“Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows, we shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheets.”

— (slight adaptation from Knowles Shaw beautiful hymn)

 

Standing on the banks of the Pigeon River in the early 1960s on a hot summer day, I watched the baptisms of newly saved souls along with the members of our small country church. The church, Sonoma Baptist, has long since dissolved, but when I close my eyes I can still feel the heat of that summer Sunday afternoon, hear the off-key singing of traditional hymns and smell the cool damp scent of black snakes lounging on the riverbank.

Summer Bible School had just ended and we had a new crop of young converts who — lured with grape Kool-Aid, cookies, and the promise of eternal life — marched to the front of the church to exchange their short stories of repentance for a new white Bible and a cool dunk in the Pigeon River. Already the nosy, budding psychologist, I loved to hear those sordid stories of woe and tried to imagine just how those life sagas would end.

I also loved river baptisms. They took our congregation outside the hot muggy sanctuary and marked the start of long summers in the mountains. Baptisms and summers symbolized clean new beginnings. As I sang those wonderful old hymns and watched each new convert solidly dunked in the cold water, I imagined the dark and ugly stains of sin washed from the dirty souls and sent down the river from Bethel to Canton.  

When my daddy once showed me the Pigeon River in Fiberville, just downstream from the mill (Champion Paper in those days), I was sure that I was viewing the vile aftermath of sin in the roiling murky polluted waters and smelling the putrid stench of the devil himself.  

I remember belting out “Amazing Grace” and “Washed in the Blood,” but the song that I most remember singing on those hot afternoons was a favorite from the old Baptist Hymnal on page 432 called “Bringing in the Sheaves.” I loved this song about sowing, reaping and rejoicing but my child’s ear heard “sheets” rather than “sheaves.” I didn’t know then what sheaves were, but I did know that bringing in the sheets from our old clothesline in Bethel was a weekly ritual that brought me great joy.

There are few household tasks that are as rewarding as hanging out clothes on a summer day. The act, much like river baptisms, symbolizes a fresh start and promises the reward of clean and dry clothes at the end of the day. It made more sense in my small child’s world that one would surely rejoice when bringing in the freshly cleaned sheets from their imprisonment on the clothesline.  

I haven’t been to a river baptism in ages, but I still hang out clothes on an old clothesline most every day. As I take each towel or bed sheet from the line, I can’t resist holding it to my face and breathing deeply in the warm summer sun. It is a better meditation exercise than sitting cross-legged and trying to chase unwanted thoughts from my mind and, best of all, it brings back memories of the simple pleasures of growing up in a world without fancy baptismal pools or clothes dryers.

Cleansing of the body through baptism and washing clothes to hang out on the clothesline seem to have parallel lessons of redemption. Dirt and grime are washed from clothes; sin is washed from the soul; all is ultimately forgiven in sparkling waters. Both are summer rituals that define growing up in a small mountain community where good people live, work and care for one another by sowing seeds of kindness. Forgiveness is a gift given to lost souls and dirty laundry; redemption is followed by rejoicing; and everyday rituals performed in a simple mountain hollow are treasured for a lifetime. And we shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheets.

(Share your memories of summers in the mountains with Karen Dill at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

The cassoulet recipe

I combine several recipes for my own version of the cassoulet and I don’t think that I’ve make a cassoulet the same twice. That’s the beauty of this dish — it is versatile and can be adapted to accommodate available ingredients. But I warn you it is time-consuming (much like love!) so allow enough time to prepare it properly. I usually begin the preparation at least a day ahead of the serving time for the process cannot be hurried. The beauty of this dish is that it can be adjusted to taste; add more or less garlic and herbs. The flavoring is based entirely on individual taste.

Required ingredients (all easy to find in our area):

1 lb. of dried Great Northern beans

2 quarts of water

32 ounces of chicken broth (I prefer Swansons)

2 sprigs of fresh parsley

1 bay leaf

2 whole cloves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon thyme

1 ½ lb. boneless pork shoulder

6 slices of thick-sliced applewood-smoked bacon (you can find it at Walmart)

1 onion chopped

2 or 3 garlic cloves finely chopped, 3 or more whole cloves, halved

Small package of baby carrots

1 tablespoon of honey

Garlic-Crumb Topping

1 tablespoon (or more) minced garlic

5-6 tablespoons of olive oil

1 ½ cups coarse bread crumbs (I use Pepperidge Farm herb-seasoned crumbs)

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Optional Ingredients:

6 duck or chicken legs (I have always used chicken because duck is hard to find and it works out fine)

3 or 4 links of chicken garlic sausage (I found this at Ingles)

Generous splash of sherry wine vinegar

3 leeks, sliced

2 stalks of chopped celery

I begin with soaking the white beans overnight. After washing and draining them the next day, I put them in a big pot with the water and chicken broth and a large herb bouquet. The herb bouquet is made by cutting a square of cheesecloth, placing the parsley, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns and thyme in the middle of the square and tying it securely with a piece of kitchen string. The herb bouquet is cooked with the beans on top of the stove on low heat for an hour to one and  1/2 hours or until beans are just tender. Leave the beans in their cooking liquid until ready to use, then drain but reserve the cooking liquid.

Fry the bacon slabs in an iron skillet. Remove the bacon when almost done and brown the pork shoulder roast on all sides in the bacon grease. The grease needs to be hot and it will smoke some. When all the sides are browned, return the bacon slices to the top of the pork roast. Cover the skillet with heavy duty aluminum foil and bake in a 325 degree oven for 3-4 hours. Check it every hour or so and add some water if it looks dry. You will want the pork to be falling-apart done when you take it from the oven.

While the pork is cooking, sauté the onions in some olive oil for about 5-10 minutes until they are opaque and add the garlic cloves (both chopped and whole) and sauté with the onions for about 2 minutes or until you have lightly browned the garlic. If you want to add leeks and/or celery, this is the time to sauté them along with the onions and garlic.

Cook the carrots in boiling water for about 10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain the water and add some honey to the carrots. Set aside.

Remove the pork shoulder from the skillet when it is done and while it is cooling in a bowl, cook the duck or chicken legs in the grease that is still left in the skillet. When the legs are browned and done (no blood seeping through), remove them to a plate lined with paper towel to drain.  

Brown the sausage links in the grease, adding a little olive oil if the skillet gets too dry. Remove the sausage links to a paper towel lined plate.

Now it is time to assemble the cassoulet. This is the fun part. First pull apart the pork shoulder roast. It should pull apart easily if it is well-done. I just shred it with my fingers or a fork into bite-sized pieces. Next I spread the beans, pork pieces, onion/garlic mixture, carrots, chicken legs, sliced sausage links and about 3-4 cups of the reserved broth into an earthenware (or cast iron—plenty to choose from at Walmart if you don’t have one) oven-proof bowl.  I stir this mixture a couple of times, then sprinkle some salt, pepper, thyme and some fresh parsley over the mix. This is optional but I like a savory mix. Bake in the covered container for about 30-45 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven.

