Appalachian Thursday – Kilt Lettuce

farm market

A Farmer’s Market haul from late June last year. The spring onions were give out, but there was still good leaf lettuce.

I made my first trip to the local farmer’s market last week. There was an ABUNDANCE of spring greens available along with green onions, garlic scapes, and a few of last seasons potatoes.

Which means it’s time for kilt lettuce!

I don’t know for sure, but I assume the name comes from the fact that the lettuce is pretty much killed (kilt in Appalachia) by pouring hot bacon grease over it. Regardless, it’s a delicious way to take a perfectly healthy spring green and make it decadent!

KILT LETTUCE

8 big handfuls of spring lettuces, washed and torn
2-4 spring onions, sliced
4 strips of bacon
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tsps sugar
salt and pepper to taste
2 hard boiled eggs

Fry the bacon and set it aside to cool, then crumble it. Add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to the hot bacon drippings in the skillet and stir until the sugar dissolves. Toss the lettuce and onions with the still warm dressing and then top with the crumbled bacon. Serve with hard boiled eggs cut in pieces.

Man, who’s ready for lunch?!?

Vinegar & Char

vinegarThis seems to be my year for collections. While I don’t have a full-length novel coming out in 2018, I do get to be part of two collections releasing on October 1st and 2nd.

I’ve already written about The Christmas Heirloom novella collection releasing 10.2.18, but Vinegar and Char is something else altogether.

When it comes to writing, my first love has always been poetry. I’ve published a few poems here and there–in magazines like Appalachian Heritage and Now & Then, but my very first poetry publication was in a 2004 book titled Cornbread Nation 2: The Best of Southern Food Writing compiled by the Southern Foodways Alliance. It was a proud moment.

That first poem about fried catfish, bourbon, and cotton gins in Mississippi still reads well to my ear. Cornbread Nation 5 (2010) included my all-time favorite poem about funeral food.

So I was absolutely delighted when I was contacted by Sandra Beasley about submitting a poem for the Southern Foodways Alliance’s new poetry anthology. While I don’t write poetry as regularly as I used to, I still enjoy stringing words together in that succinct way that makes a poem. So I submitted a piece called, “The Sacred and the Bread,” that was accepted for publication.

I’d love to share it with you now . . . but no. You’ll just have to wait for October.

Revisiting My First Love – Poetry

Sarah & Ann

I also got to hang out with one of my favorite authors–Ann Gabhart!

I had a wonderful time at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest this past weekend. I had a chance to teach a class, sit on a panel, and interact with readers (and writers!). Some of my favorite things to do!

On Friday I sat in on a poetry workshop with former Wisconsin poet laureate and Kentucky native Max Garland. It took me back to my first love–poetry. It’s such fun to sit with a group of other folks who are passionate about stringing words together in a meaningful way.

Which made me realize I’ve never shared my favorite poem (of mine) with you. So here you go–one of my earliest published poems that appeared in Appalachian Heritage way back in 2006.

SAD STREAKS AND WEEPY MERINGUES

Illness, death, disease and even divorce
bring out the mixing bowls, the spoons,
the flour, the sugar and the speckled brown eggs.
Good women converge in kitchens on far
sides of town, all for the expression
of love and sorrow, sadness and hope.
They consult stained cookbooks, faded cards
and memories sharpened with use to concoct
something that will stave off the hunger for
knowing what comes next—what comes
after we get through this . . .

And when the pound cake isn’t quite done,
with a soft, moist middle that invites us
to sink down and find an almost peace—
When the sugar in the meringue doesn’t
quite melt, and caramel drops bloom like
smoky topaz tears—That’s when love
and sadness meet the perfect measure,
filling our sorrowing hearts,
if only for a mouthful.

Appalachian Thursday–Enjoy Some Ramps

ramps 18Ahhh, ramp season! I’ve been keeping my eye on the patch behind a neighbor’s house. They’re in Florida this time of year so, by default, that’s MY ramp patch.

Of course, I’m not really one for cooking what you’d call a mess of ramps. I’m more a fan of the idea of ramps. I’ve shared before that while I think foraged food is nifty, it’s not a major part of my diet. Shoot, my ancestors ate that stuff because they HAD to.

But I did eat some ramps last night. There’s something about spring that makes me crave simple egg and asparagus dishes. So, I roasted fresh asparagus and made a basic cheese omelette with a few ramps sauteed in the pan. Simple. Easy. Delicious and downright nutritious. Nothing like eating a plant that was in the ground 15 minutes before dinner.

