Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fun in the "Makin's"

I am trying to figure out exactly when meteorologists all got together and decided it makes sense to name every single weather pattern. As a child or teen I don't recall there ever being names for winter storm systems.  I also don't recall every type of weather having to be specifically defined either.  When did cold stop being called cold?  I admit there is something sexy about calling a cold snap a Polar Vortex, but after a while it just becomes another ridiculous news item for all of us to obsess over. 
I was watching a daily talk show and the hosts were discussing how this type of weather sensationalism may actually be making humans (specifically Americans) wimpier.  I would have to agree with that.  I am not suggesting that we shouldn't use caution when there are severe weather conditions, but I do agree that as a society we have been getting slightly dramatic over weather conditions over the last few years.  Keep in mind that I reside in Wisconsin, so I feel like the drama over cold, ice, and snow is completely unwarranted. If you live here and are not aware that these things occur, well...I'm not sure the news is going to be able to help you at this point.  

They specifically referenced this tasty little news item that I particularly enjoyed.  Apparently a Wisconsin woman was having difficulty getting her Dodge Caravan started during the Polar Vortex and resorted to trying to warm up her car by burning some coals underneath it.  "Lac du Flambeau police Chief Robert Brandenburg tells The Associated Press temperatures were about minus 23 degrees and the woman's 2007 Dodge Caravan wasn't starting. So first she took out the battery, warmed it up inside and reinstalled it.  Then she shoved a mound of hot coals under the van hoping to warm up the engine chamber. He says the undercarriage of the front bumper caught fire, causing about $1,000 of damage."  I experienced a myriad of emotions to this story.  The first was pride.  I thought to myself, "Good for you, sister!  You need to get to the grocery store to get food for your babies!" I mean she took the battery out, warmed it and replaced it for crying out loud!!  I would like to know an exact count of females who not only have the skills to do this, but the ambition. I consider myself hardier stock than many, but if the car doesn't start I am in jammies for the day.  But then when I read on to see that her next attempt was to shove a mound of hot coals under it I felt slightly diminished.  Mostly I was just completely alarmed at how much this woman wanted to leave her house in subzero temperatures.

If you read on in the story  the Chief of police seemed to indicate that this is an acceptable method of warming up your car, but only if you know what you're doing. I consulted with Bryan and he too said this is an acceptable practice (that is not really used anymore in present day) to warm your car in extreme conditions.   I'm not sure what experiences make you qualified for this technique, but Bryan and I were in complete agreement that I am not qualified to attempt this.  I suppose tailgating would and this did take place in Packer country so perhaps I was too quick to judge.

I really enjoy how many of my photos capture our true hillbilly nature. Yup, there's Annabelle's lawnmower on the deck covered in snow.  The perfect winter toy.  And you will notice our grill is not covered. That's because the grill cover is on the stroller, which is right next to the grill.
 I am more sympathetic to those living in places where they do not experience extreme cold.  I can understand why they closed the schools in Atlanta, their fountains froze for crying out loud!  I was watching an Atlanta weatherman on the news and behind him was a huge fountain with water frozen in midair.  These people were so unprepared for conditions they didn't even have time to shut their fountains off. Sad.  But I don't know if I support closing our schools here in Wisconsin for extreme cold.  It seems that it is more for the benefit of people who do not know that it is cold and that it is not okay to let your children walk to school without a hat and gloves.  I guess as person whose time is at a premium, I do resent it when decisions that affect the majority are made to cater to the uninformed and irresponsible.  That is merely just my opinion, and I do respect that school systems take the safety of children seriously.  

So basically, what I mean to say is that the fact the news last week was dominated by the Polar Vortex, the cold weather caused people to once again hole up in their homes with nothing to do but let insanity slowly creep in and eventually take over.  We were some of those people.

