I’ve worked in or around restaurants nearly all my working life. My first job was at The Virginian Truck Stop where I did everything from clean the bathrooms to prep, bussing tables, and washing dishes. Even when my primary job was not with a restaurant, I would get part-time jobs at one to make extra cash. One of those part-time jobs was waiting tables at The Wayside Inn in Middletown, VA.
I worked there on weekends while working at a bank during the day and taking classes at college at night. It was good money. I met a few famous people in that little bit of time I was there. One Sunday morning, I think it was Easter Sunday, Gene Shalit and his family reserved the private dining room and I was their server. Gene was a movie and book critic for the Today Show for many years. I heard about Paul Newman and Tom Cruise being there, but I was not working that night. Apparently, they raced at a local race track near there. Other than that, I usually waited on visitors staying at the Inn and local business people.
The male waiters dressed in black pants, white tuxedo shirt, black tie, and cumberbund. The women wore long granny dresses and mop caps. It was an odd mix of uniform. The Inn had been known as the longest continuously operating Inn in America until one night the kitchen caught fire and they had to close for a few months. The original part of the Inn and dining rooms were fine.
One evening, I had the last table of the night. When they left I had to clean up and turn off the lights in the kitchen. Everyone else was gone and the night clerk was waiting on me to finish up and close out. I headed across the dark dining room toward the bar where there was a short flight of stairs and a tiny hallway that took you right to the front desk of the Inn. Along that hallway was my favorite dining room. It was the original kitchen of the Inn, dating back to the late 1700’s. As I got to the small flight of stairs and started down, a figure in white started up toward me! I screamed and it screamed back at me and then took off in the other direction down the hallway to the front. As it entered the light of the front desk I could see it was one of the waitresses. In the almost pitch dark of the stairs, all I could see was her white apron and cap and all she could see was my white shirt. We both thought one of the ghosts we had heard so much about had appeared before us. The front desk clerk had a bit of a fit over our screams, which were followed by almost uncontrollable laughter. When we screamed, we were directly under the main hallway for the guest rooms upstairs and he was sure we had woken everyone at the Inn. He got over it and the waitress and I walked each other out to our cars. Even though we knew we had only scared one another, we were both still a little skittish.
|The small dining room which had been the original kitchen to the Inn. It still smelled like the wood that burned in the fireplace 200 years earlier.|
I worked there twice while in college, with one of those runs being during the summer where I was able to pick up more shifts. When I returned for more weekends we had a new manager and he did not like me very much, or at least I thought. He was the one who assigned me to Gene Shalit’s reservation, I never got to work the banquets, and it seemed I always had the tables furtherest from the kitchen. It turned out though that he felt I was one of the better servers and could handle a famous guest and his family, I could take care of the bigger tables in the front dining room. And, banquets were given to one main server and several people who just did what they were told. I thought they had it easy and always got done early and could go home. But the truth was they never made much money because it was the only round they had for the evening. So in hindsight, he did like me better, but I was too stupid to know it at the time. I had enough when one Sunday morning I got there to find out I was the only server and the Inn had been full the night before. That meant that I would have the entire restaurant to take care of myself. I did a foolish thing and walked out. I did squeeze the fresh orange juice, make the coffee and set the muffins in the warmer before I left though. I also left him a note on the board by the schedule to say I would not be back. He called me later that morning and of course was not happy with me for walking out, but mostly for leaving period. I regretted it a little and thought I would never just walk out on a job again. So, I have only done it twice more since then. I think I have it out of my system now though!
One of the things I enjoyed most about working there was getting to take the dessert tray around to the table. They did have the best desserts. One was Kentucky Derby Pie, which one waitress always described as pecan pie laced with chocolate chips. You could tell when she got to that on the tray, even across the dining room. She always threw her hands up in the air and lean back a little when she said: “laced with chocolate chips”. We all said she was a little laced at times and she pretty much admitted it. We also had a Strawberry Romanoff, which was strawberries and cream with a liquor syrup. At the end of the night, several of us would fight over who got which dessert off the tray. I don’t know why any of us wanted any of the desserts though. They set on a tray for hours in the dining room, being carried from table to table and by the end of the night they looked pretty bad. They were just examples for customers to see and the dining room was so dimly lit that even they could not see when the strawberries had practically decomposed in the dish. It was pretty good just the same.
