Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gotta pick!

The weather forecast is calling for frost.  If it happens, 'twill be the first of the season here on Station Camp Creek.   However, these cool nights often cause fog to develop in the valleys so that we squeak by without frost while the ridges get bit. 

I'm hoping for a blanket of fog tonight because I'm not ready to lose my impatiens that are blooming better now than they have all summer. 

Just in case, I thought I'd save some of the green tomatoes still hanging on the vines.  I didn't pick them all, but I picked a bucket full. 

And I gathered bell peppers, which are incredibly crisp and sweet right now, some jalapenos and some banana peppers. I intend to make pepper jelly with some of those. 

After bringing all these goodies in, I went right to work slicing green tomatoes.  I sliced 7 cookie sheets full, breaded one pan full and put the other six in the deep freeze.

Once those are frozen solid, I'll slide the slices into Ziploc bags and they'll be ready to bread and fry when I take them out later this winter to eat with soup beans, fried potatoes and cornbread.  Yum-O, as Rachel Ray would say.

The tomatoes that I breaded went into the oven to "fry" while I sliced the others for the freezer.  By the time I was done, so were they. 

My Aunt Wilberta taught me this nifty trick for "frying" green tomatoes. 

First, you beat an egg in a shallow dish, then pour about a half cup of evaporated milk in with the beaten egg and mix that together. 

Next, you mix about a cup of flour and a couple of tablespoons of cornmeal in another shallow bowl, and add some salt and pepper.  Just to be daring, I sprinkled in a bit of garlic powder and a spoonful of seasoned fish breading this time. 

Now.  You take your sliced green tomatos, dunk them into the beaten egg mixture, then into the seasoned flour mixture. 

Then lay them on a well-oiled cookie sheet and place them in a preheated oven set on approximately 400 degrees. 

Bake about 20 minutes, then flip.  The tomatoes, I mean.  Bake another 15-20 minutes or until they are nicely browned. 

When cool enough to handle, grab one and quickly scarf it down.  Swallow and repeat. 

I thought I'd be clever and try something different. 

I  grilled some garlic parmesan Italian Bread from a big box bakery in a skillet with some olive oil.  Once the bread was nice and golden, I smeared one slice with a scant teaspoon of smoky horseradish sauce, then I piled some fried green tomatoes on that and jammed the bread slices together into a "Fried Green Tomato Sandwich."

It was purty good. However, the horsey sauce was a bit overpowering although I only used a tad.  So I'm thinking the sandwich would have been just fine with only the fried tomatoes and the bread.  Mayo would taste good on that too. 

I ate a few slices of those tomatoes without a thing on them and they were supremely tasty as well. 

The best thing about oven frying is that you don't have all that grease splatterin' all over the stove top. The tomatoes still get nice and crispy if you leave them in there long enough--heck, they'd probably turn black if you wanted 'em too!

Oh, and they taste great too! 


Aren't green tomatoes beautiful? 

 Ready to be frozen and eaten later...
 Another attempt at creativity--a green tomato sandwich served up with a side of zinnias. 
 Looks pretty good, heh? 
 Makes you feel like this after a plateful of 'em. 
 Zzzzzzzzzz...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Celebrating the Woolly Worm



The wind cuts like a knife this morning, and it’s so cold outside even the woolly worms are hibernating, I’ll bet. 

I hope the weather warms up before the Woolly Worm Festival in Beattyville this weekend.  Organizers of that event were no doubt hoping for a weekend like our last one. 

Kentucky is festival poor, as we say, meaning just the opposite—we have plenty of them.

Many of them celebrate a regional food.  We have Irvine’s Mountain Mushroom festival, West Liberty’s Sorghum Festival, London’s Chicken Festival, etc.

The Woolly Worm Festival is one of my favorites.  I don’t attend that many festivals, actually, but I like the name of this one.

And I like its timing.  The leaves still have some color but are just about to fall, so it’s a great time for a drive. 

We typically travel on up to Natural Bridge State Park--after a quick trip through the roped off streets of Beattyville to smell the bloomin’ onions--for a hike and a picnic.

