Holiday Cooking with Grandma Georgia

As I prepare for our Thanksgiving dinner today, I am drawn into memories of Grandma’s kitchen. That were her habitat. Queen of her kitchen, she was in command of all the fixins. I recall helping to roll up the butterhorn rolls, a favorite task for granddaughters. Nobody went hungry at Grandma’s house. After the clean up, folks stretched out for a nap before we all drove the seven-mile journey to the family farm for a walk through the bare winter trees. It’s amazing how just cooking something from the past makes me feel close to family that is gone.

Today I will feature the latest publication that will be offered at the Christmasland event with Writers of the Wheat on December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita. Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work. Join us at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita,  December 3. There will be something for every reader’s taste. It seems appropriate on Thanksgiving to share a cookbook.

Foreword

Georgia’s Recipe for a good life:

Work hard.

Love deeply.

Laugh often.

Georgia Wells Harris was born in southern Missouri October 3, 1891, the third child in a family of 5 children born to George Calvin and Edith Malinda Wells. By 1900, the family had moved to Kansas, utilizing covered wagon and train transportation. They settled in Skiddy, and later Dunlap. Georgia married Charley Harris on November 20, 1912. They raised four children, Frances (born 1914), Lester (1918), Wallace (1925), and Paul (1935).

No stranger to hardship and heartache, Georgia struggled to keep her family fed during the 1930s. Her farm kitchen remained stocked mostly with things produced in her garden or on the family farm.

Her oldest son Lester, an engineer on the USS Gherardi in WWII, was killed December 2, 1942 in a violent storm off the coast of Rhode Island. Charley died ten years later, and cancer took daughter Frances in 1959. Through it all, Georgia opened her heart and her home to family and became a role model in resilience, generosity, and compassion for others. I have precious memories of her hearty laughter, which was easy to trigger and very contagious.

She was an excellent cook, and queen of her kitchen. Many holidays the entire family gathered at her round dining table to feast on exquisite cuisine.

She died June 25, 1990, well on her way to her 99th birthday.

Her meager possessions passed to various family members. After her son, my father Wallace, died in 2010, her worn pink recipe file came into my possession. The lid had long since disappeared and it was stuffed full. Many tabs of the various sections were almost torn off, but I felt a connection to my grandmother, reading those recipes—most written in her own familiar handwriting.

I suspect the file is far from complete as a collection of the dishes she served, but it’s a nice collection. Some I have specific memories of. Most I do not. Some must have been given by friends, as the handwriting was not her own. Perhaps she gained several in recipe exchanges at her women’s “72 Club.”

I long intended to divide up the cards and share them with my sisters and cousins, but time got away from me. In 2020, the year that COVID stalled many usual activities, as October rolled around I pulled out the file and started studying the recipes. Who should get which ones? It was impossible to decide. That’s when the idea of constructing a book was born. We each will have access to every single recipe in her recipe file. Each of her living grandchildren will still get a selection of her hand-written cards, but with this book, we’ll all be able to use and enjoy her recipe collection.

Several recipes were incomplete, listing only ingredients, or confusing instructions. I imagined she was standing behind me saying, “Well, you ought to know what to do with those.” After all, she knew. Where I tried to add suggestions, my words are in italics.

In places, I have transferred her exact notes, regardless of punctuation and spelling, just like they are on the cards. I find them endearing. In other places, I did a search to clear up some uncertainties. I didn’t always find answers, but where I did, I shared them.

Some ingredients are unfamiliar to me, and may be pretty hard to find. Thus there may be recipes that are not practical or useful in today’s kitchen. But they are interesting.

In many ways, recipes are heirlooms. The people she credited with some of the recipes are different than those I think of when I make the same concoction. Names in ( ) are her referrals to the sources of the recipes, but they don’t always match the credits in my own recipe file.  The cookies I think of as Grandma Georgia’s brown sugar raisin cookies, she credited to her younger sister, Ola. I wonder who Ola thought of when she baked them?

The evolution of our table food is an unending process. Special dishes remind us of gatherings, good times, and laughter. Others help us remember people we love who are no longer living. Those we favor tend to get passed around.

During the COVID seasons, I was drawn to the family favorites and felt comforted by memories of loved ones long gone as I shared their culinary delights with my loved ones today.

Mixed into the section headings is a sprinkling of wisdom as Georgia viewed life. It seems appropriate to include some thoughts she left in letters and recorded conversations, as seasonings for the book, just as her principles seasoned her life. Let your mind roam back over the decades, and just try to imagine the earlier days. She would be thrilled if we applied some of her shared thoughts to life in this century.

For more holiday food ideas, be sure to stop by the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita December 3. Visit with talented local authors. Browse the book selections. Find something special for everyone on your Christmas list.

 

What is a Windshadow?

Over the next few days, I will post information about each of the four books I have available. All of them will be part of the Christmasland Event with Writers of the Wheat December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita. Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work. Join us at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita,  December 3. There will be something for every reader’s taste.

Today, I feature my first published book, a memoir titled In the Shadow of the Wind. Though I have aspired to write books as long as I can remember, it was this one that had to come first. It uncorked the bottle of my creativity, so to speak. Released in 2014, I continue to be amazed at the response of new readers. It seems to connect with new folks scattered from coast to coast, and I am humbly grateful to the Winds of the Spirit for making the story known to those who struggle with their own personal grief and need encouragement.

