Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Day Traditions & Superstitions

Happy New Year, y'all! Can you believe how fast this past year has went by? I've heard it said that the older you get, the quicker it goes and I believe it! I have been digging around trying to find some New Year's traditions and superstitions to share with you and only a couple of them were familiar to me with the most familiar being the tradition of eating black eyed peas, greens, and pork for the first meal of the new year.

I have practiced this tradition for as long as I can remember. My Granny Janice ALWAYS made this for our New Year's supper but would add coleslaw (I wouldn't eat greens when I was younger), stewed taters, & cornbread. Come to find out, there is  a story behind this southern tradition. 

During the Civil War, the Northern army would come in and take anything they could carry and eat anything they could eat. This included livestock and any grains they could use to feed them...but they couldn't take it all. After the smoke cleared, the remaining southerners weren't sure how they were going to avoid starvation. Luckily for them, Sherman's troops had left silos filled with black eyed peas. At that time, the North only used black eyed peas as feed for livestock. The Northern troops saw it as the thing of least value and since they had taken all of the livestock, what use would it be to the southerners? They didn't realize they were leaving the very thing that would keep the southerners from starving. From New Year's Day 1866 until now, the tradition of eating black eyed peas for luck continues. 

We always ate greens because they were said to represent wealth for the new year. The more greens you ate, the more green you'd have in your wallet. I'm still not sure there's any truth behind this but at this point, I'm not willing to chance it! Pork is said to represent looking and moving forward to the year ahead because pigs can't turn their head from side to side. This is the only one of the trio that I never knew! 

Now that you know all about that tradition, here are a few New Year's Appalachian superstitions:

  • Immigrants from Wales believed that spreading ashes over the hearth on New Year's Eve could predict events for the upcoming year. If footprints left in the ashes headed towards the front door, someone would die. If the footprints went into a bedroom, there would be a new family member in the home. The shape of a coffin in the ashes predicted death and the shape of a ring foretold a marriage. 
  • If a girl would like to know who she will marry, she can throw a ball of yarn out of her bedroom window at midnight on New Year's Eve, and say, "As I wind he comes" over and over as she begins winding the yarn back into a ball. If she is to marry, her future husband will hand the yarn back through the window to her. If no one appears, she will not marry.
  • It is bad luck to hang up a new calendar before the first day of the new year.
  • If there is no food in the pantry on New Year's Day, it is destined to remain empty the whole year.
  • Well water is said to turn to wine at midnight on New Year's Eve.
  • If a man enters your home first on New Year's Day, it is a sign that you'll have good luck all year. If it's a woman, the opposite is true.

I hope you have enjoyed these traditions and superstitions and I would love to hear any that you know. Please share them in the comment section down below and I hope each of you have a blessed New Year! 

*This post was originally published here at AMR on 1/1/16.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Appalachian Traditions: Christmas Plays & Treat Bags

This post was originally published here at AMR on 12/21/16.

Very few things say "It's Christmas" to me like going to a church Christmas play and getting a treat bag. My church had our play this past Sunday evening and everyone was gifted a treat bag as they left. This has been a part of Christmas my entire life and there are still many churches who practice this tradition throughout Appalachia.

I believe this started as a way to ensure that the children throughout the communities would at least get one treat during the Christmas season. For a lot of children who grew up in the mountains, this may have been the only gift that they could expect. While the bags were initially intended for the children, they are now given to folks of all ages. I'm sure this still stirs up some sweet memories for all generations.

What could you find in a Christmas treat bag? There almost always was an apple, orange, candy cane, a pack of chewing gum, a handful of mixed nuts, and maybe a few chocolates. Some things never change and why would we want them to? 

Do you remember getting Christmas treat bags at church? Do the churches in your area still practice this tradition? What kinds of things did you find in your bags? I would love to hear from you...let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Candle In The Window

 This was originally published here at AMR on 12/22/16.

The tradition of placing burning candles in the windows during Christmas has its roots in Irish culture. Many people, including myself, still practice this custom and the history behind it is very interesting.

During the British persecution, religion was suppressed throughout Ireland and the people had no churches. Priests were known to hide in forests and caves and they would secretly visit homes to say Mass during the night. 

Every Irish Catholic family hoped to have a priest come to their home so they could receive sacraments and offer hospitality. When Christmas came around, the Irish families would leave their doors unlocked and would place a lit candle in the window. This was a sort of signal to let any priests who happened to be in the area know they were welcome and to let the candles guide them to the homes during the dark night.

The priest would enter silently through the unlocked door and was welcomed by those who were grateful that their home would be used to worship and celebrate Jesus' birth. 

Over time, the British persecutors became suspicious and asked what the lit candles were all about. The faithful Irish explained that they burn the candles and keep the door unlocked so that Mary and Joseph, who searched for a place to stay, could find their way to our homes and be welcomed with open doors and open hearts. The British soldiers thought that it was a harmless superstition and didn't bother suppressing it.