While the cassoulet is baking, assemble the bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Sauté the minced garlic in a cleaned skillet mixed with hot olive oil over moderate heat until fragrant, about one minute. Add the bread crumb mixture and stir until crumbs are crisp and golden, about three minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in parsley.

Serve the cassoulet with crumb topping. This is a one-dish meal and needs only a loaf of French bread (the Baggett looks and tastes best) and maybe a simple green salad to accompany it. Serve in sturdy bowls with cloth napkins and light candles. This is a meal made from and for love.

 

Pear Tarte Tatin

This is an easy dessert but it looks beautiful and elegant when served and it makes a lovely presentation for the one or ones that you love. You can substitute apples or plums for the pears but the pears are really delicious.

Ingredients:

1 sheet frozen puff pastry

½ stick of butter (use butter not margarine)

½ cup granulated white sugar

2 tablespoon honey

2 pounds (about 6 medium) firm-ripe pears, cored and peeled

½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest

½ teaspoon powered nutmeg (freshly grated if you have it)

Working on a clean and floured surface, roll the pastry dough into an 11 inch circle and chill it.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet. Add the sugar and cook it for 4 to 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to evenly caramelize the sugar. The sugar is done when it has turned a medium golden brown hue. (If you cook it too long—as I did the first time!—it will turn to a hard caramel candy and you will need to scrap out the mess and start over!) Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the honey and set it aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the pears in half and toss them gently but thoroughly with the lemon zest and nutmeg. Arrange the pears in a single layer in the hot caramel and honey in the skillet.

Drape the pastry over the spiced pears, fitting the overhang down between the fruit and the sides of the skillet. Bake in the preheated oven 25 to 30 minutes, until the pastry turns golden brown. Cool the tart Tatin in the skillet for 30 minutes before inverting it onto a serving plate.

Serve slices warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on top and voila! You have a beautiful dessert that is unique and made with love.

Love and food

By Karen Dill • Guest Writer

I was driving through the south of France in February 1985 when I had an experience that taught me the importance of the mystical union of food and love. I had my mother and young son in tow, and while we had a wonderful week traveling the country roads from Frankfurt, Germany, to Marseille, France, I was pregnant with my second child, physically tired and achingly homesick for the mountains of North Carolina.

I had lived in Europe for five years and had not been back to the United States during this time. I had convinced myself that I loved this foreign life and was too sophisticated for a common case of homesickness. But traveling on this Sunday morning in February, the week of my daddy’s death five years earlier, fraught with hormones, missing my daddy and hungry for the food of my childhood, I was homesick for the home I knew best —the green mountains of western North Carolina. There is no homesickness, I’ve discovered since, that is more powerful than the longing for your mountain home.

We had been riding for over two hours on a side trip to Toulouse and as we passed small country inns, I could smell the delicious food that had been cooking over stoves for hours and the smell was both familiar and haunting. I remembered Sunday dinners (the noon meal right after church) of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans or the standard roast with the same side dishes. It was always a special meal — one of the few during the week that featured meat. The smell coming through the front door after church was intoxicating.

ALSO: Recipes

I remembered the lines from Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down:”  “… the Sunday smell of someone frying chicken … and it took me back to something that I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way.” The grief that I felt at those moments was overwhelming. I kept driving, blinking back tears and trying to swallow the enormous lump that had formed in my throat. I wanted desperately to be back at my childhood home in Bethel with my mother cooking her standard Sunday meal and I wanted my son to understand the importance of communion in a simple house with people that you love.

But there were practical matters to attend to: we were hungry and finding a place to eat had become a daunting task. The problem was finding a compromise for my mother and 5-year old son.

My mother, a mountain native from Madison County and not well-traveled, preferred simple dishes with ingredients that she could recognize and pronounce. She had been patient throughout this week in France but I could sense that her sweet disposition might turn south if she had to face another meal of snails or goose liver. My son was clamoring for pommes frites and schnitzel — a fine German dish but we were in France. I was caught in the middle — arbitrator between two generations, caught in a compromise in the web of love and food, wanting to placate both mother and son.

The primal needs for love and food are so intertwined that the unraveling often takes a lifetime. Our first romances are with our mothers. They feed us; they nurture us; and thus the entanglement begins. We need and love the mothers who provide us with food. Each mouthful of food accepted by the child is proof that the love is reciprocated and the entanglement continues in an evolutionary fashion. We show love with food; we woo with food; we seduce with food. We are drawn toward simple food that nurtures in our childhoods, move toward food that excites when we find lovers and return to the comfort foods when the raging passion ebbs. The evolution is complex and universal. It encompasses relationships between families, lovers and many generations.

So on this beautiful Sunday afternoon in February, I did what one must do to balance a relationship between mother and child and the desire for food. I did what anyone who loves must do. I listened to my heart, trusted my instincts and took a giant leap of faith. When a homely and comfortable auberge (inn with a restaurant — the best to head for in France for a good home cooked meal) appeared around the next curve, I pulled over and took my mother by her arm, my son by his hand, and bravely entered the dining room of the small French inn.

The room was filled with Sunday diners as the noon meal in France is a popular family occasion. I saw mothers, grandmothers, grandchildren sitting together, enjoying simple country dishes. My homesickness was abating in this foreign yet familiar setting and I could sense that my mother and son were beginning to relax.

I don’t remember the words that were used — my French is elementary at best — but as our waitress looked at us and we looked at her, she seemed to know what we needed. We needed simple country comfort food and it was at this table that we came to know and love the cassoulet. We ordered a dish that was unknown to us but the ingredients were familiar and the sound of the dish’s name was much like our own casserole. The dish contained savory chunks of pork, white beans, duck legs, herbs and a garlic crumb topping — a one-dish wonder.

The cassoulet that we were served in this simple dining room in France would become a model for many meals over the next two decades. I could always find the common ingredients wherever I lived and shopped and the ingredients could be altered to accommodate tastes and locales. The one-dish marvel is a peasant dish, tracing back to a 14th century siege during the Hundred Years’ war when peasants created a communal dish to provide sustenance to the soldiers who were fighting off invaders.

It is simple — consisting of beans, meat and herbs but its preparation can be complex. It is a labor of love and requires patience. It is the perfect dish for a much-loved family or for a new lover — a dish that is both simple yet elegant. The cassoulet is a perfect dish for February.

I did not know the complications of the cassoulet’s preparation at that time but I knew that the dish held magical powers. My mother loved the simple pork and white beans; my son loved the crunchy topping; and I loved the savory combination of herbs in the delightful rich and hearty dish. We all cleaned our plates and as we finished the meal with café au lait and a pear tarte tatin; we smiled warmly at each other with knowing love and contentment of family.

