In the Shenandoah Valley, summer was full of warm breezes. We didn’t have an air conditioner until I was much older, so we stayed outside in the evenings as long as we could, usually way past dark. Mom would hang blankets over the windows to block out all the sun and hopefully some of the heat, but it still built up in the evenings.
We’ve been watching the fireflies light up each evening just before dusk, but it seems like their show is done before it really gets dark. When we were kids the front yard would be full of ’em and they would keep glowin’ around until our bedtime and beyond. Of course, we’d chase ’em and catch some. We kept peanut butter jars to put them in. Mom loved peanut butter so they were always the biggest jars we had. I remember laying in bed and looking out the window, watching them as I would fall asleep. We slept with the windows open all summer long. We had lots of those little sliding screens that would drop right into the track and keep it open about a foot. One of my brothers would somehow manage to get a box fan to stay wedged in a window sometimes, but of course, it would sometimes fall out too, but still, it would be blowing as it hung by its cord.
On really warm nights we’d camp on the front porch. We’d line all of our sleeping bags up across the concrete and our dog, Bootsy, would lay at the top of the steps to keep watch over us. Our front porch was also our cistern, so it was high off the ground. Some nights we’d tie sheets or blankets to the railings to cover us so we wouldn’t be damp from the dew by morning. I’m sure there were many nights that instead of going back in the house, we would just pee off the front porch. I got in trouble for pee’in outside when I was playin’ at the neighbor’s house. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t pee standing by the tree. Mom told me I couldn’t do that anymore.
On cool nights, I always think, it sure is a nice night for campin’. I doubt I’d be much good at it these days. I’m not too keen on sleeping on the ground and I’m even less keen on getting back up. I do like being outside though when it’s nice. Our screen porch is our favorite place to be. That’s where I’m sittin’ right now, writing this.
When we would go see grandmaw and granddaddy Edge in the summer, granddady would get the ice cream maker out. He’d sometimes let us take turns cranking it. If we got tired, we could sit on it, but that was a lot of work too. We’d stay cool though. We made lots of chocolate chip ice cream, but I remember when granola ice cream was all the rage. It wasn’t granola like we know today made of oats, nut, raisins, and honey. The granola cereal was just little grains and looked like cat litter! It was so good. Mom loved it so granddaddy would make it too. It felt like it took hours to make it, but just minutes to eat it. He bought all the families ice cream makers one year for Christmas. I don’t think we ever used ours. It sat in mom and dad’s closet. Mom was known for puttin’ good stuff up and saving it for when we needed it. But I guess we never needed it.
I’m gonna go in now and get me a scoop of some plain ole vanilla and watch a little tv. The fireflies have gone to bed now and I will soon.
A few years ago Mick and I stopped at a little store we like to go to for spices I need for pickling and they have some great kitchen gadgets. There is also usually a donut stand outside making fresh donuts that are the size of your entire head. I don’t usually eat donuts, they are just not my thing, but those I cannot resist. But, this time that we stopped there were a few other folks out there offering up some other goodies. One of them had cheesecake stuffed strawberries. They were huge and so sweet and juicy, and the cheesecake stuffing had a hint of cinnamon that was unexpected, but really good.
That’s what I wanted to fix today for a nice Valentine’s Day dessert after dinner. The cheesecake stuffing is just made of cream cheese, powdered sugar, and some flavorings. You can change the flavor up if you would like by simply adding different ingredients like rum extract and sprinkling them with flaked coconut, or topping them with crushed Oreos. We like the cinnamon spice, topped with graham cracker crumbs.
Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries
1 – 1 1/2 pounds of strawberries, washed, topped, and cored
1 8oz block of cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs
Cream together the cream cheese and powdered sugar. Add the ground cinnamon, vanilla, and lemon juice. Mix until well combined. Scrape down the mixing bowl as needed.
With a piping bag or plastic bag with a corner cut out, fill the bag with the cream cheese mixture. Pipe into each prepared strawberry. Sprinkle each strawberry with graham cracker crumbs. Chill 1 hour.
