish. Combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, dissolving the sugar and salt. Pour hot liquid over vegetables, let cool, cover and refrigerate. You can eat this salad after six hours or so, but it gets better after a day or two. As you eat the cucumbers and onions you can just add more back into the liquid.

What’s your favorite summer supper?

 

Should I Pray for Power?

crosswordWe saw some storms blow through late Friday afternoon knocking out the power just before five. Our landline went down as well, so I loaded up Thistle (who is FREAKED OUT by power issues) and drove about a mile and a half to where I can get a cell phone signal.

Called it in. Of course, they’d had about 400 other people call it in by then, but hey, it’s something to do. Word was that 1,700+ folks were without power in our outage and crews were assessing. They’d text me once they had news.

Well, good luck with that. I went on home where I:

  • Listened to a battery-powered radio,
  • Read a book,
  • Wrote a thousand words or so of my new book (laptop was charged),
  • Worked on a crossword puzzle, and
  • Pondered what I could eat that wasn’t refrigerated.

Then, around 7 p.m., the power blinked back on and I proceeded to cook the chicken breasts marinating in the fridge. No problem-o.

And honestly, other than not having access to the internet, that wasn’t much different from what I would have been doing anyway.

Neighbors called at 8 p.m. to see if the power was back on. They’d gone out to eat after the electricity had been off for about an hour and were faced with crowds of other people doing the same thing.

I told them we’d had power since seven and they asked if I’d said a prayer for restoration. Which kind of took me by surprise. Well, no. I didn’t. It didn’t even occur to me to pray about the power being out. And while I don’t think God would have minded a chat about electricity in the least, I’m pretty sure he and I can come up with better stuff to talk about.

Sure, power outages can be scary. For people who depend on electric medical equipment. For hospitals and nursing homes. For people living in extreme heat or cold. But for me on a cool, rainy Friday evening? It was a minor inconvenience at most.

We talk about taking a “break” from things like Facebook or our cell phones. We take vacations from work and sometimes give up food or drink like sugar, alcohol, caffeine, or wheat when we’ve been overindulging. Maybe we should start taking breaks from electricity. Eat peanut butter crackers, go for a walk, play cards, read books, and talk to each other.

Hmmm. Maybe the power should go out more often . . . I think I know where the breaker is.