In that moment I realized that we were not all that different despite the language and cultural diversity. Food and family had joined us in an elementary way for we all need the basics: food, love and a sense of belonging. Like the ingredients in the cassoulet, we are joined by flavor and diversity.

Sometimes on rare and wonderful occasions we blend together in perfect harmony — a blend of family, food and love — and the effort that we must exert to maintain this balance is worth it. And like the preparation of a good cassoulet our hard work and efforts are rewarded in simple and profound ways. For no matter how far from our beautiful mountains we might roam, a connection with familiar food and moments of soft contentment with family will take us home again.

Recipes - Feb. 2

Chicken and Dumplings:

1 chicken, about 3 pounds

2 Quarts water

1 Teaspoon Salt

1/2 Teaspoon Pepper

2 Cup All-purpose flour

1/2 Teaspoon Baking soda

1/2 Teaspoon Salt

3 Tablespoon Shortening

3/4 Cup Buttermilk

A dash of sherry

Place chicken in a Dutch oven; add water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Remove chicken and let cool slightly. Bone chicken and cut chicken into bite-size pieces; set aside. Bring broth to a boil; add pepper and a dash of sherry. Combine flour, soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk, stirring with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface, and knead lightly 4 or 5 times.

For drop dumplings, pat dough to 1/4” thickness. Pinch off dough in 1 to 2-inch pieces; drop into boiling broth. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 8 to 10 minutes or to desired consistency, stirring occasionally. Stir in chicken. To make rolled dumplings: Roll dough about 1/4-inch thick. Cut dough into 4- x 1/2-inch dumplings. Drop dumplings, one piece at a time, into boiling broth, carefully stirring after each addition.

Serves 4 to 6.

 

Corn Muffins

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup white sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup canola oil

1 cup of buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease muffin pan or line with paper muffin liners. In a large bowl, mix together corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add egg, oil and milk; stir gently to combine. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake at 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.

 

Turnip greens:

Ingredients

* 2 1/2 lbs turnip, collard or mustard greens, washed and chopped into 1-in. pieces

* 3 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

* 2/3 cup chopped onions

* 1 or 2 dashes cider or red wine vinegar

* salt and pepper to taste (start with 1 tablespoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper)

Directions

1. Fry the bacon in a pot large enough to cook the greens.

2. Add the greens along with onions.

3. Cook on low heat, stirring with wooden spoon, until greens are coated with bacon fat (about 2 minutes).

Pour off excess fat.

4. Cover the greens with water and season with salt and pepper.

5. Bring to boil. Cover the pot, reduce heat, and simmer until tender (time will vary, about 1 hour).

Stir occasionally and add water if they threaten to scorch. When done, increase heat to med-high, stir often. Boil off nearly all the cooking liquid.

6. Add vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Serve very hot.

Serves 4

 

Sweet potato pie with bourbon, pecan topping and bourbon sauce

Ingredients:

2 cups mashed sweet potatoes

1/2 cup bourbon

3 eggs

4 tbsp softened butter

1/2 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup of brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 (9-inch) uncooked pie shell

Pecan topping:

1 1/4 cup sugar; 1 1/4 cup dark corn syrup; 3 eggs lightly beaten; 3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened; 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract; 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 1 pinch of salt; 1 1/4 cup of chopped pecans

Bourbon Sauce (Optional but yummy):

1 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream; 1 cup of milk; 1package of vanilla pudding mix (4 servings size); 3 tablespoons bourbon; 1 teaspon vanilla extract

Method:

Preheat oven to 325° F. Combine all ingredients. Using a wire whisk, mix ingredients thoroughly. Pour mixture into the pie shell. Top with pecan topping. Bake for 60 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and center is just set. Top with bourbon sauce.

By Karen Dill

The ancient oak tree is bare. It stands majestic in the yard of our old two-story farmhouse. Our house sits on a small knoll and is surrounded by magnolias, dogwoods and mountain laurel, but it is the oak that I see first as I walk up the narrow road from the post office on this cool evening in January. Winter is here and the air is crisp and cold in late afternoon and the sky is grey. I pull my sweater closer and breathe in the clean mountain air.

The mountains are shadowed and silhouetted in shades of charcoal. There’s a hint of snow in the winter air. The old mountain folks watch the birds and listen to the trees when the weather changes. My daddy swore this method of watching and listening was more reliable than the local weatherman with his slicked back hair who came on the six o’clock news. If the crows line the branches of the oak tree like soldiers headed into battle, stoic and silent, and if the surrounding trees appear to huddle together in quiet communion, there is snow on the way.

As I trudge up the hill, I look for signs as I peer down in the small village of Webster, but other than the chill in the air, I’m clueless. I fear that while I may have lost the gift of mountain weather prediction, my respect for the trees and the surrounding landscape of the mountains is neverending. As a native mountain girl, I learned from an early age that our earth is more valuable than progress.

My father was a true mountain man with little formal education, who made it his mission to fight the state highway department in an effort to preserve an old oak tree on the property of my childhood home. It seems a road needed to be built and trees would be sacrificed, but my father, armed with his shotgun, met the offenders on the front porch of our small frame house and proclaimed in no uncertain terms that he was willing to die for the oak tree. I never knew if that was a bluff or not, for the men fled and the oak tree was saved. It had protected the land for generations of mountain dwellers and my father arose and fought for its protection. My father died in 1980, but the oak tree is still there, gnarled and twisted, still protecting the surrounding earth.

The oak tree in our yard is well over 200 hundred old and has protected our family during the 25 years that we have lived in this old farmhouse. It has provided shade for family weddings (my husband and I exchanged vows on a June morning) in our front yard, limbs for tire swings used by our children, and steady companionship during the cold winter months. It stands erect now in the dusk, its long bare limbs reaching for the sky and provides solace in the chill of the evening. I look lovingly at the light from lamps in the windows of our house and long for the warmth of the kitchen and meal ahead.

Winter means a fire burning brightly in the fireplace, heat bellowing from the old furnace in the basement, and the smells of hot food wafting from the kitchen. Tonight I’ve revived an old Southern comfort dish, chicken and dumplings accompanied by winter vegetables and a sweet potato pie. Although the foods are standard fare in the mountains, I try to add distinct flavors to the dishes that I’m preparing.

Chicken and dumplings is a standard mountain dish and tends to warm the body rather than excite the spirit. There’s great debate in the South about the merit of the Civil War, the right to bear arms, and the consistency of the dumpling. Many prefer the soft puffy variety that resembles summer clouds on a warm day; others swear by the flat chewy kind that most resemble flat clouds on a cold and grey winter day. One melts in your mouth, the other requires a bit of work.

My friend and colleague Pat Wishon is most like I imagine a sister could be in my life. We are both only children, were reared in the mountains of North Carolina during the same decades and both had fathers who ran a bit of moonshine in dark moonless nights on dirt mountain roads. We know that we are some sort of soul sisters because we argue about most everything but in the end agree that we are both right, hug, and continue to finish each other’s sentences. We both love to cook, but of course we disagree in the great dumpling debate.

