Next up in testing recipes for Gather Round the Amish Table is Mother’s Oatmeal Bread. (Here are my other two tests, for Chocolate Cake and Amish Pecan Sticky Buns.) Yes, I’ve written about another oatmeal bread recipe that is my family’s ALL TIME FAVORITE from More with Less Cookbook, so I had mixed feelings trying this. Nothing could beat More with Less, could it?
Or was it exactly the same? If so, perhaps the More with Less recipe actually came from Amish sources, since many Mennonite families have Amish background just one or two generations back (indeed, my great grandfather). I was mainly intrigued by the idea of making FOUR loaves at once and just stocking my freezer with great bread. When I emailed my daughters about the bread, one quickly responded, “We’ll take some off your hands.”
Making four at once was interesting. Would my Kitchen Aid stand mixer with massive dough hook be up to the challenge? Would I burn out the motor on such a job? Would the heap of dough rise way up over my large pottery raising bowl? Such drama.
The project coordinator for reissuing Gather Round the Amish Table had her own questions she needed to have answered—which gets us to the whole reason for redoing the cookbook, which was originally Countryside Cooking and Chatting, by Lucy Leid (Herald Press, 2006).
Many of the recipes in this collection—like so many old timey ones—were incomplete in directions, assuming that most cooks would easily be able to fill in the blanks of steps left out or even amounts left out: like how much flour to put in! This recipe lacked the flour amount.
Not to fear.
It passed all my challenges with flying colors and the taste test too. This recipe calls for honey which I usually don’t use for the More with Less recipe, which calls for brown sugar. (I’m sure many cooks make that substitution anyway.) But overall the honey resulted in bread that was perhaps a little less sweet. But that’s OK—and preferable and healthier for many folks. What do you think? It also uses eggs and oil (instead of butter which I used in our usual recipe).
But if you need a great recipe for making 4 loaves at once, or want to divide this in half and make two, this works either way.
Mother’s Oatmeal Bread
Makes 4 loaves
3 ½ cups boiling water
2 cups quick oats
1 cup honey
2 Tablespoons salt
1 cup warm water
2 Tablespoons yeast ((I used 3 packages)
¾ vegetable oil
10 cups white flour
4 cups whole wheat flour*
Mix boiling water with oats, honey, and salt. Let stand 15 minutes or until lukewarm. As it cools, mix yeast with warm water and allow to sit a few minutes until yeast action begins. Add eggs and oil to oatmeal mixture and stir; then add yeast and water. Add one cup flour and beat. Continue adding flour one cup at a time, enough to make a soft dough. Turn out of mixing bowl onto floured surface. Knead 5-10 minutes. Form large dough ball and place in greased rising bowl. (I always spray the top of the dough with a spray shortening to keep it supple during rising.)
Cover with clean towel. Set in warmish place. Allow to rise until double in bulk. Punch down and form four loaves and put in 4 greased bread pans. Allow to rise again until double. Bake at 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Use small amount of butter or margarine to spread on top of crust when done. Remove from pans. Cool. Enjoy! (If you need help with these steps, check out photos here.)
*The original recipe called for an even 50/50 split of white and wheat flour; your call on that. In my opinion, making this flour mixture half and half makes too dense of bread for our tastes (although I know that freshly ground whole wheat flour lessens the density, I’m told).
I also love that I was able to use a bunch of whole wheat flour from my friend Nancy Landis’ family mill, Rohrer’s Mill near Lancaster, Pa. which we purchased a number of years ago and still keep in the freezer in this bag. We were so pleased to visit the mill, which unfortunately burned in 2006.
In the forthcoming book, Gather Round the Amish Table, there’s a delightful story along with this recipe about how the originator served this bread at an Amish birthing center. The original book was called Countryside Cooking and Chatting, and again, the “chat” is great but I won’t spoil the book by sharing that story here. There will be lots of fun and fascinating stories along with beautiful photos in the book next year.
Do you substitute honey for sugar frequently? What is your all-time favorite bread recipe, or bread that you buy? Where do you get it? I’d love to hear.