I didn't know the history behind the candle until recently. I just thought that the battery operated candles looked pretty in my windows. Now, they mean much more. I want them to represent John 8:12 - "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."

Do you leave a burning candle in your window during Christmas? 

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 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 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, are 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. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Sweet Lesson In Life

Today's guest post is by Jequeta Mullins Briskey. Jequeta was the youngest of 11 children and she grew up in Clintwood, Virginia. She didn't start writing until after she was married and most of her short stories and poems are centered around growing up in southwestern Virginia. She currently lives in northwestern Ohio with her husband, John, and they have 3 children, 8 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren.  

A Sweet Lesson In Life

It started back in the early 50s when I was in the fourth grade. My dad decided that he would go into the strawberry business. He thought that it would be profitable and would bring in some much needed money for our family. Not only did he have the space and the know-how to plant the seedlings and bring them to life, but he also had the extra hands to help him with the task. Those extra hands would belong to me and my siblings.

He picked out a prime spot on our little mountain side farm and prepared if for planting, naturally with our help. I don't recall actually helping to do any of the prep work with the soil, the planting, weeding, and care of those tender plants but somehow they survived. The first year is never great for strawberries but the second year found us working hard at picking the nice red ripe fruit every other day. 

Most of those strawberries were for our personal use and we really enjoyed them. After working all morning in the blazing sun on our hands and knees, picking the fruit from those verdant green plants, one would think the last thing on our minds would be eating that fruit. But, knowing that Mom was in the kitchen baking an old fashioned strawberry pie for lunch would make our mouths water. These pies were not like the pies of today with their glaze and piled high with whipped topping. Her pies were made with sweetened cooked strawberries thickened with a flour mixture and poured into a handmade baked shell. They contained no topping and we never asked for a topping because in those days, we didn't know that anything of that sort existed. We accepted what we had and were thankful for it. 

By the third year, Dad's strawberries were producing in abundance. We started letting other people know that we had an excess amount of strawberries and that we would be willing to sell some of them. So, off we went to the fields early in the morning to pick the fruit. We had attained gallon buckets over the past two years in anticipation of this day. These buckets were most likely gallon lard cans or anything of that sort. Each of us would carry a bucket along and we would take what my Dad called a "swath" which was our individual portion in which we were to remove all the ripe fruit, leaving the green ones to ripen for another day. And we were cautioned not to step on the plants as this would likely damage them from producing again. 

Dad had told us that we would get paid for helping him with this task. We were allowed to pick one green berry for each gallon bucket we filled and he warned us that he knew our capacity for picking and he would know if we cheated. In one day, if we picked well and fast, we could make a dollar for picking ten gallons of berries, That was a lot of money for us in those days. We felt rich! We didn't think about how long it took for use to make that much money but just having the money was joy beyond compare. 

When we had filled one of the buckets we could pour them into a larger container to be carried down the hill to where our home was. This would eliminate several trips up and down the hill. Eventually, my brother rigged up a pulley system from the house to the top of the hill so we could hang a bucket of berries onto the pulley and lower them down to the house by way of a handle. This sure saved a lot of steps and time for us. 

Word got around our community that we had strawberries for sale and people started placing orders with us. Whether it was only one gallon or a huge order of twenty to thirty gallons, we could always fill those orders. Dad would fill the gallon buckets heaping full until the berries were falling off the sides. Then he would transfer the berries over to the containers our customers had brought with them, all the while he would make sure the customer helped him count the gallons so as not to short them on their order. And when it was time for them to pay up, the price was always $1.00 a gallon. In all the years we kept that business going, he never changed the price. Word got around that Dad was very generous and fair and that made more business come our way. Eventually we got to the point of selling thousands of gallons of berries each season.

Mom would never want the first berries in the spring. These were the ones that were bright red and huge. Just looking at them would make your mouth water. Most people would ask for those but not mom. She would always wait until the end of the season when the berries were smaller and a deeper red. Then she would ask for her share of the crop. These late berries had a sweeter taste. Sure, it took longer to clean and process them but it was well worth the effort. The jams and jellies she made from this fruit was the best and it was always a great treat to pull a box of sweetened berries from the freezer on a snowy winter day and taste summer sunshine. I think back on this now when I go out to buy strawberries for myself, might I say at a ridiculous price, and I try to choose the smalls berries in the bunch because I know they will taste the best. 

This business for us lasted about twenty years. By the time I graduated high school, there were no more children left at home to help Dad and his age had slowed him down. Eventually, he let the strawberry patch go but even after our crops had gone and we no longer kept it producing, we would get phone calls asking if we still had strawberries for sale. I guess Dad had a good idea after all. That business kept our family going for many years all for the price of a few plants, some fertilizer, and several strapping young kids capable of picking their share of red summer sunshine. Oh, the memories it brings for all of us. Thank you, Dad, for teaching us another lesson in life.