Now, if you really want to purify your blood, what you do is boil up a pot full of ramps, douse ’em in vinegar with some salt and pepper, and eat them alongside ham, beans, and cornbread. If you’re like me, though, you’ll carefully clean five or six of those beauties, slice them, saute them in some butter, and then cover ’em up with eggs. And cheese. Season to taste and call that spring on a plate!

How about you–do you eat ramps? If so, how do you like them?

ramp omelette

Appalachian Thursday – Spring Tonics

GE DIGITAL CAMERAIt’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 . . . I think I’ll stick to a nice, green salad and a long walk in the sunshine.

Appalachian Thursday – A Homemade Christmas

door swagOnce upon a time Christmas was simpler. Preparations didn’t start before Halloween, presents were homemade, food was based on what was in season, and decorations came from nature.

Or so I hear.

All of that could be me romanticizing a simpler, POORER time in the mountains of Appalachia, but hey, it’s nice to think about (and write about!). So, just in case you take a notion to try for a simple, Appalachian Christmas, here are some ideas.

DECORATIONS

  • Lots of fresh greenery–pine, holly, boxwood, mistletoe. Tuck branches behind picture frames and arrange them in Mason jars on the mantle. Tie swags with red ribbon for your front door.
  • Make an old-fashioned popcorn and cranberry garland. Air pop corn (you don’t want it oily) and put heavy thread through a darning needle. You may not want to do a whole tree worth unless you’re patient and persistent, but it would look nice on the table with some of that greenery.
  • Paper snowflakes. We LOVED making these as kids. Fold circles of paper in half over and over, cut out interesting shapes and unfold. They look wonderful in windows.

PRESENTS

  • Make some fudge or a batch of cookies and tuck them in boxes lined with parchment paper.
  • Use some of that greenery you gathered to make a swag for a friend’s front door or mailbox.
  • Knit or crochet a scarf. (Requires patience and persistence again + a modicum of skill.)

FOOD

  • Roast meats, root vegetables, nuts, and pickled items would have been standard winter fare. Not to mention wild game.
  • Citrus fruit would have been a huge treat. An orange in your stocking sounds kind of lame now, but it was still a big deal when my dad was a kid in the 1940s.
  • And use up those leftovers! Waste not, want not. Here’s a recipe for leftover mashed potatoes that will put you in sugar shock.

POTATO CANDY

1/2 cup cold, leftover mashed potatoes
Powdered sugar
Creamy peanut butter

Keep adding powdered sugar (we’re talking like, 4-5 cups here) to the mashed potatoes a little at a time until you have a soft dough that holds together when you knead it (but doesn’t crumble). Dust your counter with powdered sugar and roll the dough out to about a quarter of an inch. Spread peanut butter over it like you would for a sandwich. Roll the candy and wrap in plastic, then chill for a couple of hours. Cut into half-inch slices and enjoy!

 

Appalachian Thursday – Deer Season

Going Hunting

My father and brother–off to hunt on a snowy morning.

It’s almost holiday time in West Virginia. Oh, sure, there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the REAL festivities begin on Monday. The first day of deer season.

Many schools are out all week because, well, no one would come if they were open. Teachers, students, staff–they’re all out “celebrating” deer season.

So how does one celebrate? If you’re a hunter, it’s obvious. You go hunting. But what about non-hunters? That was always me. I know plenty of women who enjoy hunting, but I don’t happen to be one.

Even so, the week was a fun time for me growing up. First, we were out of school. Second, there was plenty of company. Friends and family would come to the farm to hunt, eat, nap, and tell tall tales. Which meant we got to indulge in junk food, questionable conversation, and interesting schedules. And when everyone else was out hunting, I got to curl up in a cozy chair and READ!

One friend of Dad’s worked for Lays and would bring us an entire case of potato chips. We NEVER got potato chips. Hunters eat packaged cookies, processed lunch meats, soda–it’s kid heaven. There’d be a fire in the fireplace, funny stories we didn’t always understand, early mornings, and as soon as someone got a deer–venison tenderloin seared in butter.

Here’s one of my favorite deer season recipes. My dad is the master of this one. Mmmm, I could eat a plate full right now!

VENISON GRAVY
butter
1 smallish venison roast
flour
milk
water
salt and pepper to taste

Partially freeze the venison roast (or, if it’s already frozen, partially thaw it).  Melt a knob of butter in a skillet. Shave off pieces of venison into the butter until you have enough for however many are hungry. As soon as the meat begins to brown add as much flour as you did butter and cook for a few minutes to get rid of the flour taste. Splash in some milk and stir, stir, stir until that begins to thicken. Alternately add water and milk until your gravy is bubbling and the thickness you like. Salt and pepper to taste (lots of pepper really is in order here). Serve spooned generously over hot biscuits (not from a can!).