What is it about?

Following a series of tragic losses, at age thirty I found myself in a strange world, anticipating a lonely future.  Widowed, and grieving the loss of two infants, I retreated to the wilderness for comfort and healing. Planning to stay forty days, I set up a solitary camp on the Neosho River bank of my family’s abandoned farm homestead. Marooned by rising flood water after only a few days, I had to face my own mortality.

I discovered that there is life after loss. Through a sequence of extraordinary events, In the Shadow of the Wind tells my story: how an ordinary woman learned to dance on the threshold of fear, to cherish every moment of life, and to believe in my inner resources to conquer adversity.

Prologue from the Book

“It’s okay, Daisy Pup,” I said. The small spaniel whined. I drew her to my chest and we cuddled together. Thunder exploded in the air above our little tent. The after-rumbles faded. Seconds later rain pelted the nylon roof of my fair-weather shelter. Daisy shivered in my arms. “It’ll be okay.” I tried to convince myself.

I felt foolish. How could I have thought this was a good idea? How could I have dreamed that I would be able to withstand forty days in the wilderness? The rain turned my plan into a futile effort that bordered on the edge of insanity.

A drop of water stabbed my forehead. In the gray afternoon light, I saw hundreds of droplets hang heavily from the inside of the tent roof. The threat of a cold shower hovered  inches away.

“Good Lord, Daisy—it’s going to rain inside the tent.”

There was no escape from the chill in the air. No escape from the fingers of cold that crept up from below. No escape from—“Oh, my God, the sleeping bag is wet.”

I shifted sideways in the orange tent and discovered we huddled in a growing pool of water, now about an inch deep. “Oh, God, this is crazy.”

My canine companion stood and shook.

“You need to go out?”

She wagged her stubby tail and shook again. I unzipped the door and she jumped into the deluge. I grabbed my boots and began to pull one over a damp sock. On second thought, I tied the laces together, removed my socks, and backed out of the low-slung tent. I pulled my backpack into the soggy afternoon, zipped the tent door shut, and stood barefoot in black ooze.

Daisy splashed through standing water. She located a slight rise, squatted, and relieved herself. I glanced at the sodden landscape. Water stood everywhere, and I was already soaked in the downpour. What were we to do? I turned in a circle and searched for shelter. An old wooden railroad boxcar, the only structure that remained on the abandoned farm, stood right behind the tent.

I stooped to look under the boxcar. We could wiggle under it. I quickly discarded that idea. The prospect of lying in muck was no better than sitting in a wet tent. Padlocks secured the sliding doors of the boxcar. Even if I had a key, I doubted I could budge them enough to allow entrance. The aged wooden sides looked weathered and soft. One ragged gap at the leading edge of the north door panel appeared almost large enough for me to wiggle inside.

I slogged to the side of the boxcar and grasped the lower edge of one ragged slat. I tugged on the worn end. With my entire weight behind my efforts, I ripped off inches at a time until the opening had grown twice as large.

“Come here, Daisy. Let’s check this out.” She was instantly at my mud-covered heels. I patted the dark floor of the boxcar, standing forty inches off the ground. Daisy leaped. With an assist from me, she scrambled into the dark interior. I stuffed my backpack behind her, slogged to the tent and pulled my boots and the bedding into the storm. I struggled to maintain balance as I slipped back to the hole in the door and crammed the bundle of blankets inside. Then I leaned into the darkness of the abandoned car and jumped. On my stomach, legs dangling out the opening, I snaked forward a few inches. With flailing arms, I reached into the darkness in search of something to grab.

There. Something metallic. Perhaps an old piece of farm equipment. I didn’t know. I could see very little. But it didn’t budge, so I was able to pull myself into the relatively dry interior of the old boxcar. Across the car, Daisy snuffled and sneezed a couple times. I stood and felt my way around the area. After locating a pile of old shingles along the south wall, I propped the backpack on the floor beside them. I shook the damp bedding. My clothing was soaked through, so I wrapped the blankets and sleeping bag around my shoulders. I sat on the shingles and leaned against the wall of the boxcar.

Daisy bounded onto my lap. We shared each other’s warmth as the deluge continued outside. Moments after we both settled down, I heard scratching noises inside the boxcar. Light-footed creatures scampered about the interior. I hugged Daisy a little tighter. I could see pinpoints of light here and there, small eyes that reflected the afternoon light filtering in through holes in the wall. Oh, my God.

Rats. Lots of them.

 I screamed. “I am such a fool, Daisy. Why do you put up with me?”

She licked my chin.

I spoke to my late husband Craig. “What am I going to do? I don’t think I can do this. I can’t live without you.”

He, of course, didn’t answer. I was on my own.

Daisy whined softly and licked my chin as if she understood. The storm mirrored the anguish in my heart. The entire universe wept with me. “What are we going to do, girl? I don’t know where we’re heading. I only know where we’ve been.”

When I met Craig, we thought we had all the time in the world. A decade was hard to visualize. Had we known that all our joys, our plans, and dreams, would have to be packed into one decade, would we have spent our days differently? Would our choices have been laced with more love and wisdom, or with desperate lunacy? Based on the law of averages, we had every reason to expect several decades together.

