Monday, November 30, 2009

Sweet 'Taters!

I've never been exactly fond of sweet potatoes (or sweet 'taters as many say here). I gagged down the "candied yams" in childhood to the point of complete avoidance (my husband says they aren't the same thing, and I think he's right: it's the difference between canned peas and fresh).

In October I took a shot of one of our boys holding a 6.5 pound sweet potato that a Mennonite friend had grown. It was mammoth and complete with bulging veins, just like a muscle. Well, of course I had to cook it up for Thanksgiving. Problem was that we had so much food I didn't really have room or time for it. So I baked the potato, cooled it and scooped out the flesh and put it aside for another day (which was tonight, for supper, along side, are you ready? MORE TURKEY LEFTOVERS!).

As I'm a big recipe clipper–and magazine reader (but, as I tell my husband, they're for "research" for possible publication outlets–and that is true and it does occasionally pay off, or at least helps pay for my magazine and book budget)–I came across a recipe in the November issue of Martha Stewart Living for Sweet Potato and Sage-Butter Casserole that I thought I might try. More savory than sweet, with no added sugar enhancement, it was a big hit, even with me and was redolent of a good whipped butternut squash recipe. I had the cooked sweet potato, some more leftover mashed potatoes, and even some homemade bread crumbs on hand, with butter and seasoning, in the freezer. As I had double the amount of potatoes called for, I made plenty and now have another casserole for the freezer. My version is slightly different (I added shallots and garlic and avoided a few steps by precooking the potatoes) and appears below (in its original quantity form as written by MSL, with my notations in italic):

Sweet Potato and Sage-Butter Casserole
  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (I baked and mashed them)
  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (I used leftover mashed potatoes which likely imparted more creaminess)
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus 1 ounce (2 tablespoons), melted
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (you can find most fresh herbs now in the produce dept. of most larger grocery stores)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed (I used part half half-and-half and part whole milk)
  • coarse salt (I use Kosher) and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (from 3 slices white bread, crusts removed)
  1. Place sweet potatoes and potatoes in large saucepan; cover with water, and season with salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 9 minutes. Drain; pass through a ricer into a bowl [NOTE: I HATE ricers! So I used a good old-fashioned potato masher and then finished it off later with an electric mixer. The masher makes it a bit more textured and rustic.]
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 1 stick butter in small saucepan (or skillet, as I prefer, especially as I added 1 large minced SHALLOT and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh GARLIC to the butter/sage mixture while it was melting) over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat; add 2 tablespoons sage. Stir butter mixture and milk into potatoes. Season with salt and pepper (at this point I whipped the mixture further with an electric mixer as I had not riced it first). Transfer into a 2-quart casserole dish. (Mixture can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
  3. Combine bread crumbs with 2 tablespoons melted butter and remaining 1/2 tablespoon sage. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine.
  4. Top potato mixture with bread crumbs. Bake, uncovered, until bubbling around edges and breadcrumbs are golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. (If browning too quickly, tent with foil.) Let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
[I did not tent the casserole but the recipe advises that if you use cold, precooked potatoes you might have to add about 10-15 minutes to the cooking time.]

Enjoy! I hope to blog a bit about Thanksgiving. It was a blessed occasion. If not this year, there is always next year. I hope your day was special.

What Would The J-man do?

Lifting fog at sunrise over our farm on my 47th birthday: October 29, 2009.

Brother stand the pain; Escape the poison of your impulses. The sky will bow to your beauty, if you do. Learn to light the candle. Rise with the sun. Turn away from the cave of your sleeping. That way a thorn expands to a rose. A particular glows with the universal.

~ Mevlava Rumi, Persian poet and mystic, 1207-1273

I have an unusual request: it is for your help and good energy. I have a hard time asking for it, believe me, just as I have a hard time delegating or letting go of anything, really: physical or emotional. I do believe in the power of positive thinking and of prayer and you know what? Rather than think negative thoughts of my enemies I've been trying to pray for them. It turns everything upside down, doesn't it? It no longer empowers our enemies but frees us, instead. This can be a difficult realization but even more difficult to practice. Oh boy, is it ever.

You see I try to live by the Golden Rule, a universal quality of most religious belief systems. But when I am wronged, or those I love are wronged, it is a harder philosophy to put into practice. So I try to analyze the person or the situation: what grievance do they have with me and why? What can I do to change the situation or my behaviors to make it better?