There was one dessert that many people chose that was not on the tray though. It was a special order and was prepared to order. It was Spoonbread, which is a very moist and dense pudding made with cornmeal. Guests needed to order it about 30 minutes in advance. I had never heard of it before working there, but I became a quick fan of it. I found the recipe that they published, but that was for 6 people. I only wanted to make enough for a couple of people, so I searched a few more recipes and then came up with my own to fit my 6-inch Lodge skillet.
Since we just canned peaches this past weekend, I thought I would try to change it up a little more and create Peach Spoonbread. I took one to work this morning and shared it around to get some feedback. So when I got home, I made a couple of more changes and made it again. I have to say, it’s pretty good! I realized I had not put up a recipe in a little while so I thought it was time.
1/2 cup plain cornmeal – yellow or white
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of boiling water (you can reserve the syrup from canned peaches, making up any shortage by adding water to equal 1/2 cup of liquid)
2 tablespoons butter – melted in boiling water or heated peach syrup
1/2 cup milk
1 cup chopped peaches
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons butter for skillet
1/4 cup reserved peach syrup from canned peaches or 1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons white or brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
dash of cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350. To prepare skillet, warm it in the oven comes to temperature, with butter in the pan to melt. Mix cornmeal and salt then add the liquid/butter mixture. Stir well to remove any lumps. Add the milk and blend until smooth. Add the egg and blend until smooth. Stir in the peaches and baking powder. The batter will be thin. Remove skillet from oven when it comes to temperature. Carefully pour batter into skillet. The melted butter will rise up and over the batter. Return skillet to the 350-degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden an the edges just begin to pull away from the pan. Let sit and cool just a couple of minutes while preparing the syrup.
Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl. Heat on high for 2 minutes. Carefully remove from microwave and stir. Return microwave for 2 more minutes. Remove carefully and stir the syrup. If it is still too lose, cook it for 2 minutes longer.
Serve spoonbread right from the skillet. Drizzle with the syrup and enjoy!
When I was at Toms Brook Elementary, the downstairs was 1st through 4th grade and the upstairs was like Jr. High with 5th through 7th grade. We didn’t mix the two much unless we had to go to the gym, cafeteria, or the principal’s office. When we got to go upstairs we felt like we were really something. Tom’s Brook Elementary was built in the 1930’s as a high school and it closed in the early 1990’s. It was later converted into apartments.
|Picture credit: Shenandoah County Library Archives|
When I was downstairs we used to man the school store. It was a very tiny store that was located in an old closet underneath the front stairway, off the main lobby. There you could buy pencils, erasers, paper, folders, and all sorts of school supply stuff. If we worked the store, we got credit to spend and sometimes the teachers would give you credit you could spend, for extra work or something. Everything was cheap, well cheap if you had any money at all, which I rarely did.
|The school store was located just behind that post, under the stairs in the main lobby.|
I still remember how it smelled. If you’ve ever emptied an old pencil sharpener that hung on the wall then you know the smell. It was of wood shavings and lead dust, with a touch of the scent from a big gum eraser. I wouldn’t have thought much about the store, but on a recent trip, I walked into a store that brought that memory back by just the smell. I was in New York for work and we checked out CW Pencil Enterprise. Who knew someone could open a store for the same thing we did all those years ago. But, immediately upon walking in, a flood of memories of that little store came rushing in with me.
I remember the kids who had the fancy folders and those of us who had the basic ones. Those that could afford the biggest eraser available and those of us who just relied on the one at the end of the pencil we could afford. At one time I think we even sold little troll doll pencil tops. My neighbor had those, along with the fancy folders and big erasers. I was the closest thing she had to a sibling. Her mom always made sure the had everything. Well, it looked like everything at the time. Looking back it’s a minute detail in my memories unless I begin to feel like that 4th grader who carried a little bit of envy. Not for the troll doll though, I think I carried a little bit of pity for her that she thought it was cool. I thought they were kinda stupid, so then I could think she was kinda stupid and I was kinda smart for not wanting one. I know it was wrong, but how else was I going to feel superior to her when she had all that flashy stuff.
|This sign was behind the counter at the store. So, I knew I had to write a Tale.|
Anyway, I walked around the store and looked at the simplicity of it all. It was just pencils, pens and erasers. You could spend a fortune on a pencil in there if you wanted to, or spend just a couple of dollars and get a few things. I found an old pencil vending machine in the back of the store. For just two quarters I could turn back time. You laid the quarters into the slots, pushed the tray in and out came a new vintage pencil from the 1940’s and 50’s. They are promotional pencils from various businesses. Nothing like what we had in the school store, but exactly like what I would find in the catchall drawer at grandmaw’s house. And right next to the vending machine was one of those old wall pencil sharpeners, so of course, I had to sharpen my new old pencil. It just added to the familiar scent.