Yet there was barely one.

“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” I railed against the universe.

 

 

From Alpha . . . to Omega Part 2

Since I was young, I found peace and unconditional acceptance in the natural world, even in difficult times. Especially in difficult times. During a traumatic adolescence, I surrounded myself with nature in my hideaway room at home. There was a fifty-gallon aquarium, and shelves in the windows filled with houseplants. Some even vined across the ceiling. My own private forest.

In Nature, I found evidence of a supreme being beyond what our senses show. Through countless moments filled with awe and wonder at the mystery of life, of connections with other beings, I grew to love the Earth, its life, and its mysteries. As we approach a precipice of no-return in the global crisis brought on by our industrial and consumer-oriented lifestyle, I feel great sadness, along with deep gratitude for the gift of life itself, and for all the moments when I sense the Beyond through simple contacts with other living things. Climate grief is a true thing.

I wonder what awe-filled moments do you recall that you wish your grandchildren—and theirs—could experience?

Have you ever . . .

Watched an eagle soar and listened to its distant call?

Sat on a trailside boulder and watched an aspen seed float to the ground?

Had a hummingbird check your red bandanna for nectar?

Watched a glacier calve an iceberg?

Heard a rush of wings in the stillness of a heavy mist?

Watched a loggerheaded shrike hang a field mouse on a locust thorn?

Risen before dawn to visit booming grounds of lesser prairie chickens?

 

Watched a lone prairie dog scamper away from its village into the sunset?

Surprised a family of deer on a winter walk?

Watched a flock of robins sip melting snow from your house gutters?

Walked with a flashlight after dark in September to watch orb spiders at work?

Witnessed a black bear check out the milo fields on the high plains of Kansas?

Heard the scream of a cougar outside your tent in the middle of the night?

Watched autumn leaves dance with hundreds of migrating monarch butterflies at dusk?

Held a newly metamorphosed moth in your hand and watched its virgin flight?

Heard barking sea lions as they congregated on the shore below the seaside cliff where you stood?

Through six decades, travels from Oregon and California to Maryland and Florida, Minnesota to Arizona, as well as journeys to Japan, India, Hawaii, Canada, Alaska, Cuba, and Mexico—not to mention my own backyard—the wonderments of Earth have held me spellbound in every little nook. With deep gratitude for all I have been fortunate to witness, and with fervent hope that we can stop our catapult into disaster at COP26, I offer Part 2 of the slide show from my younger days. Let humanity not be responsible for the Omega curtain on our gem of a planet.

Music: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, “Chorale Symphony.”

 

From Alpha . . . to Omega

A week from today in Glasgow, Scotland, COP26 is set to begin. The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the 1994 United Nations treaty on Climate Change has been called the planet’s last best chance to establish commitments around the globe that will mitigate the worst consequences of human blundering and greed. Glasgow, a Global Green City with plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, is an appropriate location for the conference. Like Greta Thunberg, I have grave doubts that anything pertinent will come from the proceedings.

But, it’s crucial that we take drastic steps to reverse the damage humanity has done to this gem of a planet. Every culture and faith tradition that I know of dictates great honor and respect for the forces that created the living biosphere we call home and rely on for our very existence. My background is the Christian tradition, where in earliest stories, God the divine, the Creator, brought into being the systems on Earth—and saw that it was very good.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

The greatest crime against the universe is human arrogance and greed that ignores the rest of our brother and sister species to bring about catastrophic change and ultimately destruction of the Earth systems that support all life forms.

I fell in love with nature in my childhood. My parents took us traveling to wonderful places every year and we camped in the wilderness before RV-ing became a “thing.” The church were I learned “God is Love” used beautiful scenic photos on the weekly bulletins, and I wanted to take photos like them.

In college, my best friend (who later became my husband) and I bonded over escapades in natural settings. We reveled in outings where we traipsed joyfully through hills and meadows with our 35mm SLR cameras slung over our shoulders.

The first church we attended as newlyweds was a country Mennonite church in southwestern Kansas. Though neither of us had a Mennonite background, the love, the service, and the music of this congregation provided a perfect support for beginning our married life. For these people, we put together a slide show of our own scenic shots, accompanied by scripture from the Bible. The original show was held in 1978 in a local auditorium, using a Kodak carousel projector and reading scripture at a microphone as we advanced the slides. At the time we thought how nice it would have been to include musical background, but lacked technological skills to accomplish that.

I lost my first soul mate to cancer. A lifetime later, with advancing digital products and home computers, I was able to convert the original 35mm slides to digital format, set it all to music with the help of a tech-savvy stepson, and post to a YouTube video channel.

I offer the show here, for love of the Earth, of Creation, of our gem of a planet which unquestionably deserves better than we’ve allotted to it. As COP26 approaches, can we all agree that Earth is unique in the universe? Can we, out of respect for its Creator and Creation itself, and for love of generations to come—generations of all species that make up our Earth family—commit to protecting and preserving this unique planet which holds mystery and miracles and wondrous splendor?

See Part 1 of the slide show we called “In the Beginning” here, set to Beethoven’s Egmont Overture in F minor op. 84:

Part 2 to come.