Pat and our mutual friends Ravenna and William will join us tonight for the meal. Pat will bring ingredients for her preferred flat chewy dumplings and I will fix the preferred and better (in my humble opinion) puffy dumplings. We will let our guests decide which they prefer. Pat and I have quietly agreed that this may be the Great Mountain Chicken and Dumpling cook-off. We have also agreed that no matter the outcome, we will all be winners as we will enjoy great food, wine and company.

We decide to make the dumplings together, as the base for the dish contains the pretty much the same ingredients. I’ve stewed a couple of chickens most of the morning with herbs, celery and carrots and have skinned and deboned the bird. These are free-range organic birds purchased from a local grocer (www.greenlifegrocery.com) so all of us animal lovers will hope that prior to our dinner’s demise they led a good life, as much as chickens can have a good life.

Pat and I will prepare our separate dumplings then with separate stock pots containing the same basic broth, we will drop the dumplings in and serve them up separately in the last stage of preparation. I add a couple of extra ingredients to my broth and, in the spirit of sisterly competition, I will not divulge my secrets to Pat. Chicken and dumplings must be served immediately and must be hot. I have prepared some winter turnip greens that continue to grow in our neighbor’s garden year round if they have some protection during freezes. I add turnips stored in our root cellar to the greens as well as some bits of bacon, vinegar and red pepper flakes for warmth.

Greens just can’t be served without a few corn muffins so I mix up batter and pour into the old iron muffin tins. I’ve baked a sweet potato pie with a touch of bourbon for dessert. As a child when money was tight and times were lean in the winters, we would eat some variety of the sweet potato most every day. Sweet potato pancakes, sweet potato biscuits, sweet potato casserole and just the plain old baked or boiled sweet potato with farm fresh butter. It all sounds wonderful now, but trust me, it got old. I learned to avoid them as I grew older as they reminded me of poverty and desperation, but I find now that I enjoy their sweet buttery taste again. A pie with that old winter standby will be a perfect finale for this winter inspired dinner.

We dine comfortably in front of a fire that Tom has built earlier in the evening. We all agree that the dumpling cook-off is a success and because we are all opinionated people, we passionately argue the merits of both the soft and the chewy dumplings. A passerby might think we were discussing politics or religion. But no, it is just the dumpling debate. Our talk turns to mountain tales and I relate the story of the old oak tree still standing in the yard of my childhood home in Bethel. We laugh about the antics of our fathers and other old mountain men who wore pride like armor. We reminisce about the favorite foods of our childhoods: fried chicken, field peas, butter beans, biscuits. I don’t mention the sweet potato. We each recall the favorite trees in the yards of our childhood homes and wonder if they still stand. We also ponder what we might do to protect them from time.

As we sit around the dining room table, watching the dying embers of the fire and enjoying the quiet warmth of good company, I watch the oak tree from the window and feel its protective spirit. Would I arm myself with a weapon (the fire poker perhaps, as we don’t own a shotgun) as my mountain father once did and protect the tree and mountain traditions against the outside demands for growth and development? I most likely would, but tonight I sigh peacefully for the oak tree is safe. Mountain traditions remain and are preserved in the hollows of the hills, in the warmth of our kitchens and in our souls. The food tells the stories of our souls while the trees sway bravely in the cold night with approval, ever protecting us as we will no doubt protect our earth. Ever vigilant.

According to the government standards defining poverty in the 1950’s, I was poor. My father did not hold a regular job. My mother took in ironing for neighbors before landing a job in the Bethel School cafeteria washing dishes. We rarely ate meat except for Sunday dinner and my mother sewed all of my clothes. Yet, I never once thought of childhood as deprived. As my father often reminded me, we had food on the table (albeit beans and cornbread) and that was more than he had as a child in the 1920’s.

When December rolled around, the weather became bleak and chilly. My father’s mood matched the weather. Cold weather made his legs — crippled from injuries in the war — ache, and he knew that we had no money for Christmas gifts. My mother tried to put on a happy face but her memories of a bleak childhood in Madison County where holiday joy was considered a sin kept her from truly reveling in the season.

Despite the hardships, I loved December. I had fantasies of Santa Claus arriving at our small frame house and answering all of the requests in the letters that I had meticulously written to him. I would religiously leave cookies and milk by the hearth in hopes of receiving the store-bought items that I longed to own. I wanted Barbie dolls, an Etch-a-Sketch, a Slinky and an Easy Bake oven — all commercial items that I had heard about from my friends. They never came my way, but I was given something far better — gifts from the heart and memories to last a lifetime.

My mother’s homemade clothes were always under the shabby little tree that we found in the woods. When I was older and longed for Go-Go boots and mini-skirts, my mother would sew a small wardrobe of shifts (the kind with pleats on the side) and a-line skirts of a sensible length. My father would construct a toy from wood or simply give me some Indian arrowheads that he had found in the fields near our house. I loved collecting arrowheads and pieces of pottery.

One year he and my mother built a dollhouse for me. My father took an old display case from a general store that he had once owned and with paint and imagination constructed a spectacular house for my meager collection of dolls. He built furniture from scraps of wood and my mother sewed curtains and made small lamps from wooden spools that had once been covered with thread. He even wallpapered the house with remnants from the red velvet wallpaper that he had used to paper the new Red Dog Saloon at Ghost Town. The house with its glass front was truly a work of art — as unique as a Frank Lloyd Wright creation. I don’t think that I’ve felt as rich since.

Thanks to these early lessons, I learned to create gifts from the heart. I made Christmas cards and Valentine cards decorated with pieces of construction paper, left-over lace and stray buttons. I painstakingly copied poems from Leaves of Grass or made up by own messages. My mother and I baked cookies for gifts and my teachers at Bethel Elementary seemed to love them.

When I first married — still a teenager — I was anxious to share my love of home-made gifts with my new in-laws. They worked regular jobs and made more money than my family. They loved to buy expensive store-bought gifts for my husband and me and for some reason, I never felt comfortable around them. My first Christmas with my new family, I wrapped gifts of homemade jams, warm yeast breads, and a host of tacky little crafts that I had made. I painted English walnut shells a bright red, dotted them with black spots, and glued a piece of green felt to the top to create “strawberries.” I placed them in a green plastic tomato basket that I had woven with ribbons. I thought they were lovely but my face still burns with embarrassment as I remember the disdainful looks at my homemade gifts. I never saw the gifts again and they were most likely stashed in the back of a closet.

Fortunately I learned early on that time-intensive gifts made from the heart were not appreciated by everyone. I took to saving Green Stamps, pasting them into the little books and trading them in for store-bought gifts at the Green Stamp store in Canton. The gifts were sterile, lacked any real imagination but were appreciated by my in-laws far more than my cross-stitch samplers and cookies.