Yesterday I was tapped on Facebook to join a group called Charter For Compassion. I usually balk at joining anything but the simple message in this group has the power to transform the world, just as forgiveness can do. Here is the beginning of their mission and purpose:
"The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect."
In this divisive era of name-calling and hatred in our national landscape, of religious righteousness thrown at political or societal difference, I find this cause refreshing. We do not have to tolerate hate but we can throw love back at it.

Sometimes you just end up barking up the wrong tree all the time: darned if you do, darned if you don't. Sometimes it's not you at all. Like with certain friendships that have cooled for no reason or people whom you feel you want to keep trying to reach again, no matter how brusque their demeanor. You start to feel like a dog who wants unconditional love while trying to please a difficult taskmaster who is always raising the bar. If you persist you are doing so at your own peril: more cold shoulders or a decided chill in the air. You either retreat or rebel. I have had a short-term situation like this in my new life here that requires me to let go, move on. So I pray for this person and wish them well, even though I want to tell them that their actions and behaviors have been observed by, and with, others. That they need to get over themselves! I want to have the last word or I want to fix them–either way, it's not my place or problem.

Several much older friendships have gone through a transformation in the past few years: one person is more distant from lifestyle and circumstance and the other is renewed because of a better understanding and appreciation of our differences. We forgave each other and have moved on. I hope to rectify the other. In yet another we have just gone our separate ways because I was completely misunderstood about such a minor thing and refused to apologize for something I did not do–and I had had it with their bullying. Part of the reason for all of this kerfuffle in my life is that I am not so willing to squelch who I am anymore. In most of my formative years, I was a pleaser and a smoother and a fixer. Not any more. Now I want to accept people for their humanity while I hope they will appreciate mine.

But a much more grave situation has festered and lay dormant on occasion for eight years in my life–and has always been out of my hands. But this is with a pseudo-relation, someone I will call a "pot-stirrer," someone with whom I do not spend any time (I have only actually been in their presence a handful of times) but who persists in causing harm to someone I love and to those around them. I am powerless in this situation and have been for some time. The dysfunction is overwhelming and the lies and deceit rendered by this individual are staggering, as is the pit-bull protection rendered by their enabler, no matter what the cost. I try to understand where they are coming from, what makes them tick–apt cliches for a daunting reality. I realize substance abuse is at the core of it but in my mind should not excuse any of it. I realize there are some major codependent issues that have a trickle-down effect, including with other relationships that have been troubled during the same period. I realize this could probably describe the scenario in so many families today and it is sad. I can not speak for those, even though I know of some quite close to me, but I can empathize. I know now what a toxic, unaccountable person can do and what the price of denial and avoidance can be. But I can choose not to live my life that way.

I realize even half a country away, there are going to be occasional flare-ups. And I realize, at last, that whenever I try to help or to intercede, the aim is to kill the messenger–me–and the tale is retold in such a way that there is nothing but victimization when help and understanding is all that has been offered. So I retreat out of self-protection.

But when this person lies about someone even closer to me, I lose perspective. I become enraged and want to get in my car and drive all night and darken their door with my anger and I want to slap their enabler and "victim" silly, even though that is the one person I want to protect.

I have never considered myself a "victim" of anything so after the initial rage quelled the other day, I have tried to look at their life and their actions: there have been many lies in the past that have been uncovered so why does it surprise me that this is just yet another one? Then there are the lies spread around that are manipulative and untrue that have caused irreparable damage. This person has had the quiet agenda of dividing and conquering for some time and they have succeeded. Instead of defending myself or my family, I have chosen to be silent as anything I do or say has been, and will be, used against me. It is sad, it is toxic but it is the reality of the situation. And the only thing I can do is to retreat from it and to pray about it. This has been my method of coping with all of the "pot stirrers" in my adult life.

So why do I allow these bullies to occasionally rule my life? Let's no longer empower those in our lives who wish us harm or treat us or those we love badly. Let's love them instead, as best we can, while not tolerating their behaviors. So that is what I ask of you: could you please think positive thoughts during these first few days of Advent that I am able to let these situations go while I try to pray for those who probably need it the most? And, if you have a similar example in your life, I will think of you, too.