I waited a year to get this picture*.
You could call blogging my hobby. Taking or finding old photos that work for a particular topic is part of the fun. While I read a number of blogs that don’t use photos or rely mainly on stock photos from generic sources, for me as a lifelong writer, being able to use photos to convey and illustrate ideas and words is like a having a whole new lexicon or language to add to the thoughts. Now as I think about topics and what I want to say or write about, I weigh carefully: well, do I have photos for that? Or would it work better for my weekly newspaper column which currently does not use any photos.
I’m learning to have a camera with me at just about all times, or I run across something that I’d like to photograph, but can’t. If I had a smart phone, I would pretty much always have a camera with me, but I don’t have one yet.
So about a year ago the farmers around here were beginning to harvest their corn, some of them doing so early to make silage out of it (chopped up corn and corn stalks). I passed by a field looking something like this and I thought the colors and layers and stripes would make a marvelous photo, but I didn’t pull over and take the picture. A day or so later, the field had been totally harvested, and the opportunity was gone.
One morning last week I was heading to work early and the sun was just right for an early morning snap of the corn harvest. I found a place to safely turn around, go back and grab the photo I hadn’t been smart enough to capture last year. I’m currently using it as a fallish cover photo on one of the Facebook pages I work with for Third Way Café. I also snatched this shot of a nearby produce stand which featured a collection of stunning mums for the last couple weeks.
A day later on my way home from work, the corn was all gone: harvested, and a farmer was using a honey wagon to spread, you guessed it, honey (liquid chicken manure) on the field. My husband said they only have a small window of time in which they can spread the fertilizer and conditions have to be just so for them, too. (No ugly picture here.)
The moral of the story is obvious: Don’t wait, do it now. It applies to so much of life.
Have a grandson celebrating his first birthday? Drive five hours and be there. An elderly friend who needs visiting? Take an hour and check in with them. Visits don’t need to be long to be a bright spot in someone’s day. Your son is in his first band concert at school? Don’t miss it, even if you have to beg out of a church or business meeting. Daughter’s soccer game? Go.
Now, I don’t believe you have to be at EVERY soccer game or program—I believe kids shouldn’t expect that, they should play the game or instrument because they love it, not to entertain parents—but be there as often as you can, and especially for the big ones. This season of your life passes, all too soon, too (remember my marching band retrospective of a few weeks ago? Yes, we tried to go to all the big ones.)
Each day of fall,
brings a scene that I wish to grab and preserve in my memory bank, with words and photos. Even though I’m not an expert, it’s fun trying to improve my game here. And I enjoy learning tricks from others who are at the top of their game—such as how early morning and evening light plays marvelously in photos.
Whatever it is—grab life—and a photo, now.
The words of “The Preacher” come to mind: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what was planted.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 2b)
Have you ever not taken a photo you really wished you had?
Or not taken advantage of an opportunity that you later regretted?
Photographers whose scenery photography I enjoy:
One of my Facebook friends and former work colleague, Jim L. Bowman, a professional photographer and videographer who used to work for a large city TV station who Mennonite Media hired to work on several documentaries (and I got to work with on Embracing Aging). posts an intriguing new photo and quote every day on his Facebook feed—unusual angles on every day life, many of the sort that are here today, gone tomorrow. Jim’s photography website is here but I understand that now he only updates his Facebook page using his photography and related quotes. Another professional colleague and columnist/blogger, Bruce Stambaugh in eastern Ohio uses gorgeous photography on his blog. John Churchman, a friend of my husband’s in childhood, whose family have been longtime members of our church, is another FB friend whose stunning photos I enjoy sampling. You can check out his photography at his Brickhouse Studios website. Then there is Bradley Striebig who took our family photos which I shared here.
* Yes, there’s an unseemly dark blotch on the photo. I need to get the camera cleaned, for crying out loud. But I’m afraid I’ll miss a photo op! Working on it!