When I married my current husband, Tom, I was delighted to learn that his mother baked 50 cakes every Christmas to give to her many friends in the small southern town of Grovetown, Ga. Miss Ginny knew everyone’s favorite — lemon cheesecake, chocolate layer or pound cake — and lined up the cakes on her screened-in porch like soldiers headed for battle. She was locally famous for these cakes and continued this practice well into her ‘90’s. As she sat in her wicker rocker on that wonderful porch, she would greet each recipient of her cakes with heartfelt kindness. Despite her failing eyesight and unpredictable memory, she knew that the best gifts come from the heart, not the pocketbook.

I have tried to continue this tradition with my own children despite the social demands of the teenage years for “mall clothes” and music. I insisted (as I ignored their rolling eyes) that one gift every Christmas had to come from the heart and cost nothing but time and love. It was often a card with misspelled messages, a lopsided ornament, stick-figure drawings of our family or homemade cookies.

Now my children honor the tradition with ideas of their own and love the notion that great gifts can be free and still appreciated. They construct picture collages of themselves because they know that I love family photographs. They write poetry and paint lovely watercolors. They cook wonderful meals for the family and print the recipes.

Each year we love the ritual of planning and cooking a truly spectacular meal for Christmas Eve. I tend to lean toward thematic meals — old English dinners, a Deep-South menu, an Appalachian mountain meal, and recently when we spent a Christmas in Charleston, a low country meal of shrimp and grits. It’s fun to mix it up each year and throw in some surprises.

The preparation of the Christmas Eve meal is a labor of love — a gift of sharing one’s time and energy. We carefully pore over cookbooks to find the perfect recipes. I scour the local stores for table decorations and candles to complement the theme. The little touches often make the meal a success.

This year as we sat at the dining room table after a huge Thanksgiving meal, my children and I began our plans for Christmas Eve. My husband Tom is happy with whichever menu we choose — he is willing to be our gopher and taster — but admits to lacking gourmet tastes. We decide that this year we will have a “Memory of Grandmas” menu. Both my mother and Tom’s mother passed away this past year and it seems to be a good year to cook their favorites. The foods on our special menu will be cooked in honor of these two great ladies and will be our own gifts from the heart to their incredible spirits.

I decided to bake a simple chicken pot pie in honor of my mother. This was her favorite dish. She loved the crunchy pie crust that was filled with chunks of chicken and diced vegetables swimming in gravy. She would hum one of her favorite hymns as she mixed up the pie crust in her mother’s old walnut dough tray. She also loved a fruit salad to accompany the hearty main dish and would usually whip up a bowl of mashed potatoes to help soak up some of the chicken gravy.

My mother-in-law would never be happy with just one vegetable side-dish so we will need to add a bowl of freshly shelled garden peas with pearl onions — one of her favorite side dishes. The dessert will be a couple of the famous “Miss Ginny cakes.” It is hard to imagine that the cakes will be as good as hers or that we will enjoy them as much without her presence. Yet we will try to honor her and remember her loving Southern hospitality and her sweet gentle nature.

In honor of both of our mothers, we will use our best china, a lace tablecloth and fresh flowers on the table — nothing less would suit them on a special occasion. We will serve our food in serving dishes that once graced their Christmas tables. We will light two candles — one for each mother. We will recall wonderful memories of their lives and we will laugh and cry as we tell the stories that defined their lives. They were both remarkable ladies from a time past — a time when cooking a meal and holding a family together were the most important jobs a woman could perform.

As I roll out the dough for the chicken pot pie, I use my mother’s old rolling pin and my grandmother’s dough tray. I remember watching my mother’s worn fingers punching and rolling the flaky pie crust and gently molding it into the baking dish. I remember the sound of the rolling pin on the wooden counter top and her voice as she hummed “Just As I Am” or “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” I feel her presence in the kitchen with me as I pour the warm chicken pieces, garden vegetables and gravy mixture into the crust. I know that she is delighted to be remembered and to share this meal in spirit with her dear friend, Miss Ginny.

When my mother passed away last year, I gathered stacks of notebooks that she had meticulously filled with Bible verses, hymns, her own words of wisdom, and favorite recipes. This December I have taken the time to open the giant plastic container that has housed these beautiful memories over the past year. Each spiral bound notebook is filled with neat pencil entries. Each line echoes the sound of my mother’s voice. She has listed prayer concerns for her family, her community and her country and her many thanks of gratitude for the gifts that this life has provided her.

Through my tears, I recognize this soulful collection of writings as a gift of love; my mother’s gift from the heart to her daughter and her grandchildren. When I hear a particular hymn or bake a chicken pot pie, I will feel the presence of my beloved mother. When I see a homemade cake and a wicker rocking chair on a southern porch, I will think of Miss Ginny and her gracious kindness. And I will know that these memories embody the power of love — gifts that transcends time and death, gifts from the heart.

Recipes, 12/16/09

My Mother’s Chicken Pot Pie

• 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves—cubed

• 1 cup sliced carrots

• 1 cup frozen green peas

• 1/2 cup of sliced celery

• 1/3 cup butter

• 1/3 cup chopped onion

• 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

• 1/4 teaspoon celery seed

• 1 3/4 cups chicken broth

• 2/3 cup milk

No Fail Pie Crust:

• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 cup shortening

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• 1 egg

• 1/4 cup cold water

• 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in shortening until it resembles coarse crumbs. Mix egg, water and vinegar together. Pour into flour all at once and blend with a fork until dough forms a ball. Wrap with plastic and chill in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a saucepan, combine chicken, carrots, peas and celery. Add water to cover and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

In the saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until soft and translucent. Stir flour, salt, pepper, and celery seed. Slowly stir in chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside.

Roll out pie crust on floured surface. Divide into two sections—one for the top crust, one for the bottom.

Place the chicken mixture in bottom pie crust. Pour hot liquid mixture over. Cover with top crust seal edges, and cut away excess dough. Make several small slits in the top to allow steam to escape.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

 

Deluxe Mashed Potatoes*

• 4 large potatoes

• 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

• 1/2 cup sour cream

• 1 tablespoon chopped chives

• 3/4 teaspoon onion salt

• 1/4 teaspoon pepper

• 1 tablespoon butter or margarine

• Paprika

Peel and cube the potatoes; place in a saucepan and cover with water. Cook over medium heat until tender; drain. Mash until smooth (do not add milk or butter). Stir in cream cheese, sour cream, chives, onion salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into a greased 1? quart baking dish. Dot with butter; sprinkle with paprika if desired. Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes or until heated through.

*The potatoes are not my mother’s recipe — she just mashed the boiled potatoes with milk and butter. But I like this mashed potato dish because it can be made ahead of time and heated up in the oven.

 

Green Peas Supreme

• 4 ounces Canadian bacon, diced (optional)

• 1 tablespoon butter or margarine

• 3 cups frozen peas

• 12 fresh pearl onions, peeled (or just use the canned ones)

• 1/2 cup water

• 1/2 teaspoon sugar

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a large skillet, cook bacon in butter until lightly browned. Add the peas, onions, water, sugar, salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes; drain.