The Word made flesh for us gives us the greatest hope that the murky night of darkness will not overwhelm us, but we shall see the daylight of eternity.

Lord, let us receive your clear light; be for us such a mirror of light that we may be given grace to see you unendingly.

If we are overcome, you have the power to forgive us; Therefore, in my sin I call on you, my Lord, my Light, for help.

For you were sent into the world to enlighten my heart, to nurture true repentance and to make the Holy Spirit’s work grow more powerfully in me.

With the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign for ever!

–Hildegard of Bingen (German mystic and abbess: 1098-1179)

PAINTING: The Visitation, by Jacopo Pontormo, c. 1528

Whenever I'm truly angry at someone or a situation, I think of the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania whose school was attacked by a crazed man several years ago. They lost many of their children in that incident and others were wounded for life with physical and emotional damage. But what did they do? They forgave the man responsible and even went to comfort his family in the days after the shooting. To most of us, myself included, this is inconceivable. But they did it and I'm sure they meant it. And those two things are the hardest part of forgiveness: the doing and the sincerity, and finally, the letting go. I'm starting to feel better. Thank you for listening!

NOTE ~ I have also ordered a double-book from Amazon: Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency, written by Melody Beattie. I am hoping it will help me understand this sad situation and help me cope with the fall-out in my own life.
Here are some helpful quotes in these situations and some wise advice from the Mayo Clinic about forgiveness and how it helps our health:
"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
~ Matthew 5: 44

"Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?"
~Abraham Lincoln

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each man's life enough sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover that the prisoner was you."
~ Lewis Smedes

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hazel's Store: Part 2

Hazel Wesley and her daughter Cassie await the start of the auction of the Mintonville Store as her husband Bobby and grandson Adam go out to watch.

A week ago, Hazel's store in Mintonville, Kentucky (now part of Bethelridge) was sold at auction. The new owner made a successful bid on the property by 11am on Friday, November 20. [I would have posted sooner but wanted to wait, first, to see if the article that I wrote would appear in the local paper. If it does, I will eventually link to it here, so check back within the week. In the meantime this is a modified photo essay in tribute. UPDATE: The article appeared today, December 2, in The Casey County News–click here for the on-line article.]

Part of the small crowd that gathered at the auction on Friday. The Mintonville Store, on highway 837, is one of few remaining original old country stores in Casey County, Kentucky.

The auctioneer from Godby Realty recalled, growing up in nearby Nancy, when there were thirty-two small country stores in Pulaski County. These wood-framed structures, often with tin roofs, front porches and original fixtures and shelving, were once the only places in the country to buy agricultural supplies, basic foodstuffs and other necessities and also provided news, gossip, and sometimes a post office, as the civic heart of a small community.

There is also a lunch counter and a gas pump at the Mintonville Store. As it was an "Absolute Auction" all contents, inventory and equipment were sold along with the building and its footprint. It also meant that the lowest, or only, bidder would get it for the offered price. Two bidders competed, slowly, for the final prize. [As the auctioneer added, "an auction is always only about two bidders."]

Owner Hazel Wesley, daughter Cassie Haste, and granddaughter Hannah wait for the auction of their store. Wesley is ready to retire from her 13-year run as owner of the Mintonville Store in eastern Casey County, Kentucky.

Wells, local writer and columnist for The Casey County News, wrote about the store for the 200th anniversary coverage of the Liberty area in The Casey County News: “Hazel Wesley said that behind the Mintonville Grocery there was a blacksmith, a sawmill, and a grist mill where corn was ground. ‘We traded chickens and eggs at the store when I was a kid,’ she said.” Hazel and her husband Bobby purchased the store from Gary Harness in 1996 and noted that the building has been in operation since the 1930s. She also remembered three local stores at one time. Gary Thompson, who was one of about twenty people attending the auction proceedings, told Wesley that he had fond memories of coming in the store as a child when visiting his grandparents.

The store’s new owner is Rayburn Keltner of Science Hill in Pulaski County, whose winning bid was just over $20,000. A real steal, but he offered significantly more than the lowest bid because he didn’t want to see it go for any less. He expects to reopen next spring after doing some work on the building. The original country store is fast becoming part of Kentucky’s rural past so it was a relief to many that the keys have been passed, but most of all to the Wesleys. When asked what she was going to do after her retirement from store keeping, Hazel Wesley said, “I’m going to paint the inside of my house. I haven’t exactly had a lot of time to keep up with it.”