I hope y'all enjoyed Jequeta's short story as much as I did. She couldn't have sent it to me at a more perfect time because I've had strawberries on my mind for the past month! I agree with Jequeta...they do taste like summer. If you missed my post last week and would like to make some jam with all of the strawberries that seems to be poppin' up, you can find my post and recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Jam here. Does strawberries taste like summer to you too? 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Strawberry & Rhubarb (Pie Plant) Jam

Hey, y'all! I feel like I haven't written a blog post in FOREVER but I needed to take a break. It was nice and I'm ready to get back in to the swing of things. I've missed y'all! 

A couple of weeks ago, I went over to my husband's grandparent's old place and came home with some rhubarb! We dug up most of it to transplant it here at the house but ended up with quite a few stalks in the process. I knew exactly what I was going to use it for even before we got our hands on it: strawberry & rhubarb jam! 

My great-grandma Collett was the one who introduced this sweet-tart combo to me when I was a little girl. She would make the best strawberry rhubarb cobbler and I loved it from the very first bite. I've always liked the combination of sweet and tart flavors...maybe that's why I love Sour Patch Kids so much! 

As I was looking for some info about rhubarb, I came across the word "pie plant" in a couple of articles online. I immediately thought of the Little House On the Prairie books! I'm a HUGE Little House fan and recently re-read (for possibly the 100th time) the books in preparation of visiting the Ingall's homestead in De Smet, SD in a couple of weeks. In The First Four Years, Laura was deciding what she was going to fix for the threshers which also happened to be the first meal that she was fixing in her and Almonzo's new home. She said, "There was pie plant in the garden; she must make a couple of pies." She goes on to cook the big meal and accidentally forgot to add sugar to the pies. The threshers were all kind and added their own sugar but Laura was embarrassed by her mistake. Live and learn, right? 

As many times as I've read that book, I never knew what "pie plant" was. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was rhubarb! Have any of y'all ever heard it referred to as pie plant? 

Once I got home with my rhubarb, I went to our local produce stand for strawberries. They were so pretty! 

The first thing you need to do, of course, is wash your strawberries and remove the stems and slice them up. 

I used my chopper that you see above to chop those things up! You could do this in a blender or food processor but why dirty up more than you really need to? I just used a little muscle and had those babies chopped up quicker than you could pull out a machine and load it up. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. 

You're going to need 2 cups of chopped strawberries for one run of this jam. 

Next, you're going to wash and dice up your rhubarb. Not all rhubarb is completely red. If you buy it from your grocery store or produce stand, you'll probably find the red variety because that's what most people want when purchasing rhubarb. There are a few different varieties and mine happens to be mostly green with a little red marbling in it. Whichever type you have, you'll need 2 cups for this recipe. 

Add your berries and rhubarb to a heavy duty pot. Add 1/4 cup of lemon juice to the mix along with one box of Sure Jell. I also like to add a little butter to prevent it from foaming up as much but this is optional.

Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, stirring the whole time to prevent scorching. Once the mixture is boiling, add 4 cups of sugar. Bring the mixture back to a rolling boil and, while continuing to stir, boil for 1 minute. 

Remove from heat and ladle the mixture into hot jars leaving about an inch of space at the top. If you choose not to add the butter, skim the foam off of the top before ladling the mix into your jars. 

I used both pint and half pint jars. Wipe the rims clean and add hot lids and rings, finger tight. I used this little pot holder that my husband's granny made me to hold the jars while I put on the rings. She is also the one who originally planted the rhubarb. I thought of Granny Jones the whole time I made this jam. I think she would appreciate the fact that someone is still getting get use out of her work.

Once you have the jars full and sealed, add the hot jars to a boiling water bath and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from canner and set on a kitchen towel to cool. If you happen to have a jar that doesn't seal, just put it in the refrigerator and use it first! 

We've really been enjoying this stuff on biscuits and toast. I ended up making three runs and ended up with 4 pints and 12 half pints. One run should make around 6-8 half pints, depending on how much space you leave at the top. 

You can find the complete recipe below if you'd like to copy, paste, and print it out. Let me know if you make some!

Strawberry & Rhubarb (Pie Plant) Jam
2 cups chopped strawberries
2 cups diced rhubarb (pie plant)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pkg Sure Jell
1 tbsp. butter (optional- it will help lessen the amount of foam)
4 cups sugar

Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil on high heat. Add sugar & stir until dissolved. Continue to stir and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and ladle into clean, hot jars. Wipe rims and add lids and rings until finger tight. Add to boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool on kitchen towel. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Family Heirlooms: Granny's Biscuit Cutter

Granny has been on my mind a lot lately. Most of you that read this blog via Facebook know that she passed away on April 25th. I feel like there just wasn't enough time for me to ask all the questions that I had about her life. Out of all of us, I believe I'm the one who was always probing for stories about what life was like when she was growing up and everything should could tell me about the rest of the family. 