I have started my own TV Channel! Well, IGTV on Instagram. lol I posted my first video and it only took me about 24 hours to tape it, edit, and upload it. I plan on doing more and hopefully, the quality will get much better! Please bear with me and follow me.
Honestly, I appreciate all of you. I love the comments and questions, and I hope to see when you try one of my recipes.
So, here you go:
1 whole young chicken
1 gallon of water, approximately
1 1/2 cups of carrots, cut into medallions
3/4 cup chopped celery
1 small onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
For the Dumplins:
2 cups plain, all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons butter, cubed and chilled
3/4 cup of milk
Under running water, check chicken for any remaining feathers and remove them if found. Place chicken in a large stock pot, 8 quarts or larger. Add the teaspoon of salt and cover. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 1 hour.
While the chicken is simmering, clean and cut up carrots, celery, and onion. When the chicken is done, carefully remove it from the pot and transfer it to a pan to let cool. Add the vegetables to the stock now created by boiling the chicken. Return to a simmer and cook the vegetables for about 45 minutes.
When the chicken has cooled enough to handle, begin to remove the skin, debone, and rough chop the meat. Set aside while preparing the dough for the dumplins.
For the dumplins, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it begins to resemble coarse cornmeal and butter is well combined. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the milk. Stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together. If it is too dry to hold together, add a few splashes of milk. You want a dough that just holds together, not wet.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll out to about 1/4 inch thickness. With a knife or pizza cutter, cut into squares about 1 – 1 1/2 inch.
Add the cut up chicken back to the pot and increase the temperature to bring to a rolling boil. You want the broth boiling to help cook and steam the dumplins. Begin adding the dumplins, carefully keeping them separated. Replace the lid to the pot and let the dumplins cook for about 5 minutes. The flour off the dumplins will help thicken the broth. If the broth has not thickened enough, make a slurry with about 1 tablespoon of flour to 1/4 cup of milk. Add the milk a little at a time to the flour to help prevent lumps. Add the slurry to the chicken-n-dumplins, while stirring it well to incorporate it. It will thicken quickly.
Ladle out chicken-n-dumplins into bowls and serve!
Mary made Rice Pudding and bread pudding all the time. It was creamy and sweet and seemed to take forever to make. It probably didn’t but something that good was hard to wait for. Sometimes she would serve it warm, but usually, it was cold and I liked it, either way I could get it.
When I was on my own I thought of her often while I began to really cook. Those days, if I didn’t make it, I didn’t eat. There was no money for eating out. Occasionally I would make something that I would serve over rice, like chicken, and I would end up with a little rice left over. One day I decided to toss in a little sugar, some milk, an egg, and cinnamon and cook it low and slow until it thickened. I may have burned a pan or two, but I would just be careful to not scrape the bottom and dig up that burnt taste. Yes, the rest of it tasted a bit charred too, but I was not too picky. I would eventually start to plan ahead and intentionally made extra rice just so I could make my quick stovetop version. I never did make it in the oven like Mary did. I was still too impatient to wait that long.
This morning I made us some oatmeal for breakfast. Mick likes it with a little butter and sugar and a side of toast. I wasn’t paying much attention when I measured out the oats and I ended up doubling the amount of oats I needed. I could have easily put some back, but I had already tossed in the salt, so I just rolled with it.
I served up a bowl for each of us and had quite a bit left in the pot. I just put the lid on it and sat down for breakfast. I was thinking as I ate about what I could do with the cooked oatmeal. I could just put it in the fridge and reheat some for breakfast the next couple of mornings. But, Mary was on my mind and her rice pudding and the pudding I used to make with the leftover rice.
After cleaning up I went back to the kitchen. I measured out how much I had left and it came to exactly 1 1/2 cups. So I started pulling out the sugar, an egg, the cinnamon, and cardamom. I went to grab the milk and thought about the buttermilk I had to use up, so I went for that instead.
I mixed it all up, prepared an 8×8 baking dish and preheated the oven. I poured it into the dish, popped it in the oven, and kept an eye on it. After about 45 minutes it had browned on top and the edges looked a bit crunchy. I took it out and let it cool, grabbed a spoon and took a taste. I swear, if I were blindfolded, I would not have known it was not Mary’s rice pudding!
