Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week - Traditions

Traditions. New Year’s Day seems to be filled with them. When asked why people repeat family traditions on the eve or day of a new year, most of my friends tell me it’s because “that’s what my family did.”

But why? Is it because we feel all warm and fuzzy about memories of our childhood and simpler times? Is it because we feel closer to those we love merely because we repeat a tradition? Or do we believe there is some hidden truth in those traditions that compels us to repeat them “just in case” they are relevant to the success or failure of the coming year?

I’ll look at my traditions and see if I can figure it out.

Sunday night, I plan to stay up until the ball drops in Times Square. It's a tradition. I even attended those "dropping of the ball zoos" when I lived in New York City.  I stood in the massive crowd of loud, drugged, drunk, revelers in freezing weather (sometimes in snow) just to watch a giant apple drop in Times Square. Yes, I lived there before the gorgeous high-tech Waterford crystal ball made its first appearance. As an introvert, the crowd was not an easy challenge for me. The pick-pockets and gropers didn’t make it any easier. But, it was a tradition. I admit I can't remember any time when staying up to watch the ball drop added anything to my new year--except that I woke up later the next morning.

Apparently, it is not an important tradition for everyone. Several of my friends admit they go to bed long before the excitement of a ball dropping and people screaming begins. Since I live alone, I sit by myself at midnight, cheering in the new year alone while thousands of New Yorkers scream and kiss beneath the Waterford ball, freezing their tails off. At least I'm warm as I toast my glass of non-alcoholic grape juice.

But there are more traditions than fighting to stay awake long enough to see a ball (or apple) drop at midnight.

Black-eyed peas for New Year's Day
The food. My mother told me from childhood that we must eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. When I complained that I hated them, she pointed out that the more you eat, the more money you’ll have during the year. Then she told me it was up to me to eat as many as possible so that the family wouldn’t end up in the Poor House. How’s that for incentive? It was good enough to guilt me into forcing beans down my throat until I thought I might puke them up.

Being from the mountains of southeastern Kentucky, at least we didn’t have to eat sauerkraut (yuck!) or collard greens swimming in vinegar (double yuck!) like some of my Southern friends. I guess I should feel fortunate I only had to eat black-eyed peas. Of course, my favorite part of it was the fatback used for seasoning.

These days, I still find myself cooking black-eyed peas every New Year's Day. Instead of fatback, though, I use the ham bone from Christmas dinner. I have developed a taste for the peas now. It helped when I turned from the dried peas to fresh ones. So, I spend the day cooking them. 

These days, though, I tend to add a couple of potential traditions (it's never too late to start a new one, is it?) to my New Year's Day meal.

Fried frog legs--a new tradition?
One year, I thought it would be good to JUMP INTO THE NEW YEAR with frog legs. Dad used to go frog gigging often when I was a child. I loved watching my mom fry them in the old black skillet as they jumped around in the skillet. You know they taste like chicken, don't you? Well, I think it's a good tradition to encourage us to jump into the new year full of excitement, expectation, and hope.

Fried green tomatoes

My next new tradition is my favorite vegetable--fried green tomatoes. Okay, so they are technically a fruit. They are green and I will consider them a vegetable for the sake of tradition. They will take the place of the greens most southerners have on January 1st. 

So, why do I celebrate traditions? Perhaps there is something inside me that believes we must continue traditions as our way of not giving up on the promises of our youth. Perhaps it is because the traditions connect me with family members who have already passed. Maybe it’s because traditions are what make me feel connected with my family--past and present. Or, perhaps, traditions are what give us hope that the unknown future of the coming year doesn’t matter as much as the unity, support, and love of our families. Just maybe, traditions solidify hope. 

Whatever the reason, it gives me an excuse to make a big deal out of tradition and eat food I don't usually eat. That makes it special.

Some of you may think you must repeat traditions because your dead relatives will haunt you for the whole year if you don't. I rather doubt that one, but it needed to be said. And some of you may believe you will have bad luck if you don't eat certain foods on a certain day. You are the same people who cringe when you step on a crack (break your mother's back), break a mirror, or panic when a black cat walks across your path. Enough said about that ...

No matter why we honor tradition, there's no harm in it. And it might, just might, draw us closer together with our family, even if only for one day of the year. One thing you can be sure about--tradition will outlive those resolutions you make.

Happy New Year to you and your family. May you enjoy your traditions, old and new, as you celebrate the hope and promises the new year offers.
What traditions did you grow up following? Do you know why? Do you have any new ones you've added to your own family's menu? I'd love to hear your stories.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Mountain Memories -- Steel Saucer Sled

What was it every Appalachian kid dreamed about this time of year? Santa? Well, maybe. But what was the most important thing? Snow!

