Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Oranges

 This post was originally published here at AMR on 12/20/16.

We rarely got anything in our stockings when I was growing up. My parents had a hard enough time being able to put a few gifts under the tree. They didn't see the point of wasting money on little things that ended up getting broke or lost within a week. On the rare occasions that we did have something in them, we would find an orange, apple, or candy cane. The fruit wasn't that big of a deal because we had access to fresh fruit all year, but that wasn't always the case for people in Appalachia.

Money wasn't something that could easily be found among the early settlers living in the mountains. Things like candies, toys, and fresh fruit were hard to come by. An orange would have been an enormous gift at that time. Once I started researching the history behind this tradition, I recalled a book that helped explain how rare an orange was in 1850's Appalachia:
I remember trying to return the favor by giving him one of a pair of oranges that the teamsters had left as a treat. Bear had not experienced oranges before, and he watched me eat mine before he started on his own.
It took him an hour to finish. He peeled it slowly and studied the differing sides of the peels and smelled them and smelled his fingers. Then he ate each section very slowly, sniffing each one before he put it in his mouth. He savored every moment of his consumption of that orange. When he was done he collected all the pieces of peel and dried them in the sun like deer jerky. A month later, they had lost most of their color, but they still held the ghost of the orange's aroma, and Bear kept them in a gourd sealed with a wooden stopper to hold in the scent that would have to do him until another orange made its way into the mountains. 
- Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

There is some history behind Christmas oranges. St. Nicholas was a bishop before he became a saint. The legend says that he rode through a town where a storekeeper had three beautiful daughters and couldn't afford to offer a dowry for them. This meant that the girls would become destitute once their father passed away.

Bishop Nicholas knew that the father was a proud man so he tossed three sacks of gold through an open window (or chimney depending on who is telling the story) while the family was sleeping. One of the bags landed in the toe of a stocking that was hanging by the fire to dry. When the family got up the next morning, they found the gold, including the one in the stocking which had turned into a ball overnight. 

Giving an orange today is a way to celebrate generosity without expecting anything in return. It symbolizes that gold ball and is a reminder to care for those in need.

Who knew there was so much behind a piece of fruit in a Christmas stocking? Did you get an orange in your stocking?

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Great Debate: How do you like your grits?

We woke up to snow this morning! I heard the weatherman mention that we might get some but I figured it would miss us as it does 9 times out of 10. As of right this moment (Friday @ 9AM) we've gotten at least 2" and it's still peppering down pretty good.

 Front yard on the left and backyard on the right. 

For some reason, snow makes me want to cook. I usually wake up a little easier (and earlier) once I notice that it has snowed. Just think of everything I could accomplish if I lived somewhere like Alaska. Ha! Anyway, I made some homemade buttermilk biscuits, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon (I know, it was on sale), homemade cherry, peach, and strawberry rhubarb jellies and jam, and grits. 

 Whoever said that Wheaties was the breakfast of champions 
must have never experienced hot buttermilk biscuits. 

Grits are a subject that we debate about in this house. I like mine a little thicker with cheese, my husband (Jason) likes his soupy with butter and sugar, and my son (Dude) doesn't like them at all. When Jason and I first got married, I remember fixing cheese grits just because I like them and we always had savory grits growing up. We sat down to eat and Jason got up to get some sugar. I was horrified to see him add some to his grits and he was horrified after taking the first bite and realizing that their was cheese in them. I told him that sugar is for oatmeal and cream of wheat, not grits. He begged to differ! I had never known anyone to eat grits with sugar. It's still something that we joke about whenever we have them. 

Now I'm curious to know how everyone else eats their grits. Do you like them savory with butter and salt or cheese? Or do you like them sweet with butter and sugar? Let me know! I'm sure he'll be checking for comments as soon as he finds out that I wrote a post about grits.