When I bought my first house there were a few fruit trees, wild blackberries and a blueberry bush on the property. I got a couple of pears the first year, but the apple trees were still too young to produce. The peach tree died of something and fell over onto the back walkway. I picked enough blackberries to make a cobbler once, but I’m not as big a fan of blackberries, so I let the birds eat them. I also saw a snake go into the blackberry patch, so I wasn’t keen on venturing into them again.
My blueberry bush, however, did very well. I covered it up with some fencing and netting to keep the birds out. The blueberries were huge and sweet. I would go out some mornings and find just enough ripe ones, in the beginning, to add to cereal or something. Then when they all began to ripen, I picked from it for days. I always loved blueberry muffins, but not a dozen at a time! We couldn’t eat them before they would go bad. I could have frozen the muffins, but I decided to freeze the blueberries instead. Then I had them for ice cream or to mix into a smoothie and help keep it frozen.
My first house was an old farmhouse that was built about 1855. I joked about being on the 1855 diet because the house needed so much work that I didn’t have time or money to eat. I did look pretty skinny that first summer. Having something free to eat was an extra treat. I sold the house about 3 years later, after I had done all the repairs that I could handle, physically and financially. I figured it looked the best it was going to look and I put it on the market. I loved the house, but it was time. The housing market was taking a big dive, but after being listed for six months, it sold and I moved on. I tried growing more blueberries over the last few years, but every bush I bought either didn’t produce or it died. Someone told me that I needed several bushes so the bees could pollinate them and I would have a great harvest. That didn’t work. I think that little bush was just a trooper and I guess the bees still did their work, but it must have been the fruit trees that helped it along. I don’t know. But, now I just buy them when I see some at a farmer’s market or at the grocery store that I like.
Yesterday, however, someone gave me some at work so when I got home, I got to baking. A couple of years ago, when I started this blog, I looked for recipes using blueberries and came across several recipes for cornbread. Since I have a great source for cornmeal, I thought that sounded perfect. I played with the recipes, as I tend to do, and came up with my own. I call it Blueberry Lemon Cornbread. It’s a little sweet, so I think it’s great for breakfast, a snack or a dessert. It is also very tender, so it’s a little like a cake, but not quite. These blueberries were probably some of the prettiest I have ever seen. The color was so vibrant and they were all perfectly ripe.
I am hoping to get some more and freeze them, so I can use them later in the summer and maybe come up with something for Christmas with them. What would you do?
1 cup plain cornmeal
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup white sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
1/2 vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups fresh blueberries, cleaned and stems removed
2 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the 2 tablespoons of butter into an 8×8 baking pan or skillet, whichever you plan to bake in, and place it in the oven while it heats up and the butter melts.
In a small bowl, dust the blueberries with a little bit of flour and gently turn them until coated. This will help keep them from sinking to the bottom of the cornbread while it bakes.
Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs slightly and add the milk, lemon juice, lemon zest and oil.
Combine the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Gently fold in the blueberries, being careful not to crush them.
Remove the pan from the oven when it reaches temperature and pour the batter into the hot pan.
The butter will rise to the top some.
Bake for 30-35 (depending on which pan you use) minutes or until done and golden. Serve warm with a little butter on top.
Last week I went to New York City for work. It was the first time I had been and it was a bit overwhelming at first. I had always wanted to go and am very grateful for the opportunity. We went for a food show, one of the biggest it seems. One of the things I was doing, besides tasting samples of foods from all over the world, was looking at their branding. How did their logo represent them? What did their representatives say about their products? As you know, I am all about some food, though. So the opportunity to try different things was lots of fun, and a bit sickening at times.
We ran into a few people and businesses that we knew. There were the Bush’s Beans folks, which have their plant right down the road from us. And, I stopped at the booth for Route 11 Potato Chips, which began in Middletown, VA in an old feed store when I was going to Lord Fairfax Community College. I remember people stopping by their place just to buy potato chips. You know it’s good when you make one thing and people are stopping to buy just that.