Snow--and lots of it--meant we could get out of school early for Christmas vacation. Snow meant we could have our fill of snowcream. But, most importantly, for some of us, it meant going sledding on the biggest hillside (or mountainside) we could find.

Near the bottom of the hill
I will never forget the Christmas morning my brother and I awoke to find a shiny, silver saucer sled under the Christmas tree. Now, we always got gifts from Santa, but they were rarely as awesome as that sled. Also, a deep snow had fallen on the mountain that week and still covered the mountain behind our house. We barely contained ourselves long enough to get bundled up before my brother grabbed the sled and shot out the back door.

My brother, Larry, being six years older, had control of the sled. He climbed up the hill where the garden is planted during the summer. That means it was mostly cleared of vegetation. I said mostly. Unfortunately, there were usually some corn stalks sticking up several inches, partially hidden by the snow. Also, the rows were a bit lumpy where mounds of dirt had been hoed across the hill.

Larry made it to the top, right next to a fence that separated our property from the family cemetery on the other side. He plopped down on the sled, grabbed hold of the handles, and rocked until the sled let go and flew down the mountain.

Coming down the hill
He screamed, "Woo-hoo," as he picked up speed. About that time, he hit one of those aforementioned protruding cornstalks and tumbled head over sled the rest of the way down the hill. I thought he would be a snowman, rolled up into the snow when he got to the bottom.

I squealed with laughter. Mom just squealed.

He built up so much speed as he rolled, that he didn't stop as the yard leveled out. He whammed into the back of the house with a big thud.

That's how our sled got its first dent.

We spent the day hiking up that hillside and sliding down. Often we took flight as we hit a cornstalk. Sometimes, we hit and tumbled. Each time we hit a row or built up dirt under the snow, we bounced on the steel sled. Our rears ached. It didn't matter. We laughed until our stomachs hurt. We mostly laughed at each other.

Taking flight as we hit a bump

After hours of trekking up that mountain, my face as red as Rudolph's nose and my fingers and feet numb from the cold, I decided it was time to take a break to eat and warm up. My brother continued sledding.

As the sun set behind the mountains and visibility became dim, which happens early in the mountains in winter, my mom went to the back door to call Larry inside for the day.

He ignored her.

As she started inside the house, she yelled up to him at the top the hill, next to the fence around the cemetery, "Larry, you'd better get inside before that little boy in the cemetery decides to ride on that sled with you."

He still ignored her as he completed his slide down the hill, grabbed the sled, and headed back up to the top.

Mom shook her head and came back inside.

A few minutes later we heard a loud crash into the back of the house. The door flew open and my brother whizzed into the house, slamming the door behind him. He stood in the doorway to the living room all red, covered in snow, panting, and staring with eyes as big as snowballs. He didn't say a word, just stood there.

He never told us what happened. However, Mom never had to tell him to come in before dusk ever again. As soon as the sun got near the ridge, he was inside, with the back door locked.

Did you have a saucer sled when you were a kid? Or did you use something else as a sled--like a car hood? Where did you ride it? Did you have a fabulous hill to slide down? Were there any wild adventures?

I'd love to hear your stories.

My brother, Larry, at the
bottom of the hill.
You can barely see the fence
to the cemetery 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mountain Memories -- Ice on the Window Pane

This week, instead of doing an Appalachian Word of the Week, I'm going to share with you a Mountain Memory. I hope you like the change and you will share your Mountain Memories with us, too.

I live in the South now, but this past week vividly brought back memories of my childhood in Harlan County, Kentucky. We had a snowstorm that dropped up to eleven inches of gorgeous wet snow on a normally snowless area of the country.

Unexpected snow delighted me for over 24 hours straight, piling up on the trees and bushes and weighing down the branches until they nearly touched the ground. I had never seen so much snow this far south. It was beautiful and exciting--that is--until the juice went off and the temperatures plummeted inside my unprepared house.

We piled quilts on our bed to stay warm
Memories of winter in the mountains quickly returned as I piled more blankets on my bed, donned my furry robe and wool socks, and attempted to keep my nose warm enough to sleep through the night.

Do you remember those frigid nights in the mountains when all we had to heat the house was a stove in the living room, fueled by coal? Some families were fortunate enough to have fireplaces in their bedrooms. We weren't. It was like sleeping outdoors.