 One thing is for sure, you don't have time to discuss how you 
like your biscuits around here. Dude ate four before Jason 
was lucky enough to reach for the last one! 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Appalachian Apple Stack Cake

 "Who was that let you off at the gate," asked Olivia. 
"It was Miss Emma and Miss Etta," said Clay-boy, holding out a Mason jar of the Recipe. "They sent this. Said it was Christmas cheer."
"It's bootleg whiskey is what it is," observed Olivia.
"What do you want me to do with it, Mama?"
"I'll take it," said Olivia..."I can use some..for my applesauce cakes."
-Earl Hammer Jr., The Homecoming

When fall rolls around, most people jump on the pumpkin spice bandwagon. You can't throw a rock without hitting a product that has this flavor; pumpkin spice doughnuts, pumpkin spice pancakes, pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin spice chocolate covered pretzels...you get the picture. I like pumpkin flavored items just as much as the next girl, but is that the first fall flavor that comes to mind when I think of fall cooking? No, says I. I'm all about the apples! Now I like apples year round but I want to make more apple recipes in the fall and winter months.

While there are many apple desserts that are common place in my part of Appalachia, none can be more rooted in our mountain culture than the Appalachian apple stack cake. Sometimes called by other names such as Confederate old-fashioned cake, Kentucky pioneer washday cake, and applesauce cake, it is traditionally made up of layers of pancake thin cake and filled with stewed dried apple filling. It is then refrigerated for at least a day or two to allow for the apple filling to saturate the cake. Doesn't that sound heavenly? I knew that this had to be on my family's Thanksgiving menu this year. Before I get into how I made my cake, I want to share some of the resourcefulness and a little history behind this regional delicacy.

As I've mentioned before, Appalachian women were very resourceful. They had to be! I think this dessert is a perfect example of that resourcefulness. Apples were plentiful throughout the mountains in Appalachia. A great way to preserve those apples was to dry them. I could write a whole blog post on dried apples, and probably will at some point, but won't get into that right now. Plain applesauce (or apple butter) can be used as a filing but dried apples offer a much richer flavor and was the choice of most mountain cooks. 

Most old recipes that I researched also call for sorghum molasses or honey. This was also a resourceful sugar alternative that was available in the area. The rest of the main ingredients (flour, salt, shortening/lard, eggs, milk/buttermilk, baking powder/soda) were also economical staples that most women had on hand. Unlike Mrs. Olivia, I didn't find any recipes that called for any "Recipe" but that isn't to say that some didn't use it. 

From what I've read, the history of this cake is debatable. Some credit James Harrod, an early pioneer of Kentucky and founder of Harrodsburg, as the one who introduced this recipe to Appalachia. Some try to give all of the credit to Tennessee. Regardless of how it got to Appalachia, it's origin is probably based on Eastern European tortes.  

According to the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, "The dried apple stack cake was a favorite pioneer wedding cake. Weddings were celebrated with "in-fares," where people gathered to party, dance, and eat potluck food. Because wedding cakes were expensive, neighbor cooks brought cake layers to donate to the bride's family, who cooked the dried apple filling. The bride's popularity was often gauged by the number of layers, but the average was seven or eight. Stack cakes were also at family reunions, church supper, Christmas dinners, and other large gatherings." The wedding history is my favorite idea associated with this cake. If I could go back and do my wedding over again, I'd choose this for my wedding cake. 

I've had the opportunity to sample different versions of this dessert at reunions, church potlucks, and other gatherings but this was my very first attempt at making one. Why? Anyone who knows anything about baking could look at it and tell that there's going to be quite a bit of time invested. A labor of love, if you will. 

I'm going to be honest. As I was rushing around to make other things on our menu I didn't devote as much time to making it as I should've. I did use the traditional dried apples and cooked them a long time to get them just right. The cake layers is where I slacked. Instead of getting my layers as thin as I should have, I decided to try to rush the process and only do six thicker layers instead of the 7-8 that I had enough dough to do. Don't be like me. Take the time to make the layers as thin as possible. The dried apple mixture can soak into thin layers MUCH better than thicker ones which makes it SO MUCH better. 

I'm also wanting to use a cast iron skillet instead of cake pans next time to see if it really makes a difference. I guess I could try cast iron cake pans if I had them but I don't. Almost everyone has a cast iron skillet or two and if you don't, why the heck not?! What do you make your cornbread in?! And don't you dare tell me that you don't eat cornbread. I don't need that kind of negativity in my life. Cast iron cooking will change your life. Okay, that may be a little dramatic...no it isn't. Life. Changing. 