Woolly worms are all over the roads this time of year.  I try my best not to run over them—they seem to be in such a hurry to get somewhere.  Maybe Dad’s on his way home for dinner, or Mom’s rushing to pick up the kids. 

Seriously though, they’re on their way to hibernate.  I don’t know where exactly, just across the road somewhere.   

The woolly worm races are the most interesting part of the festival, I think.  The “track” consists of a rack with strings.  The worms are placed at the bottom of the strings and told to wait for a signal, I presume.  Anyway, the first one to the top wins the race.  They can move surprisingly fast. 

I wonder who ever thought of racing woolly worms? 

Is this some sort of hillbilly tradition?  Or just some clever idea that festival organizers came up with?    

Do people train their woolly worms first?  Do they take them out to the track, so to speak, so they can run laps and build lung capacity?  I have so many unanswered questions…

The Woolly Worm is actually the caterpillar stage of the Isabella moth.  In its worm stage, it munches on your cabbage plants.  But the moth is beautiful, as all moths are; this one is medium-sized and comes in shades of yellow, orange and white. 

Beattyvillians aren’t the first to host a festival in honor of this miniature meteorologist.  There are festivals in Ohio and North Carolina that celebrate them too. 

I’ve photographed a couple of "woolly bears" this fall, and judging by their colors, I predict that we’ll have a cold snap of winter followed by a long mild spell, then the weather will be extremely cold again when March Madness rolls around and the Cats are heatin’ up. 

What do y’all say?   

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A little spot of color

For a couple of weeks now, we've enjoyed nearly perfect fall weather. 

But last night, a cold front pushed through. (I think I got a picture of it.)

 
Doesn't this look like it might be a cold front? 

When whatever it was clashed with that sunny spot, a thunderstorm erupted.  The dark sky flashed with ominous streaks of lightning.  (I didn't attempt to take a picture of that.)  The wind blew crunchy brown sycamore leaves the size of dinner plates across the lawn and they made an ominous clattering sound.

I retreated to the house. 

This morning it's dark and gloomy outside (ominously so). 

The yard is strewn with sticks and leaves (clean-up time). 

The wind is raw because it's much cooler out there. 

So I'm stuck inside.  It's a good thing I took a wildflower walk yesterday when the air was calm and the sun was shining.  I have bright pics with which to cheer myself. 

See? 

Does this not look like a painting? 

(Partly because it's blurry. I'm not exactly a professional photog.) 

See those two dark spots way down in the field?  Those are wild turkeys. 

The dark spots in the foreground are cattle, by the way. 

There's nothing ominous about this scene, is there?  This is what you call a bucolic scene.  Byoo-colic.  Has nothin' to do with a bellyache. 

I love a country meadow.  Every square foot of them is filled with delightful finds. 

Just look at these grasses. 


See the colors? 

See their cute seedy little heads?  (Oops, I cut those off.)  See the tiny little wild asters in the background?  I forget their names...



This is a crawdad hole. 


They dig out these little mud huts that are quite interesting to look at but make for a bumpy lawnmower ride.  My hubby gripes about them all the time. 

How's this for a spot of color? 


Ok, Ok, I cheated. 

I didn't mean to, but Chelsea had the camera set on 'vivid' and I didn't know how to change it.  Therefore, the reds and oranges really pop.  I swear they don't look that much different in person, though. 


This lovely flower is Joplin. 

She ran in the house when the hubs left for work this morning and jumped in bed with me.  She woke me with her pitiful meowing and her cold wet nose. Therefore, I got up on the wrong side of the bed. 

Which explains why I'm trying to cheer myself with all these spots of color.  But Joplin is colorful in her own way, much like her namesake.  She has the same hoarse quality to her voice as ol' Janice.  Or is it Janet?

One more spot of color, and I must get busy on all those pears that fell to the ground during last night's storm. 







This is Stormy. 

She was born on a dark and stormy night last spring. 

Last night she was a harbinger of things to come.   Doesn't she look pretty in the flower bed? 