When I was little, I always watched her flit around the kitchen as she prepared meals for us. When she'd make biscuits she'd use this little metal cutout that had a wooden handle. I thought that it was fascinating that she had a special tool just for cutting out biscuits because I remember my mom using just whatever she could find & it was usually the opening of a cup.

I don't know what prompted me to ask Granny where she got it but she told me that it had belonged to her mother-in-law, my great-granny Fannie. I always thought that was a funny name. She passed when I was around four or so and I remember being confused when she wasn't around. My Dad told me that they took her up to heaven. In my four year old mind, I pictured them packing her up in our big yellow Chevy Malibu and them driving up like Danny and Sandy did at the end of Grease! Ha! 

I asked Granny if I could have it some day. My Uncle Doug (my dad's youngest brother who is more like a brother than an uncle) overheard the conversation and told me that HE was getting it. Now, why in the world would a feller who never made biscuits want with an old biscuit cutter? From that point on, me & Uncle Doug would go back and forth over who was going to end up with Granny's biscuit cutter and Granny would just laugh and wink at me. 

Last week when the family was reading over Granny's will and wishes for her funeral, they came to a section written out for me. She left me a few things but the best part said, "I want Kim to have my biscuit cutter (ha ha, Doug)." She always had a great sense of humor! 

The Saturday following my discharge from the hospital, my stomach was still kind of queasy but I got to craving biscuits close to lunchtime. I got out Granny's biscuit cutter and got a little emotional using it. It has been used by three generations of Appalachian women (although I'm the fourth generation to own it) to make biscuits for their families. No amount of money could persuade me to give it up. 

I decided to send a message to my Uncle Doug to let him know that I was enjoying it. Here it is: 

Granny would've gotten a kick out of this!

The biscuits were good but the memories are better. I will think of her every single time I use it. My priceless family heirloom. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Places To See & Things To Do: The International Biscuit Festival

Hey, y'all! It's so good to be home! Thanks so much for all of your kind words and prayers. I'm still trying to get my feet back under me but being home makes things MUCH better.

Now that spring seems to be here (ignore the cold and windy weather that just doesn't seem to want to leave WNC) there are festivals popping up all over the place! And I want to go to ALL of them. I was very disappointed that I didn't get to go to the cornbread festival last weekend but I found one that helped ease the disappointment: The International Biscuit Festival! Doesn't that sound like heaven?! I can't think of Appalachian food without thinking about biscuits.

A whole festival dedicated to celebrating those hot, flaky, buttery layers of southern goodness...heaven! This will be our first year attending and I'm counting down the days. You may be wondering what this festival is all about. Lucky for you, I've been speaking with Ms. Lindsey Collins, the event director. Lindsey says, "This is the Biscuit Festival's 8th year, and it has helped grow Knoxville's downtown community into what it is today." 

There is a section of the festival known as Biscuit Boulevard. "Several of the region's finest restaurants and bakers bring their Signature Biscuits for you to sample." Glory! According to their website, Biscuit Boulevard will be open starting from 9am Saturday, May 20th, 2017. The Boulevard runs along Market Street, just south of Market Square in downtown Knoxville. You can buy a Biscuit Boulevard ticket for just $15 and try FIVE different Signature Biscuit creations! Vote by placing the perforated tab of your ticket in your favorite Biscuit vendor's Mason Jar at their booth and help to select the People's Choice winner. Boulevard participants will also be offering a selection of other goodies for you to purchase directly. 

There will be some long lines so prepare to arrive early! Lines continue to grow throughout the day and the festival ends at 2PM. We're planning on getting there when the doors open!

Believe it or not, the Biscuit Festival isn't just about eating biscuits. Besides Biscuit Boulevard, there is:
  • The Miss or Mister Biscuit Pageant 
  • Biscuit Baking Contest
  • The Biscuit Songwriting Contest
  • The Biscuit Bazaar
If you'd like to find more information about any of these events and/or order tickets, you can check out their website: The International Biscuit Festival.

The festival was kind enough to team up with me to sponsor an Appalachian Mountain Roots giveaway! Tomorrow, May 5th, look for a giveaway post and follow the directions in the post to be entered. The prize includes 2 Biscuit Festival tickets and a handmade wooden biscuit cutter made by my very talented woodworking husband! 

$70 Value

We'll be wearing our "app-uh-latch-un" t-shirts so if you're at the festival and happen to see us standing in line, come up and say hi! I'll be writing a post all about it when we get back. I mean, who doesn't like a good biscuit?! 

Be sure to check back tomorrow and find the giveaway post so you can be entered to win the prize pack!