As for recipes, I used one that I found online and there's no source to credit it to. Thank you, whoever you are! Just click right on the picture if you need to enlarge it.

And now you can see a few pics I took while making the cake:

Tips: You'll need to add water as they cook down. Keep adding and cooking until you get a applesauce consistency. I left mine a little chunky but not as chunky as they are in this picture. See that little chopper in the pic? That thing is super handy in helping the apples fall apart. This recipe says to roll out your dough and you can even see my roller (that my dear husband made me) in the pic. This is unnecessary if you're using cake pans or a cast iron skillet. Just flour your hands, pinch off some dough, and spread it into your flour and greased pan. Just use enough dough to make a thin layer over the bottom of the pan. You're going to think, this isn't enough, but you're wrong. Pat it as thin as possible or you'll end up with thicker layers like the ones in my picture with the canning ring. It looks pretty thin and they are thinner than the ring, but trust me, it should be thinner. There will be some rising so make it THIN and then the apple filling can saturate the layers better. If you decide to roll it, go for no more than 1/4" thickness. This recipe says to let stand at least 12 hours. I really don't think that is long enough. Store it in a tight container and put it in the refrigerator for at least a day or two. Trust me...and another benefit of that is, you can make it ahead of time! 

The finished product.  I'm still kicking myself over the layers 
not being thin enough but it was still delicious!

Have you ever had an apple stack cake? What do you call them in your neck of the woods? Leave me a comment and let me know. I loving hearing from y'all! 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Rock City Barns

I live in an area that's commonly referred to as "Two Hours From Anywhere". We're approximately two hours from Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Asheville. Far enough away from all of the hustle and bustle but close enough if you were to need to see a specialist or be in need of an airport. We frequently visit Tennessee and Georgia and can make it to each state line in around 30-40 minutes. Last weekend we decided to head toward Cleveland, TN which usually takes us about an hour. We pass this barn each time we go.

Located in Cherokee County, NC

I've always admired the "See Rock City" barns but took for granted that not everyone grows up getting to see advertisements painted on their local barn roofs. I knew a little bit of the history behind them but decided to do a little more digging so I could share it with y'all!

According to the Rock City website, "Since 1935, Rock City barns have stood as genuine highway Americana, their bold white-on-black signs compelling both snowbirds and Sunday drivers to a spot near Chattanooga, Tennesseee, where they could "See Rock City."

A man named Clark Byers painted the barns for three decades, from 1935 until his retirement in 1969. Over his career, he painted around 900 barns in 19 states. As compensation for the barn owner allowing the use of their barns for advertisements, they would receive free passes to the attraction and an armload of promotional merchandise. The barn owners who didn't need tickets or memorabilia were paid a whopping $3.

During Lyndon Johnson's presidency (1963-69), billboard-banning legislation known as the "Ladybird Act" was passed. This meant that many of the of the Rock City messages had to be painted over. After a near electrocution during a thunderstorm while doing a painting "cover-up", Byers decided to retire.

Barns are still being painted today. Tennessee has the most Rock City barns and they have all been named historic landmarks. I wish that every state would do this. Click here if you'd like to see a map of where all of these famous barns are located.

Of all the years that I've called western NC home and have driven past some of these barns, I have never made it to Lookout Mountain to actually SEE Rock City. I'm hoping to change that soon. Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise!

Do you happen to have any Rock City barns where you live? 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Old Sayings: Superstitions & Such

Today's guest post is by Mrs. Shirley Wood. Shirley was born and raised in West Virginia up until the age of 12 when she and her family moved to Ohio. She is a published author of stories from her childhood. She now lives on a small hobby farm in northeast Ohio. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did! 