Have a bright day, y'all!  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Overheard in the Save-a-lot parking lot today...

I was getting ready to run into the grocery store this afternoon for a few things when I overheard the words, “Chocolate Gravy.”  My ears perked up. 

“Do you ever make chocolate gravy?” one lady was asking another as they chatted by their grocery carts. 

“No, I never did make it,” the other said.

“Oh, it’s easy.  Just take ye some boilin’ water, and mix ye up some flour, sugar, and cocoa—ever what ye think it’ll take.”

“Is that right?” The second woman seemed to marvel at the simplicity of these inexact directions. 

“Yeah!  Jis’ mix it up, and pour that boilin’ water in there and take ye a whisk to it and beat all the lumps out of it.

“Pour it over some homemade biscuits and it’s real good.  My grandkids love it.” 

I had never heard tell of chocolate gravy until I married my husband, but his mom makes it and it is quite good.  The overall effect is like a chocolate custard pie—very tasty! 
Poor mountaineers used to make this treat for their kids.   
For those who’ve never had chocolate gravy and would like to try some, here’s a slightly different and more explicit recipe.  Pour some over hot buttered biscuits, and you're in business. 

Some like it to eat it for a light supper; others like to eat chocolate gravy for breakfast.   I’ll let you decide. 

Chocolate Gravy:

½ cup sugar, ¼ cup all-purpose flour, ¼ cup cocoa, 2 cups milk, 1 tsp. vanilla flavoring

Mix all the dry ingredients first.  Make sure all the lumps are gone.  Put in a medium saucepan and gradually stir in the milk. 

Place the pan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly.  When the mixture thickens to a gravy-like consistency, stir in the vanilla.  Serve hot. 

And be careful with that tongue!  You don’t want to slap your eyeballs out with it!







Friday, October 14, 2011

The Phenom in my back yard

There is a tree in my back yard that amazes everyone who sees it.  The tree is a pitiful-looking sight in the dull months—its dark limbs droop in the dreary days of winter.    

Come spring time, however, some mysterious force within the tree stirs it to life.  Buds begin to pop from its gnarled limbs.  Those buds quickly unfurl as winter breaks until the weathered branches of the tree are masked behind a youthful cloud of white blooms. 

In a couple of weeks, March winds will strip the tree of bloom and scatter her petals to the ground like snow.  However, her limbs fill with a new vitality.  Waxy dark leaves appear and tiny tear-shaped fruit begins to form along her aged limbs. 

If temperatures don’t plummet into the low twenties again, the fruit on the old tree will grow all summer long until the tree’s limbs stretch toward the ground like the worn teats of an old dog.  We marvel that she can support the heavy load hanging from her branches. 

When early autumn comes, first fruits will fall.  They are usually still green and very hard.  Slowly, though, into the warm days of October, the fruit turns golden. 

The skin of the fruit has a rustic homegrown look, unlike the smooth hides of the more delicate Asian pears. 

Soon pears are dropping by bucketsful daily.  The old tree has produced so faithfully in the past that folks know when to come and help themselves to her fruit. 

Some will lay their pears up to ripen further, often keeping them until deep in the winter season when they become completely ripe and very, very juicy. 

Old-timers still wrap the semi-hard fruit individually in sheets of newspaper and store them in wooden crates.  They claim the pears will be just right for eating come Christmas.    

Still others will process the fruit into sweet treats for the winter—preserves, honey, sauce.  That’s what I’ve been doing.  I’ll share a couple of recipes later. 

This old tree is amazing not only for her hardiness, her fruitfulness, and her resistance to fire blight, but for her age.  She’s stood behind the old house here for as long as the oldest members of my family can remember. 

The truly startling thing about the old tree is that her trunk is but a hollow shell.  Half of it is missing. 

We’ve got apple trees that produce very little with a whole trunk.  What’s going on here?  What fountain of youth has the old tree tapped into? 

I want some of that! 

The old pear tree makes me think of a Bible verse which says, “Blessed is the man (or woman, I presume), who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord, for he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes, but her leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of the drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.” 