Bobby Wesley, co-owner of the Mintonville Store with his wife Hazel for the past thirteen years, looks on after their store was sold at auction on Friday.
Hazel Wesley talks with her last customers after the Mintonville Store was sold at auction to Rayburn Keltner of Science Hill.

So again, here's to Hazel Wesley and to everyone who has kept alive the tradition of the small old-time country store in America. Their atmosphere and charm is what Cracker Barrel® has been able to successfully market all over the country, but the difference is that these stores are the real deal.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hazel's Store

I just wanted to post quickly, on a busy morning, about an upcoming "Absolute" auction of Hazel's store in Mintonville [Hwy 837 North, just over the Casey County line]. I have often written about Hazel and her store as she was one of the first to welcome us here and we often stop for "pop," The Casey County News or to get the local "news." We live only a few miles away as the crow flies, just over the next county line, or about 8 miles if you take the better tended country roads and highways.

For a brief time last winter, I thought of buying Hazel's when she said she wanted to retire. But my calling is elsewhere. [And besides, I'd probably watched too many episodes of The Waltons and have more of a sentimental attachment to such places–like Ike Godsey's on Walton's Mountain–but Hazel's store is like stepping into another era, without deliberately trying to do so.] However, it would be the perfect business opportunity for a young couple or retirees and would only require a bit of cash–and some Murphy's Oil Soap–to fix it up: as it is an "absolute" auction, the place will go to the highest bidder (and it has been for sale for over a year so who knows what the bidding might bring?).

There are two gas pumps, an eclectic inventory, even a lunch counter. The original details are all there, such as the matchboard walls, shelving and the tin ceiling. There is even a front porch and an old tin roof. The structure is built like many country stores in Kentucky: with a sloping roof and shed-style construction and a side room that housed the local post office branch or served as a store owner's apartment. It is an original Cracker Barrel®! You can try but you just can't manufacture what stores like this offer to a small country community.

The store is in Mintonville and at the edge of Casey County's prosperous Mennonite community (Turkey Creek Road, which runs out of the South Fork Creek area, comes right into Mintonville at Highway 837). With the right marketing, it could likely be better traveled than it has been in recent years. But sadly, these old country stores are a dying breed. Casey County is fortunate to still have several of them, including historic Penn's Store in Gravel Switch, the oldest continuously operated store by the same family in the United States. My son Eli and I also discovered Peggy Tarter's store in Dunnville during the Highway 127 Yard Sale last August.

We plan to attend Hazel's auction and I am hoping the right bidder will be there: someone to tend the place as Hazel has, putting their own mark on the little store and maybe some muffins on the counter or a few fact, I might know just the person and need to go call her right now. [And don't worry, Rosemary, it's not much as I might like it to be!]

So here's to Hazel Wesley and Peggy Tarter and Jeanne Penn Lane and all of the country storekeepers of Kentucky who have kept this tradition alive in an era of over-lit gas station megaplexes and corporate American strip shopping. Thank you. PHOTO: My husband and our two boys get Cokes while chatting with Hazel on one of our first visits to the region a few years ago.

NOTE: Godby Realty & Auction is handling the sale of the Mintonville Store on Friday, November 20, 2009 at 10am. You can find out more about the auction, and download a PDF of the flyer, at this address. [Go to "Auctions" page and look for "Absolute Auction-Grocery Store"]

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chicken Corn Noodle Soup!

Do you remember the hardback book in the teeny tiny little Nutshell Library (published the year I was born in 1962) called Chicken Soup With Rice? I was never a big Where the Wild Things Are fan, although I liked the movie (the illustrations were too freaky and the plot too scary a concept for me as a young child–that book came out the following year in 1963) but I always treasured this little lesser known collection of four books illustrated by Sendak.

The small illustrated cardboard box in itself was a tiny treasure to behold (and hold in little hands) and, as with all of Sendak's illustrations, I would spend much time looking at them before I could even read (Sendak also illustrated a few of the books in the Mrs. PiggleWiggle series by Betty MacDonald). I'm sure I got it in a Christmas stocking from one of my first Christmases–I even have a vague memory of opening it–and I am fairly certain I'd kept the books all these years and I expect, one day, to find them again in their little "Nutshell" box. [But hark, a voice from yonder Amazon says, "Still in print!" So this year my boys and their cousins will get a set, too, under their Christmas trees.]