Well, it seems they were introducing a new flavor that was right up my alley! I was talking to one of their owners, Sarah, and she told me about the new flavor. It’s not even on the shelves yet, but it was making its debut at the show. They call it Appalachian Salt & Cracked Pepper. Well, I immediately took out my business card, yes I have business cards for The Appalachian Tale, and showed her who I was. It seems my reputation don’t precede me, but that’s ok. I told her that I worked in Pigeon Forge, TN, but grew up in Maurertown, VA. She did know where that was. And, I told her that I went to LFCC, not far from where they started. As we talked, the conversation turned to families living in the Shenandoah Valley and I told her that my mom’s family and the family that built the Old Mill where I worked were in the Valley at the same time and the family that built the Mill had settled around Middletown somewhere. She told me that they had moved to Mt. Jackson and her brother lived in Woodstock, just a few miles away from where I grew up. I told her that the man who was considered to be the first Governor of TN grew up in Woodstock and after the Revolutionary War, made his way down to East TN and that his name was John Sevier, and that although he was from VA, a statue of him was in the Capitol to represent TN. She said her brother lived on John Sevier Way and they never knew who he was or why there was a street named after him. So after my little history lesson and the fact that we both were so happy about Appalachia, she gave me a bag! I told her that I would post the pic on my social pages, which I did. By the way, if you don’t follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, I would appreciate it if you did! You can find links above, respectively, or to the right of this post.
The salt they use comes from West Virginia in the salt mines under the Appalachian Mountains. I had heard of the salt mines and we actually carry the salt in one of our shops at work. I held onto them the rest of the week and they were in my carry-on bag on the flight home. Once I opened them, I couldn’t stop eating them.
I looked them up and you can find them here. They even have a jingle. Who has a jingle anymore? Now, this is not a paid endorsement, unless you count that bag of chips, which I kinda do. But I have always liked them. Their Chesapeake Crab chips are my other favorite. My friends, who came down from VA a couple of weeks ago to help with the carport project, brought me a bag. They didn’t last long either. It was so nice to have a treat from home.
When we weren’t at the food show, we checked out the city by way of looking at other businesses that were similar to those we have at work or those that specialized in something. Sometimes that was trying a restaurant and getting their version of Fried Green Tomatoes with Ramp Aioli. Turns out, they taste a lot like Fried Green Tomatoes with a thin mayonnaise on them. Which is pretty good since there’s nothing like a mater sandwich with mayo!
One of the things I learned most about going was that people are the same wherever you go. There were people who kept to themselves and get through their day and those that were sincerely wanting to speak to you and have a connection. So even though I was far from home, that part did not make me homesick.
We spent most of the weekend working outside, in between the storms, relocating many of our shrubs, bushes, and plants in preparation for our next project. Work like that makes me feel more connected to grandmaw Barton. She was always working in her yard. She could make anything grow and was always giving us cuttings or potted things for us that she split from other bushes so we could take them home and kill them. A few things survived though, but only until my brother, Bobby, decided that they were in his way when he mowed, so he cut them down or mowed over them before they had much of a chance. We moved 3 yellow rose bushes, 2 pink rose bushes, some weigelas, scotch brooms, crape myrtles, and a bunch of irises. We really didn’t want to move things when they were blooming, but we didn’t have much of a choice. So, I hope everything survives, but I expect they will look a bit worn for a while.
Some friends from Virginia will be coming down in a couple of weeks to help us. I am liking it to an old-fashioned barn raising. I am more excited about them visiting than I am our new project. I hope we have some time to get out and play a bit and not spend a long weekend just working. We rode around today after our work was done, just taking in the beautiful afternoon we had. It didn’t take long to end up at a park that we like to go to that has a great lookout point, picnic areas, and trails. We got out to take a walk along a trail, but the heavy rains we had yesterday made them very muddy, so we decided to go back another day. I think we will take our friends out there for an afternoon when they come down.
The park is called Panther Creek. It reminded me of a park that we used to go to when I was a kid. It was called Uncle Tom’s Park. We went mainly for the huge spring-fed pool that they had. On a hot day, it was great. The water was as cold as ice, but after you were in it for a few minutes, it was just fine. It sloped off so you could walk in where there was just a few inches of water and by the time you got to the slide, you were in over your head. I remember finding the spot where the water would come in. It was a trough just wide enough to get your feet in. We would walk through it and the water was the coldest right there. Your feet would turn blue, but we didn’t really care. It was so fun. We could then run across to the other side of the pool where the water would go out. It was almost warm there so you could thaw your feet out a bit. I also loved getting a coke, in the paper cup with Coke on the side, full of ice. One time mom got me a huge spiral sucker as big as my head. I started into it right away, but after a while, I realized that if I tried to finish it, I would never make it back into the pool. I think I tried to wrap it back up to take home, only to find out that you can’t wrap a licked-on sucker in napkins. Oh well, I had more time in the pool.
