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recipes “current” in 1975, Phyllis added this note, “We have put in a sprinkling of old timey recipes which are really out of date (such as sassafras jelly or hog jowl with turnip greens) but these are added because of their special interest.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

Appalachian Blessings on Sale

blessingsLeading up to the release of The Christmas Heirloom on October 2, my publisher has put some of my books on sale. You can currently get the digital editions of Miracle in a Dry Season for $0.99, Until the Harvest for $1.99, and A Tapestry of Secrets for $2.99 (or less!).

The stories follow three generations of the Phillips family through the trials and tribulations of love and faith from the 1940s to present day. If you’ve read one of the earlier books, this is a great time to snag the follow-up stories!

 

Appalachian Thursday – Roots of the Mountain

roots contract

Even as I’m looking forward to the release of The Christmas Heirloom on October 2, I’m excited to be working on my next full-length novel tentatively titled Roots of the Mountain. I signed a contract with Bethany House for two more Appalachian stories with the first releasing in the fall of 2019.

And for the first time, I’m writing about ACTUAL places in West Virginia. My story is set in the southeastern part of the state, specifically Thurmond, Ronceverte, and White Sulphur Springs–all rail towns.

White Sulphur Springs is best known as the home of The Greenbrier Resort. The resort opened in 1778 when guests came to “take the waters.” The year of my story–1930–is when the current hotel was substantially rebuilt and refurbished. But this part of WV really only gets a cameo. The bulk of the story is in Thurmond and Ronceverte.

And here’s the cool thing about Thurmond–in the 1920s it was a thriving coal town with a bustling population and lots of ritzy visitors. Today, it’s a ghost town with a population of FIVE. For years, it was accessed primarily by rail and even today getting there involves a harrowing drive down into the New River Gorge. But the town IS STILL THERE. The National Park Service owns it and it’s something of an out-of-the-way tourist destination.

Ronceverte was a thriving coal and lumber town, also on the rail line. There’s a particularly lovely depot built in 1915. The name of the town, incidentally, is French for greenbrier–the name of the county and a prickly plant common to the area.

I’m about to finish the first draft of this story and I’ll be sharing more as I go along, but for now I’m just calling it Jonah meets the Hatfields & McCoys! Looking forward to sharing the whole story with you in about a year . . .

 

French Creek Pioneers

I had the pleasure of attending the French Creek Pioneers gathering this past weekend with my dad and brother. This is a meeting of folks descended from the original settlers of French Creek, Va., back in the early 1800s (before West Virginia became a state). There were Goulds, Youngs, Smallridges, Sextons, and Phillips among others.

I’m descended from the Phillips line. The first ancestor to come to America was Nicholas who came to Dedham, Mass., in 1630. Six generations later, in 1815, David Phillips moved his family to French Creek. Seven generations later, in 1971, I came along.

These are the Phillips for whom I named the characters in my Appalachian Blessings series. They aren’t based on any specific ancestors, but are rather a collection of bits and pieces I’ve read or seen or heard along the way. And it was SO special to set up a book table and share those stories with folks who are . . . well . . . my family!

I love sharing my Appalachian stories with just about anyone, but it’s extra special to share them with family members who share the same heritage. Here are some photos from the weekend–click on the images for captions.

 

Contests–It’s all relative . . .

Rita. . . or do I mean subjective?

I got scores back from RWA last week. (That’s Romance Writers of America.) I entered The Sound of Rain in the “Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements” category.

Spoiler alert–my story didn’t win.

I tend to brace myself when I get scores. Having not even made the finals, I knew they weren’t going to give me the big head. There were five scores. (Which impresses me–that’s a lot of judges to wrangle and ensures a fairer contest.) The first four were downright respectable averaging out to 8.1 out of 10–not too shabby.

Then there was score #5. A big ole 3.7. Ouch. The reader indicated that she felt my book didn’t fit the category. Hmmmm. Too many religious elements? Or too few?

And that right there is the summary of this crazy, roller coaster ride of putting stories out for the world to read. There will usually be someone who ADORES what you write. And then there will be someone who can’t believe you had the audacity to put those words in print.

I’ve had reviewers upset because they didn’t realize I was writing a religious story. And others upset because they thought this was supposed to be Christian fiction.