This old tree inspires me, as I think it does others.  And it feeds me--my family and friends too.  I want to be like that old tree, producing desirable fruit long into old age so that when folks walk by they will marvel and say, “How’s that shriveled up ol’ thing doin’ that?” 

Hu-hummph. 

Now, for a recipe.  This one sounds very similar to the way my grandma Hannah made pear preserves (according to my mother).  I searched for a similar recipe on cooks.com and found this one so I could provide you with some exact amounts.





AMBER PEAR PRESERVES

Read more about it at www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1923,155176-228204,00.html
Content Copyright © 2011 Cooks.com - All rights reserved.
4 c. under-ripe pears
3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
This recipe is about 75 years old. Peel and chop under-ripe pears. Let stand overnight with sugar and lemon juice. Stir then put on low fire and let simmer until pears have turned amber color, about 2 hours. Go by color. Stir to be sure it isn't sticking. Pour in prepared jars and seal. Use all juice. You are really in for a treat.



These preserves are very tasty but are intensely sweet.  One good way to tone down their sweetness is to spread some cream cheese on one of those Pretzel Flipside crackers and dab a bit of pear preserves on top of that.  Then, of course, you simply devour. 

Um, um, um.  You can’t sit still and eat it!  

I’ve been making pearsauce too.  All you have to do, if you are lucky enough to have an ageless pear tree in your back yard, is fetch some of the pears in and peel them, quarter and core them, then feed them through your most vicious food-processor.  Dump them into a good sized sauce pan, and add a spoonful of lemon juice.  Add a cup or two of sugar to taste and simmer this simple concoction on the stove for a half an hour or so.  Wait until it cools a bit then ladle yourself a big bowl of it and EAT! 

Better yet, bake a batch of homemade biscuits, and slather some of that sauce on a buttered one.   

Here’s some visual evidence that I’m not kidding about that trunk being hollow.  Isn’t she amazing? 
 See?
She's merely a shell of her former self...
 but she produces...
 beautiful fruit...
 and lots of it...
 so I can make sauce...
and preserves!  Yummy!  Doesn't that look sweet and tasty? 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My very first blog post!

Not a very intriguing title, I must admit, but I've got to start somewhere.

Although I love writing features for the newspaper, I sometimes find that kind of writing a bit restrictive.  I don't have the freedom to share my personal thoughts and feelings about the things I learn and the people I meet.   

Therefore, I thought I'd try blogging as a means to expand on the events of my life and community with all the sap and sentimentality I can muster. 

Just kidding!

I do hope to record for all posterity the hillbilly way--OR the ways of seein', sayin' and doin' that are particular to this mountain area. 

We often get a bad rap here in the foothills of Kentucky, but I'm here to tell ya we're not as bad off as some might think.  For one thing, we live in one of the prettiest places in the world--according to those who have traveled the world. 

Although I'm not well-traveled, I can tell you that I never get tired of resting my gaze on the beautifully worn hills of one of the oldest mountain chains in the world. 

For another thing, I have as neighbors some of the most decent hard-working people anywhere.  Again, keep in mind that I'm not a world traveler--but I do read newspapers.

Most of the older generation that lives in this area aren't particularly well-schooled, but they still have tons of practical living skills. 

They know how to make stuff and fix stuff and cook stuff. 

For example, nearly all my family and friends still know how to grow gardens and "put up" what they produce. 

And they didn't need to attend "re-skill workshops" to learn how to do it, because they never lost their skills in the first place. 

My mother-in-law still butchers her own chickens before she puts dumplins' in the pot with them. 

My dad still grows corn and has his own cornmeal ground by a guy who's run a mill for decades. 

I could go on and on, and I will--but for now I'll stop. 

I need to go ladle my pearsauce into containers for the deep freeze. (Deep freeze is what we call a freezer.)

"Pearsauce" is just like applesauce only it's made with pears. (I don't even know if pearsauce is a real word.  Perhaps I invented it.  Anyway, it's mighty tasty. )

I'll tell you about the pears next time.