I got to test three recipes for the forthcoming revised and updated Gather Round the Amish Table due out next summer from Herald Press. The first was Ruth’s Chocolate Cake, results shared here. Today I share my second tested recipe.
Traditional yeast-raised sweet rolls with frosting on top (as opposed to sticky buns, which have the gooey on the bottom and you turn them out of their baking pan upside down letting the goodness drizzle downward) were among the first things I became something of an expert baking way back in high school.
I do not usually call myself an expert on anything in cooking but I baked so many sweet rolls for bake sales, for company coming, and eventually for a restaurant where I worked as a waitress one summer, that my mother even continued making them for the restaurant for awhile after I left. I used a modified recipe my home ec. teacher gave us from a magazine.
Anyway, I had sweet rolls down pat, but I had never made sticky buns.
So it is not too surprising that when I tested this recipe for my employer, I almost made a huge goof.
Making the dough was no sweat. Forming little buns was no sweat. I put the brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts in the bottom of the pan with the little buns. But in my diligence and (cockiness?) I FORGOT TO PUT THE BUTTER in the sticky stuff on the bottom of the pan.
Right before I was ready to pop the buns in the oven, I opened microwave door for some reason (maybe to reheat my coffee?) and found the melted butter that was supposed to be mixed with the brown sugar, cinnamon and pecan mixture.
Dare I just pour the melted butter down between the rolls and around the edges of the pan?
I dared and they seemed to turn out just fine anyway, at least my four recipe taste testers all pronounced them delicious!
So here you go, but maybe you’ll want to mix the brown sugar etc. with the butter before putting the buns on top.
And I LOVE LOVE the story which the Amish woman who originally submitted this recipe for the Countryside Chatting and Cooking book added:
“We had these pecan rolls at a skating party at my uncle’s place last winter … we were probably all extra hungry from all that exercise in the frosty cold air, which made them taste better. That night we played crack the whip and prisoner’s base, for the ice was super smooth … It was a full moon, too, … and that evening a boy asked my eighteen year old cousin for a date, so the evening was extra special for her, too. They were skating together for awhile, and got teased and whistled at. Those pecan rolls, along with mugs of Ovaltine, sure tasted good when we got back to the warm kitchen.”
Here’s the recipe, with the name changed to “buns” instead of “rolls” since there is no rolling these up, and with the directions altered to the way I normally put together yeast bread pastries.
Amish Pecan Sticky Buns (adapted)
3 ¾ cups flour, approximately
2 packages yeast
¾ cup milk
½ cup water
¼ cup butter or margarine
¼ cup sugar
½ – 1 teaspoon salt (adjust to your taste)
Warm milk to lukewarm on medium heat, watching carefully to avoid scorching. Add butter and sugar, stir until melted. Allow to cool until a drop just feels warm on the inside of your wrist.
In measuring cup, measure ½ cup warm water and dissolve both packages of yeast in water. Leave alone until yeast begins its action in the water.
Put 1 cup flour in bowl; add egg and beat with fork; add milk, butter and sugar mixture. Stir. Add yeast and water mixture. Mix together. Add rest of flour gradually, until dough is soft and not sticky but not dry, and forms a round lump of dough.
Let rise in a greased, covered bowl until double in size. (I always lightly grease the top of the dough bowl to keep it from drying out.)
Prepare sticky mixture:
¾ cup butter or margarine, melted
1 Tablespoon dark Karo syrup
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon water
1/ 2 cup chopped pecans.
Spread mixture in bottom of greased 9 x 13” baking pan. Taking dough ball, pinch off round balls the size of an egg, and place in pan on top of sticky mixture. Let rise again until dough is about double in size. Bake at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes. Upon removing from oven, flip onto long 9 x 13” plate or cookie sheet so that pecan/sugar/butter mixture is on top and drizzles down over buns. Makes about 18 buns.
Serve warm. Can be frozen and reheated. If desired, make thin white frosting glaze for on top (these really don’t need that, but just saying).
Is your family a sweet roll or sticky bun family? Or do you take the easy way out, like my easy canned biscuit sweet rolls here.