It took me right back to her kitchen. There I was, sitting at her table, next to the window with some pretty white or bright colored set of curtains that she would change out for the seasons. She kept a table cloth on the table at all times too, which was something that we considered fancy at our house. A little dish of her rice pudding and a cup of hot tea with lots of sugar and a little canned milk and I was the happiest kid there ever was.
I dished up a little cup of my Oatmeal Pudding after it chilled and fixed me a cup of hot coffee. I’ve been thinking about it all day since. I could save some for breakfast for the next couple of mornings, but we all know I will get me some tonight for dessert. I can’t wait.
1 1/2 cups cooked oats
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamon
Preheat oven to 350* and spray an 8×8 baking dish or pan with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients together and pour into pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top has browned and edges begin to crisp. Serve warm or chilled, plain or with whipped cream.
I talked about how a snow day was a day for me to make some money as a kid and maybe get a hot toddy from Charlie, but it was also a day that mom would send one of us out to get some snow.
She would give us the biggest pot we had and a huge cooking spoon. Most of the time we could just open the front door and scoop all we needed, that is unless Bootsy or Dusty, the two collies we had growing up, had not walked all over it. If they had, she usually instructed us to get it off the car, but “Don’t go all the way down! That car is dirty!!” There was also the thought that we could not use the first snow of winter, that it was full of all the dirt in the air. Or, you didn’t want to use the first couple of inches that fell.
So, we would come back with a pot full and piled high with snow. She would get out the big blue mixing bowl, vanilla, sugar, and a can of evaporated milk, or as we called it “canned milk”. She would count the scoops of snow into the bowl, but I’m not sure why. She would end up adding more if it turned soupy. Then she covered it in sugar, poured in a little bit of vanilla, and then cut a hole in the top of the canned milk and poured most of it in and got to stirring. I don’t think we got to help much with that because it would move around and fall out as she tried to keep folding it over. In just a minute or two she began to scoop it out into our collection of plastic butter bowls. You know, the kind you kept as cereal bowls that came in a variety of colors and the outside either had ridges around it or a pattern?
We would dig right in and immediately get the worst case of brain freeze. Then as we swallowed the last spoonful, we would turn our bowls up and get all the snowcream that melted in the bottom. There is nothing like the taste of it. I have seen several recipes where some tell you to add pasteurized eggs and some suggest pouring chocolate syrup on it. No, just no. It is perfect just the way it is. I don’t even like the idea of using sweetened condensed milk instead of our regular old canned milk. I love the crunch of the sugar. Every now and then you would get a lump of sugar and it was awesome.
It snowed this morning and I really had to struggle to get enough snow to make a batch because we only got a couple of inches. I did have to go to the back of the truck to find it deep enough to scoop. Since it’s just Mick and me, we have some in the freezer to have tonight too.
This weekend it has been rainy and cold. I don’t think we’ve been outside the house for more than an hour total. It’s been a great weekend to just stay in and cook. Mick talked to his mom this morning and the first thing she said was she got up and said to his dad, “I’m gonna cook today”. Beans and cornbread was on her mind. And she told us that she made Granny’s Cornbread. I need to make that with her. It’s definitely going in the cookbook.
So, what do you call comfort food? For me, it would be something I ate when someone was taking care of me. Those foods come from my mom, her mom, and Mary.
Grandmaw Barton was a self-reliant person who raised five kids, and they became self-reliant too. It was rare for someone to take care of them. But, what it meant to be on the other side of that is that you were well taken care of. I remember the foods that she made which made me feel comfortable, at home and loved. She never wrote down a recipe or even owned a cookbook. Mom tried a few times to get a recipe or two from her, but she would rattle off that you put this and that in it. She just knew how to make it. I know that’s the stuff that grandmaw legends are made of, but it’s the truth. There was nothing I wouldn’t eat at her house, ever.
In the summer I stayed with her for a couple of weeks. She only lived about 30 miles from us, but it seemed like a world away when I was a kid. One of the other things I liked about staying with her and my other grandparents in the summer was that I was an only child! In a house with 3 older brothers and friends always at the house, being alone was not lonely, it was peaceful.