The Nutshell Library also has the story of Pierre, who didn't care–and yet he always seemed a perfectly delightful boy to this precocious young girl.

The month of February in Chicken Soup With Rice.

Its full title is actually Chicken Soup With Rice: A Book of Months (I had forgotten the subtitle) and it takes a journey through the year of a boy having chicken soup in every month and season. Through the wonders of the Internet I even just discovered that there was a musical based on the Nutshell Library called Really Rosie, that came out in 1975, and an animated program, with music by Carole King. Sorry to have missed that one, but then again, I was 13 by that time and probably considered myself "too mature" for children's picture books.

So anyway, all of this memory lane of children's books is just preamble to what we had for supper. I've been wanting to make a popular Mennonite (and Amish) recipe for "Chicken Corn Noodle Soup" for the longest time, especially now that we have all of that corn and our own chickens in the freezer. My friends Anna and Irene have often raved about it to me and I've since found variations of the recipe in several community cookbooks. You could add just about anything you want to the recipe but the beauty of it is in its simplicity–and the combination of corn, chicken and hearty egg noodles is what you will remember. I also like that you cook the chicken in the soup pot while making the broth, rather than boil the bones from a roast later on.

This recipe for "Chicken Corn Soup" was adapted from a recipe found in a nifty little devotional book I picked up a few weeks ago at our local used bookshop, the Book & CD Hut, in Somerset. I read all kinds of books but I'm a sucker for little devotionals–this book is called The Simple Life–Devotional Thoughts from Amish Country by Wanda E. Brunstetter, Barbour Publishing, Ohio: 2006 and still available here. What's especially nice about it are the recipes from her friends that follow each reading.

Chicken Corn Soup
[Mattie Stoltzfus]

• 1 large chicken (make sure to remove guts, etc.)
• 2 1/2 quarts water
• 4 cups corn
• 1 package egg noodles (I used a 1# bag of "Amish Wedding" Kluski noodles)
• salt and pepper to taste

[NOTE: I also added a few tablespoons of Watkins Chicken Soup & Gravy Base to the stock (no MSG!), as well as a few tablespoons of fresh chopped garlic, 1 medium chopped onion and 1 cup of thinly sliced carrots to the stock pot–all sautéed with a good healthy portion of fresh chopped parsley. I also add sweet paprika and a bit of marjoram to taste–as I never measure seasonings.]

1. In a large kettle, boil the chicken in the water. [NOTE: I added some sea salt and several dried bay leaves to the water, as well as some fresh-ground pepper.]

2. When cooked thoroughly, remove the chicken, reserving the broth. Cool and remove the meat from the bone and cut it into small pieces. [NOTE: At this point I returned the bones back to the broth and boiled again for about 20 minutes before straining–I also added a bit more water to this process. This re-stocking, so to speak, will make a heartier broth. Meanwhile, in a larger stock pot, I sautéed the onion, garlic, carrot and parsley in a bit of olive oil.]

3. Strain the broth, put into larger stock pot [with above additions, if desired] then add corn, noodles, chicken, and seasonings to taste.

4. Cook (about 15 minutes) until noodles are soft. The amount of noodles added can be adjusted according to the thickness desired. The amount of corn and water can also be adjusted.

The nice thing about using a free-range chicken, especially your own, is that the flavor is out of this world and there is minimal fat in the broth.

We had hearty portions of the soup for supper tonight and there is still plenty left over to freeze and for lunch tomorrow. I have another "Chicken Corn Soup" recipe "for a crowd" but I'll save it for another day: it makes four times this amount of soup that this recipe makes and plenty to serve, can or freeze. And perfect for the flu and cold season ahead. Next time, we all agreed: more GARLIC! "Happy once, happy twice, happy chicken soup with rice."

