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Tag Archives: Tales of a Cosmic Possum

Appalachia and Bee Keeping

I grew up with a Mom who could make the most delicious biscuits. They were always topped with butter and something sweet falling off the sides. Strawberry, blackberry, or peach preserves were my favorites, but molasses, sorghum, or honey were not to be turned down.

The biscuits were never big enough. When no one was looking, my brother and I would catch any of those toppings with our tongues or our fingers. It was all too good to waste.

These biscuits make for a perfect snack throughout the day or as a sweet side for a savory dinner.

English settlers moving into our country brought the practice of bee keeping with them. Long before sugar cones were in the Indian traders’ wagons, honey was always on the table for cornbread, oatmeal, or a drizzle for pancakes. Most Appalachian farms had several hives making honey to eat at home, share with friends in another holler or mountain top, or bartered for other necessities. Tulip poplar, clover, and sourwood became the most popular.

Image result for photo of 19th century bee hives

Image result for photo of 19th century bee hives

Since we had family in Hendersonville, NC, Mother made trips to the farmer’s market there to buy our honey. Labelled and sold in pint or quart jars by the beekeepers themselves, our family treated the honey like the prize it was. She always bought two quarts. Safely stored in a corner cabinet, it was a celebration to bring the jar to the table.

Since the study of science is not part of my background, I have been surprised to learn the usefulness of honey.

Albert Einstein once remarked, quite seriously, “If bees vanished from the face of the earth, mankind would only exist for four more years. Without bees, there’s no pollinating, no grass, no animals, no people.”

bee on butterfly weed

Several traditional Appalachian folk-remedies support medicinal effects of local honey. One is that honey prevents or lessens the severity of seasonal allergies. It is suggested that individuals that swallow a tablespoon of local honey every day (which contains trace amounts of local pollen) boost their immune system and have greater resistance to the allergens produced by local flowering plants. (It makes sense that the honey is akin to an allergy shot and certainly more appetizing.)

As a sleep aid, cough suppressant, or a treatment for burns or wounds, honey is effective medicine. Some people refer to it still as liquid gold. Since it is been used for over 2,000 years, it seems that it has earned this name. To raise bees is to live close to nature and savor its bounty.

In one of the stories in Tales of a Cosmic Possum (release date October 14, 2017), I wrote about John’s great grandfather, William Gaither Ingle, and the bees he raised on Green Knob Mountain in Erwin, Tennessee, in the early days of the twentieth century. Living off the land was a hard struggle. Every bee hive was important; bears were unwelcome intruders.

 

WilliamGaither&lizziewith Fannie.jpg

Above is a photo of William Gaither, his wife Jane Elizabeth, and their daughter Fannie. Perhaps the intensity of their stares speak to their beautiful, but harsh, geographical location. Or they are telling of their hard-working and self-sufficient lives where they are beholden to no man. Then look at how close they are to each other – almost squeezed together. Whether child or adult, Appalachian members stay bound to their family. They are proud of their family.

Vince Havner, a North Carolina minister and author, said, “The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.”

So what is your vision today? Are you going to follow through? Mine was to unjumble some thoughts about Appalachia and make a peach cobbler. It is now to time for the peaches!

 

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Yahoo to the New Book Cover of “Tales of a Cosmic Possum”

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Can I say this book cover wasn’t what I was expecting?Book Cover.jpg

But then I didn’t know what I was expecting either, and it is perfect for Tales of a Cosmic Possum.

My surprise was real, as I gazed at the mountain-blue nuances. The dark coolness of shades drew me into the Appalachian range where the Ingle family lived with its customs, food, and sayings that were once foreign to me.

When Make and Lizzie Ingle left Erwin, Tennessee, to work in Tucapau Mill in Startex, South Carolina, they left their open, mountain shelter behind for the clacking noises of cotton mill workers. Not far behind them, Amanda and John said good by to their hand-to-mouth struggle on a small, North Carolina farm in the hills and moved to the sweltering. work environment of Clifton Mill #2.