Coal stove
We warmed ourselves in front of the stove until our skinned tingled and then ran into our room, where the heat could not reach, and slid under the heap of blankets and quilts. We could barely move under the weight of all those blankets.

In the morning, we awoke to the dread of having to slide out from under the covers. We ran back to the stove to warm ourselves enough to take care of toileting and getting dressed for the day.

Ice on the windows
Sunlight filtered into the house through ice-encrusted window panes. On the inside! I loved seeing the designs each morning and how intricate or thick the ice formed. It reminded me of the fancy glass in a church, all bumpy and wavy. Those windows were our thermometer of how cold it was outside.

Breakfast usually consisted of hot oatmeal with raisins. Mom figured it would warm us and keep us strong as we walked nearly a mile to school. In high school, my favorite breakfast became Chicken Noodle soup. At least we survived.

I had my doubts about survival last week during our surprise storm. I sat huddled under blankets during the day, trying to keep warm enough to survive. It made me wish I had the old pot-bellied stove to warm me. Of course, the one big difference was that I had no juice to run my heat or the microwave. I couldn't even fix my morning Keurig hot tea! And taking a shower was out of the question. I've become soft in the South.

Winter was a game of survival in the mountains. And survive we did. As I look back on that life, I'm amazed at one thing most of all. We didn't spend our days sitting in front of the fire, doing nothing but trying to stay warm. We went about life.

Yes, it was tough. Walking to school and back is beyond my comprehension now. Also, having to go outside to gather coal and lug it inside to stoke the fire would challenge me beyond my ability today. But, my mother did it every day. She also stayed up late on an exceptionally cold night to keep the fire going and making sure it didn't overheat and burn the house down. I remember many times when the stovepipe glowed red. Scary.

There are good memories of winter, too. A heavy snow meant fun for a kid. We stayed home from school and played outside, building forts and having snowball fights. Living on the side of a mountain, a favorite pastime was sliding down on a saucer sled, if you were lucky, or any other item that would slide across the snow. A friend's family used an old car hood.

Building a snowman
It seemed to be a requirement to build a snowman, no matter how much snow fell. We rolled the balls around the yard, getting them as big as we could manage to keep rolling them. Unfortunately, having dogs meant we usually had tainted snowmen. We would grab some clean snow and pack it on top of any "dirty" snow.

That dirty snow is why we were extremely careful when we collected snow for our most favorite winter activity--making snowcream. It's also why we collected that snow first thing before we did anything that could possibly add undesirable ingredients to our snowcream.

That concoction of fresh white snow, sugar, cream and vanilla flavoring is one of my favorite memories. We filled a bowl with a huge scoop and sat in front of the stove to eat it. Even with the stove, our fingers and faces numbed. It was worth it.

Do you have memories of winter in the mountains? What was the hardest part of it for you? What's one of your favorite activities when it was cold enough to freeze your snot?

I love hearing your stories.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- CHIFFEROBE

I'm sure you've heard of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but have you heard of a CHIFFEROBE?

A CHIFFEROBE was commonplace in the homes of Appalachia as I grew up. I remember them being a place of wonder and mystery. They had a key, you see. Only the possessor of that key was allowed to open the CHIFFEROBE.

Oh, the surmises my brain came up with about what was inside. What secrets could possibly be hidden behind that locked door?

I remember the one Granny had. I couldn't imagine what a granny would hide in that CHIFFEROBE. Unfortunately, I never discovered its secrets. I can only imagine.

Did she come from royalty and her jewed crown was hidden inside? Were there amazing ball gowns hidden away from a former life? Had she hidden a stash of money in there?

It nearly drove me crazy as I stared into the mirror on the door and wondered what lived on the other side of that keyhole. And where did she hide that key?

Daddy had a CHIFFEROBE, too. Many times, I tugged on the door, hoping he had forgotten to lock it. No such luck.

What in the world would a man hide inside a locked CHIFFEROBE? What could he possibly hold so dear that it required a lock to keep everyone else out?

After the huge flood of 1977 swallowed our house and destroyed almost every possession we owned, I finally got to see the inside of Daddy's CHIFFEROBE.

Disappointment. Behind one door, he had a rod hanging with most of his clothes. Apparently, Mom took up all the room in the big closet with her clothes. On the floor of the CHIFFEROBE, he had his shoes stored.

Behind the clothes, in the corners, he had his guns--shotguns and rifles--for hunting. Of course, what I remember most is the day he came into the backyard while Mom was reclining in the sun and shot two HUGE black snakes out of the tree above her. She wasn't happy about that.