|I found this picture online. I also found out that the park is not operating as it did when we were kids. The pool is no longer open, but you can camp there.|
I am sure we also took a picnic lunch or used a charcoal grill to cook some hotdogs. The only other time we went to a picnic shelter or cooked out anywhere but home, was when granddaddy and grandmaw Edge took us. Since they moved around a lot for the church, they always had a new place to show us. One of those picnics was at a park that had paddle boats. Grandmaw Edge was wearing a green and black plaid dress so, she wouldn’t get in the paddle boat. I remember seeing her on the shore, carrying a red metal picnic basket. They had that basket for years and I always remembered that park when I saw it. She just waited at the picnic pavilion for us and had lunch ready when we got out of the lake. It was the first time I had been in a paddle boat and I don’t think I did it again until just a few years ago. The second time was not nearly as fun as I remembered. Paddle boats are a lot of work.
|This was a family picnic just before I was born, so I guess technically I was there. It was something we did often with granddaddy and grandmaw Edge. I love that they used pyrex, real plates, and silverware. I wish I had a picture with that picnic basket in it.|
As we drove through Panther Creek, we rolled down the windows and you could smell the grills and a few fire pits with people cooking burgers and hot dogs. Smells like that take you back so quickly. We had already had a little lunch, corn dogs actually, but I was tempted to jump out and take a hot dog from somebody’s grill. We saw a few turkeys and kept our eyes out for deer, but didn’t see any this time. We also got out at the top of the park, where they have a lookout, giving you views of the lake. It is always so beautiful and I want to go riding on a boat sometime and go out to one of the islands you see peppered throughout the lake.
I’ve said it many times, my mom didn’t cook much. That doesn’t mean that she wasn’t a good cook. One of her greatest cooking talents was making meringue. She always achieved that perfect peak. But, I only remember her making meringue for one thing… her Fluffy White Frosting out of her Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Her go-to for dessert was a yellow cake with fluffy white frosting.
We had Mick’s family down for Mother’s Day today, so I thought I would make something using meringue. Mick’s mom likes coconut and I was still working on perfecting a new coconut pie I have been working on, so I thought why not. I hadn’t made anything with meringue in a very long time. I was a little nervous. I made a chocolate pie too, which I also wanted to top.
|Before I baked them to set the meringue.|
We had a great day. Mick’s parents got here about 11am and stayed until 3pm. I think that’s a record. His mom always worries about her cats being in the house alone, so she usually wants to get back home quickly. It was really nice outside, but a little warm. Still, we didn’t want to be inside. We set up the BBQ chicken, baked beans, potatoes and cole slaw on the porch. I also made deviled eggs. It might be the Southerner in me, but there always has to be a plate of deviled eggs at every gathering. I also wanted to include my grandmaw Edge in the day, so I used a serving bowl of hers. I think it was on every table we ate at when we visited them growing up. I think one time when dad went to visit them, they sent some food back in the bowl and we just never gave it back. It was one of the things I wanted when we cleaned out dad’s house.
|It’s part of a whole set of dishes grandmaw and granddaddy had. I think its called Alpine Swiss or something like that. I looked them up once and they came from gas stations. You could get different pieces with a full tank of gas.|
I told you a couple of weeks ago on social media that I had an announcement to make and if you hadn’t already guessed what it was, its that I am writing a cookbook to go along with this blog! I know I told several of you and I’ve made small mentions of it, but it is officially in the works. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to turn this blog into a book someday. I just didn’t know what kind of book. Just like this blog came out of some of you telling me that I should write, the book idea turned into a cookbook because so many friends and family have told me that I should write a cookbook. It may just turn out to be something that I self-publish and give to family and friends, but it would be great if it turned out to be something more. I plan on it being more and I am moving in that direction. I will need your help though. I need your support by spreading the word of this blog and my social media pages. It would greatly help me find a publisher if I have a strong following to show them. The growth of this project has been slow, but purposely so. I want it to be something that people want to read and that it grows organically. I could purchase apps or use services that go out and find me followers. That would certainly make my social media presence grow, but will they know who The Appalachian Tale is? Personally, I follow what I see pages or people that I like. I figure if they like something, I will too. Or, I will search for topics that interest me. One of my favorite topics is Appalachia! I search out and follow pages, blogs, podcasts, etc. that feature or focus on Appalachian living. These are kindred spirits that have ended up following me too. Its helped me build a little community for myself of like-minded people like The Blind Pig & the Acorn and Appalachian Mountain Roots. If you like me, you will love them! I learn so much from them and look forward to their posts. So, please share my posts and pages with people you think will like it, and then ask them to share it too. Again, I want this to be for people who are interested and engaged. I know I have been distracted and have not written as much, but I am getting back to it and you will see much more. I want to share this journey with you, especially if I am asking you to help me. I need to come up with some type of reward for helping me! I will certainly give mention to several people in the cookbook. Just your engagement so far has helped me. So, from here on out, some of my posts will be about the cookbook, more recipe testing and I also want your feedback. Let me know what you think about a recipe, tell me if you’ve tried it and how it turned out. Ask me questions and ask them about anything. I am pretty much an open book myself! So with all that in mind, here is a post about the cookbook.