And watch the Mennobytes blog for word of when the new Gather Round the Amish Table come out next summer, with gorgeous food photography. You can sign up for that blog here so you don’t miss anything. It’s THE place to get the juicy low-down and backstories from MennoMedia and Herald Press, quicker and more chatty than the news releases and marketing blurbs announcing various new books and projects.
Family Day in the U.S. started with CASA, the Columbia University initiative to promote family dinners, because of their research on the importance of family connections in combating early use of drugs by teens. I based my Whatever Happened to Dinner book on the CASA research. At first CASA organizers called it “Family Dinner Day” but now it has been widened to simply celebrate families, and what this ancient cultural grouping of family means for our lives and society.
Here’s a link to the series of 4 guest blogs post I ran last year on eating together, and what mealtime can offer for families and other groups with whom you experience community or neighborliness.
This year, I’m delighted to announce two things related to my book focusing on keeping family mealtime, Whatever Happened to Dinner?
1. The book was selected for the 2015 United Methodist Women’s Reading Program and is featured on their website and program materials under a wonderful tab that is right up this book’s alley, “Nurturing for Community.” I’m very excited.
First a word about this reading program. It is awesome. It nudges, nay, almost requires women who are active in their women’s programs to read at least five recommended books in the course of a year, over a variety of genres. Or, they can sign up to read 10, 15 or 20. The United Methodists are a huge denomination, around 80,000 congregations, the second largest Protestant denomination after Southern Baptists. (I remember when I lived in northern Florida, there were two main churches in town, and everyone was either Methodist or Baptist. Yes?) It’s one way that particular denomination works at Christian education or faith formation. You can request their brochure or catalog about the reading program to see how it works. When my very first book, On Troublesome Creek, was picked for the reading program back in the early 80s, it sent the book into a reprint and the editor declared “We love United Methodist women.” Me too.
2. An updated cover. To fulfill the order this time around, the publisher (Herald Press, which I now work for, but I did not when it was first published) had to print more copies too. So the cover designer, Reuben Graham, took the opportunity to freshen up the cover. Can you spot the changes? Which do you like better??
It took a few years to be chosen for the program (jumping through hoops) but I’m thrilled that the movement and emphasis on the importance of eating together as families as often as possible has taken root and grown immensely in these past four years.
Growth of movement. Just this fall Forbes website had an article called “The Most Important Meal of the Day: Family Dinner.” (Don’t despair: if work schedules make evening impossible, they recommend trying breakfast. It works for some.)
An impressive group of researchers, educators, parents, social workers and more out of Harvard began what they call The Family Dinner Project and share the stories and experiences of families who have made a concentrated effort to eat together frequently, and what changes that brought to their family. I like their “Community blog” feature on this topic, too.
Another website called Power of Family Meals has a bunch of resources and links to check out.
My Facebook page Whatever Happened to Dinner shares new links, ideas, videos and pictures on an ongoing basis, and I’d love to share your story or family dinner links there as well.
Since I wrote the book, on one end my family is back to how we started out: just the two of us, but my husband and I sit down and eat a home cooked meal together at our island at least 4-5 nights a week, mostly with the TV on mute.
We then usually enjoy dessert together in the living room. I just can’t imagine our day without that purposeful connection. It is the one time we pray together, and take turns. I often find out what’s really on my husband’s heart as we pray.
And we’re thrilled that our expanded family table has now grown a bit.
On the other hand, I’m mindful of the many folks I know who now constitute a household of one.
That has its good points too when it comes to fixing meals: you can fix what you want, eat when you want, with much less work. For companionship, people like my mother seek out group settings as often as possible, and welcome or extend invitations to eat out with others, potlucks, or do as a large group from my church does: they keep a once-a-month date on Sundays after church and head to a local buffet, Dutch treat. I recently joined a local Lions Club with my husband which eats together twice a month for their meetings. These are all ways to keep the connections we all need. To stay healthy, we need not only good food and nutrition, but good people around us.