I spent many days baking. This helped keep the house warm and kept me busy. The problem is that because I have been home all day every day I have also eaten all of the items I baked almost immediately (in many cases why they were still piping hot) and therefore have most likely gained five  to eight pounds.  Is it still considered baby weight if you gain it two and a half months after your baby is born?
Yesterday Bryan was attempting to clean out our basement to begin construction on what will become another room to fill with Annabelle's toys that she doesn't play with.  In doing so he produced a cookbook that he thought would be very helpful to me.  After reviewing this book I felt compelled to share these recipes and newfound knowledge. 
 In fact this book is filled with so many tasty recipes and useful knowledge that I do not even know where to begin.   This cookbook is entitled:   "Mountain Makin's in the Smokies (You will note that I am typing the title as written on the book, those are not my errors)."  That's right, you read correctly, the name of this cookbook is "Mountain Makin's."   This book was published in 1957 by The Great Smoky Mountains Natural history Association.  According to the preface "this book is compiled of 'old-timey' and present-day recipes."  

  Glancing at the table of contents it appears to read just like any old cookbook- oops wait, what's that on page 48? Page 24 might be something to investigate as well.
I'm sure you want me to share the Groundhog recipe straight away, but I am too eager to share pioneer remedies for common ailments.  Poor little Georgia was suffering from a cold for several days after New Year's Eve, so I was especially interested in page 29.
Why thank you, Mrs. W.P. Trotter for the tip. I do have an onion and a wet cloth, but roasting the onion on hot ash may present a problem.  My first instinct with all of these recopies and remedies is to laugh, but I know there is validity located within them.  I remember when Annabelle got her first cold as infant many people suggested putting Baby Vicks on her feet. 
 Common cold isn't the problem in your house? Perhaps Ringworm is your issue.  I know this still makes its way around schools and daycares.  Do not waste your money on hygienic creams and lotions, Mrs. W.P. Trotter has another recipe to relieve those pesky Ringworm symptoms.  Correction: To CURE your pesky Ringworm.
Do you ingest the dock root or leaves?  Or do you apply them to the skin?  I am also not sure if any leaves will do or if they need to be dock leaves?  How do you apply a root to the skin?   I also just happened to glance at the recipe above the Cure for Ringworm and found myself smiling. I really enjoy that the recipes in this cookbook are written in such a conversational tone.  "Cook until tender. You can eat it this way or fry in grease. It's just fine."  Yep. It's fine. Eat it boiled, or fry it after you boil it. It's cool. Whatever. 
I know that we have a vaccination for Whooping Cough now, but I personally hate that it is paired with a tetanus shot.  Those tetanus shots are awful, so I always resist the Whooping Cough vaccination.  Thankfully, Mountain Makin's has a remedy for  that as well.
   What is troubling me is the dosing for this cough syrup.  "Give any amount as often as needed."  I suppose there is nothing harmful in this cough syrup so it as not as though an overdose can occur.  The remedies we use today are loaded with chemicals that appear to just slowly cause your organs to fail one by one, so perhaps I shouldn't make fun. I must admit that part of me is tempted to try this remedy for cold or cough on Annabelle, though I am concerned about the amount of sugar and honey in this recipe.  I feel as though the coughing would just be masked by the psychotic episode induced by the large volume of sweeteners.
Let us move on from remedies and explore the culinary delights of the residents of the Smoky Mountains (both old-timey and present-day...meaning the present day of the past. I guess that would be past present day residents).  I am sure you are dying to get your hands on the Groundhog recipe, so get your pencils ready:
This is a recipe that my mother-in-law taught me how to cook ground hog.
Dress and cut it up. Put in pot, then bring to boil. Break up spicewood branches, and put in pot with meat.  Boil until meat is tender. Remove; then salt and pepper; then roll in flour; put in 1/2 cup shortening, preferably bacon grease.  Then put in oven and bake until it is brown.
                                                                                                     -Mrs. Ennis Ownby
My only question regarding this recipe is regarding "bake until it is brown."  What the hell color was it when we started?  I suppose I would also like you to consider, as you read this, your own mother-in-law, and what your reaction would be if she invited you over to pass down a family recipe and it turned out to be Groundhog. 
I'm sure if I consulted with Bryan on this topic he would tell me not to make fun, I will appreciate these recipes in Armageddon.
Here is something else I learned from this cookbook.  Apparently in the mountains in both the fifties and in old-timey times cornmeal was a staple in all diets and recipes.  Nearly every recipe in this book calls for cornmeal.  Please refer back to the table of contents and notice that there are twenty one pages of bread recipes in this book.  EVERY SINGLE recipe of bread called for cornmeal and the majority of these recipes were variations of cornbread.  Bryan loves cornbread and has asked me to try some of these. I suggested we start with this one:
Ash Cake
There is an old man that lives near us that says his mother makes ash cakes all the time.
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon soda
1/3 cup fat
1 teaspoon salt
Enough water to make a thick dough
Have a good hot fire. Pull out ashes and make a nest-like place in the ashes. Brush off ashes down to the hearth.  Put your dough in nest. Let set a while and the dough will form a crust.  Then cover with ashes and hot embers. Bake 20 or 30 minutes.
-Mrs. Ben C. Fisher
"There is an old man that lives near us that says his mother makes ash cake all the time."   We are now baking our bread, and eating it coated in ash because a casual acquaintance mentioned it passing while waiting for the bus?  I would love to hear how that conversation began. Or more to the point, how it ended up a recipe in Mrs. Ben C. Fisher's recipe box.  "You know, that man nearby whom we do not know personally said his mom makes ash cakes all the time. We should too.  I mean if it's good enough for the old man who lives near us, well then it's good enough for the Ben C. Fishers."  
I also don't completely comprehend the how the ashes function in this recipe.  Actually I do not understand how the ash functions at all in this recipe.  It appears to me that you coat your dough in ashes from the fire, and then bake it, which ultimately means eating it.   Bryan seems perfectly fine with this. I myself have  reservations about this process.
If the Ash Cake isn't your speed, perhaps this one is:
I was very surprised that there is an actually recipe for mush.  My husband laughs along with me at these observations, but deep down he is thinking we are all set for the Apocalypse. I know that he is worried I won't have the survival skills so he is arming me with them slowly, one-by-one. I'm sure you're concerned because Cornmeal doesn't last forever and it may spoil or get buggy in our bug out shelter (pun intended), but don't worry.  Mountain Makin's has a recipe for how to make cornmeal.  I am all set.
So let us close this chapter on mountain life with one final recipe that caught my eye. This recipe for Indian Bean Bread.

