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Warming up the kitchen in the winter

'The Mist and All'

I like the fall,

The mist and all.

I like the night owl's

Lonely call --

And wailing sound

Of wind around.

I like the gray

November day,

And bare, dead boughs

That coldly sway

Against my pane.

I like the rain.

I like to sit

And laugh at it --

And tend

My cozy fire a bit.

I like the fall --

The mist and all --

By Dixie Willson

 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's not fall, and it's not November. Yet we have the hill swathed in mist, and the wailing sound of wind in the pines. Rain is falling on the bare, dead boughs, but the cozy fire and the warm house is a blessing. Winter days can be enjoyable to curl up by the fire with a good book, or use the time to sew and quilt.

It is also an ideal time to bake and cook, as the heat from the oven counteracts the cold outside. What can be cheerier than a big pot of vegetable soup or hearty chili simmering on the stove on a winter day? It is a good time to try a different recipe or experiment with a new food.

My Cousin Tony is an experimenter of the first order. In the summer he gardens and raises large crops of vegetables, which he preserves and puts to use in the winter. He is also an excellent cook, and his apple butter is in much demand. Some things he has tried can be filed under "things I won't attempt again."

His most memorable experiment was probably when he made maple syrup. He got some literature from the Extension Office and plunged in. He had about 15 maple trees, which he tapped and gathered sap. For six long weeks he collected and saved the sweet juice. His friend Carl Woody told him he wanted to buy a pint of the finished product. Tony had dreams of getting rich with his maple syrup.

It took 12 hours to boil it down, and he ended up with 40 half pints of syrup. When he figured up his man hours and time invested, he had $60 per pint in it. Carl decided he didn't want maple syrup after all.

All was not lost, however; he hosted a big family breakfast (brother Don supplied the sausage and sister Phyllis made the biscuits) and the maple syrup was put to good use.

I don't think Daddy tried his hand at making syrup, but he used to cut huge hunks of bark from the sweet maple trees (in the winter) and bring them to us kids. The inner bark was icy cold and sweet, and we scraped it out with teaspoons. It was quite a treat for us.

Back to Cousin Tony -- a week or so ago he made orange marmalade that turned out quite tasty. Then he experimented with cranberries and made what he called "cranberry jam/jelly." It is jam on the top of the jar and jelly on the bottom.

He also makes delicious Mexican cornbread. He reminded me of the "gritted" cornbread that old people used to make. I had forgotten about it. Daddy had a "gritter," which consisted of a pan with nail holes pounded in it, and the ear of corn was scraped across the rough side.

Corn that was past the milky stage but still not hard was the type used. Cousin Tony said that sweet corn actually made the best gritted meal. I got so hungry talking to him that I had to stop everything and make a pan of corn bread. I found some meal that had never been sifted, but had the bran still in it, and made an iron skillet of corn bread. (Thanks, Mr. Mann!) It was lovely! 

I received a letter from my friend Don Norman while I was in the hospital, and I'd like to share it with you. He wrote, "In my 82nd year, I recall happy yuletides past; the amazement of a grade school pageant in a one room school, heated with a coal stove, lighted with kerosene lamps. No matter; singing was grand and skits absolutely fascinating.

"In the dark years of World War II, in the midst of concern that an uncle, father, brother or a son might be declared dead, missing or wounded, how good to see joy of the season in the faces of parents and grandparents.

"I lived midst supportive and nurturing families, and have enjoyed long friendships with folks concerned with one another's comfort and welfare. I enjoy finding long lost relatives and establishing contact with friends of long ago.

"My working career was rewarding and interesting and I was afforded the opportunity to attend college, albeit it in a narrow specialty. Most of all, I had a great marriage that ended in an accident after only 56 years.            "In the afternoon of my life, shadows grow long and deep, and I wonder more and more what lies in those shadows. I am content to go where I am sent and see what still remains of my journey. It has been a most amazing trip, and I am grateful to all who smoothed the way."

 Mr. Norman is an esteemed genealogist and historian, and has researched many West Virginia families. In reply to his letter, I want to use this poem, a favorite of mine.

 

'Evensong'

By Robert Louis Stevenson

The embers of the day are red

Beyond the murky hill.

The kitchen smokes; the bed

In the darkling house is spread:

The great sky darkens overhead,

And the great woods are shrill.

So far have I been lead,

Lord, by Thy will:

So far have I followed, Lord, and wondered still.

The breeze from the embalmed land

Blows sudden towards the shore,

And claps my cottage door.

I hear the signal, Lord -- I understand.

The night at Thy command

Comes. I will eat and sleep and will not question more.

I have received about 300 get-well cards, and I cherish each one. As I looked through them for the second time, I whispered a prayer for each sender; that God would supply the need of each person. I wish I could respond to each one individually, and thank you for the prayers that have been offered up for me. I wish I could put my arms around each of you and give you a big hug -- I love you. I am humbly grateful, and I thank God for hearing your prayers. I am better.

Contact Alyce Faye Bragg at alycefaye@citlink.net or write to 2556 Summers Fork Road, Ovapa, WV 25164.


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