So what’s on your menu for Monday evening? Who can you share it with–or another meal, sometime soon? If you have older children at home, what’s on the conversational menu? And if you need a reminder of what NOT to talk about at family dinner, here’s the T-shirt reminder.
I’d love to speak to your group about this topic or any other on my list. See also special offer for three free books for your group.
Harrisonburg, Virginia, has one of the worst designed shopping center parking and navigation arrangements ever.
My husband calls this shopping center (above) The Hole because it is kind of low lying (from Interstate 81, you can actually see the roof of part of the complex with stuff like air conditioning equipment, etc.). The problem is there are only three openings in and out of this great mecca, and the traffic to the parking spaces passes directly in front of all the stores. I can imagine some architect somewhere praising this design to developers/planners, citing the beauty of the design as shoppers will go by all these stores on their way to a buying haven. Yes?
Some of us do all we can to avoid The Hole especially on those heavy duty shopping days like the day after Thanksgiving. But on a recent Saturday I made the mistake of turning into The Hole before I realized it was Back to College Saturday. Thousands of students and their parents and their siblings were back in town for “move in weekend” at James Madison University, next door to The Hole. Cars were waiting out the wazoo to enter The Hole. Since I was stuck in traffic anyway, I poked my camera out my window and snapped away.
I find it interesting that outside shopping centers and revitalized boutique shopping in downtown areas are in, while indoor malls are out. Kind of. The Hole has the usual roster for a string of stores: Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, Staples, Michael’s, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, and Wal–Mart with restaurants like Ruby Tuesday, O’Charley’s, Paneras, Qdoba. In spite of the ridiculous traffic pattern, we go to The Hole 10 times for every visit to the local mall, (but that’s also because of Location! Location! and we no longer have adolescents and teens). There are not a lot of trendy clothing stores in The Hole, the best of which is Ross Dress for Less. I get my bargains there but to go to Aeropostale and Hollister (which I don’t), you gotta go to the mall. The mall has traditional parking areas spread around all sides of the shopping. Smarter.
However, as a metaphor for materialism and consumerism, The Hole wins hands down. Most of us do not do well in fighting materialism, and succumb at every turn, even when we’re careful. Shopping quickly leads to a literal hole—in your bank account and in your outlook, driven by the compulsion to acquire the next cool thing. It can lead to a hole in your morality: while most of us never shoplift or rob, we judge, compare ourselves to others, feel a need to acquire, and maybe even mentally put down others who “have not.”
A friend of mine recently went to Tyson’s Corner near Washington, D.C. on a shopping excursion with her daughters. She came back empty handed (except for one tiny arts and craft purchase), astounded at the prices and excess, as I have been similarly. Purses for $2000, refrigerators for $5000. I didn’t ask but wondered if she had actually been at Tyson’s Galleria which is described as “upscale” shopping, while Tyson’s Corner Center is a little less pricey. No one “needs” a $2000 purse, do they? But, do I need eight pair of slacks? Twenty tops? Ten pairs of shoes? Three winter coats?
We are all sucked into The Hole.
Lord, forgive us our excesses, as we drive round and round, ever seeking to be more satisfied, to fill up the empty places. Isaiah speaks to our parched places, and of a spring of water which never fails:
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:11)
Today let me seek the things that truly satisfy.
What things tempt you? How do you deal with the urge to acquire more and more?
For more on Living More With Less, check out Third Way website here.
An Ode to Marching Band Kids and Parents Everywhere
If you are lucky
… you just might live near a local high school and hear the marching band practicing on the football field during these still-long September evenings. Jaunty marching tunes float through the neighborhood, compliments of a hard working bunch of teenagers who get their kicks playing nerdy and difficult band instruments rather than pushing an odd shaped ball into an endzone.
… you just might get to the state high school football championship game for the first time in your school’s history and the day is below freezing and the valves freeze on your daughter’s trumpet during her solo and your team plays with all their hearts but loses anyway (nevermind the mud, the refs, the yada yada).