The other door of the CHIFFEROBE hid more interesting items. Instead of a rod for clothes, it had shelves and drawers. Papers, family photos, a few books, all his notebooks detailing every penny he ever spent and all family data (births, deaths, full names, some genealogy). I am fortunate enough to have one of those notebooks now. On the bottom shelf, he had some Mason jars of homemade wine he made from the grapes that grew wild on Laden Trail on Pine Mountain where he grew up. I had never seen my dad take a single drink of his wine.

The drawer on the bottom contained all kinds of trinkets and items he deemed necessary to save. Loose coins, screws and bolts, and things I didn't recognize. I did recognize his Greyhound safety awards, though. Each pin had a Greyhound dog (their logo) on it, the year he earned it, and a diamond, ruby, or sapphire under the dog's tummy. A few years after the flood, Mom took those pins to a jeweler and had the stones removed and reset into rings. I got one of the rings. It's my most prized possession.

The CHIFFEROBE Daddy built
When I was born, Daddy built a kid-sized version of a CHIFFEROBE just for me. He crafted it himself, in the apartment he and Mom lived in at the time, with a handsaw, sandpaper, and a hammer.

My CHIFFEROBE survived the flood and then a fire in my first apartment. It has lived in Kentucky, New York City, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee, and now in Georgia. It bears a few scars and smoke stains, but it still has most of its original glass knobs Daddy placed on it over 60 years ago. I still use my CHIFFEROBE every day.

Did you grow up with a CHIFFEROBE in your house? Do you have one now?

I'd love to hear your stories.

*Special thanks to Kay Ball for the top photo of her CHIFFEROBE.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- AIRISH

You head out the door, thinking it is as warm as it was yesterday, and a cold blast of air whirls around you. Little daggers of ice stab you in the face and through the weave of your clothes. You shiver as chill bumps pop out all over you.

You decide to go back inside and grab a jacket -- and maybe a hat, scarf, and gloves. Then, maybe not, since you're a mountain man or woman and tough enough to handle a bit of AIRISH weather.

Many times while living in the mountains, I experienced some of those AIRISH mornings. They tend to arrive during the span of time between seasons. Of course, most of our winters were AIRISH all day long.

I live further south now, but I still experience a tad of AIRISH chill when I head out early or after dark during the in-between seasons. It's the wind that gets you and sends you scrambling indoors for a jacket.

Warm fire on an AIRISH morning
Even though we can usually ignore it and hurry to our destination, it helps to have a warm fire waiting inside when we arrive. Or a steaming cup of coffee or hot chocolate.

We crash through the front door, exclaiming in sounds that resemble a "brrrrr" and shake off the AIRISH chill like a dog shakes off rain. Then we head for the source of heat in the room as we hunch our shoulders and rub our hands together to warm up.

Someone in the room asks, "What'n the world's wrong with you?"

You reply, "Whoo-ee. It's a bit AIRISH out there."

Do you use the term AIRISH for chilly, windy weather? Did your family?

My dad used it often. He was a tough mountain man and being a bit AIRISH didn't stop him from doing what he needed to do. But he often warned the rest of us to dress warmly before heading out because it was a tad AIRISH.

Tell me your stories about AIRISH weather. Did you call it something else?

I need to turn up the thermostat. It's feeling a bit AIRISH in my house this morning.

Keep your critters warm on AIRISH days

Don't forget that your pets feel the AIRISH chill, too. Make sure you keep them warm on these AIRISH days.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- GRUB

Last week's word, Thankful, listed several things about Appalachia I am thankful for. This week, I'm going to share some Thanksgiving GRUB I am thankful for.

THE TURKEY -- No matter what, we always had a turkey on our Thanksgiving table filled with GRUB. In the early years, Mom baked the turkey with a tent of aluminum foil (tin foil). Although tasty, it wasn't quite as tender as in the later years when they invented the turkey cooking bag.

I loved the white meat best. My dad loved the legs and the neck (I mentioned that last week). Oh, how he loved sucking the meat off that neck bone.

My sister and I always argued over the wishbone. I hated losing the game. The winner didn't win anything except the ability to rub it in the face of the other sister.

THE DRESSING -- The best dressing I ever ate was Granny's. In the early years, she prepared it in her coal-powered kitchen cookstove. I can almost taste it now when I close my eyes. It was perfectly seasoned with sage, bacon grease, celery, and a few other ingredients I never knew.