 

Miss Ginny’s Six Layer Cake

Duncan Hines Butter recipe cake mix

Grease and flour six (yes, six! This is how the cake looks so beautiful on that front porch) cake pans. Mix the cake as directed, divide into six cake pans and bake at 350. Cool, layer and frost. The basic cake can then be iced with any number of frostings. Here are Miss Ginny’s favorites:

Coconut Icing

• 1 package frozen coconut

• 2 cups sugar

• 8 oz. sour cream

Sprinkle sugar over coconut and blend well with fork or fingers. Store in refrigerator overnight. Add sour cream to mixture. Blend and frost tops of layer cake. Keeps well in refrigerator.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing

• 1 stick softened butter or margarine

• 4 oz. softened cream cheese

• 1 box confectioner’s sugar

• 1/3 cup cocoa (or desired amount)

Mix thoroughly with a small amount of milk to blend together nicely.

 

Miss Ginny’s Lemon Cheese Cake*

• 1 (18.5 ounce) package yellow cake mix

• 1 (3.5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix

• 1 cup milk

• 1/3 cup vegetable oil

• 3 eggs

• 6 egg yolks

• 1 1/2 cups white sugar

• 1 cup butter

• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

• 1 cup fresh lemon juice

• 4 tablespoons grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake layer pans.

Combine the cake mix, instant vanilla pudding, milk, vegetable oil and the 3 whole eggs. Mix until blended. Pour batter into the prepared pans. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until cakes test done. Set aside cakes to cool.

To make lemon Cheese Filling: in the top half of double boiler combine the egg yolks, white sugar, butter or margarine, flour, grated lemon rind and lemon juice. Cook stirring constantly over medium heat until mixture is thick enough to spread. Let cool before spreading between cooled cake layers.

*I had never heard of this cake until I met Miss Ginny — I thought it would be a lemon-flavored cheese cake (wrong). Apparently it is an old southern favorite and now one of our favorites.

By Karen Dill • Special to the Smoky Mountain News

My memories of Thanksgiving in the mountains are of simple seasonal foods spread on a rough plank table in my mother’s old home place in Madison County. My mother’s people, the Treadways and the Sawyers, were raw, hard-working clans with bodies long and lean and spirits naturally suspicious of outsiders. Their hands were calloused and bodies worn from back-breaking work in the fields; their faces like Dorothea Lange photographs weathered from days spent outdoors and worn with constant worry of survival in the wilderness that they called home.

Life in the back coves and hollows of the mountains was hard and still primitive in the late ‘50s. My relatives in Madison County were without electricity until 1963. In those first Thanksgivings of my childhood, the food was all grown locally and prepared over wood stoves. The smell of food cooked over firewood in the cold dry mountain air of November is forever etched in my memory.

The Madison County relatives were generally a somber bunch from the Pentecostal Church. Although they tended to believe that God was a wrathful fellow, their demeanor softened on Thanksgiving Day and they gave praise to His goodness. The strict discipline necessary for survival in this harsh life was lifted for a day and there was a sense of gaiety and rejoicing in the air, as the living relatives and spirits of the dead were joined together again.

The foods served on those first Thanksgivings of my memory were never store-bought. They were grown and preserved on the same land and in the same house where my mother and her siblings were all born. The cured ham was the best piece of pork from the hog slaughtered in the fall. The turkey — a wild one — was shot by my grandfather and uncles on suspicious hunting trips taken in the days before Thanksgiving in which moonshine was consumed and arguments followed. More times than not, the ragamuffin hunting party returned early on Thanksgiving Day, eyes bloodshot and blackened, staggering into the yard with a puny bird that had been dragged through the dirt for several miles. They were met with both righteous indignation and knowing sighs.

After a few years of the sordid turkey hunt, my mother and the aunts simply bought the bird at a grocery store and prepared it in their own electric ovens. The bird was wrapped in tin foil, placed in a cardboard box and carried in the back of a pick-up truck to the dinner. Despite the effort, the turkey was never the main attraction at those early Thanksgivings. He was an interloper, a visitor tolerated but never part of the family, pushed aside for the more popular ham and vegetables. My uncles, awkward and sober (for the moment) in their flannel shirts and overalls, never warmed up to the store-bought intruder and they eyed him as warily as the Florida tourist as they headed for the side dishes.

The side dishes of the early mountain Thanksgiving dinners were testament to the ingenuity and thrift of the Appalachian people. My father’s family hailed from the Bethel community of Haywood County and their dishes were much the same as my Madison county relatives. The dishes were created from foods found in the root cellars, the smoke houses, spring houses and canning sheds — all structures that were essential to the survival of the mountain family. Thanksgiving was a unique day when all of the foods were presented at once and served with pride and generosity. It was a celebration of gratitude; it was a day when good food and generosity reigned.

My great-aunt Lucinda would lead the Thanksgiving prayer in true Pentecostal style. It seemed to go on forever and was punctuated with heavy gasps and an occasional speaking of tongues. I dared not open my eyes as my great-aunt was a fierce woman who had raised my mother and her siblings after their mother died, and she suffered no fools. I had just last summer witnessed this tiny woman wring a hen’s neck with one hand and casually chop off the head of a copperhead snake that had strayed too close to the woodpile in a single blow. Without taking a breath, she gave thanks to God (who hopefully understood the Pentecostal tongue) for the spring that had not gone dry, general good health that was not aided by physicians, a decent crop of tobacco — the only cash crop, and the fellowship of family. The dead, resting in the family cemetery on the hill with graves marked by crude field rock, were named and their virtues extolled.

As soon as the food was blessed and amens were shouted, the side dish parade began with cornbread dressing and pan gravy served in chipped earthenware and metal plates. Mashed potatoes as well as boiled sweet potatoes swimming in butter made an annual appearance. Leather britches, aka shucky beans, were always on the old plank table as well as pickled green beans and corn. The corn field beans picked from the corn rows in the garden had been strung with white string and hung from the rafters of the can house beside the long strings of dried apples. Another mess of green beans along with kernels of corn was pickled, much like sauerkraut, in large crocks.

Sauerkraut from an earthenware crock was always present at these meals, and I was given the treasured pickled core of the cabbage to munch on while the cousins grimaced. The sauerkraut was pan fried in some fatback grease and was the perfect complement to the boiled-in-butter sweet potatoes. The greens, freshly picked from the winter garden, were collard or turnip and were also fried in the fatback grease. Even the healthiest foods could clog arteries after the mountain women had “doctored them up.”

