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.