Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- KATYDID

When you step outside at night, before the cold snap of fall, you hear all kinds of sounds coming from the more wooded areas around your home. Some of those sounds may be the chirping of crickets. You may also hear cicadas (jar fly), or even bullfrogs. But, the most common sound you hear is the KATYDID.

In England, they call the KATYDID a bush cricket.The KATYDID is related to a grasshopper, however, not a cricket.  In Appalachia, it is bright green and allows it to be camouflaged in the trees and bushes where it spends its time. 

One difference in the appearance of the KATYDID and a grasshopper is the length of its antennae. They are especially long. Also, some varieties of the KATYDID look much more leaf-like, thus allowing better camouflage.

Several varieties of KATYDID exist around the world. There's even a pink one. Another variety is about six inches long. Yikes. Some resemble the bark of a tree and some are just down-right scary and other-worldly.


Our smaller, bright green KATYDID, is generally calm and stands still when you approach it. That's probably because it thinks it is completely camouflaged and doesn't need to flee. Since it is a leaf-eater, you don't need to worry about the KATYDID trying to make a meal out of you.

I love to listen to the KATYDID at night--even if it does sound a bit like my tinnitus.

I've embedded an audio file of KATYDIDs here for you to listen. Click on the link below, when a blue box pops up, click on it, and it will take you to YouTube. 

Do you love the sounds of the night? What's your favorite night creature? With fall's lower temperatures upon us, there aren't many nights left to listen to the KATYDID. Walk outside tonight and tell us whether you were able to hear any singing their song near your house.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- SIGOGGLIN

Do you know what it means for something to be SIGOGGLIN?

Origins of the word seem to originate from the Irish/Scottish heritage brought to the mountains of Appalachia (Apple-AT-cha). It means anything that is crooked, off-skew, or just plain wrong.

One of the most famous examples of SIGOGGLIN is the leaning tower of Pisa, Italy. I couldn't understand how something so wrong could be so famous. Seems that SIGOGGLIN buildings are a rage now. Go figure.

There were many examples of SIGOGGLIN when I grew up in Harlan County. Most people couldn't afford to hire a professional to build or fix things for them, so they took their limited know-how and did it themselves.

Houses, fences, sheds, and your outside coal house could all make people wrinkle their noses, cock their heads, and say, "That's a bit SIGOGGLIN, ain't it?"

Of course, the mountain roads are all a bit SIGOGGLIN. I'll never forget traveling Laden Trail on Pine Mountain. That gravel road that wound around enough for you meet yourself going around a curve was a great example of a crooked SIGOGGLIN road.

I've met a lot of boys and men with SIGOGGLIN noses. They got that way from either meeting a fist nose on or from some crazy stunt where they ended up on the ground or against a wall nose first.

Ouch. That's gonna be a SIGOGGLIN nose
Back in grade school, our principal at Loyall made a point to tell us all NOT to slide on the icy streets at recess. My friend Jackie ignored the command. He left a fair share of blood on the ice as he slid down the street nose first.

The first time I tried to crochet, my project ended up SIGOGGLIN. I'm sure, with practice, I could have done better. But I gave up. My first cake ended up a bit SIGOGGLIN, too. Didn't affect the flavor, but it definitely looked a bit wrong.

Have you seen anything that's SIGOGGLIN?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- PERSIMMON

Every fall, my mother gave me the dire warning, "Don't eat a PERSIMMON before the first frost."

Of course, not heeding that warning would usually result in the PERSIMMON PUCKER.

That pucker was bad enough to make you never eat a PERSIMMON before its time ever again.

An unripe PERSIMMON has tannin in it. Tannin is the chemical that causes an astringent effect in your mouth. Tannin is bitter tasting and is what causes the skin inside your mouth to tighten -- making you pucker.

Basically, tannin can suck the moisture right out of you. It can feel like it's sucking the very life out of your body! Not a pleasant experience. Tannin is also what makes a dry wine dry. Fortunately, they don't use very much tannin in dry wine.

However, when the PERSIMMON is ripe, there is very little tannin left and the fruit is extremely sweet.

My mom's warning about the first frost, however, was a tad unreliable. Although it's true that PERSIMMON is generally ripe starting in October (the time of the first frost in the mountains of Kentucky), not all PERSIMMONS are ripe immediately.

A better gauge of when you can avoid the tannin PERSIMMON PUCKER is when the flesh of the fruit is soft to the touch. It should feel like there is jelly inside the skin of the PERSIMMON. It will also have skin that looks a bit wrinkly.

I always ate PERSIMMON right from the tree. I made sure I used extreme care to make sure it was ripe enough. I only took a slight nibble to test it and hoped for a sweet taste instead of a nasty pucker.