Red Delicious
APPLE SALAD -- We chopped up about three each of red delicious apples and golden delicious apples, added a can of fruit cocktail and mayonnaise. The secret ingredient, however, was peanuts. I loved getting to crush them with a jelly glass in a dish towel and then mix them into the salad.

Golden Delicious
Mom always made a larger bowl of apple salad than we could eat with the meal so there would be plenty for later. I always thought it was even tastier the next day. We had it the next day for breakfast, dinner, and supper. Even a few snacks. We ate it until there was nary a drop left.

That's why I mentioned last week about the tragedy when Aunt Joyce accidentally dumped the leftover apple salad into the dishwater. We'd waited all year for those leftovers.

Shuck Beans
SHUCK BEANS -- It's not Thanksgiving without shuck beans. They have a unique flavor, enhanced by a slab of fatback, that most people from Appalachia love. Most. According to the comments I received last week, not all of you have fallen for the charms of shuck beans.

BIRDS NEST -- One of my favorite dishes was rather simple. The Bird's Nest consisted of mashed potatoes, piled high in the bowl with a bowl-shaped dent pressed into the center. Into that center, Mom placed peas.

PEA SALAD - Mom loved this salad. I refused to eat it. I have a thing about chopped boiled eggs and raw onions in my food. For those of you who enjoy them, you may love this salad.

BREAD -- Although rolls were wonderful and usually on the table, Dad preferred cathead biscuits. So, we also had cathead biscuits that served as dessert when slathered with honey butter, apple butter, one of Mom's homemade jams or jellies, or just butter.


TURKEY - Mom added salt, pepper, and butter to the turkey. That was it. Nothing fancy, just baked until it was golden brown.

DRESSING - Unfortunately, Granny never shared her recipe for sage dressing. One of the greatest regrets in my life is that I never convinced her to share that recipe. I guess she wanted to be indispensable at Thanksgiving.


Chop about 3-4 red delicious apples and 3 golden delicious apples into small bite-sized pieces.

Add 1 large can of fruit cocktail

Crush about 1 cup of salted peanuts and add to the mix (depends on how much you make and how much you like peanuts)

Add Mayonnaise by tablespoons until it is the consistency you like. You can substitute Miracle Whip, Dukes, or your favorite brand.

Mix it all up, cover, put it in the fridge and let it cool until ready your feast.


Soak overnight
Replace water with fresh water
Add a slab of fatback or salt bacon
Add salt to taste and according to the saltiness of the meat
(Optional) 1 onion, chopped

Cook for 3 to 4 hours, until the bean inside is soft and creamy.


POTATOES: About 10 lbs russet or Idaho potatoes, Peeled and quartered.

Add to pot of boiling, salted water

When tender, drain.


1 stick of butter
Milk, a little at a time, as needed to reach the right consistency

Mash with hand mixer or old-fashed potato masher until creamy.

Spoon into a large bowl, using the spoon to make a crater in the center large enough to hold your cooked peas.

PEAS: Cook (canned or frozen) peas with preferred seasoning

Strain and add butter to taste

Scoop into the crater in the mashed potatoes


3 cans of sweet peas, drained (or an equivalent of thawed frozen peas)
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped small
3/4 cups cheddar or American cheese, sliced into small strips to equal size of eggs and peas
1/2 cup onion, chopped small
2/3 cups mayonnaise (or your preference)
Salt and black pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and keep in the fridge until feast time.


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.

Remember: Appalachian recipes are dependent upon how much you make, your ingredients, and your preferred taste. So, experiment.

What is your favorite GRUB for Thanksgiving? Do you have any family recipes you must duplicate every year for it to be a true Thanksgiving celebration?

I'd love to hear your stories.

May this be your happiest THANKSGIVING ever and may the GRUB you eat, be memorable -- for all the right reasons.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- THANKFUL

I decided to do something a bit different this week. Since Thanksgiving is coming soon, I chose THANKFUL for my Appalachian Word of the Week. Please join me as I remember. Perhaps you are THANKFUL for these, too. Or, you can add your THANKFUL memories to the Comments below.

I am THANKFUL that no matter how poor we were, we had a turkey on the table and plenty of food to eat as we celebrated Thanksgiving. I’m also THANKFUL for my family members who gathered with us—even those who were a bit challenging to get along with the rest of the year. On this day, we put it all aside to stuff ourselves with turkey, apple salad, stuffing, pea salad, and, if we were lucky, a dessert. My favorite dish, not because of flavor but because of uniqueness, was the bird’s nest. My mom filled a huge bowl with mashed potatoes, used a large spoon to make an indentation in the top, and filled it with peas. Hence, a bird’s nest.