One of my favorite reviews said that the writing was really good, but the story was terrible. She DID say I was a good writer . . . But my stories will never make everyone happy.

And that’s okay. It reminds me of those old commercials that said things like, “Four out of five dentists who chew gum recommend . . .” There was always that fifth dentist who probably preferred Black Jack chewing gum (licorice!) or who maybe didn’t chew gum at all.

So what’s my takeaway after receiving my scores? Hey, 80% of the readers enjoyed my story. I’d say that’s not too shabby. And reader #5? Well, I guess she’s not my target audience.

Appalachian Thursday – Clay Co. Wild Man

wild man

Photo courtesy of Norton Arborgast, findagrave.com

I’m always looking for inspiration for my characters and in WV I don’t have to look far. Take, for example, the Wild Man of Clay County.

First, his name was Orval Elijah Brown–a most excellent name for any character. Second, he spun his penchant for growing a beard and wearing little more than a loin cloth into ready money during the Depression.

Born in 1908, Orval, grew up on a farm, was educated through the eighth grade (pretty good in the early twentieth century), and was an avid reader. While something of a free spirit, he was also dedicated to healthy living. He claimed to eschew sex, drugs, and alcohol and kept in excellent physical shape. As is obvious in the photos he posed for.

When word got out that there was a Tarzan-like man living in a cave in WV, visitors began to come. Folks paid a quarter to have their picture taken with him.

His posing career was cut short, though, when he was called up for service in 1930. He served in the US Army for three years and then did a stint in the Navy from 1941-1943. I assume he wore the requisite uniforms.

Pretty good story, right?

But it gets more interesting! In 1950, Orval killed his first cousin. He claimed self-defense, pled insanity, and spent 18 years in a state mental hospital. After his release he lived with his sister in Nicholas County for nearly 30 years. He spent his last ten years in a retirement home, finally passing away at the age of 97 in 2005.

Man, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Are Writing Contests Worth It?

Selah awardCarol, Rita, Christy, Inspy, Selah, Genesis, First Impressions, Badge of Honor . . . and those are just the ones I’m most familiar with.

Some contests are for pre-published authors, some for published, some for traditionally published, some for independent, and some mix it up. And only ONE story wins in each category. Which can leave those who DON’T win feeling . . . less than.

I coordinate a contest for pre-published authors at the Asheville Christian Writers Conference and here’s what I know about contests . . . are you ready for this? They are TOTALLY subjective. Scores can vary widely, which is why at least three judges per entry is ideal.

I entered a contest before being published. One judge gave the entry a near-perfect score while another, well, clearly thought it could have been better. MUCH better.

The Carol Award finalists were announced on Saturday and what struck me wasn’t the books that were on the list, but the books that weren’t. I’ve read several really wonderful stories this past year that either weren’t entered or didn’t make the final cut.

So why bother with contests?

For pre-published authors I think it’s incredibly valuable when you get feedback and/or opportunities. Judges’ scores can point you toward weaknesses and strengths in your writing. Being a finalist or winning can sometimes get you in front of editors and/or agents. So if you’re starting out, jump into the fray! I entered multiple contests that provided invaluable input for improving my writing.

But what about the contests for published authors? What good is winning one of those?

  • For better sales? After signing my first contract I asked my editor if winning awards helped with sales. Not really. Okay, that’s probably not why.
  • For the prestige? Maybe a little bit. I mean, it IS fun to sit up front at the ceremony and have folks congratulate you. Plus you usually get something pretty to wear or put on your shelf.
  • For the affirmation? Hmmm. This may be getting closer. Did I mention writing is subjective? Having a panel of judges say, “This is good,” is something of a relief. Writers are notorious for self-doubt.
  • For the joy of celebrating work done well? Wow–I hope so. It’s nice to lift up excellence–to applaud it and encourage those who produce it to keep up the good work.
  • To support organizations for writers? Ahhhh, now this one is a bit different. Quite a few contests use entry fees for things like scholarships or to support an organization that provides services for writers. Even if you don’t final or win, you can feel good about supporting other writers.

I go back and forth on contests. I think they’re a wonderful tool for writers yet to be published, but I’m conflicted about entering now that I have several books under my belt. I guess the trick is to get real with myself about why I’m entering. And then decide if that reason is worth the entry fee . . .

I’d love for writers who have entered contests to chime in and share your experiences!