PERSIMMON is also used for other eating pleasures. Some use them to make cakes and beverages. My friend, Michelle Medlock Adams, an award-winning author, creates a PERSIMMON pudding that is drool-worthy. Here is a photo of her latest creation. I've also included her recipe (for those of you who give me a hard time when I don't include recipes for the yummy foods I highlight on this blog).

Photo courtesy of Michelle Medlock Adams 
Recipe courtesy of
Michelle Medlock Adams

PERSIMMONS have several other uses as well. The seeds are collected and sliced open each fall in an effort to predict the type of winter to expect. Inside the seed, you will either see a spoon, fork or knife. The spoon means there will be heavy snows (bad winter), the fork means the snows will be light, and the knife means it will be extremely cold.

PERSIMMON seeds are dark brown
The report is in and PERSIMMON seeds are displaying a SPOON this year. If you're in a snow-prone area, prepare for a snowy winter season.

The seeds can also be used for other purposes. If ground, a "tea" can be made. Interestingly, this tea was a coffee substitute for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. The juices from the seeds can also be used as a gargle for sore throats and a cure for things like warts, cancers, heartburn, diarrhea, and stomach aches.

Who knew how amazing the little PERSIMMON could be?

Have you eaten a PERSIMMON straight from the tree? Have you ever experienced the PERSIMMON PUCKER?

I'd love to hear your stories.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- CATHEADS

What do you like to put on your CATHEADS?

Do you know what a CATHEAD is and what makes it different from other biscuits?

The basic rule is that a CATHEAD is about the size of a cat's head. I consider it a CATHEAD because the size and shape do not conform to the perfect, round, equally-sized biscuits you get in a can.

My dad earned the title "King of the CATHEAD" in my book. Nobody could make them better. (I didn't say that to my mom, though.) He rarely had an opportunity to bake them for us, since his schedule as a Greyhound bus driver had him on the road by 4:30 a.m. most of the time. I have NEVER been an early riser.

But on those rare occasions when we were all there for breakfast, CATHEADS were on the menu.

The best CATHEADS were baked in an iron skillet. It made the edges crispy and the centers light and fluffy. Oh, my. I'm salivating! The difference between a CATHEAD and a regular biscuit in my house was the method of baking. Mom rolled out the dough and cut them into rounds with an old jelly jar glass. They had to be perfectly round for her. Daddy, on the other hand, grabbed a bit of dough, rolled it slightly in his hands and plopped it into the pan. His rose high and fluffy, drenched in butter. Yeah, I preferred Daddy's CATHEADS.

Notice the bottom of Mom's attempt
at CATHEADS. Too bad she didn't let
Daddy make them.

Although CATHEADS are fabulous on their own, we had several ways to improve other ingredients by adding a CATHEAD to the ingredient.

Gravy -- I loved dipping my CATHEAD into gravy. It didn't have to be sausage gravy, it could be any kind of gravy. Think BACON gravy! Yum.

Honey Butter -- Dad loved to soften his butter a bit and add honey to it. I still can see him in my mind using a fork to smooth it all together on a plate. No mixer needed. That honey butter would drip all over, including down my arm and on my clothes, but it was worth the inconvenience.

Apple Butter -- We had a couple of big apple trees on the hill behind our house. Every fall we'd gather apples and Mom would start the process of peeling, dicing, slicing, and cooking. One result was apple butter, fragrant with spices and sweet. Apple butter was even better on a hot CATHEAD.

Apple Jelly -- Another product of all those apples. My mom made enough apple jelly to share with everyone she knew. It wasn't as spicy as apple butter, but it would do just fine on a CATHEAD.

Uncle Johnny with his giant
CATHEAD biscuit
At the last Family Reunion for my mom's side of the family (a reunion that wasn't a funeral, that is), my uncle Johnny kept talking about CATHEADS their mother (my granny) made for them as children -- and how big they were. So, Mom decided to bake him a giant CATHEAD. The laughter made us hungry enough to eat the whole thing.

Did you have CATHEADS when you grew up? Do you make them now?

What do you like to slather on your CATHEAD?


Cathead Biscuit Recipe from Harlan, Kentucky

2 cups all-purpose flour*
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 to 2 tablespoons solid shortening at room temperature (Crisco, lard, or butter)
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon salt, Optional
Melted butter for top of dough before baking

 Work the shortening into the flour. I use my hands, some people use a spoon or fork. Don’t overmix, should look like coarse crumbs.

 Slowly add the buttermilk and stir it just enough to make a ball in the bowl.

Prepare the round pan or iron skillet by melting a thin layer of shortening. Setting it on the stovetop while the oven heats should do the trick.

Pinch off a wad of dough and plop it into the pan. Repeat until the pan is full.

Top with some melted butter.

Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until brown on top.

*If you use self-rising flour, don’t add the baking powder. It already has it in there.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- JAR FLY

Do you know what a JAR FLY is?

Did you ever hear them singing their song in the trees (their LOUD song) and search for them?

