MY ADVENTURES IN COOKING PART I

My grandmother  hadn’t wanted to be disturbed when she cooked. So my mother knew nothing about cooking when she married.  She could make lettuce sandwiches.  My dad ate lettuce sandwiches for three weeks and loved my mother enough not to complain. He admitted he hadn’t like lettuce when they married.

So when I, her daughter, was born, she determined I would know my way around a kitchen before I was married. Long before that, my mother had become an excellent cook.

At age ten, I joined the 4-H club with Mom as its leader. Somewhat like Girl Scouts, 4-Hers choose projects for the year. In my first year, I grew a small garden and made a tie-around-the-waist apron. In my second year, I won ribbons for canning fruits and vegetables. According to my “Achievement Book”, I also learned to make salads.

My homemaking skills improved as the years went on. I learned to demonstrate cooking skills. Carrot salad with apple was my first demonstration when I was 11 or 12.  By the time I was in high school, I entered the Dairy Foods Demonstration contest. I showed the audience how to make a custard pie in twenty minutes with time leftover to explain its nutritional benefits.

The first time I practiced making pie crust, it took the entire time. We were allowed pre-measured ingredients, but they had to be added and explained as my work progressed.  The key, I discovered was to work fast and get the dough just right so that it would roll out easily without sticking. The custard was easy. Beat eggs, add sugar, salt, milk, vanilla, and nutmeg. Mom bought  three new glass pie pans, which I filled every day for two weeks, until I had my demonstration with the explanation down to the minute.

No one escaped our house without taking some pie with them. My dad declared that he ate pie at least three times a day. He didn’t want a custard pie again for several months.

I won a blue ribbon at the county level. At the state level the judge felt the crust dominated my work and didn’t put dairy foods in the forefront. Since this was sponsored by the Dairy Foods Council, they noted it was an excellent demonstration, but couldn’t give me a blue ribbon.

Another year I demonstrated making Cheese Souffle. This is a main dish for anyone who wants to bring a special dish to the table. The trick for it is timing, so it is ready to come out of the over after everyone is seated. The soufflé stands high above the rim of the dish. Served with a mushroom or shrimp sauce, it brings a chorus of oohs and aahs.

 

Open for recipe for custard pie

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CHUM, A COW DOG

Last night, my son Taggart and I were talking about Chum, the cow dog that our family had when I was a child.

My dad had trained him as a cow dog. Chum used that training, but instinctively was much more than that. We regularly had 39 cows. We had a 40-stanchion barn, but the bull occupied one in the back corner. He did not roam outside with the cows.

It often appeared that Chum could count. If any animals were in sight when it was time to bring them to the barn, Dad would simply command Chum to “go get ‘em.” He would get behind the most distant cow and all of them moved toward the barn. Should one not wish to go, Chum ran up behind her and nipped at her heel. In no time the cow learned it was best to go with the others. If some were in the nearby woods, he would ferret them out. Nearly without exception all 39 cows would be rounded up and brought into pasture lot by the barn.

I remember a few times when the cows would come, but Chum didn’t return with them. It was then that Dad would discover a cow was missing. Chum was still searching for her. He would continue searching until Dad called him to come. Then they could search together. Usually that cow had thought the grass was better on the other side of the fence, broken through and strayed. Sometimes a neighbor would telephone that they had spotted our stray.

One summer when I was about ten or eleven, Dad asked if my cousin and I would go over to the woods with Chum to get the cows. He wanted to get an extra load of hay into the barn because rain was predicted. Norma and I agreed. We crossed the flat land. Chum tore ahead of us and was already up the hill beyond and heading into the woods.

Soon the cows came straggling out of the lane that led through the woods. Then we heard Chum bark. We followed the sound because we knew he’d only bark for a reason. We found him trying to persuade a cow with a new baby calf to go to the barn. That was futile.

I knew from Dad that the only way a cow with a calf would go was if the calf was forced to move. Norma and I began the long process of pushing and shoving the calf out of the woods with Chum’s help. As a self-designated protector, he wouldn’t leave me. It was three steps forward and two back. We’d push the baby a distance, mama would call, and the baby would turn back. It took us a long time before we were able to get them out in the open away from the woods.

About that time Dad was back with the hay and realized that we should be back too. He looked out the barn and saw the cows. A minute later he spied us on the edge of the woods. Soon the doodlebug with a wagon attached headed toward us. With the calf on the wagon with us, mama cow followed us to the barn.

Norm and I were proud of ourselves. Dad too. That calf, a female jersey we named Lady, grew up to become one of the best milkers in the barn.

A note: a dairy cow who is not relieved of its milk may get very sick. A calf cannot consume enough of the milk to prevent disease.

 

 

MOVING AND FORGETTING

I sat down to write a query about Herkimer “diamonds”. Then I read Laurie Buchanan’s post about moving and forgetting or leaving things – “mind-gnawing.”

We’d lived in the parsonage of my husband’s first church as pastor for about ten years. During that time we acquired some of the antiques that still make their home with me. When it came time to pack, the movers came and spent the day loading a 53-foot trailer.

The house was stripped. But on the lawn was our eight-foot heavy duty picnic table, and an antique cabbage slicer. The iron slicer was incredibly heavy. It stood about three feet high. Its purpose was to cut cabbage for animals. Although you could also make a lot of sauerkraut rather quickly. The movers said, “It won’t go in the trailer. It is packed tight.” What did we want to take? We opted for the picnic table being strapped tightly on the trailer doors.

As we drove away the cabbage slicer stood sadly alone on the porch.