Last week I got to spend some time with Aunt Alice and Uncle Andy. Alice is dad’s sister and they live just outside Atlanta, GA. I asked her ahead of coming if she had any of grandmaw’s recipes or cookbooks, that I am working on writing a cookbook. She immediately responded that one of my grandmaw’s recipes was on the front of the fridge. As soon as I got there, I took a pic of it. I just couldn’t wait to see it. I hadn’t seen her handwriting in a long time. It was as familiar to me as she was. When I saw it, I could see her face and hear her voice. She always called me Jim, whereas my family always called me Jimmy. Only she and a couple of other very close people call me Jim and I like it that way. So when I saw it, I could literally hear her say “Jim, here’s a recipe for your cookbook.” Aunt Alice calls me Jim too.
|Grandmaw Edge had the best smile and laugh, and she did both all the time. By the way, I have the bowl just to the left, between the mug and the salt shaker. It matches the pattern on the mug!|
I loved being around grandmaw. She had a great sense of humor and the best laugh. I remember one time that we got her to laugh just by laughing ourselves, over nothing. We all ended up in tears and couldn’t breathe because we were laughing so hard over nothing at all. I think a good laugh is like a good cry. You feel so good afterward and recharged. She was genuinely interested in you and you could have the best conversations with her. One time while visiting them, I got myself in trouble for something. As punishment, I had to stay at the house with grandmaw while everyone else got to go somewhere. I don’t remember what it was that I did, but I remember that afternoon with her, and it was great! She made us lunch and we sat on the screen porch and talked. It was probably the first time that I got some alone time with her, which is rare in a big family. I don’t know why she was being punished and had to stay with me, but I think she enjoyed it as much as I did. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what I missed out on. I hope everybody had a good time doing whatever it was they did, but I doubt they enjoyed being gone as much as I enjoyed them being gone. I was probably 5 or 6 when that happened and I didn’t get some alone time with her again until I stayed with them for a few weeks the summer I turned 12.
After Alice showed me the recipe on the fridge, she pulled out her recipe box. I went through the whole thing and ended up taking pictures of nearly 70 recipes. I only remember her making us a couple of the things I found, so I have more recipes to find. I am hoping someone in the family has more. Some of the meals I remember the most included pot roast and gravy and mashed potatoes. She always fixed us a big breakfast, so the smell of bacon always makes me think of being there too. She probably just knew how to make those things, so I will never find her recipe for those.
The first recipe I’ve made so far is her Three Way Shortbread. I am not sure why it’s called Three Way though. The recipe only has two ways on it. So, I figure that I am destined to come up with the third way, which I think will help me feel more connected to the whole project. It’s like decades ago she left so one of us could finish it. So far I’ve only made the first method, which is basic shortbread. It was so good too. Some things don’t need to be complicated with layers and layers of flavors.
Here is her basic recipe:
1 1/4 cup plain flour
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons butter
For shortbread wedged, mix flour and sugar, add butter and mix until crumbly. Form into a ball and knead until smooth. Roll dough into an 8 inch circle. Cut dough into 12 or 16 wedges. Do not separate. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes. While warm, recut wedges. Remove from pan.
|I cut it into 16 wedges, which made them the perfect size.|
|Tender and sweet|
So I did as instructed. After cutting them the second time, I did let them cool on the pan until they firmed up. I probably should have left them in a minute or two longer to crisp up a little more. They were done all the way through, but I like them a little crisp.
For the second method, she made Thumbprint cookies. What do you think I should add for the third way?