I loved to find them. And look at them. They were a fascinating bug. A BIG bug. With clear wings. That was the cool part of them for me.

But I never touched one. They were big, remember, and I was fearful of what must be big teeth inside them.

Now the problem with being afraid of something, especially if you have a brother, is that they think the greatest fun in the world is to catch the creature you are scared to death of and chase you around the neighborhood with it. Threatening to let it bite you.

My brother chased me with a JAR FLY
The JAR FLY, as we called it in Harlan County, is also called by other names in other locations. When I lived in Columbus, Ohio, I went outside one summer and the trees were alive with a similarly sounding bug. Not quite the JAR FLY song of my youth.

I soon learned they were Cicadas. Cicadas generally only show up every thirteen years or so.

The JAR FLY, however, comes every year, in the late summer. Some people call them DOG DAY CICADAS. Yes, they show up around August, during the dog days, and then disappear when autumn arrives.

I enjoyed the JAR FLY song. Some people complain that it is annoying.

Recently, in Atlanta, I walked outside and heard the familiar song coming from the Pine trees behind my house.

I smiled. Memories of youth rushed back. I even miss my brother being here to chase me around with a JAR FLY. If he was still alive, I might even let him catch me. Wonder what he would do. As I recall, he never caught up to me when we were kids. Probably on purpose.

Did you catch a JAR FLY when you were young? Do you hear them where you live today? Do you have a funny story about them?

If you'd like to see and hear a JAR FLY, click on the link below and it will take you to a Youtube video.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- GEE-TAR

Have you ever played a GEE-TAR?

There are several types of GEE-TAR. Acoustic, Electric, Electro-acoustic, Twelve-string, Archtop, Classical/Spanish, Flamenco, Steel, Resonator, Bass, Double-neck, Red-neck, and a few more.

Most of the GEE-TARS I knew of when I lived in the mountains were Acoustic. Of course, there were others being used a lot in Bluegrass, Country, and Gospel music.

GEE-TARs are quite versatile and easy to learn. If you don't mind getting sore fingers and calluses, that is. You can take them almost anywhere with you.

Playing GEE-TAR around the campfire
I remember going camping with church groups. Someone always brought a GEE-TAR so we could sit around a campfire and sing songs--right before someone started telling scary stories.

There's one type of GEE-TAR, though, that a lot of people don't know about unless they are fans of the old (as in my era) music of the Grand Old Opry style. I'm talking about the Hawahyer GEE-TAR. (That's Hawaiian Guitar for you city folks.)

My mom told me she used to play one. I never heard her because she didn't have the money to buy one just for her own entertainment. I thought it would be really cool to have a mom who played the Hawahyer GEE-TAR.

Some people also referred to them as a STEEL GEE-TAR. Or a SLIDE GEE-TAR.

I've given you a link here to listen to one in action: Click on the link. A blue bar will appear. Click on the blue bar and it will take you to the video.

Do you love GEE-TAR music? What's your favorite type of GEE-TAR? Can you play?

I'd love to hear your stories.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- PAWPAW

Do you remember the song about sweet little Sally being way down yonder in the PAWPAW patch? We sang it often in my school.

Do you know what a PAWPAW is? Have you ever eaten one?

This time of year is harvesting season for the PAWPAW. I kept my eyes open for a PAWPAW tree while I visited my hometown of Harlan, Kentucky last weekend.

Unfortunately, I didn't find one and I'm not able to roam the mountains anymore to search for one growing up on Pine Mountain. Besides, the mountains are full of black bears, rattlesnakes, and copperheads these days.

I came home from my trip regretting I have to wait at least one more year before getting to sink my teeth into one of those luscious fruits.

If you don't know about PAWPAW, I'll give you the details. They grow mostly wild on a scraggly looking tree with large leaves.

In appearance, they are similar to a mango. The flavor of a PAWPAW seems to be a combination of banana and mango. Of course, I never heard of a mango until I left the mountains. So, my only comparison to the flavor was a banana.

The flesh is smooth, sweet, and yellow/orange. Inside the PAWPAW you will find large dark seeds. You don't eat the seeds. Or the peeling. The peeling is a tad bitter.

A Harlan County friend
decorates with PAWPAW
leaves and Buckeyes
I remember fondly a friend of my daddy who had a PAWPAW tree growing in his yard in Loyall. Every August/September, we would stop by and pick a few from a tree he had growing in his back yard. I smile when I think of it.

I found a video on YouTube that describes the PAWPAW and current research on how to make them more marketable. Apparently, they are too delicate to sell in bulk at grocery stores. You can use the pulp, de-seeded and mushed, in recipes in the place of bananas. It can also be frozen for later.

Here's the link if you want to watch the video about PAWPAWS:


Have you ever eaten a PAWPAW? What did you think about it? Do you live where PAWPAWS grow today? Tell us about your PAWPAW experiences.