Neither the mountains or the farm land could support either family any longer. A weekly pay check was necessary for survival, and so they moved to the Upstate. These cotton mills, where they worked, changed their families’ lives for four generations.

Their stories show these unknown women as heroines. They all have fortitude, hardiness, and gumption, which they passed on to their children, because that is what Appalachian women do.

And, so the countdown begins until I hold my fifth book in my hands. Thank you, John, for sharing your family’s stories with me! It’s been another adventure.

Mill Hill Recipes from “Tales of a Cosmic Possum”

Image result for cotton mill life quotes

Women in the mill hill villages depended on their own gardens, chickens, cows, pigs, as well as buying from the Company Store for their food. Fruit trees and pecan or walnut trees usually produced bounty to divide with neighbors. They freely shared with each other, and all had a kitchen specialty. Though they had little, the matriarchs made the best of what they had.
They cooked on a wood stove with light from the windows or kerosene lamps. Water was provided from a common well that several families shared. Wooden utensils stirred and turned food heating in cast iron skillets and bean pots (We have John’s mother’s/Lois.), and porcelain pots.
Meals were plain, uncomplicated, and similar. Any left overs were eaten at the next meal or fed to the animals. Drying and canning vegetables from summer and fall gardens improved winter diets. Nothing was wasted; even watermelon rinds were made into preserves. Though menus were sparse in variety, biscuits or cornbread topped with homemade butter and honey never grew old.

Here is  one.

Simple Slaw
Choose a solid and firm cabbage from your garden, and squeeze the cabbage head to check to see if it’s ready for the table or not. Cut the cabbage off the stem. Wash cabbage, and shake excess water out. Strike the bottom of cabbage down on table to loosen the core. Twist the core to remove. Cut the cabbage to slaw consistency with a very sharp knife. Add salt, pepper, and Duke’s mayonnaise to taste. (In 1917, this favorite was created by Mrs. Eugenia Duke at Duke’s Sandwich Shop in Greenville, SC.) Stir and serve this extra for Sunday dinner or when company was visiting.

Tales of a Cosmic Possum is just weeks from being published, and I am going to share some vignettes with you.

Image result for cotton mill life quotes

“I’ll Fly Away”

I can picture my Granny (great grandmother Justus) singing when she was snapping beans in her back yard.

She sat in a white iron chair. She held a white, porcelain bowl in her lap and threw the bean snips on the ground. Another bent tin bowl held the beans from her garden was beside the chair. Her apron kept her dress clean, because there was plenty of dirt on the beans from the garden patch.

Her foot would keep rhythm to any song she was singing. “I’ll Fly Away” was one of her favorites, and I learned to clap, as she sang. Granny would smile, as she sang, and those smiles reached her eyes.

Born and raised in Hendersonville, North Carolina, she loved keeping house. There was a sense of welcome and love that I can’t explain that came to greet her and Pop’s guests. They lost so much during the Depression. Even taking in boarders to their house at Laurel Cliff could not stay the selling of the land and house for taxes. They rented that five-room house.

Granny and Pop had eight children that lived to adulthood, and most of them lived in Hendersonville. Almost every Sunday afternoon, they all showed up at their parents’ home, as well as grandchildren and great grands. Granny always had cake, cookies, and coffee ready to serve. As the talking died down, often singing would begin. The hymns they sang at church were the hymns they sang at home. This was another favorite.

There was trust, faith, and hope on their faces and in their singing. This mountain family worked hard with their manual labor and never had much in the way of money. But they loved Jesus, their family, and other people.

Granny spent her last years in the local nursing home. She seldom knew her family members-not even her own children. She held a doll most of the time and talked to it, like it was one of her babies. But any time the home had someone come in to play the piano she’d sit right there and sing every word of every old gospel song they played. She didn’t know her children-but those songs of faith that guided her through her long long life were still there for her to call upon. It was amazing to me as a child to watch the transformation.

As I did the research about John’s Appalachian family, I heard stories of similar trust. They made-do with little, as they worked in upstate cotton mills. Another trait I found that was similar was their choice to not be beholden to anyone, but their hands were always out to help others. They all lived generous lives.