French Bread Pizza-zz

Favorite dishes in our family originate in many places. Grandmother kitchens, as well as mother kitchens, mother-in-law kitchens, and those of friends have produced satisfying and tasty concoctions that remain favorites through generations. It’s surprising how often friends will exchange recipes that work their way onto the list of favorites.

I thumbed through the cards in my file and noted several that have achieved staying power. One was a main dish that has a name begging creative upgrade: “Hamburger on French Bread.” Through the years we have referred to this as “Topped French Bread,” or “French Bread Pizza.” Nothing seems to stick with permanence.

The recipe card was written in my mother’s handwriting, noting that its source was the mother of our good childhood friends, Fredia. Sixty years ago, my sisters and I belonged to a 4-H club and enjoyed getting together for learning projects with friends that we still keep in touch with today. I recall Fredia as an active 4-H project leader, sharing several recipes that had staying power, just like the friendship between our families.

On my latest trip to the grocery store, a display just inside the door offered French bread loaves at a special price. I took it as a sign that the “French Bread Pizza-zz” was next on the Comfort Food list. For many years, French bread loaves were offered in foil wrappers that could be used in the oven. No longer. But I discovered that the long narrow loaves fit nicely, in a diagonal orientation, in 13” x 9” cake pans, which is what I used to prepare this favorite main dish.

Here’s what you need to make this satisfying dish:

  1. Cut a loaf of French bread in half, long ways.
  2. Mix a pound of lean ground beef with 1/3 cup evaporated milk, 1/4 cup of crushed crackers, 1 egg, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 1 1/2 tsp prepared mustard, 1 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. A handy tool is a potato masher.
  3. Spread ½ of the meat mixture on each half of the bread.
  4. Wrap in foil, or place in a 13 x 9 pan and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
  5. Bake 20 minutes at 350 F.
  6. Sprinkle ½ cup grated cheese on each half of the loaf. Bake 5 minutes longer.
  7. Slice into desired servings and enjoy.

This recipe is a keeper. My grandson’s comment at dinnertime: “We need to make this more often!”

 

Brown Sugar Raisin Cookies

Perhaps every grandmother bakes cookies. Mine sure did. And there was this one recipe that in my mind was unique to Grandma Georgia. Her recipe for Brown Sugar Raisin Cookies wouldn’t have stood out as special to me, just looking through recipes. Though I am fond of brown sugar concoctions, I have never really taken to raisins. But this cookie wouldn’t be the same without them. In her recipe file, she labeled them “Ola’s Cookies”. Her youngest sister was named Ola. She must have thought fondly of Ola whenever she baked a batch of these cookies. I think of Grandma Georgia. To me, the flavor speaks of delicious odors filling her simple house, her hearty laughter, and her ready hugs. These cookies say “Grandma” as clearly as anything ever could.

I must tell you that the mix of flavors–lemon, brown sugar, and stewed raisins– grows on you and it’s nearly impossible to eat just one. I will also let you know that for years after Grandma Georgia shared this prize recipe with my mother, we could not figure out her secret. Ours never quite ended up the same as Grandma’s cookies. However once upon a time she divulged her little secret (a bit resentfully, as if everyone should just know how to do this.) She always baked a test cookie before she put a sheet of them into the oven. After baking one, if it didn’t turn out light and fluffy, she added more flour. So we learned that recipes aren’t cut in stone. They are meant to be adjusted to preferences and current conditions.

Suffice it to say  that the cookies turn out much better (more like Grandma’s) if the dough is very stiff to start with. You don’t want them spreading out too much during the baking process.

Grandma Georgia’s Brown Sugar Raisin Cookies

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Measure a cup of raisin into a saucepan. Cover them with water and simmer them gently while you prepare the rest of the cookie dough.
  3. Cream together 1 cup Crisco and 2 cups brown sugar. Note: I learned a few months ago that genuine Crisco has a component of palm oil in it, which is not environmentally friendly, given that much land in tropical countries is altered to produce the palm trees to meet palm oil demand. I used 1 cup of real butter instead with no detriment to the finished product.
  4. Add 2 well-beaten eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1 tsp lemon extract. Beat well.
  5. Measure 3 1/2 cups sifted flour and sift with 2 tsp soda and 2 tsp cream of tartar. Mix the dry ingredients into the dough.
  6. Drain the raisins after they are soft and plump. Add them to the cookie dough, and add 1 cup nutmeats, if desired.
  7. Mix well with your hands. “Makes them soft,” wrote Grandma Georgia.
  8. Drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet.
  9. Bake 10 – 15 minutes in the pre-heated oven.

This recipe makes 4 to 5 dozen delicious cookies that provide a taste into the past, a simple, wholesome life filled with love and laughter.

A bit of Grandma’s life wisdom:

“When I was younger and my feelings got hurt or a problem was hard to solve, I would get my hoe, and I would hoe and hoe, as hard as I could, until the problem didn’t seem so big. I used to have a wonderful garden!”

Georgia Wells Harris, November 1983

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B08T85DXDQ/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandma Georgia’s Recipe File

With a sense of blissful excitement, I am pleased to announce the arrival of my latest book project, Grandma Georgia’s Recipe File. A divergence from my previous endeavors–hardly suspense fiction–there’s not a single piano in its pages, but it’s still ripe with story.