Old Order Health Care

Last night, over in Crab Orchard, we attended a benefit turkey dinner for Mervin Miller, a thirtysomething Amishman who has leukemia and mounting health bills. The tack shop where the event was held at a large hillside farm was transformed into a mobile kitchen of a hundred women with pressure cookers and pie racks and loaves of bread and roast turkeys in foil-covered roasters. All week they had been preparing different parts of the meal from their home kitchens. "Everybody does their part," said one woman. For us it was like attending a big communal Thanksgiving dinner a few weeks early. "HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL"–An old abandoned schoolhouse near Holmes County, Ohio–home of world's largest Amish community • Spring 2006

People lined up to get in the door and once inside, the buffet line went like a well-oiled system. [Judging from the crowd at the auction and dinner there must have been over five hundred people.] We were handed a divided plate on a tray and paid our "donation." No specific fee was charged and those who do this at benefits tell me they end up receiving more donations than they might have anyway. There is something about paying what you can that is a very powerful gesture: it taps into one's primal good nature.

Then, bonnet-clad women piled turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, corn and beans on our plates. A helpful Amish man pointed to the dessert table where there were several kinds of pie and cranberry relish (I chose the date pudding and relish and later had a taste of peanut butter pie from my friend Anna's tray). Everything was homemade and there were huge decanters of fresh-brewed coffee and chests of soda "pop" and bottled water. On the tables were sliced loaves of homemade bread, butter and a potentially addictive peanut butter-Fluffer Nutter® mix. PHOTO: Hoosier cabinet at the Yoder Amish Farmhouse bakery, Holmes County, Ohio • Spring 2006

Pies at my friend Anna's sister's house in Missouri • May 2009

After the meal we were glad to catch up with some friends in both communities–many had traveled by van from Casey County and a busload came all the way from Christian County. At 6:30 the auction began. On the way in I had made the mistake of looking the Jersey steer in his big dreamy doe eyes, knowing my husband would bid on him for our freezer. The deal was that whomever bid on the four quarters (we got the whole cow in the end) would also have butchering included by Joe Yoder at J&V Slaughterhouse (which is how we had heard about the benefit supper in the first place: please see my previous blog entry, "Crab Orchard").

I should explain because, silly me (and this is just how my odd mind works), I thought that you literally got a quarter of a cow ("I choose front right flank!") but no, they said that the processed meat would be divided four ways. [I should also add here that we've been going great guns with cattle fencing on at least part of our farm so that we can proceed with raising our own cattle: this strikes many chords of both carnivore and animal-loving hypocrisy in me, but more about that another time. Let's just say this winter I look forward to reading both Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals as well as the soon to be released Cleaving by Julie Powell–here is her post-Julie and Julia blog. I should also continue onward through Michael Pollan's brilliant writing on the food we eat (and other topics).]

The idea of having grass-fed healthy beef (not certified organic but for all intents and purposes that way) in our freezer this winter for about $2.50 a pound average (and that includes all of the good cuts and ground beef–not the extra organs and bits) was too good to pass up, as was the chance to help someone in need. Of course, now we will have to buy another freezer but we were planning on doing that anyway. [Our cow will be dressed out at likely about 350 pounds–we have to work out the particulars with the butcher but in the meantime, the cow is on a Crab Orchard pasture at the farm where he was raised and will be delivered to the butcher in another month. Right now I'm thinking of delicious roast beef with suet reserved for the Yorkshire Pudding at our traditional Christmas dinner: and lots of suet for bird feeders this winter, too. But I'm also thinking of that Jersey steer. I do love animals so how can I care for them and also eat them without issue?]

Amish buggies at an Adair County Kentucky benefit sale • Spring 2008

So here is Old Order Amish and Mennonite health care in a nutshell: most pay into a larger fund that assists people with aid for basic procedures or needs. When more costly or prolonged health care is required for a person or family (say if their house or barn is destroyed: as they don't believe in property insurance, either), the individual communities pull together to organize benefits like these. "God will provide," seems to be the unwritten motto, but so will the community. I should also point out that Old Order Amish and Mennonite groups do not pay into, or take away, from Social Security or Medicare, either, and farm subsidies are also refused. It goes without saying that they never accept welfare because the community will provide for those in need (and I have yet to not meet a hardworking man or woman from these groups–my Mennonite women friends spin circles around me!).