In May, Tales of a Cosmic Possum will be released, and you can read the short stories of eight of the women in John’s family. Yes, there are lyrics to their favorite songs and Appalachian sayings and recipes. It is chock full of life descriptions of living in a mill village or in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.

One of my granny’s sayings was “Don’t git too big for your britches.” It took me a long time to understand what on earth this meant, but it is still good advice today. As we tell our family’s stories, they won’t be forgotten, and we won’t get too big for our britches.

Buffalo Mill in Union, SC

Buffalo-Mill-Historic-District

Construction for Buffalo Mill began in 1900, and the two seven-story towers were completed in 1901. The engineering firm of W. O Smith Whaley was the designer. The Romanesque Revival detailing was popular during this time. The typical industrial design included arches and brick work.

This large complex of buildings included the main mill,  mill office, power house, ice factory, company store, warehouse, and company bank/drug store. Besides operative and supervisor houses in the mill village, a baseball park and school were built.

Buffalo-Mill-Historic-District

Power House

Buffalo-Mill-Historic-District

Clock Tower

Buffalo-Mill-Historic-District

Ice Factory

Buffalo-Mill-Historic-District

The stain glass dome, Terrazzo floor, and marble fountain were a touch of elegance to the office building.

Buffalo-Mill-Historic-District

Thomas Cary Duncan founded Union and Buffalo mills. He was known as Union’s pioneer capitalist and industrialist. He connected Union and Buffalo mills with his own railroad. Hundreds of families moved to Union from North Carolina and Tennessee and spent their lives working in these cotton mills. This investment introduced the textile industry to this land that once was hunting grounds for the Cherokee.

Thomas Cary Duncan

T. C. Duncan inherited Keenan Plantation from his grandparents, which he renamed Merridun. Remodeling this family property became important. Adding to the piazza resulted in 2400 square feet of porch space. He refurbished the 7900 square feet Georgian floor plan which included a stunning curved staircase, large foyers on both floors, a music room, parlor, library, dining room, kitchen, 7 bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, and a third story cupola. Frescoed ceilings in the music room and dining room, mosaic tiles and turn of the century stenciling and faux graining in the main foyer, and beautiful chandeliers enhanced the mansion’s beauty.

Image result for photo of inn of the merridun union south carolina

Image result for photo of inn of the merridun union south carolina

Image result for photo of inn of the merridun union south carolina

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Perhaps you are wondering why I have shared this information with you today, and it really is back-to-the-past.

My husband John grew up in Union, South Carolina. His father, mother, as well as extended family members, worked in the Union and Buffalo cotton mills. This May, 2017, you will be able to read about their lives in my new book, Tales of a Cosmic Possum.

And on my fiftieth birthday, John treated me to dinner at the Inn at the Merridun with some of our friends. What a fun time it was! The house was lovely, as you can see by the above photos.

Below is one of the best chocolate muffin recipes I have ever tasted, and the owner of the Inn shared it with me. Since Valentine’s Day is in just a few days, I thought to share it with you. I believe you will like/love it. As you know, chocolate is my favorite. Enjoy!

Double Chocolate Banana Muffins
Makes 24 regular muffins or about 7-8 dozen mini muffins

I had the privilege of having this recipe included in an innkeepers’ cookbook – Chocolate for Breakfast and Tea. As much as I love chocolate, I’m not always fond of chocolate muffins or breads—this is one exception. They are rich and moist, and our guests gobble them up.

½ cup butter, softened
1-1/3 cups sugar
2 eggs
1-1/3 cups sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
¼ cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease or line muffin pans.
  2. In a large bowl, mix butter, sugar, eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Add flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt all at once. Mix just until ingredients are blended. Stir in mashed banana, chocolate chips and walnuts.
  3. Fill muffin cups 2/3 to ¾ full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean—be careful not to hit a melted chocolate chip! Cool for 5 minutes; then remove muffins from tins, and place them on a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Image result for photo of inn of the merridun union south carolina