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:

Groundhog Day (and an even lesser known holiday)

Freddie

Thank you Katrina for the shot of Freddie!

You probably know that last Saturday was Groundhog Day. Not exactly one of the big ten holidays, but still, there was a bit of hoorah around Punxsutawney Phil who did NOT see his shadow which means an early spring! Of course, French Creek Freddie, a resident of the West Virginia Wildlife Center located not far from our family farm DID see his shadow. So I guess that means six more weeks of winter back at the family farm. Sigh!

Saturday was also Candlemas, a Christian holiday celebrating the day Jesus was presented at the Temple after Mary’s 40-day time of purification. Simeon held Jesus in his arms and called him, “The Light of the World.” Hence, Candlemas. It was tradition to take candles to the church to be blessed for use throughout the year.

Of course, we can’t take a Christian holiday and not fiddle with it. So some pagan traditions slipped in, including a superstition that if the sun came out on Candlemas, thought of as winter’s halfway mark, it meant another six weeks of winter. Conversely, an overcast day predicted an early spring.

An Old English saying goes like this:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

So how did the groundhog get tied into that? Well, there’s this entry from Berks County Pennsylvania storekeeper James Morris’ diary dated 2/4/1841:
“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks of nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

Freddie has been checking for his shadow since 1978 (presumably several Freddies). And he’s not the only one. Here’s a list of other groundhogs around the nation:

  • Punxsutawney Phil: Pennsylvania
  • Buckeye Chuck: Ohio’s official groundhog
  • Staten Island Chuck: The Staten Island zoo
  • Smith Lake Jake: Birmingham, AL
  • General Beauregard Lee: Stone Mountain, Ga.
  • Octorara Orphie: Lancaster, Pa.’s
  • Dunkirk Dave: Dunkirk, NY
  • Woodstock Willie: Woodstock, IL
  • Malverne Mel: Malverne, NY
  • Jimmy The Groundhog: Sun Praire, WI
  • Stormy Marmot: Aurura, CO

I don’t know about all these predications, but I do know that our weather is supposed to be in the 60s the next few days and I’m glad of it!

The Pleasure of Boring Days

snow dogWell, we didn’t quite get the foot and a half of snow predicted, but I’d rather the weather forecasters overestimate than under. Still, it began snowing Saturday and there was a lovely layer of snow when we woke Sunday morning. The result was a delightfully quiet day at home.

In light of the forecasts of impending doom, I did my usual weekend shopping on Thursday. And church was cancelled on Sunday. Which meant . . . most of my typical weekend tasks were off. Which meant . . . the chance to experience a bit of boredom.

Of course, being bored REALLY means doing the stuff I’d like to do every day. I read (Where the Crawdads Sing), I tromped around in the snow with my husband and dog, I began a jigsaw puzzle, I worked a crossword, I plotted a new story, I cooked and ate, I put up Christmas decorations . . . in other words, I just did what I felt like.

Being bored is LOVELY.

Of course, it’s lovely because it doesn’t happen very often (and because we didn’t lose power). I suppose it might get old after a week. Or two. But, for now, I’m grateful for a bit of boredom.

Appalachian Thursday – Autumn Treasure

I didn’t think we were going to have fall this year. The weather stayed summer so long. I figured we’d get a few mild days and then winter would pounce. And as for the autumn color? The prediction was that we would go from green to brown to gone.

Which just demonstrates how bad our ability to predict what nature will do really is. While autumn has lasted maybe two weeks instead of four to six, it has been SPECTAULAR. I was fortunate to spend some time at home in WV just as peak color was hitting. Which meant I got back to NC just in time to enjoy it here.

I love fall. The tobacco, caramel smell of the woods. The russets and golds of the trees. The incredible blue of the sky. Crisp, sunshiny days. Ahhhh. This year all of that seems to have been condensed and intensified. Here’s a sampling for you:

 

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.