… you might even get to the national I-AA college football championship game in 2004. Your team plays with all their hearts AND WINS and even though you (and some of the sideline players) are freezing, you are so glad you drove the 400+ miles to see your middle daughter play in the band (but can’t find the pictures now).
… you just might finally finally get to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City (2001) which you have dreamed of all your life.
… you might get to see your own child marching into Columbus Circle and Herald Square in that wonderful city, and the kids are allowed to ignore normal marching band etiquette and actually turn their heads and smile, and you are just so happy even though freezing, especially when the post Sept. 11 crowd of strangers around you, barely two months after the terrible trauma, joins in yelling your daughter’s name so she turns and smiles happily and you capture it on camera because the bystanders have left you squeeze up to the front.
… you just might have the good fortune of your kids having dedicated, funny, fun (and sometimes cranky) band directors who give themselves to this crazy, quirky bunch of teenagers going through all the stuff that teenagers go through, such that when he retires from this crazy band life, all your daughters come back home to help fete him.
Nashville Symphony warming up at Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
… you just might end up so happy that this crazy band life has led to a fantastic career for one, working for some great mid-sized city symphonies in an artistic administrator role she totally seems cut out for.
.. you just might feel that all of the 4 a.m. risings and midnight pick ups and bad bus behaviors and $$ for lessons, raising money for uniforms and trips, $$ for gas running 10 miles back and forth to school yada yada seem worth it.
… you just know your children are gonna make it through good times and bad when you snag a rare photo like this of deep sisterly camaraderie when the band plays what everyone thinks will be its final time on the “old” high school field before moving to a new school building the following year, and your very sentimental oldest daughter’s heart is torn right in two even though they’ve just beaten their arch city rival (and then they end up playing one more game with a half time show on that very field because that is the year they get in the playoffs and on to the finals at the state level, mentioned above). If you are so lucky.
Our family back story on band.
Neither my husband nor I had ever been interested in band in school (band?? Huh? No thanks!). When my oldest daughter began middle school, she let us know she wanted to try band. Her instrument of choice was a trumpet so we went to the local band store and rented a trumpet for the first three months, not sure she would stick with it. Even though her sisters took piano lessons, she had never been interested, so, whatever. We weren’t overly-pushy-get-them-in-everything kind of parents. She did like music and had learned to read music through the children’s choir at church. So as she began on the trumpet, we suffered through the pfllts that wouldn’t quite come out, the screeches and off notes while she practiced in her very small bedroom in our 1100-square foot house, doors closed.
But when she got to high school, we soon learned marching band took on a life of its own and would forever impact her choice of friends, her activities, her history—and the lives of her sisters, as they also chose to participate in band.
One day waiting with other band moms to pick Michelle up after a day at summer band camp, I so well remember Becky Dean’s mom informally orienting me to the world of band parents: the parades, the trips, feeding the kids before games, how the Stoops family took care of transporting larger equipment to away games in an old open bed truck (yes, really!), and especially emphasizing how this was a good bunch of kids who basically did not get in a lot of trouble (unless on the band bus) and the kids became family to each other. She also clued me in on the band parent meetings, the fundraisers, the annual auctions, the chicken barbecues, the pizza and candy sales.
So the band world became our world for the next dozen or so years, as all three girls were adopted into the band family including one who went on to play flute for four years in the pretty awesome Marching Royal Dukes (hear them below in YouTube videos) at nearby James Madison University, a huge band of 400-475 participants, depending on the year.
Our youngest daughter even joined the pit band while in high school—the percussion section playing xylophone, cymbals, bass, or wherever needed most, and loving almost every minute of it, except at the end of a very long parade on a hot day as a relatively small girl carrying a good sized drum.
Doreen in competition at Parade of Champions, JMU.
By the time Doreen participated, Broadway High School band had finally graduated to taking part in marching band competitions, so all of our kids (in one setting or another) got to taste what it was like to stand on the field of a large college stadium while the stands went wild. One of them once said “I felt like I was a rock star!” During the years when their school football teams (high school and college) lost far more games than they won, we went to the games to see the band on the field, not the team.