Dad loved the turkey neck. We tried to leave the room when he got started on it. He’d sit there and eat the meat off the bones by sucking it off. Yuck. Disgusting. How I wish he was still here to suck on my turkey’s neck this year. I’d sit right there with him.

Having extended families with us made me even more THANKFUL. Granny, aunts and uncles, and cousins made the celebration even better. Laughter filled the house. Even the year Aunt Joyce helped clear the table and carried a pile of bowls to the soapy dishwater and dropped them in. Mom noticed chunks of food floating in the water and realized Aunt Joyce had dropped the apple salad leftovers into the water. Disaster! That was one of our favorites. I was not THANKFUL that I couldn’t have those leftovers. But, we laughed and gave her a hard time about it for years.

I am THANKFUL I grew up in a place where character and integrity were more valuable than money. No sense in putting on airs. You were either poor or poorer. What we were rich in was spirit, determination, strength, and faith in God. Doing good wasn’t expected, it was normal. Honesty came naturally. If you needed help, someone always rallied to your aid. And you returned the favor.

I am THANKFUL for the clear springs of water that worked their way through the limestone and bubbled to the surface for perfectly filtered water. Springs flowed into mountain streams that danced down the mountainside and into the creeks below. God spoke to me through those streams of pure water. I could almost hear his words speak to me as the water crashed over rocks and fallen trees and rushed past me, inviting me to rush along with him. I still find refuge in the presence of a fast mountain stream.

Dad, Mom, and my son
and the porch swing
I am THANKFUL for my porch swing, where I could while away the hours each day by reading or writing poems. My mountain feist dog swung with me as I dreamed of a future of experiencing the world beyond the mountains or crying to the one creature (my dog) who understood my disappointments, fears, and failures.

That swing served as my therapist in hard times and my motivator to kick-start my creative juices when life looked promising. Everyone should have a porch swing (and a dog) to be THANKFUL for.

Coal kept us warm
I’m THANKFUL for coal. It provided heat, even if we only had a pot-bellied stove or later a Stokermatic stove that monitored the temperature and kept it safe. Coal also provided for our cooking when I was younger as Granny or Mom cooked on a coal cook stove. Coal also provided a livelihood for my brother and hundreds of other Appalachian families in my county. If not for coal, many would not have survived until Thanksgiving.

Loyall High School
I’m THANKFUL for my school where I had fabulous teachers who opened my world beyond the mountains that surrounded me, teaching me literature, social skills, and thinking skills to expand my options beyond my na├»ve worldview. They prepared me to step beyond those mountains with confidence to go wherever God led me.

The garden
I’m THANKFUL for the garden on the mountain behind our house that provided food year-round as Mom and Dad canned extras for the winter. That garden taught me that hard work reaps benefits past the here and now. It also showed me God’s bounty provides for needs if you put forth the effort to nurture it.

Loyall Church of Christ
I'm THANKFUL for my tiny church where I learned the meaning of unconditional love. My church family served as examples of true love and guided me along my path to maturity. The most important day of my life took place among those friends when I accepted Christ as my savior and was baptized as they sang and prayed for me.

3rd grade class at Loyall
Most of all, I’m THANKFUL for all the friends who blessed me as a child and who have continued to be dear friends into my long-past-childhood stage in life. Many things have changed for us all. Some are delightful changes (like grandchildren), some heartbreaking. But the constant in our lives is the heritage we shared in Appalachia. We are all blessed.

What are you THANKFUL for this Thanksgiving season? I’d love to hear your stories.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- SHUCK BEANS

Thanksgiving is almost here. What does that mean for an Appalachian family? It means you'd better have your SHUCK BEANS ready.

If you grew up in Appalachia, you know what a SHUCK BEAN is. You may also know them as shucky beans or leather britches.

Whatever you call them, they are a necessity for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a few other special holidays.

SHUCK BEANS are dried green beans that are reconstituted and cooked until the bean itself is moist and creamy and the hulls are soft enough to dissolve in your mouth.

My SHUCK BEANS are hanging in my window, drying, right now. They still have some time to go before they are dry enough to rattle when they are moved.

Stringing your beans
How do you make SHUCK BEANS? You take green beans--preferably fresh white half-runners or little greasies for me--clean them, then string them. Stringing a green bean is the process of snapping off each end and pulling the string all the way to the other end. Then you snap off the other end and do the same on the other side.