1984

Georgia Wells Harris was a quiet woman, but she opened her home and her heart to everyone. Each of her family members loved her dearly. She lived a devout faith, slow to anger, loving through dissention, refusing to judge others. Born October 3, 1891 in the Ozark hills of Missouri, her family migrated to central Kansas before the turn of the century in covered wagons, and by rail. She lived through the depression, two world wars, birthed four children, and buried two of them before her own last breath. A farm wife, her realm was home and garden. She kept everyone fed through good times and bad.

Quilting lessons, 1979

She spent her free time crafting quilts and gave them away to each of her children, grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren that she knew. She socialized with clubs of neighbor women at church and in a one-room schoolhouse auxiliary called “72 Club.” She delighted in simple things and her easy laughter was contagious.

Georgia blowing bubbles in the timber one Easter in the early 70s.

My grandmother’s dilapidated recipe file came to me a decade ago after my father passed away. Though I always knew I would share it someday, the time for sharing was postponed by the bustle of a busy life. I wanted to share the cards with all my grandmother’s living grandchildren, my two sisters and a cousin and me. But the project got tabled, and mostly forgotten.

1971

Then a year ago, that busy life came to a standstill due to the COVID restrictions. I am not the only person who discovered that one blessing of the COVID time was to open the chance to catch up on long-overdue projects. This was one of them. In fact, the slower pace reminded me of Grandma Georgia and how I appreciated the slower pace of her life.

1976

Visits to her in my young adulthood always slowed me down and I relished the peace of her quiet life. Last October I pulled the little pink recipe file box from my hutch and began to catalog the cards. It didn’t take long to realize that there were very few duplicates. I would have to split them up. How could I possibly divide them into 4 equivalent batches? What if I sent the wrong recipes to people? Then there was the valid possibility that maybe–just maybe–we’d all like the entire set of recipes.

The idea of making a recipe book was born the moment I realized it would be impossible to split up the cards and be sure that the right granddaughter received those appropriate for her. Why not make them all available to all of us? I began to type the recipes into word documents on my computer. As I typed, it became clearer how much of our lives are told by the food we eat, those favorite dishes we share with our loved ones.

1985

She had noted names on many cards, to remember who provided those recipes to her. Some people I knew. Many I barely knew. Some were total strangers to me. Her dear daughter, and some of us grandchildren were noted, but there were other family names I had only heard about, including Mabel and Florence Ethel (Pete) whom you might recall from the story “High Courage.”

I became doubly excited about this booklet idea. In addition to creating my grandmother’s recipe book, I would use this project to learn how to format manuscripts for publication. The project took on multiple objectives.

I intended to surprise my sisters and cousin at Christmastime.

Well, some things just can’t be rushed. Christmas came and went, and I was still working on designing the cover with the help of my computer-savvy stepson. What’s wrong with Valentine’s Day, I thought? Often in past years, our “Christmas” greetings became Fellentines. This could fit right into that.

But Valentine’s Day came and went also, while waiting on the printing process.

However, I am happy to announce that the project has come to a very successful completion. Last week, I received my first order of the recipe books, and I packaged up several to send off and surprise family members. The unexpected books by now have reached every destination, so the secret is out!

When chatting about this project in December with some friends, I mentioned that I didn’t expect anyone beyond family to be interested. But some friends insisted that they would like the opportunity to have one of these traditional family cookbooks. I felt quite honored by that declaration. My proof-reader sister asked if I’d autographed all the books, and I replied, “I autographed NONE of them. I don’t really feel like it’s my book. It’s Grandma Georgia’s.”

Spring flowers blooming at Georgia’s house.

With satisfaction, I can report that I did manage to work through the steps to format this booklet without assistance. Very cool. No need to shy away from that process in my future endeavors. And with love filling my heart, I can say that the opportunity to read through some of Grandma Georgia’s letters was incredibly rewarding. I had kept every one that she sent me before she died June 25, 1990. The correspondence allowed me to season the book with bits of her life philosophy. In this blog’s new “Comfort Foods” category, I will share a few more recipes, as well as snippets of philosophy, in coming weeks. There will be recipes from Georgia’s kitchen, but also some from other beloved friends and relatives. Stay tuned!

My heart is full. I offer the recipe book with love to anyone who needs a lift.

Georgia’s Recipe for a Life well-lived:

Work hard.

Love deeply.

Laugh often.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B08T85DXDQ/

 

 

Comfort Foods: Peach Seed Jelly

COVID season provided ample opportunity for reflection. Who am I anyway? Or who are WE? How did we get here? Where are we headed?

Much of my ruminating led to angst. We don’t know for sure where we are headed. Events of the last year placed a lot of lifelong assumptions, assurances, and dreams under the scrutinizing lens of a societal microscope and we came up lacking—lacking equality and justice, lacking compassion, lacking financial security and equity. In other areas we have far too much—distrust of each other, division, despair.

Through it however, I discovered that an open mind, willingness to embrace new ideas and habits, reinforcing resilience, and following new paths to adventure were good medicine. Laughter with friends, online or masked, helped also.

Another of my go-to tactics was to remember good times and loved ones who have departed. I recall they made it through difficult days—or even years—and that helps. If they did, so can we.

