Appalachian Thursday – A Poor Harvest

I’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 […]

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Appalachian Thursday – Firearms

My latest novella–A Shot at Love–releases next Tuesday. It’s part of The Christmas Heirloom, a collection of stories that follows a piece of jewelry from Regency England to modern-day America. Now, these are romances–sweet stories of finding true love. But when you write Appalachian fiction true love doesn’t have to come wrapped in hearts and flowers. It can come by way of a turkey shoot and a rogue blue jay. My heroine–Fleeta Brady–is a crack shot who isn’t the least bit interested in finding love. But then she meets Hank Chapin, a gun collector from South Carolina who admires more than Fleeta’s way with a .22 rifle. I grew up around all sorts of guns and learned to respect firearms from birth as best I can remember. Treat every gun like it’s loaded. Never point a gun at a person. Don’t shoot an animal unless you’re sure of a kill. We knew where the key to the gun cabinet was, but would never have considered fetching it down without Dad’s permission. I didn’t hunt but I certainly helped to “process” plenty of wild game growing up. Guns were simply part of life on the farm. And I could hit a walnut with a .22 for all the good that did me! Don’t worry, Fleeta mostly shoots targets in my story. But it was fun to research and write about rifles and then to get Dad and my brother Daniel to […]

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End of Summer

School 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 […]

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Summertime Supper (+a recipe)

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 […]

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Laying Up Treasure

This past weekend a good friend and her family hosted a yard sale to empty out her grandparents’ house. Health issues and advancing years have forced the couple into a facility and it’s time to think about selling the little house they’ve lived in for so long. Thistle and I stopped by for moral support AND to shop for a […]

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Appalachian Thursday – Summers in the Yard

Of an evening, I often sit out on the front steps and watch the daylight linger. As the fireflies rise and Thistle nibbles grass it’s fun to think about what a fabulous playground the front yard supplied when I was a kid. There were endless yard games with siblings and cousins–all kinds of tag, Simon Says, and made up games with balls. We generally played barefoot and would get all sweaty and breathless then there would be that prickling feeling as the sweat dried and the cool of the evening settled in. Mom sometimes only washed our nearly black feet before bed. I think the prospect of bathing three tired children helped her prioritize. Of course, we also caught fireflies and stowed them in Mason jars with holes punched in the lids. We were occasionally allowed to bring these in to flicker in our rooms as we drifted off to sleep. When the June bugs came (in July), we’d sometimes tie a thread to a leg (a tricky job) and have a bug on a leash. Then there were all the things you could do with what grew in the yard. Pinch a blade of grass between your thumbs and blow on it to make a wonderful, honking sound. Tie flowers together to make chains for your hair and neck. Chew on sweet clover. It was easier in those days to be drawn outside. There were only two or three channels […]

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When did food get so complicated?

I remember the first time I heard of free-range chicken. Having grown up on a farm, I couldn’t think what that meant. What other kind of chicken could there be? Then I found out about tiny cages, cut off beaks, and other abominations. And I learned that “free-range” didn’t mean chickens actually went outside–it simply meant they could if they happened to find that little door in the side of the massive chicken house. Eating seemed relatively simple when I was growing up on the farm. We raised a fair amount of what we ate–garden stuff, fruit, dairy products, domesticated and wild meat. And when we bought things at the grocery store we were generally looking for the best quality at the lowest price. That was that. In college, it was all about the cost. My goal was to get the most of the foods I liked for the least amount of money which I also needed for education, car expenses, entertainment, clothing, and so on. Then I started focusing on things like fat and calories. “Healthy” eating. Food became the sum of its parts–fiber, protein, sodium, saturated fat, vitamins, etc. I started paying more attention to those nutrition panels on the sides of packages. And now. Now I’ve read books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Palin and Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin. I’ve become aware of the atrocities happening daily in our food system. I’ve become […]

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