Happy Easter, everyone! I hope it’s been a great day for you, filled with family and fun. We had Mick’s family over, as we do most holidays. We fixed a ham, mashed potatoes & gravy, Mick’s now famous baked beans, green beans, my potato salad and deviled eggs. It would not be a holiday meal without deviled eggs and mine are the best! Well, at least I think so.
Mary taught me how to make the potato salad and it’s one of those things I make that I don’t have a recipe for. I just know when it’s right. I put some of my bread and butter pickles in it, along with some pickle juice. It helps that balance of sweet and tangy. I gave half of it to Mick’s mom to take home because Mick won’t eat it and I would eat it all if given half a chance. I always make myself a few extra deviled eggs and tuck them away in the fridge, kinda like it’s my own Easter egg hunt! The dozen that went on the table were all gone, so I am glad I did.
My earliest memories of Easter are dying eggs. Mom had a set of plastic coffee cups that we dipped the eggs in. She would put on a pot of eggs, the kettle, and got out the vinegar and food coloring. She also covered the kitchen table in paper or a plastic tablecloth ’cause the color was going to go everywhere. I always loved the smell of the vinegar and the hot water in the cups. When we were done, our fingers looked like tie-dye shirts. When she got tired of using the food coloring, she got us the egg dying kits that came with little coloring pills, a wire dipper and the box turned into an egg display. I think we only colored a dozen eggs, but it seemed to last for hours. We really did have a good time with it. We almost always did it the night before Easter.
On Easter morning, we would get up and run to the kitchen to see what the Easter Bunny had left us. Our baskets were lined up on the big chest freezer we had. Mine was to the far left, and mine and Bobby’s baskets were the same size. They had a wooden bottom, wooden handle and a plastic-like ribbon woven around the sides. Pat’s was a little bigger, but Ricky’s was the biggest. All our baskets were stored inside his. There were a couple of the eggs we colored the night before in each, jelly beans scattered around and we each got a chocolate bunny. One of us though got the white chocolate bunny. Each year it would be someone different so I couldn’t wait to see if it was me! We also got little chocolate eggs wrapped in colored foil. We couldn’t eat our chocolate bunny right away, but we could sneak a chocolate egg or two before we had to get dressed to go to Sunrise Service.
After returning from church, we went to Grandmaw Barton’s. The whole family would be there over the course of a couple of hours. All the kids would end up outside to play, but we had to be careful to stay out of the flowerbeds, which was almost impossible. She had flowerbeds everywhere. She also had concrete statues of animals in lots of the beds. My favorite was the donkey. I always wanted to ride him like a pony. I am sure we did, but Grandmaw would yell at us that we were gonna break his neck. A couple of years we had an Easter Egg hunt out in the front yard too. Try keeping a couple dozen kids out of the flowerbeds when they held the promise of a dirty hard boiled egg! Before it was all over, we would gather for a family picture in front of the house. There are so many pics like that. It’s hard to tell sometimes which holiday was which from our pictures.
|This is the next generation. I don’t even know how many great-grandchildren or even great-great-grandchildren there were.|
We also had an egg hunt before Easter on the playground of the elementary school we went to. Mom would take us and we would walk to the school with our neighbor. The playground was huge, so the hiding possibilities were endless. One year I got a nosebleed and had to stop hunting, pinch my nose and hold my head back. On the walk home, we stopped at a gas station across from Tom’s Brook Elementary and got a Pepsi. Just one though, that we all shared. We would take a sip and pass it around. The school was only a mile from home, but we didn’t have sidewalks past the couple of houses next to the school so we had to walk in the grass and up in neighbor’s yards to stay out of traffic. When we returned to school from Spring break, we would look to see if we could still find and egg or two.
When I started to work, I had to work on Easter. My brothers were going to car races and I think dad had to work too. I worked at The Virginian Truck Stop bussing tables. They had a special that day of stuffed pork chops, so I invited mom to have lunch with me. I think that was the first time I got to take her out to eat. She dressed up and had on a red polka-dotted blouse. I hated the idea of her being alone that day, so I was glad we could enjoy it. The Easter dinners at Grandmaw Barton’s just kind of ended or we just didn’t go.
We also stopped having Easter baskets. They were stored in the attic, with the grass still in them. When we pulled them out, I think for my niece, the grass was all stuck together and there were a couple of dried up jelly beans in them. I don’t know that I’ve eaten a jelly bean since. We would always get a couple of chocolate bunnies though.