So each fall when I’m traveling near a school or university and hear strains of a rousing John Phillips Sousa tune, a current movie theme song, or a stirring trumpet screeching out the high notes on “Firedance,” a big lump rises and I squeeze back tears, remembering, and being moved by music that speaks of our daughters, their loves, their friends, their lives–and by extension what they gave to our lives. A new found love of music and being in the band.
In the Bible, from the book of Exodus to Revelation, trumpet or trumpets are mentioned at least 129 times, flute or flutes 16 times, and cymbal or cymbals 16 times. But my favorite is Psalm 150 where the Psalmist seems to go wild throwing out a whole string of wonderful instruments:
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Psalm 150.
So go, marching bands everywhere, and follow, you lucky parents. Enjoy this wonderful fall season of music and football!
A 1999 version, my favorite, of the JMU MRD playing Firedance.
A 2006 version, showing the much larger stadium at JMU.
Part 2 of two posts on Dr. Peggy Ann Shifflett’s book, Mom’s Family Pie. Part 1 here.
Eating locally and in season is nothing new. Barbara Kingsolver, the novelist and author of Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, did not invent it; she and many others like her may have rediscovered and made it popular but folks have been eating what was available seasonally from the beginning of time–UNTIL the discovery of electricity and invention of refrigerators, freezers, and plastics for packaging.
Sociology professor and folklorist Peggy Ann Shifflett reminds us of this truth in her book on the food traditions of families in her part of Appalachia, and recalls the era when her family moved from keep foods cool in the “spring house” and with ice, to real refrigerators.
She points out further that “The bounty of each season brought the family and community together to forage for the ingredients and to help prepare the recipes. Seasonal food connected family and community members to each other because at least three generations were usually helping with or watching the work being done.”
She talks about apple butter boiling, butchering, and making sauerkraut as some of the labor intensive activities where a couple generations gather, bring out specialized equipment used only once a year, and pitch in.
This past Labor Day, I thought of how we and my brother-in-law’s family used to load up our kids and all the five-gallon buckets, bushel baskets, milk crates and tubs we owned and drove to their homeplace for potato digging. Someone would run the tractor down the rows with a potato plow, and out would flow Yukon gold. Truly, the kids loved diving on those potatoes as they rolled out as much as they loved hunting Easter eggs. When they were really young, we would pump their enthusiasm by oohing and ahhing loudly at the great fountain of potatoes spinning out. But by the end of the day, everyone was exhausted and cranky from finding and lugging the equivalent of 30 bushels (thousands of potatoes, conservative estimate) out of the garden and into grandpa’s garage and our trucks to haul home.
Funny, but I don’t think I have one photo of digging potatoes at my father-in-law’s. That evening I’d cook fresh French fried potatoes and grill hot dogs and we’d chill out around food. Digging potatoes together will be our kid’s main memory of working together as a family to harvest food we would use all winter. The potatoes did usually last all winter, until a new crop was ready for early digging the following summer. I am personally happy that the other family tradition of butchering each year around Thanksgiving fell by the wayside (for reasons I wrote briefly about here) a few years after I joined the family.
In Mom’s Family Pie, families did much more massive food harvest/preparation together. Their social life revolved around family getting together, at least weekly for Sunday dinner. But the term “family pie” was a new one for me, and I loved Shifflett’s description of “family pie” as something that brought her family together and oiled spots where friction was causing hurt and pain. Food provided a place and time for healing and bonding. I wondered how that worked.
Knowing some background on Shifflett’s family from her other book, The Red Flannel Rag, where she speaks of family fights—verbal and some throwing of objects or fists especially when their homemade whiskey was involved—I knew that sometimes her kinfolk didn’t talk for weeks at a time. So “often just the smell of family pie drifting around the house and out the windows and doors might be enough to tempt them all to the table again. Differences were resolved while the meal was consumed.” (p. 20).