Old Sayings
Parents love to quote old sayings, and like all children, we questioned whether or not they were true. I’m not talking about the usual “Don’t run with scissors” or “You’ll put your eye out with that stick”, I surely wanted to keep both of my eyes. But there were a lot of others that made no sense to me then, and some of them even less now. You’ll see what I mean.
There were a lot of sayings about food, such as “Don’t ever eat fish and drink milk at the same meal”. Maybe someone died once before refrigerators were invented, after eating those two items, one or both of which may have been spoiled. Or it could have been something he ate the day before that killed him, or an infection or appendicitis. Maybe he drank all the darn milk and his survivors blamed it on the milk he drank with the fish, silently glad he didn’t leave any for them. Mama also warned us not to follow each bite of food with a drink of water during meals. Otherwise, we would end up with a swallowing disorder, for which the treatment was to swallow a string that reached all the way down to our stomachs. At first I was afraid to try it, but after that first time, I felt compelled to take a drink of water after each and every bite of food for years afterward.
There was an interesting challenge that involved boiling an egg, cutting it in half, removing the yellow, and filling the holes with salt. If you ate the egg with the salt before going to bed, you were supposed to dream of the one you would eventually marry. My sister Eva tried this, and nearly choked to death. She does not remember who she dreamed of that night, but accused Daddy of trying to kill her.
Probably everyone has heard the old one about putting someone’s fingers in a bowl of warm water while they are sleeping, and making them pee the bed. That one didn’t get too much play at our house, because all three of us girls slept in the same bed. As the littlest, I always got stuck in the middle, and would have gotten it from either side.
Snakes and cucumbers were the subjects of quite a few stories. When planting or tending cucumbers in our garden, if a woman was in her monthly cycle, she was not permitted in the cucumber patch because it was said that the blooms would all fall off. We never knew for sure, and would not have wanted to find out. Another story that I’ve heard many times is that just before a rattlesnake strikes, you smell a strong odor of cucumbers. I don’t know anyone who can verify that story, and don’t want to test it for myself. One story about snakes, with which I do have some experience, is that no matter what time or how they are killed, snakes do not die until sundown. Having witnessed the death of many snakes, and taken part in several, I can assure you that no matter how many pieces a snake is cut into, each of those pieces keeps on wiggling for hours afterward. Is the snake alive or is it only nerves reacting? I don’t know, but it certainly is creepy.
When we were growing up, if any barbering was done in our home, whether on an adult or child, the hair had to be disposed of by burying, and a rock placed atop the buried hair. It could not be burnt or otherwise left in a place where birds or other varmints could make off with it, otherwise the unfortunate individual to whom the hair belonged would suffer from a headache that would last the rest of his or her life. I guess people took it pretty seriously, because I never met an individual that complained of headache every day. However, there might be a few husbands that disagree.
There were some predictors of weather that we were all familiar with, such as a ring around the moon foretelling rain. My husband had a good laugh at my expense the first few times I predicted rain because all the leaves in our neighborhood were turning up, but has since accepted that it is at least as accurate as the weather forecast on TV. We don’t live around too many cows, but sometimes on an outing when I see cows lying down I remember that is also a pretty reliable sign of rain. In a herd of five cows with two of them are lying down, I will drill it down even further and say there’s a 40% chance of rain – again, at least as accurate as the TV weatherman.
There were a lot of old sayings that seemed to be based in religion. You could wear red anytime and anywhere, but only women of loose morals wore red shoes, or wore red to church. Neither of my older sisters has ever owned a pair of red shoes. I did and wore them completely out.
Women who were expecting when we were growing up were constantly warned not to look upon anything unusual, scary or horrible because they would “mark” the baby, and this never made any sense to me at the time. Whether or not it is true, there is some biblical background in Genesis 30, when Jacob “marked” cattle at conception.
We were all familiar with the old saying “A whistling woman and a crowing hen are neither good for God nor men”, and in our family that meant when a hen started to crow, she ended up in the pot with dumplings pretty quickly. Thankfully, the whistling part was pretty much ignored, because I have always loved to whistle, and anyone who ever heard me sing is pretty glad of that.
For some reason women were never supposed to sew on Sunday. My mother loved to sew, and made beautiful quilts almost until the day she died a couple of years ago. Sometimes when she was caught up in a beautiful quilt, she would sew on Sunday, but I could tell she felt guilty about it. There are some who say it is work, and therefore should not be done on Sunday, but for Mama it was pleasure to sew, and it kept her active mentally as well as physically. And those same individuals who might have criticized her would not have blinked if, on Sunday morning, the old hen started crowing and had to be killed, plucked, and cooked!
There was one saying of my dad’s that we heard pretty often, and found out that he was never wrong. Like most children who are close in age, we sometimes picked on one another. We would start out tickling, pinching and laughing, and we could get pretty loud, especially if we were inside the house. When the noise began to get out of hand, we would hear Daddy say “That laughing is going to turn to crying in about five minutes”. Sure enough, if we continued on in the same course of action, we could count on it.
Shirley Wood
Copyright 2010