I discovered one good way to access memories is through food. I am no gourmet chef. In fact, I am one of those people who really HATES to cook. I have always looked at food preparation as a necessary inconvenience. However, I discovered that preparing family favorites passed along by loved ones was therapeutic. I delighted in preparing dishes that make me think of lost family members. Call it comfort food. The stories behind favorite family recipes, their origins and evolution, offer warm fuzzies in the way of good memories, as well.

Today I launch a new thread in my blog–Comfort Food recipes, brought to me by dear friends and beloved family members. Many of the originals live in my recipe box, and when I read the ingredients and instructions, penned in my grandmother’s or mother’s handwriting, it’s as if they are just around the corner, waiting to share some familiar conversational topics. In “Comfort Foods” I will share food stories also, the memories associated with the recipes, and how they came to be favorites.

I start the series with a favorite from my Grandma Georgia, “Peach Seed Jelly.” Yes, you read that right. It is jelly made from a pan of peach seeds. Though I don’t know its origin, I can visualize Grandma Georgia tending to those peaches from her wild peach tree on the west side of the wheat field. After canning the sliced peaches, she discovered how to make use of them down to the leftover seeds, probably with a little help from her friends.

This story has to start in the springtime. After the recent polar weather we experienced, I look forward to this year’s spring. Will the fruit trees bloom again this year? Will the balmy weather allow them to produce fruit again? A few years ago, I learned that the flowering tree at the corner of a building my dad built on the property next door was a peach tree. Prior to that I assumed it to be an ornamental plum since it had never produced fruit in the three decades that we’ve lived here. As it grew, it gifted us with cascades of blossoms during several springs. The fruit finally showed up, and for the last two years, branches were laden with delicate, small white peaches. There was enough to collect and can for the winter, along with several pints of white peach jam.

The story could stop there. But it doesn’t. When I was a child, Grandma Georgia shared a recipe for “Peach Seed Jelly” that my mother utilized several times. Mother discovered that you don’t have to make the jelly during the summer’s canning season. Peach seeds can be frozen and kept a year or two—until there are enough to make a good batch of jelly. When the peach jam jars are empty, and canned peaches nearly depleted, winter is a perfect time to thaw out those peach seeds and make jelly.

Here’s how:

  1. Cover the peach seeds with boiling water and simmer on the stove for about five minutes. Let the seeds stand overnight in this water.
  2. Next morning strain and measure the juice.The seeds will now be relegated to the compost bin, or offered to the hens to peck over.
  3. Add 1 package of fruit pectin to each three cups of juice. For this batch, I measured 9 cups of juice, so I needed three packages of pectin.
  4. Bring this to a vigorous boil, stirring constantly.
  5. Add equal parts of sugar as juice. 9 cups juice requires 9 cups sugar. However, I have reliably had better luck with a ratio of 4:3 sugar to juice.  9 cups  juice  to  12  cups  sugar.
  6. Cook at the boiling point until drops sheet off a spoon in the jell test.

    This is NOT sheeting off the spoon.

    This takes maybe 15 – 20 minutes.

    Looking through the steam, this is getting close. The mixture doesn’t run any longer, and drips slowly.

    Jelly coating the stirring spoon.

    I have never been certain when this point is reached, or even identifying drops “sheeting” off the spoon but I discovered that you can test a spoonful on a lid or small dish. Place it in the refrigerator for a minute to see if it jells.

  7. When it’s ready, seal the jelly in pint jars.  Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.

    Eight pints of jelly from nine cups of juice.

This is a delightful jelly, with a flavor that cannot be duplicated in any purchased peach jelly or jam. One year, after a top-ranking ribbon at the county fair, my daughter took it to the state fair. No doubt about it, Peach Seed Jelly is a family favorite. After a successful batch, we get quite protective of it. We have even been known to ration its use by novices, just in case they don’t find it as desirable as we do!

Thank you, Grandma Georgia!

 

High Courage: The Great Kansas Blizzard of 1882 – IV

Bushong, Kansas 100 years after Mabel’s story

A pioneer story of Kansas by Mabel Chandler Harris.

Part IV

George Chandler, his son Gene, and the horse Ned went doggedly forward and when the man felt sleepy in spite of himself, he knew he must act. He stopped the horse and slid out of the saddle. He could hardly support himself and clung to the stirrup. The horse dropped his head to the snow and snorted furry icicles from his nostrils. The man pulled the chilled boy into the saddle and carefully wrapped the blanket about his cold feet and legs. He removed the long wool scarf from his own neck and wound it round and round the head and shoulders of his son. He slapped his hands against his chest and stomped up and down until he felt renewed circulation of blood in his veins and his feet did not feel so much like frozen lumps.

When he felt somewhat restored, he gave Ned a slap on the rump and grasped the stirrup firmly. They proceeded on their way. The wind remained bitter and fierce. The cold grew more intense. George thought it must be after midnight. He was sure they were still several miles from home.

He gave himself up to thought. He believed in prayer and he had to have some help right now. He asked God for strength and endurance. He prayed for the son in the saddle and for the precious daughter who had been so faithful during these months when he had been forced to be away from home. As he prayed, he was strengthened. He felt reassured that they would reach home.