One of the things that you learn growing up poor, is to not waste anything if you can help it. And, it seems that whatever you turn something into, comes out even better. We used to get bananas all the time growing up, being about the cheapest fruit you can buy. Most of them were gone before they would go bad, but every now and then they would start to spot up and get too soft to eat. To me, that’s when they’re just about right! Right for bread that is.
At one time I was making banana bread so often that I knew how to do it without even looking at the recipe. I used the one in mom’s Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book, but when I moved out on my own I had to find a new recipe because I didn’t write it down. I found lots of recipes for adding just about anything to it. I think my favorite was to add chocolate chips. I even tried one recipe that included a spoon of peanut butter in the middle with chocolate chips on top. It was not one that I repeated. I also found out that when I didn’t have 3 brothers to help eat up the bananas, they were ripening before I could even use them for bread. I figured out though that I could just throw them into the freeze, in their peel, and bring them out when I wanted to make banana bread. I just let them thaw in the sink and when it came time to peel them, I could just pinch off the stem end and the banana would come squirting out. They come out self-mashed almost! It’s kinda gross to see, but they work just as well. If they get bitter, add a little extra sugar to your mix.
When mom passed, dad gave me her cookbook. It was one of the only things I really wanted. I use it more than most of my other cookbooks, but I still play with the recipes and make something of my own. Mick’s mom always puts pineapple in her banana bread, so I played with the recipe to add some in. It’s my new favorite, especially since I could combine both of their recipes.
We had a couple of bananas that Mick was about to throw out. He eats them all week, but I don’t like to eat bananas anymore. I guess your taste buds do change over time and I just don’t care for them. Usually, he just tosses them when they begin to get the least bit soft, but he asked me if I wanted to make bread. I think that was his way of hinting that he wanted some, so I made it for breakfast this morning.
|Pineapple Banana Bread with Pineapple Glaze|
Growing up in a large family, you rarely have anything that you can call your own. So when you have an opportunity, you grab it as quickly as you can. Since I was the youngest, my brothers always seemed to have the upper hand. I always got hand-me-downs for clothes. I remember one set of jeans that were brand new, but then one of my brothers got the same ones. They had soup labels all over them and I thought they were great. But since I had the same pair as my brother Bobby, I didn’t have to inherit his.
As I mentioned before, at Christmas our parents tried to make sure that we were all treated equally. That meant that most of what we got was the same, but one or two things were special for each of us. I had gotten a Tonka Dump Truck one year. It must have weighed 20 pounds. It was all metal and so big I could ride in the back of it and I would ride it up and down the driveway. Well, I didn’t have it long before Bobby sold it to our neighbor, Little Richard. Our moms worked it out and I got it back again. I guess Bobby had to pay him back or work it off.
|This I think was just like my Tonka Dump Truck. It is for sale on Ebay for $90 and says it’s from 1974, which would be about right. I bet Bobby didn’t get that much for it!|
One thing that we each got an opportunity to call our very own was the passenger seat up front in the car, but of course, it was only when just dad or mom was driving. The moment we knew we were going somewhere, we would all start to yell “I’ve got the front seat!” and the first to scream out got it. Mom would usually have to judge who said it first, but that didn’t stop us from arguing about it and we would all demand “I called it!!”. The other three then would scream for a window. The loser would end up in the middle of the back seat.
One of mom’s first cars was a huge yellow station wagon. It was a 9 passenger wagon that had the seat in the very back, which faced the back window. We would call that one too. We got a kick out of seeing where we had been and waving at the cars behind us. One time she was driving to Grandmaw Barton’s and as she turned into the driveway, she sideswiped a tree. The station wagon was so long that you really needed to swing out to make a turn in it. I remember that I was in the back seat and I was telling her that she was hitting the tree. I probably didn’t help her one bit and probably made it worse. She just left the car there and we all got out to look at it. I think my brother Pat had to get behind the wheel and get it off the tree. He was probably 12 or 13, but already a pretty good driver.
|This looks pretty close to mom’s wagon. It’s a shame we can’t see the passenger side of it. I would know it was hers if the back door was crushed in.|
Once we each began driving and then ended up with our own cars, we stopped calling the front seat. But we replaced it with calling leftovers and marking our food in the fridge. It wasn’t like any of us looked as though we missed a meal, but we called it just the same. Today, most anything we cook, we share it with anyone we can. Mick and I do fight for the passenger seat sometimes though, but that’s just because we don’t feel like driving.