When you have all your green beans ready, you take a large needle and thread it with heavy duty cotton thread (I prefer thread for putting buttons on a coat, some people use dental floss.

Push the needle through one sturdy bean and tie a knot around the bean. This will keep the SHUCK BEAN from sliding off the string. Then thread the beans onto the string until it is near the end of the string. Repeat what you did with the first bean and tie the string around the last bean to secure it.

Next, hang your beans to dry. You can hand them outdoors, but you'll take the risk of squirrels or some other hungry critter eating them. I put mine on a clothes hanger and hang it near a window.

How to prepare your SHUCK BEANS:

The night before you need to cook your SHUCK BEANS, snip the strings and slide them into a large pot. (Discard the strings) Cover them with water and leave them to soak overnight.

The next morning, strain the water from the beans and refill the pot with clean water. Add some meat. Generally, I use a slab of fatback. You can also use salt bacon, bacon, or ham hocks. According to how salty your meat is, add a bit of salt. Then get the water boiling to where you have bubbles rising to the surface.

SHUCK BEANS after cooking
Cook the SHUCK BEANS for about three hours. Check on the water level often. If the level gets below the SHUCK BEANS, add more water.

After three hours, test your beans. If the bean part is soft and silky, they're ready. If they are a bit hard and mealy, keep cooking. You can adjust the salt levels now, too.

Check them again every 30 minutes to see if your SHUCK BEANS are done.

When they are just right, turn off the heat and let them sit for another 20-30 minutes.

Then you're ready for some Appalachian heaven.

SHUCK BEANS have always been one of my favorite side dishes. Each time I visited my mom in Harlan County, KY, I expected her to fix some and to have a couple of strings in her freezer for me to take home with me.

Looking for an interesting and historical side dish for your special holiday celebration? Try some SHUCK BEANS.

Did you grow up eating SHUCK BEANS? Do you still eat them? Did you ever string them and then hang them to dry?

I'd love to hear your SHUCK BEAN stories.

Happy Thanksgiving SHUCK BEANS to you.

*Special thanks to my cousin, Carol Nolan Cavins, for her SHUCK BEANS photos.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- BLACK WALNUTS

Growing up in the mountains, we had lots of different nuts available in the fall. Last week I shared my memories of chestnuts. If you missed it, you can find it HERE. This week, I'm going to share the BLACK WALNUT.

Probably, most of you know about BLACK WALNUTS, whether you harvested them yourself or not. You can buy them in the grocery store, after all.

But--do you cook with them?

This time of year, my dad took us on excursions on Pine Mountain where he knew BLACK WALNUT trees grew. He had gathered them from his youth.

One particular Saturday morning, we gathered a stack of potato sacks Mom had put aside during the year (the old red ones with webbing and a drawstring, not the plastic ones like today). We all loaded into Dad's Willis car and drove to the mountain using Laden Trail. If you don't know about Laden Trail, I'll be talking about it at a later date.

We piled out of the car, eager to go into the woods and collect BLACK WALNUTS. However ... the area Dad wanted to get to happened to be on the other side of a field, with a fence. We shorter ones squeezed through the slats in the fence and Dad climbed over.

Halfway through the pasture, we discovered what the fence had been intended to enclose -- a bull. An unhappy bull!

We took off running across the field like lightning. That bull ran faster than my short legs could go. Mom, although she was only five feet tall and had short legs, too, grabbed me and dragged me across that pasture. Thankfully, we reached the other side before the bull caught up to us. I don't remember clearly, but I think we flew over the top of that fence.

Picking BLACK WALNUTS can be dangerous. At least we didn't see any bears, venomous snakes, or wildcats.


With blood pumping like a coal train carrying a heavy load, we continued to climb the mountain and reached the tree stand Dad had remembered. BLACK WALNUT trees had dropped more BLACK WALNUTS than we could have carried home. We each began filling our bags.

If I close my eyes I can still remember the fragrance of an old-growth forest in fall -- the fallen and drying leaves, earth, moss, and nuts. I smile when I think of it. I also loved the sound of us walking through the thick leaves as they rustled and crunched beneath our feet.

One negative of picking up BLACK WALNUTS is that the hulls turn your hands black. Especially the ones that have already turned black after being on the ground for a while. It takes a while for the stain to disappear, too. Soap and water don't do the trick. The stain is so effective that some people boil the hulls and use the strained water as hair dye or dye for wool.

With each of our bags filled with BLACK WALNUTS and tied shut, we made our way back down the mountain. Daddy ended up having to carry most of the bags.