Gene seemed to be sleep on the horse. George’s thoughts drifted. He remembered himself as a mere lad in the Army of the Republic. He recalled the joyful day he married Hannah Priscilla Crabtree. He remembered the home life in Missouri and the glowing reports of cheap land in Kansas. These reports had fired both his and his wife’s imagination, so he had purchased their present home from a local land agent whom he had trusted implicitly. They had loaded their belongings in the two big wagons. With the crated chickens fastened underneath the wagon beds, and the boys driving the cows and extra horses, they came west from Kansas City on the great trail.

The Chandlers reached their destination in northern Lyon County, Kansas a week later. No one would ever know his bitter disappointment when he had first seen the treeless, poor upland farm that he had bargained for. He had not known there was so much pasture in all the world. He had dreamed of a farm in the bend of a creek, but the creek turned out to be a gully that passed through his land as a raging torrent after a big rain, a dry slough the remainder of the time.

The horse dragged on. George staggered as he clung to Ned. His arms ached. With thoughts of the family that waited for him, he poured his last ounce of determination into his efforts. He resolutely lifted one foot after the other, glad that Gene was quiet.

The night was clearing enough that he recognized the little cemetery in the whiteness. Ned must have come this far west to avoid some very deep snow drifts. The horse was doing fine to know so much even it if did make the way a mile longer.

Thoughts continued like a rushing stream that would not be stopped. The Chandlers had worked at making a home on that upland claim. And then—oh dear God—there had been Delphia, the blue baby. Disconnected scraps of memories filled his laboring mind. “Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes.” Preachers always said those words in burial services.

With cold misgivings he asked himself, “Is there more than that in life?” Hannah was taken when he had needed her so badly. Was she better off than he this terrible night? The harrowing experience of moving little Delphia’s body from the corner to the place at the head of her mother haunted him. It was noon on a warm May day when the little disinterred coffin rested on the green grass. His helpers stood around while he obeyed an impulse to open the lid to peek at his darling child again. In the first instant as they all looked the baby form was there in its original angelic beauty. With the impact of warm air, the little form crumbled into a tiny mound of ashes.

Shuddering, George forced his mind back to his present surroundings. “I must be awfully cold to let myself think in this way,” he thought. “I will not doubt. The word says the spirit shall return to God who gave it. God help me,” he prayed, “to be able to say, even tonight, The Lord hath given and the Lord hath taken away.” Aloud he said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord. I know that God giveth His children strength.”

At his voice, Gene mumbled “What did you say, Pa?”

The father answered, “We will get home. We are almost there.”

It was about three o’clock in the morning when the horse stopped at the stone house. The man gave a shout and dragged the nearly frozen boy from the saddle. The door flew open and Henry, followed by the tall neighbor boy, rushed out and half carried them into light and warmth. Charlie, the lame boy, limped away with old Ned, and while the people in the house worked over the man and the boy, restoring them with a tub of snow, Charlie fed and rubbed the animal that had brought his father and brother home safely home.

When only partially recovered from his night’s experience, the man whose sandy hair had turned white during the last twelve hours, turned to the bedside of his sick daughter.

As he stroked her hair, she spoke her last words, “I knew you would come, Pa.”

The father, with spasms of pain crossing and re-crossing his fine face, held the hand that so confidently had been placed in his. He realized his efforts to save this beloved daughter had been in vain.

As dawn broke over the windswept hillside, Etta Viola Chandler died. George gathered as many of his children as he could clasp into his arms. They clung to him or to each other as he bowed his head in submission and whispered so all could hear, “Thy will be done.”

That was the morning of January 19, 1882. The place was a quarter of a mile south of the original Santa Fe Trail that wended its way across northern Lyon County, Kansas. The Old Santa Fe Trail was the way thousands of people followed west in the 1800s. With their heads, hearts, and hands they literally created a democracy the likes of which is not found anywhere else on our earth.

Because of the bitter cold, Etta Viola Chandler, seventeen-and-a-half years of age, could not be buried in the little Bushong Cemetery beside her mother until January 24, 1882.

The End

Notes about Mabel Chandler Harris, the author of this historical narrative, and the setting of the story.

Mabel was born to George Chandler and his second wife, Carrie, in 1890. She was one of eight children of this second marriage. The children in her “High Courage” story were mostly grown when Mabel was a child, but she must have heard this family story and her heart went out to their struggles.

Mabel married Loren Scott Harris, the older brother of my grandfather Charley Harris, on June 7, 1915. They had one child, Florence Ethel, born December 22, 1927, who was a favorite cousin of my father, Wallace. He called Florence by the nickname Pete.

Pete moved to Wichita during her adult years and shared this “High Courage” story with her dear friend and tax accountant. When Wallace moved to Cowley County from Lyon County, he also hired Pete’s accountant friend to handle his taxes, and I followed suit. During one of my annual tax meetings, she presented me with a copy of Mabel’s story about the blizzard of 1882.

Loren and Mabel lived in Dunlap, Kansas, just up the road from the Harris family homestead on the Neosho River where my grandfather and father lived. Mabel had the distinguished honor to become the first woman to be ordained as a minister of the Methodist Church in the entire state of Kansas. She performed wedding ceremonies, and funerals, for many rural folks, including the Harris family.