She had a portion of a garden that she and her neighbor put out and then she grew a few things of her own just outside her kitchen window, in a little bed she made. She could watch it while she sat and read the paper or her Bible and enjoyed her cup of coffee in the morning. When she was just cooking for herself, she could see what was ready to pick and made a pot of something she would eat on all day.
There was a pot of new potatoes, green beans, and corn that she would fix that I loved. Sometimes she would put a little ground beef in it, but I liked it best when she left the meat out and put just a little sugar in the water. I have tried to make it myself, but I’ve never gotten it quite right so I may be wrong about how she made it. But, I did watch her make it a few times. She would also slice yellow squash longways in half, lay it out on a sheet pan and put a little butter and salt on it. She would bake it until it started to brown on top. Her cooking was so simple it seemed, but it had the best flavor. To this day I prefer vegetables with very little seasoning. You can really taste what it’s supposed to taste like. To me, earthy flavors in vegetables are comforting and I feel connected to grandmaw. It makes sense too because she was so connected to the earth. She could grow anything, and it seemed to grow overnight. And, my mom made the best meatloaf. I don’t know if grandmaw showed her how to make it because I don’t ever remember meatloaf at grandmaw’s house. I helped mom with that many times, so it is one of those things that I make without thinking about it, which is how grandmaw cooked. She also made really good fried potatoes, but I have to say that Mick’s are better. I’ve said before that he makes the best I’ve ever had.
In a couple of months, grandmaw would have been 102. I think about her often when I’m cooking. I like a fancy meal every now and then, but something simple is comforting to me.
Mary was also an incredible cook. She could bake be best homemade rolls. I watched her make them many, many times and finally, I said “I need you to teach me how to do that!” She said that she learned from her grandfather. He began to bake bread when he was in the Army. He baked bread for soldiers during the Civil War! Well, now I had to learn how. What a legacy to pass along. And, it wasn’t about which side he was on, but that he fed his men and then passed on what he knew. I haven’t made her rolls in a very long time. I think it’s time I do. I know exactly what I would eat them with too. She made the most tender and flavorful Country Fried Steak and Gravy you would ever have. I would also make a pan of her fried squash. I guess you can tell squash is one of my favorites. I don’t know how she was so patient with frying it. She would bread each piece and lay it out in the pan and turn each one when it was time. When that pan was done, she would start all over again until she had a plate full of these golden medallions for the table.
Her Country Fried Steak was perfectly brown, with crispy edges of breading that held so much flavor. See, you can even make flour unbelievably irresistible if you do it the right way. The pan would have little bits of what we called “brownies” where breading would fall off and fry up like crunchy little nuggets. She would scoop those out along with the steaks when she was done. They were the best appetizers if we could grab some off the plate before she put it on the table. Her gravy was just thick enough to sit on top of the steaks and hold on when you lifted a bite to your mouth. Oh my gosh, I can taste it right now if I close my eyes. Creamy and crunchy mouthfuls of heaven. She never saw cooking as something she had to do. She loved it. She would put on her apron when she entered the kitchen in the morning and didn’t take it off until the dishes were washed up after supper.
So, what did I make to feel comforted? Everything. Yesterday I made mom’s meatloaf and today I made Mary’s country fried steak with Mick’s fried potatoes. I usually get him to make them for me, telling him I can’t make them as good as he does. Today I may have ruined my chances of him ever making them again. Apparently, I did pretty good, but probably not as good, but acceptable. This morning for breakfast I fried up some bacon and sausage patties, eggs, and biscuits. Don’t tell anyone, but I used frozen biscuits. After the bacon came out of the skillet, I tossed in some cornmeal and made what I am calling Gristmill Gravy. Some call it sawmill gravy or cornmeal gravy. I saved what I had left and warmed it for the country fried steak tonight. Before dinner, I got in the kitchen and developed a new recipe for Apple Bread.
I am full. I am happy. I am comforted.
After frying bacon, or using reserved bacon grease, get the grease hot over med-high heat. Add cornmeal and stir until browned, but do not burn. Add buttermilk and stir. Add water and stir well until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over biscuits, bread or meat – anything you like gravy on.