A family pie is not round and fancy with curly edges and markings like most of us are accustomed to on a standard pie. Instead, it was thrown together in an oblong pan, a quick crust layer in the bottom, some apples or canned cherries added from the pantry, and then a top crust just kind of lopped over the edges and was quickly pinched together. Hilda, Shifflett’s sister-in-law from an early age, would start making a meal by putting this pie together and letting it bake while she made the rest of the meal. Hilda said the smell of freshly baked family pie coming out her door on an ordinary busy work day was enough to call her husband in for supper.
On the cover of this book, Mom’s Family Pie, there’s a photo of pie making. By luck Shifflett happened on to it one day when she went to her Aunt Ethel’s house. Aunt Ethel was in the middle of a pie baking session with the help of a great granddaughter, and Shifflett knew it was the perfect cover photo for her book. As a book editor who works on a team of folks to come up with book covers and images (a colleague wrote about that just yesterday, here), I can understand how elated Shifflett was to stumble onto that scene.
I have often thought of how a family or community’s particular food customs—that takes a group to prepare—functions as family/community tradition and glue. Here in the Shenandoah Valley we have countless groups preparing barbecue chicken at a church, community, or civic group pit: getting up at 3 or 4 a.m. to start the charcoal fire and then put the chicken on so that it is ready to sell by 8 or 9 a.m. The Lions club we belong to does BBQ chicken and also hosts a Pancake breakfast, lunch and dinner (coming up locally Oct. 17-18 in Broadway, Va.). There’s also a huge Mennonite Relief Sale in the Shenandoah Valley each year (this year Oct.3-4), also held across the U.S. and Canada, raising money for world wide relief and development programs.
Working together provides a way to get to know others so much better than just attending church, club or civic group meetings. Of course even that is not friction-free as too many cooks “in the broth” have differing opinions on how to determine when a piece of chicken is done, how to make the best BBQ sauce, or the pancake is ready to flip.
This second book, Mom’s Family Pie, provides numerous recipes, some which are interesting only for the food history that most cooks are not going to bother with today: pinto beans with rivels, Creasy greens, peach whirligigs, pig feet and hocks. But if you are looking for a particular old-timey recipe or basic procedure for doing apple butter, fried squirrel and gravy, or venison steak that has been lost to your family or tradition over the years, it might be a place to look. But I liked the narrative–the stories and tales–more than the recipes.
I also enjoyed comparing notes between my husband’s family and Shifflett’s traditions, and feeling very happy that my husband—who loves my cooking—never developed a custom which was a “have to” for her father at least once a day, every day: fried ‘taters, as he called them. When I make fried potatoes it is simply an occasional way of using up left over boiled or baked potatoes, for an easy starch with a meal. But for Shifflett’s mother, it meant a pan of fresh potatoes, peeled and fried in a cast iron skillet on a wood stove—all of which took not a little effort. Peggy’s mother would ask her husband what he wanted for supper on Saturday and Sunday nights and he would invariably say “just cook me some fried ‘taters” and her mother’s weariness couldn’t help raising its head as she went to the basement with a loud curse saying “I fry potatoes every day of the week for you. Couldn’t you at least give me a rest from peeling potatoes on Saturday and Sunday?” (p. 247)
Overall Shifflett’s love for both her parents, and fond memories and admiration especially for the hard, unceasing daily work of the women in her family preparing food shines through with only occasional critique. With young girls taking on adult responsibilities as 8 to 10-year-old girls and definitely by the time they were teenagers, these women (her mother and her aunt famous for cooking) usually said they could not remember how they learned to cook something when first pumped for specific recipes. Shifflett says she finally understood their frequent response (and I can just hear one of my husband’s aunts who would have said this very thing): “I ought to know how to cook. I’ve been doin’ it all my life.”
You and your family may not have grown up in Appalachia, but I think each and every family and community has their particular food and family customs that are worth remembering and preserving. Thankfully, some are relearning the art of cooking without so much pre-packaged and prepared foods.
What is a community food preparation event where you enjoy working with others for a common purpose?
Does your family have certain foods or customs that bring the family together–such as around a bowl of popcorn on Sunday evening?