As for their health, they believe in personal accountability and practicing a healthy lifestyle: chiropractors and different treatments of naturopathy and herbal medicine are often used and they mostly eat what they raise, grow or bake from scratch and there is something in that notion. Clean living. Hard work. Good eating. It's the way that most of us used to live, or subsist, before we became couch potatoes and computer junkies. Their strong sense of community, and keeping the modern world at bay (or at least tuning out aspects of it), is exactly what has kept their culture, language and strong faith going on into the 21st century. I'm not saying it's a perfect or Utopian society by any stretch–whatever is?–but there are so many aspects of it from which I think we "English" can always learn. PHOTO: Caps "for sale"! Well, not really. Photo of Mennonite hats and a coat taken at our shop "frolic" back in February–also on a Friday the 13th now that I check this blog entry!

The men ran the auction, gathered and organized items for sale, and there were many amusing volunteer auctioneers from within the community and also outside of it. The offerings included many donated items liked baked and canned goods (I bid on some of that homemade white bread to take home), tools, a few quilts, hay, split cord wood, porch swings, tack, and other items. I had wanted to bid on a case of homemade ketchup but we decided not to stay into the wee hours as we had an hour's drive home.

Corn shocks along South Fork Creek in Casey County • Fall 2009

So with full bellies and the prospect of a full freezer, we drove a few of our Mennonite friends home, back to our part of Kentucky. They sang a special "Happy Birthday" song to our son Henry, who will be 12 in a few days. [I need to write down the words and it is also a lovely tune: a few weeks ago my friends also sang it to me when they surprised me with a gorgeous cake, at a quilting my daughter and I attended–more on that soon as it is, for now, a "secret"...] Then we all sang some hymns. Ammon even yodeled. It was a thankful and contented carload as we drove on winding country roads to our homes in the balmy November night, a whole big sky of stars twinkling.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Crab Orchard

From left to right, bushels of Golden Delicious, Arkansas Black, Rome Beauty, and Winesap Apples at Brummett's Orchard in Crab Orchard, Kentucky.

Kentucky place names continue to fascinate me. In Pulaski County, the county where we live, we have Bee Lick, Acorn, Blue John, Elrod, Piney Grove and Sinking Valley. Adjacent Casey County (where we spend a lot of time) has Beech Bottom, Butchertown, Honey Acre, Pumpkin Chapel, Phil and Teddy. There is also Flippin and Bugtussle down in Monroe County [for more on unusual Kentucky place names, check out my "Flippin Towards Bugtussle" blog entry from April 2008.] But how about Blue Lick, Chicken Bristle, Dog Walk, Jumbo, Miracle or Turkey Town up in Lincoln County? Among those Lincoln County places there is also the town of Crab Orchard at the intersection of historic Highway 150 and 39.

I love crab apples and have wondered about the name of this town since I first saw it in The Kentucky Atlas & Gazetteer [also published by DeLorme]. Did it once have acres of crab apple trees? We know from looking at the historic images on the wall in the local café that it used to be a spa town in the nineteenth century and billed as "the coolest place in Kentucky" because of its knobby hills and 1,000 foot altitude. [No, they weren't talking hip or funky, folks.]

We went to Crab Orchard today, about an hour's drive from our home, because we had 23 Cornish X chickens, nine weeks old, more than ready to be butchered. We didn't want to do the deed ourselves, after all, for many reasons but mostly because of time (and "time is money") and not having enough of it this week. We brought our other batch up there in July [see "Chicken Houses I Have Known" blog entry from July 2009] when we were delighted to discover Amishman Joe Yoder at J&V's Slaughterhouse on Hwy 39 north of Crab Orchard.

Before we left–and after we heard about a benefit auction on Friday and also picked out our Thanksgiving turkey from the coop (and a few more for our freezer)–we mentioned that Crab Orchard seemed to need a restaurant. Joe told us about the Past Time Café [306 Stanford Street, Crab Orchard, 606-355-0046]. So we stopped there for a late lunch and were not disappointed. Temple had the double-cheeseburger "box" (which included fab coleslaw and fries, but oddly enough didn't come in a box) and I had the chili and grilled cheese sandwich special...with sides of cole slaw and corn nuggets (fried balls of sweet corn and just a bit of batter–much different than hush puppies).