 Okay, so it was not the recipe itself here that caught my eye.  I don't want to be crude, and if this is an illustration of Mrs. Roy Pilkington herself, I certainly do not want to be disrespectful.  But based on this illustration it would seem to me that life must have just been harder in the old-timey Smoky mountains.  All that time spent leaning over the fire and tending to the hot ash and embers for your Ash Cake really takes a toll on a woman, doesn't it?
I am glad that Bryan and I are able to find simple entertainment on these cold days.  I am making my reluctant return to work next week. I am positively dreading it and appreciate my husband's ability to provide distractions and levity(I specifically chose that word just for him) as I struggle with the guilt and sadness of leaving sweet baby Georgia and my wild-eyed Annabelle in the care of others in order to return to work. 
And while it is easy to page through this cookbook and laugh, I truly do not like the idea of poking fun at the women behind these recipes, or this book itself. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an old soul who longs for simpler times. I always tell Bryan I wish that I could just throw my smartphone into a vat of hot lava and instead get a rotary phone again.  He is always quick to point out that I can do this at any time, to which I respond with:  I will. I just need everyone else to do it too. The Mountain Makin's women were women who would have started their Dodge Caravans with a mound of hot coals so they could take care of their families.
As I read the cornbread recipes of simpler times, I wish we would take a step back sometimes too. I often wish I was composing these posts on a typewriter instead of a laptop or PC.  I also wish my children were going to grow up in a world where people knew how to do things, and thought for themselves.  I am hoping that I can at least show them how to make cornbread from scratch so they are aware that not all food comes out of a box.  I hope that we can slow things down a little bit for them so they have a childhood.  I don't know when kids stopped being kids.  Probably around the same time the meteorologists decided the word "cold" just wasn't quite  good enough.
 Until then I will just have to be envious of Mrs. Roy Pilikington and Mrs. Ben C. Fisher.
***I do not know the rules about using photos and recipes from a published cookbook. So I am including copyright and publishing info:
Mountain Makin's in the Smokies: A cookbook
Published by: The Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Associations, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, 37738
Edited by: Mary Ruth Chiles and Mrs. William P. Trotter
Illustrated by: Mrs. Patsy Gilbert
Compiled by:  The Wives of Park Service Employees and their friends
Lithographed by: Hickory Printing Group, Inc. Skyland, North Carolina  28776