Since we were weighed down and couldn't run as fast, we decided to walk around the fenced-in pasture this time. It was a bit further, but safer.

At home, Mom took the bags of BLACK WALNUTS and laid them out in the sun to dry. Then she got busy with a hammer. First, she hammered off the green/black husks and collected the black, wavy nutshells into a large pan. Then she sat on the concrete floor of our laundry room and hammered BLACK WALNUTS into small enough pieces to retrieve the meats inside.

That hammering could get on your nerves. I usually found something to do outside during the process. I'm sure her arm was sore by the time she finished. Those BLACK WALNUT shells are hard and thick. Funny how they look a lot like the bark of a BLACK WALNUT tree.

After the hammering part was done, we each gathered pieces, a nut pick, and settled down in front of The Ed Sullivan Show to pick out the BLACK WALNUT meats for upcoming Christmas recipes.
BLACK WALNUTS -- hand-picked or
purchased from a store -- they're
great in your holiday recipes

BLACK WALNUTS have a unique woodsy flavor. Mom used them in her chocolate fudge and family recipe fruitcakes. It was about the only time of year my mom made sweets. I felt it was worth the wait. It was also worth the effort and danger required to get the BLACK WALNUTS. Nothing topped her fudge or fruitcake.

Have you ever harvested BLACK WALNUTS? Did you have a tree in your yard? Do you have a favorite way of using them in your cooking?

Would you like to go into the mountains and collect BLACK WALNUTS? I recommend a pair of heavy gloves. Oh, and you may want to avoid any fenced-in pastures.

I'd love to hear your story.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- CHESTNUTS

It's that time of year when special treats fall from the trees. I don't mean acorns. They may be a special treat for the squirrels, but not for people.

No, I mean treats like apples, walnuts, pecans, hickory nuts--and CHESTNUTS.

CHESTNUTS bring back fond memories of my childhood. They also bring back painful memories.

Have you ever harvested CHESTNUTS? Have you had a CHESTNUT tree growing in your yard?

CHESTNUTS roasting on an open fire
At least most of you know what a CHESTNUT is, right? I mean, if you've heard the song about CHESTNUTS roasting on an open fire, you have a general idea. Or CHESTNUT dressing for your Thanksgiving feast. When I lived in New York City, I loved smelling CHESTNUTS roasting at night by the street vendors.

Cooler weather means CHESTNUTS to me.

You may know what a CHESTNUT is, but do you know how they are harvested? I'll give you the low-down from my memories of childhood.

CHESTNUTS in a burr
As my friends and I walked home from school in the fall, we passed nearby a CHESTNUT tree. We could hardly wait for the seed pods (CHESTNUT BURS) to drop from the tree so we could gather them for a snack.

Walking under a CHESTNUT tree can be hazardous. CHESTNUT burrs are large, needle-spiked balls. If they hit you on the head, it hurts like crazy. Besides, the quills on the burrs feel like a porcupine dropped on your head--sharp end first.

Picking up CHESTNUTS
The CHESTNUT burrs that have already fallen on the ground are dangerous, too. Those quills will stick right through your shoes. Especially if you're still wearing flip-flops or sandals. Never mind what they'll do to your fingers when you attempt to remove the CHESTNUTS from them.

If you're fortunate enough to find a CHESTNUT tree that has dropped its nuts, look for the burrs that have already dried out and changed from bright green to brownish weapon color. Most should have popped open, exposing the CHESTNUTS inside, or dropped them on the ground as they fell. Most pods contain three CHESTNUTS.

Now, to eat your CHESTNUT! Some people warn you not to eat them raw or the tannin in them will cause gastric distress (tummy ache). I don't remember that ever happening to me or my friends. We gathered the CHESTNUTS and opened the tough skin much the same way the squirrels do--we used our teeth. It's a wonder we have any teeth left.

Roasted CHESTNUT meats
Inside the skin is a sweet, luscious nut that is more akin to a fruit than a nut. At least, it has a lot more carbohydrate than fat.

Some people, who gather more than a few CHESTNUTS, roast or boil their CHESTNUTS before eating them. The recommendation is to score an X into the skin of each nut before cooking. I think that would be much more dangerous to my fingers than the burrs themselves. The reason you should score them is that when they heat up they build up steam inside and will explode (like an egg in your microwave).

Sounds like fun to me.

No matter how you prepare your CHESTNUT, it's worth the effort.

Have you ever harvested CHESTNUTS? Ever been stuck by a CHESTNUT burr? Have a favorite way to eat them?

I'd love to hear your story.

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?