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Lettuce & Onions

This past weekend, we ate supper at my in-laws. We actually spend most Saturday evenings there. Its always a fun time to get together and catch up on whats going on with everyone. My mother in-law, Connie, always makes a big, country supper. Common items on the table, especially during this time of year, is fresh vegetables. At any given meal you're likely to see beans (pintos or green beans), potatoes (fried, browned, mashed), corn (on the cob or cut off and cooked up in a skillet), fried squash or okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, and one of my most favorite things: lettuce and onions. 

Mmm, fresh lettuce!

Lettuce and onions, also known as wilted lettuce or killed (kilt) lettuce, is a delicious southern side dish. While each family has their own way of making it, most of us can agree that fresh leaf lettuce, onions, and bacon grease are always involved. Those of you who happen to read this blog who aren't from Appalachia may think this sounds disgusting but I'm fairly certain that you'd like it if you'd try it! 

Making this dish is super simple. First, you're going to want to gather some fresh, tender leaf lettuce. Wash, pat dry, and tear up in to smaller pieces. Next, chop up and add some onions. Spring green onions always seem to taste the best but you can add a regular ol' onion and it'll still be tasty. Now you're going to want to get some bacon grease. You can fry you up several slices of bacon, remove when crispy, chop up the bacon, and then add it and the hot grease over the lettuce and onions and toss to cover. 

Now if you sprinkle on some salt and pepper, you would be ready to enjoy your lettuce and onions the way I grew up eating them. When I got married and ate this dish at my husband's Granny Stalcup's house, I noticed that it had a little bit of a sweet taste to it. She told me that she added a splash of vinegar and sprinkling of sugar to it. It was delicious! My mother in-law happened to add a splash of pickle juice (basically the same thing) to hers and it is delicious too. 

You don't have to add fresh grease if you happen to save your bacon grease. Again, some of you folks that aren't from these parts may find this odd. Trust me when I tell you that this is a long standing tradition in Appalachia. Many meals were stretched by warming up a little of that precious pork grease, adding some flour and milk, and pouring this delicious gravy over some biscuits or even meat and potatoes. Most people pour their clean grease (try to remove any bits of meat) in a Mason jar or grease can. If you happen to save your grease, just warm some up and pour over your greens. 

This grease can belonged to Granny Stalcup. 
After she passed, my husband and I chose this, 
a glass cookie jar that was never empty, and 
a coffee cup that Papaw Stalcup always used as 
little tokens to remember them by. 

This is what The Encyclopedia of Appalachia had to say about wilted lettuce: "Although its origin is obscure, wilted lettuce, also called killed lettuce, has long been a popular and valued food in the region. Because a variety of greens thrive for months in Appalachia, the simple recipe can be used for much of the year. As a stand alone dish, wilted lettuce can be served in lieu of a salad before a meal. As a side dish, it is commonly served with pinto beans. Wilted lettuce is not distinctly Appalachian or American; greens were cultivated and eaten in this manner in Europe for many years prior to the arrival of the colonists in the New World. The dish has also been found in some Native American diets."

Do y'all enjoy lettuce and onions? Does your family have a different recipe? 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Words You May Never Have Uttered

Today's guest post is by Brandi Creasman Watkins, aka Bonnie Sherrill. Brandi was born and raised in the mountains of western NC. After being away for nearly a decade, she returned to her hometown and spent the next decade working in victim services and social work. She retired so that she could focus on her family, Thirty-One Gifts Business and her writing. She started blogging, writing & even published her first book, Mountain Notes to Grant-Writing in 2016. She is now working on the 2nd book in this series, Mountain Notes to Parenting, while she homeschools both of her youngest children. You can find more of Brandi's writings at her blog, A Country Girl Surviving.