Another of my favorite foods found at the wonderful table was hominy. The hominy had been created from corn boiled in lye water in the cast iron pot over a big fire built in the front yard. My grandparents made lye by using ashes taken from the fireplace and placed in a piece of hollow log. The log slanted downward and water was poured repeatedly over the ashes and caught in a wooden bucket. The remaining lye water was used to make hominy and homemade soap. The dry corn kernels were cooked slowly and soaked in the lye water until the skin came off and the kernels swelled. The kernels were then washed many times until the lye was removed and stored in a crock. I always loved the story of this transformation. It had an almost biblical symbolism — the kernels cleansed of their earthly skin and transformed to heavenly white. I felt as if I were truly eating manna from Heaven on those occasions, though I doubt that the heavenly chefs fried their hominy in, yes, fatback grease for flavor. Though the leather britches and fried kraut have been dropped from my own Thanksgiving spread, the hominy, in various incarnations, has remained a staple as the years have passed.

The Thanksgiving spread would not be complete without breads and desserts. Cornbread and biscuits served with butter and molasses were always present. Applesauce, apple butter and fried dried apples were served with the meats and the breads and could have easily made a regal dessert. Yet the pumpkin pies and apple stack cake were to follow. Served with steaming hot coffee, slices of pumpkin pies made from pumpkins grown in the fall garden and delicious slices of stack cake made with molasses and dried apples would prove to be the family’s undoing. After many groans and protests, the women headed to the kitchen to wash dishes in the metal wash pan filled with water heated on the wood stove, and the men (if they were still able to move) shuffled outside to smoke cheap cigarettes and pitch horseshoes. Eventually the family would all gather around, flushed with the warmth from the woodstove and sated with good food.

Sitting on the front porch or around the fire built in the front yard for this occasion, stories were told while guitars and banjos were strummed. My great-aunt Lucinda, who had led the Thanksgiving prayer, would also allow herself to be swayed by the mountain tunes and in spite of herself would tap her boot-clad feet from beneath her long skirt in time with the music. A few of the men would wander back to the woodshed to smoke and sip a bit of moonshine or hooch. As they returned, the music would become more raucous and the women, wise from lessons of past experience, would round up the children and make plans to disperse quietly into the late afternoon chill. We would then head up the hill to the family cemetery.

As haunting tunes from banjos and guitars echoed in the hollow, we walked slowly and reverently up the hill, our bellies full of grease-laden food. A chilly wind would blow off of the French Broad River below, and we would huddle together for warmth. I would hear the story of my grandmother’s sudden passing at age 27 from my mother and aunts. I would listen to the sadness in their voices as they described the hardships of life without a mother and their subsequent searches for love in all of the wrong places.

As the years have passed and my great-aunt Lucinda died, Thanksgivings were held at various other houses with electricity and even more of the suspicious store-bought foods. The butterball turkey made his debut and claimed his rightful head of the Thanksgiving table once again. Dressing (never called stuffing in the mountains) was introduced in various forms — some years with sausage, apples, pecans and the occasional oyster. Plain cornbread dressing with sage dried from my herb garden (no eggs or giblets and a ton of butter) is now the popular choice. My Aunt Marie’s macaroni and four-cheese casserole as well as her sweet potato casserole with pecans and little marshmallows are always hits. My mother’s green bean casserole was popular for a few years, then it sadly went by the way of the congealed salads. Leather britches and pickled corn and green beans are only memories that I relate to my doubtful children, who always question why we couldn’t just buy a frozen bag of vegetables or open a can. We now prefer succotash (corn and lima beans) and a variety of roasted vegetables.

I still serve the faithful mashed potatoes, collard greens cooked with sautéed onions, bacon bits, a pinch of sugar and vinegar, pan gravy, pumpkin pie, and occasional stack cake (when I’m feeling ambitious) and a new twist to the old hominy dish. I still brown the ivory nuggets with bacon bits but add black beans, chopped onion, a can of Rotel tomatoes and chilies, garlic, cumin and a bunch of chopped cilantro. My daughter brought her California influence to the dish with shredded Monterey Jack cheese and a dollop of sour cream. The hominy dish is still evolving, and as our world gets smaller with media and travels, our dishes reflect the blending of cultures.

We still share memories of past Thanksgivings as my husband contributes real Southern foods from his native August, Ga. My nephew’s wife contributes food from her native Chile. My son brings Cuban pork from Tampa, and it fits well with the old mountain dishes. Instead of moonshine and cigarettes, we sip microbrews and California wine from my daughter’s home in Mendocino and smoke the occasional Cuban flavored cigar from Ybor City.

Our old farmhouse in Webster has become the setting for Thanksgiving meals now. My aunts have taken co-starring roles in the family productions, and my cousins and I have stepped up to the lead roles. I feel that I am being groomed for the role of family matriarch, the menu planner, the organizer of meals to come. I try to look wise these days and with graying hair and wrinkles, I am beginning to look the part.

We still share moments of gratitude as we gather around the spread of food on the crocheted tablecloth. We’re still relatively healthy; our nation is miraculously led by a remarkable man of color; we are hopeful about the future of our family and our country. My mother passed away last year, and though we cannot hike to the old family graveyard and visit the spot between her mother and fathers’ gravestones where her ashes were spread, we will remember her.

I will remember the old plank table in a chilly old house far from trappings of modern life laden with mountain foods that reflect the lives of a simpler and harder existence. Though the mountains have changed with encroaching development and gated communities, our food, its taste and its aroma, still connect us with a time past. The spirit of Thanksgiving and the food that connects us with the past will live on in our memories and in the new memories that we create.

Recipes

Turkey Rubs

Before cooking the big bird, I like to use a poultry rub. I have two recipes: one that is sweet and the other one is rather spicy.

Spicy rub:

• 3/4 cup paprika (Hungarian is best if you can find it, as it has a much richer, sweeter flavor)

• 1/4 cup black pepper, freshly ground

• 1/4 celery salt

• 1/4 cup sugar

• 2 tablespoons onion powder

• 2 tablespoons dry mustard

• 2 teaspoons cayenne

• 2 tablespoons lemon zest

Mix everything together. Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator. Lasts for about 4 to 5 months.

Sweet herb rub:

• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce

• 1 tablespoon white wine

• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

• 4 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped

• 4 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped

• 4 teaspoons onion, minced

• 4 teaspoons garlic, minced

• 2 teaspoons salt

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

 

Aunt Marie’s Four Cheese Macaroni

• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

• 1 (16 ounce) package elbow macaroni

• 9 tablespoons butter

• 1/2 cup shredded Muenster cheese

• 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

• 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

• 1/2 shredded Monterey Jack cheese

• 1 1/2 cups half-and-half

• 8 ounces cubed processed cheese food

• 2 eggs, beaten

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8-10 minutes or until al dente; drain well and return to cooking pot.

In a small saucepan over medium heat (or microwave), melt 8 tablespoons butter, stir into the macaroni.

In a large bowl, combine the four cheeses, mix well.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Add the half and half, 1 ? cups of cheese mixture, cubed processed cheese food, and eggs to macaroni; mix together and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a lightly greased 2 ? quart casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining ? cup of cheese mixture and 1 tablespoon of butter.

Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes or until hot and bubbling around the edges. Serve.

 

Apple Stack Cake

• 3 packages dried apples, (6 oz. each)

• 1 cup brown sugar, packed

• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

• 1/2 cup shortening

• 1 cup sugar

• 2 large eggs

• 1/2 cup milk

• 1/2 cup molasses

• 5 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 teaspoon baking powder

• 1 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• 1 teaspoon ground ginger

• 1 cup whipping cream, whipped (optional)

Place dried apples in a saucepan; add water to cover. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and mash apples. Stir in brown sugar, 1 ? teaspoons ginger, cloves and allspice; set aside.

Beat shortening at medium speed of an electric mixer until light; gradually beat in the sugar. Continue beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in milk and molasses.

Combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and remaining 1 teaspoon ginger; gradually add to creamed mixture, beating until mixture forms a stiff dough. Divide dough into 8 equal portions; cover and chill for 1 to 2 hours.

Pat each portion of dough into an 8-inch circle on greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Carefully remove layers to wire racks; cool completely. Stack layers, spreading equal portions of reserved apple mixture between layers. Cover and chill for 8 hours. Spread whipped cream or whipped topping over the top of cake before serving.

By Karen Dill • Guest Columnist

“Mom,” my daughter Anna began on her phone call from Washington, D.C., “wasn’t Grandpa a World War II veteran?”

It seems there are scholarship monies for medical students who are direct descendants of veterans of WWII. Anna has just begun her first year of medical school at George Washington University and has found a donor — a Jewish physician who taught at the medical school and was indebted to the men and women who fought in Europe during World War II.

“Yes,” I slowly answer, “indeed he was.”

Anna needs documentation of his military service and I agree to look through the boxes of papers taken from my mother’s house after her death last year. I’m not feeling very hopeful, as I can’t remember seeing anything other than his old World War II uniform and the Purple Heart medal he earned. I’m sure the scholarship committee needs his discharge papers, at the very least.

My father died in 1980, and although he lived a full life in his beloved mountain home, his service to his country was probably the most defining period. He spoke often of his service, his days in the army and the travel he experienced, but most of his contribution was left unspoken. It was evidenced in the day-to-day struggles of his existence.

This much I knew: he was a young soldier in the army infantry. He was proud to serve his country in the European theater. He was shot in the back in a skirmish with German soldiers. He would spend a year in a military hospital in France. He would come home to Haywood County and try to work. He would not be able to hold a job for any period of time.

He would suffer from back and leg pain for his entire life. He would walk with a limp on good days and bent over double on bad days. He would awake with night terrors and would fly into a fit of rage for no reason. He would walk the floor at night with migraine headaches, holding his head and crying in pain.

He was a proud man. He loved his country and did not want money for his service. He would not file for disability although he was clearly disabled. It was not about the money, he said. He did not want money for his injuries or for serving his great country. Serving his country was a privilege, he said proudly.

He finally agreed to file for disability when I applied for a college scholarship for children of disabled veterans. I got the full, four-year scholarship and he would remind me (often!) that his blood had paid my tuition. This gave him reason to be proud, and I tried hard to live up to his expectations.

Until the day that he died, he would stand proudly, though bent with pain, his rough hand to heart over his dirty, tattered shirt when the flag was displayed or during the Canton Labor Day parade. Tears would course down his face, his eyes filled with rapture. This is the greatest country on earth, he’d say — this common man — a veteran from the greatest generation.

What else did I know? I would run my small child’s fingers down his scarred back, finding the fragments of shrapnel under his skin. I imagined the shrapnel had the same feel as the pea under the mattress of the princess. I did not understand the pain from those tiny pieces of metal. I was frightened by his screams of terror at night.

Once when I awoke in the wee hours of the morning, I found him sitting at the kitchen table, a cigarette and black coffee in hand, dark circles under his eyes, his head bent. It had been a bad night, a bad dream.

“I was fightin’ them krauts, I reckon,” he grinned sheepishly. “They got me in the back, you know.”

“I know, Daddy, you told me.”

I’d shake my head wearily and go back to bed. No one knew about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder back then. Now as I look in vain for his military papers — any tangible proof of his service I wish I could go back to that night. I’d ask him about the battle that scarred him for life. I’d ask him how old he’d been and where he’d been shot. I’d ask about his dreams and his fears. I’d ask him what makes him happy now. I’d reach out and touch his hand.

Finally in the box of papers, I find his death certificate. From that, I retrieve a Social Security number, his birth date, death date. He was born in Haywood County and he died there. This is a start, I think, of the search for more records.

I enter the information on the World War II Veteran’s Web site. I am told via email a few days later that most of the army military records were destroyed in a 1973 fire. I am sent more papers to complete and I quickly comply. I call state and local offices in an effort to find any paper work concerning his military service. Then I hit pay dirt right in my own backyard.

The Haywood County Register of Deeds found his separation papers that were filed when he returned home in October of 1945. Sherri Rogers (the register of deeds and no relation that I know) mailed them to me immediately. I opened the envelope with shaking hands and scanned the military form. The questions that I never thought to ask were answered on this standard issue form. I began to cry, soft muted sobs of sorrow and regret. Why did it take so long to know this man?

And this I now know: Woodrow Wilson Rogers (born 6/28/1918; died 2/3/1980) received an Honorable Discharge from the United States Army. He was in the 2nd Battalion, Headquarters Detachment, Field Lineman 641. He was given a Combat Infantryman’s Badge on July 23, 1944. He fought in Normandy and Northern France. He was awarded a Good Conduct Medal, EAME Theater Medal, American Defense Service Medal and a Purple Heart. He was wounded on Sept. 3, 1944, in the European African Middle Eastern Theater and spent a year in hospitals in France and Germany. He returned home to Haywood County on Oct. 22, 1945. His eyes were blue, his hair brown. He was 5’7” and weighed 125 pounds when he returned. He was given a total out pay of $300.

Those are the facts, but they are not the story. The story is about a common mountain man (a Laborer 590 is his civilian occupation and number on the discharge papers) who lived a common life and who performed uncommon acts of courage for his country. He would disagree with that assessment. The injuries, the horrendous pain that he endured were only what he thought any man should have done for his country. He had no regrets about that.

My regrets are many. The unasked questions, the lack of understanding, the cavalier nature of youth — I would do differently now. I have finally asked the questions and from the grave, I believe that I am given some answers. Will Anna get the scholarship? I hope so, but this search eventually was not about the money — just as my father’s noble service to his country was not about the money.

It is about finally finding the truth and finally appreciating the facts. It is about gifts: a gift from the grave to a daughter and granddaughter and a gift from a man to his country. It is a gift of patriotism and pride that surpasses the pain and suffering of military service. It is a gift of redemption for unasked questions.

(Karen Dill lives in Webster and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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