Temple despaired that they were out of the meat loaf special but I reminded him that "meatloaf and mashed potatoes" was what we were having for supper, at home (besides, he would have just said, no matter who's meatloaf he was eating, "yours is better"). We tried the pies and should have known better (not homemade and not like even the worst pie I could conjure up). OK, I know, all this talk of food and you're saying, but she just posted on her ongoing weight loss–clearly we do not lose weight when we eat like this! But I do still need to talk about the food we love and love to eat once in a while, too...and it is once-in-a-while...well, maybe not so much recently but like I said, smaller portions, and we don't beat ourselves up when we do indulge.

Probably the people to answer my "crab apple" question would have been Francis and Rowena Brummett who have operated Brummett's Orchard and Apple House since the 1960s when they planted their trees [5060 Hwy 39 South, Crab Orchard, 606-355-7526]. We've driven by their sign along Route 39 many times but didn't realize they were still in business. Today we happened to see an "Apples for Sale" sign and as I needed some more for applesauce and apple butter, we stopped on the way home. We were delighted by the warm welcome of this couple and enjoyed talking with them. Francis was just bringing in some cord wood to stoke their wood stove in the cold apple "house."

The Brummetts have been married 64 years and are still going strong. Rowena told me about her apple butter recipe that she'd printed up (but in our haste to get back to pick up our boys by 3:30, I forgot to ask for it). She also said at the holidays that she takes an apple, like a Rome Beauty, and cores it out, puts a tablespoon or so of red hot cinnamon candies in it and then presses some around the cored-out hole ("so they dribble over when baking") and bakes them in a pan of water. [They also have several varieties of peaches in July and various kinds of pears available in September.]

Temple asked his usual apple question at an orchard: "Do you have Wolf Rivers?" They did, but not for sale that day [the Wolf River is a very old and hearty heirloom apple and often a pound or more in size].

On Friday we will return to get our 23 chickens and the four turkeys from Joe Yoder because we discovered that there will be a benefit turkey dinner and auction at 5pm in Crab Orchard for an Amishman who has contracted leukemia. So we're bringing along some of our Mennonite friends, picking our boys up early from school, stopping at the orchard and some of the Amish-run shops, and then getting our meat. It will be a fun outing for all and a good cause...and a chance to get another turkey dinner in the month of November. And I'll be certain to ask about that Crab Orchard question (and hopefully I can get some crab apples or Lady apples from the Brummetts, too–for jelly, jams and decorations).

Charlie (right) and Hazel, the draft horses at our friends, Melvin and Anna's farm. Today they were pulling a load of shucked corn. Schnoofler, their dog, is a brother and litter-mate to our John and Tom (and poor little Patch whom I will always miss and wonder about).

On the way home after getting our boys we stopped at our friends to check-in about tomorrow (we are dropping off their 25 chickens for them to process between themselves and another family). They wanted to do our chickens for us but we didn't want them to do our dirty work if we couldn't also be there to help–as we have fencing going on here and several other things. PHOTO–Our son Henry tosses a shucked ear of corn into the wagon. Legend has it that when you found a red ear of corn in the patch you were supposed to bring it to your sweetheart for a kiss, as described by Miss Spindle in the play, The Drunkard; or, the Fallen Saved [1850: Adapted by W.H. Smith] My husband told us about this custom, and a bit about corn husking dances, so I Googled it.

So I was delighted that my husband suggested we bring the chickens all the way to Crab Orchard again (as it turns out, this week is the last week that two local slaughterhouses are processing poultry before kicking it in for deer season for the next two months). Also, we were able to select some fresh local turkey, also to be butchered tomorrow, for our freezer–and the "big event" in a few weeks. The drive to Crab Orchard was well worth the $2 a chicken to butcher, the extra gas, and time (well, mess really) that was saved (sort of) in butchering ourselves, but it was also fun to enjoy the scenery and to have had a nice daytime date with my husband.

And on the way home, after visiting our friends, we watched a glorious pageant of sunset in Casey County:

Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh;
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.

Now the darkness gathers,

Stars begin to peep,

Birds and beasts and flowers
Soon will be asleep.

NOTE: Words from a beloved hymn "Now the Day is Over" by Sabine Baring-Gould (lyrics, in 1865–he also wrote "Onward Christian Soldiers") and set to the tune "Merrial," composed by Sir Joseph Barnby in 1868. [It was apparently also among those hymns sung on the ill-fated Titanic.]