The settler’s town named in the story, Bushong, Kansas, is today little more than a few neighborly homes on the paved county road due north of Americus, Kansas. To put more perspective on the horseback journey of Gene and his father on Ned the trusty horse, Bushong is a good 20 miles from the heart of Emporia. The stone cabin where Etta waited would have been even further. Gene and Ned traveled more than 40 miles in that storm, 20 of them on the return trip with George, in the dark, facing into the wind. That blows my mind. Teenage Gene indeed showed great courage, as well as a deep love for his sister and the rest of the family.

High Courage: The Great Kansas Blizzard of 1882- III

A pioneer story of Kansas by Mabel Chandler Harris.

Part III

In the dead of winter when the weather was at its worst, Etta Viola Chandler was lying in her bed, sick. She knew that she was very hot, and that she was very sick. She thought of her mother who had always known what to do under any circumstances. She lifted her arms pleadingly out in the room and  sobbed. “Oh, ma, I need you so much.” She continued to toss, finally sleeping fitfully.

After a long, long time, morning came. Gene peeked in from the bedroom and noticed her feverish face. “You need the doctor?”

Etta answered the question he had blurted out. Yes, she must have a doctor. Henry declared he would be glad to make the trip to Americus. As soon as he had eaten, he saddled his favorite horse and went for their good friend, Dr. Wright. Gene went out in the bitter cold to do the chores, paying special attention to all the livestock under his care, just as his father always did. Leo Nettie ironed the clothes and the children all cared for little Annie, who was unusually fretful. Before noon a kind neighbor came in to help. Henry had stopped at the Sanders place on his way to Americus. Mrs. Sanders, too, was alarmed at the serious condition of the sick girl on the bed.

Soon other neighbors brought food. Their presence provided comfort for the anxious children. Early in the afternoon, Dr. Wright arrived and with gruff frankness told them that Etta was a very sick girl. “She has pneumonia,” he said. “I’ll do all I can for her, but her father must get here as soon as possible.” He provided medicine, carefully giving the directions, and reluctantly left the house. Henry stood close to the stove to warm up after his trip to Americus.

At the window, Gene noticed the snow piling up. The cold wind blew through cracks in the stone wall. On the bed, Etta was conscious of Gene’s dismay. Her sympathy was aroused but she knew their father would want to be home under the circumstances. And she needed her Pa. She sat up in her bed and in her old way, she marshalled her forces.

“Gene,” she said, “you will have to go for Pa. I can’t tell you how sorry I am to send you out in the storm. But you have to go. Ride Ned. He is the strongest horse on the place and you and Pa can both ride him back. Leo Nettie, keep the fire burning hard. Don’t let the house get cold. And Henry, eat some dinner and then see that the chickens and stock are well cared for, because this night will be hard on them.

“Bert, you and Charlie, get in plenty of fuel and water. Lottie, you see that the littler ones are kept happy so they won’t bother Leo-Nettie who has so much to look after.”

She sank back into the covers and turned again to face Gene. She almost whispered, “Tell Pa not to worry but to come as quick as he can. You take the heavy blanket off the bed to wrap up in—oh, Gene, I wish you did not need to go.”

She turned to the others in the room. “Thank you, Mrs. Sanders, and thank everyone for coming.” Her eyes swept the circle of faces and lingered on the tall neighbor lad who stood with her brothers. “I’ll be all right when Pa gets here,” she ended confidently. She laid back on her pillow.

Silently each one attended to his appointed task. The tall neighbor boy went out with Gene to see that everything was as good as possible for the dangerous trip to Emporia. Beside the cold, visibility would be poor and there would be many drifts on the road. It was already little more than a path.

Gene was well-wrapped. With his back to the wind and the big horse willing he made steady progress. Yet it was well after dark when the chilled and hungry boy finally reached the hotel in Emporia. George Chandler greeted his son’s announcement with consternation. He felt a premonition of impending disaster.

The hotel owner was understanding, but obdurate. “The supper must be served,” he said. “The house is full of guests, and anyway, it will be much better to wait until morning. No one can hope to make a trip to Bushong and beyond on a night like this.”

At his father’s side, Gene remembered Etta’s words, “Tell Pa not to worry but to come as soon as he can.” Gene said, “Pa, it’s bad but let me feed Ned so he can rest a bit and then let us be going. Etta wants you.”

While the horse ate and rested, Gene warmed by the oven door and had a good supper. The anxious father served the evening meal before he could prepare for the trip home in the face of one of Kansas’ worst blizzards. He knew they would be facing directly into the storm as they headed northwest into open country.

At first, both Gene and his Pa rode Ned but the horse was not as fresh as he had been six hours earlier, nor as willing to face the needle-sharp sleet that cut their faces. The animal was urged on by the worried man with the reins. The boy dug his face into his Father’s protecting back but his feet and legs soon became numb and he sobbed soft whimpering sobs that cut into the heart of the father. George tried to comfort the lad with kind encouragement, but fear had assailed him too. He had lost his bearings. He was not sure he was guiding the horse in the right direction.

“I will have to trust the horse and God,” he told himself. “I do not know where we are.” He fastened the reins around the pommel of the saddle, giving the horse his head. The animal, seeming to sense the urgency of the man’s knees, struggled on through the drifts around them. George fretted and worried for fear that they were not going right, until he was reassured by the lights and recognizable streets of Americus. He knew then that Ned would get them home if only the two humans could endure the low temperatures of the night.

(To be continued. . .)