During a winter move at another time, two boxes of wanted stuff, some music and my son’s shoes were shoved over to the boxes of trash we were leaving. Many, many times I have wished to have one antique music book with some silly songs in it that I loved, and have never seen printed elsewhere. My son got new shoes, but I have no idea what else was in that box.

Our first big move after four years of college was from a mobile home eight feet by forty-two feet. It required our car and a 6X8 U-Haul. From that city to our first church took a moderate-sized panel truck.

The most complicated move was to Warsaw, Poland. It only required we take personal items to live in a furnished apartment. However, we had to empty a two-story house with filled attic and basement, and my husband’s office. Some had to be sold, some packed for overseas, some to go to our new twenty-eight-foot square cabin. What was left was packed for storage.

In all of these moves I spent ample times waking to write notes, or moving something out of place to remind me of an idea.

 

JUNE:  A MONTH OF STRAWBERRIES & MEMORIES

 

I have a lone strawberry plant in my backyard which is doing its very best to give me the flavor of fresh-picked summer. So far I’ve had 12 berries, but more are on the way. It is a “forever” plant so throughout the next two months, I may find one or two bright red berries every few days to keep  that first warm berry taste in my mouth.

 

When I was a child on Dad’s farm, a few wild berries grew along the driveway. I watched them daily as they blossomed, formed green berries, and gradually turned red enough to pick. Wild berries are small, perhaps the size of my little fingernail, but twice as sweet as cultivated ones. If there were two berries or more, I’d share them with Mom and Dad. That very first taste made all that watching so worth it. It was the promise of more and of a sweet summer.

 

As an adult I continue to cherish the first taste of locally grown berries. Whether from my back yard, the Thursday farmers’ market or those from “pick your own farms,” they are a treasure.

 

When I have a dish of berries, I struggle deciding whether to make a biscuit shortcake, have them in a bowl with sugar, or just sit down and enjoy them one by one. It is a dilemma!

CELEBRATE MAY DAY TODAY

Celebrate May Day the “Old Fashioned Way.”

Find a nine-inch square of paper. When I was a child we used scraps

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MAY DAY BOUQUET

of wallpaper. Today I chose a piece of colored computer paper

1. Fold it into a triangle

2. With the fold toward you take one of the points and fold it to the middle of opposite edge.

3. Do the same with the other point.

4. Now fold the front flap of the top into the front bottom cup.

5. Poke or punch a hole into the top flap.

Now go outside and find flowers – even dandelions will be pretty. Tuck them into the pocket or cup you have made.

 

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HOW TO FOLD

As children we would hang them on a friend’s door, knock, and then run and hide. The person coming to the door was surprised and hunted down the giver to thank them with a kiss.

* * * * *

You can use this cup for many things. It will hold a drink for a short time.

As a teacher, I always made them for children who lost a tooth at school. It could be safely stored in a lunch pail or coat pocket for the tooth fairy.

Mostly I remember the fun we had making these baskets at school and then going home to search for flowers. I’d beg my mother to let me go down by the creek where I knew the May flowers were in blossom along with purple, white, and yellow violets. I never really went alone because Chum, our cowdog, would not let me. He assumed the duty of protecting me no matter wherever I wandered.

A BIRTHDAY CALL

April 9 is my childhood friend’s birthday. The date is like a holiday in my mind.

How long we’ve been friends? I don’t know. We lived in farm country. We probably went to the Sanford Methodist Church Sunday school together before we started first grade in the Sanford country school. Neither building exists today. Now we live hundreds of miles from one another with but a few annual contacts.

Yesterday I called to wish her “Happy Birthday.” We laughed about the stuff we did as kids.

She remembered the float we’d built on my dad’s pickup truck. We were 4-H members with my mother as our leader. We couldn’t remember what we did although she thought it had to do with cream cheese and sandwiches. This morning my 4-H Achievement book, I’ve kept from those years, yielded pictures of us in white uniforms and caps.

Somehow it must have demonstrated the 1946 Labor Day Parade theme Food for Europe. Our float placed third.

 

 

The pictures were taken in front of my house. The float was done totally in green and white.

A LETTER TO A GRANDSON

This is from a letter written by my husband. It is my Valentine gift to you.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

My Dear Grandson,

You were born on the 28th of August 2006, just three days ago. You will not read or understand what I am writing for a good number of years. And by the time you read this, I will be buried, having lived a good, rich exciting and satisfying life.

What can I possibly write at this time that will make any sense to you as you begin to read? What would I most want you to understand, realize, inherit, or discover? I have no profound wisdom, though I’ve enjoyed learning all my life.

I also hope that perhaps you will be able some day to read some of my journals, poetry, and essays. I have written much, published little, and never had the discipline to write a book.

I want you to know how important love is in our lives, your life. Know without question that you are loved even before birth. Your parents, my son and his lovely, intelligent, creative wife, your mother, loves you more deeply than can be expressed in these words. And as an old popular song sung by Nat King Cole many years ago, “The Greatest thing you’ll every learn, is just to love and be loved in return.”

So, to love and be fully, unconditionally, continually without having to constantly earn that love, is about as wise as I can because that has been the experience of your father’s parents.

At another time he wrote:

(Parenthetical thoughts)
Monday, February 21, 2011
(I just took a writing break and sat in the other room leafing through some of my writing from past Februaries in the South. I’ve decided to take up brick making. I’ll imprint my words on bricks, fire them, and then bury them in abandoned blue stone quarries and let them be discovered some later centuries by anthropologists seeking evidence of our decline as a world power.)