Words You May Never Have Uttered

You may need a passport to enter another country, but you just need an open mind and some gas to reach the South. However, you may experience the same culture shock that you would endure in the Congo or African Sahara – we have similar language barriers and mating habits. You will certainly encounter those that think you should just turn around and head back where you came from. But…just maybe, if you are in the right frame of mind, you will find us just as fascinating as the Amish, the Cherokee, New Yorkers or the Mormons.

The single defining characteristic of any foreign culture is language and for real, the Southern language should count for a language in college prep. For example:

Befuddled. Definition: confused with a hint of ignorance to the reasoning that X topic is even being discussed. Like…why do you have to discuss ear wax when you could instead discuss the ramifications of Billy Bob thinking that he could fix the leak in his house with anything other than duct tape? This word MUST accompany the gesture of scratching your head at least one time during the conversation.

Flabbergasted. Definition: shocked with a hint of anger. You may hear this when a redneck stubs his toe and blames the wife for placing the incriminating obstacle in his path. Apparently, the wife thinks that if something is static for 50 years, her husband should learn to walk around it. Whatever!

Spirits. In the south, we refer to all alcoholic beverages as ‘spirits’ because it lifts our spirits to partake. Very simple. However, southerners don’t get the whole wine connoisseur mess….we make our own wine from the fruit that God gave us…right here in our backyards. The idea that ‘wine tastings’ happen, definitely befuddle us.

Tattoos. We all run into people and ask them about their tattoos and some get very upset if we insinuate that they had a personal experience with image that they later marked themselves with because they just get tattoos. BUT, in the South, our tattoos mean something. Period. Most may say MOM, some may say F-Obama, but they all mean something to us that will still mean it tomorrow (unless we were drunk.)

Mountains. Some may believe that this is a geographical distinction or even a place where they “vacation.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. ‘Mountains’ is a way of life. It’s a religion. It’s a people.

Helldamn. Although Webster does not recognize this as a compound word, it is the only compound word that can succinctly describe something that went wrong. This something could have been intentional, stupid or just plain fate.

Waterlogged. Definition: a state of being after too many hours in the water. In the olden days, logs were transported via the rivers and they stayed in these rivers for quite some time before they reached their destination. See, our words make sense to us!

Church. Definition: The single reason to defuse any argument under the sun. This word is synonymous with the Good Book, the people attending or the very argument that you can’t win. Church is the end all, be-all in the South. You don’t wear jeans to church….ever….under any circumstances. TV Shows do not have any place in a Southern Church – no divorce, no Modern Family, no Law & Order, no Teletubbies. Criminal Minds and other murder shows would be acceptable.

Caddywompus. Definition: describes when something is askew or off-centered. For example, I have this retarded tree in my yard that has limbs that are caddywompus and drives me to the brink of a misdemeanor. I would include a picture, but I don’t want to ensue riots, because we don’t have the parking space.

Oh Fresh Hell. Definition: A new ‘alternative’ way of thinking, acting or being. A southern woman might exclaim this after seeing her teenager come downstairs in all black attire and make-up or maybe hearing her son exclaim about the newest way to talk to his girlfriend. ‘Oh Fresh Hell’ may be timeless, but the shit it explains is not – just grab a homemade wine, get flabbergasted, drag them to church in the mountains and scream a Helldamn to those that are caddywompus.

This post is brought to you by the my personal friends on Facebook! I hope you enjoyed and please let me know if you have some Southern Terms that weren’t included!

I hope you enjoyed this guest post as much as I did! Brandi and I grew up in the same small town in western NC. I tried to think back to when I first met her but if you were from Andrews, NC everybody just always knew each other. She is still just as funny as ever! She reached out to me during my last hospital stay and decided that we need to team up to share some of our posts with us both being "small town Appalachian bloggers". I look forward to working with her again and sharing more of her hilarious posts in the future

This is a pic from the area where Brandi & I grew up. Pretty, huh? 
This was taken by my friend and fellow Andrews girl, Tammy West McCoy.