30 March 2010

Bridges on the river Platte: the crane report

Sandhill cranes arriving in fields near the Platte River, Hershey, Nebraska

Two years ago, new to South Dakota and the Northern Plains, knowing not a whole lot about the region, Gene and I were cajoled into leading a bird club trip down to the Platte River in east-central Nebraska to view the sandhill cranes arriving as part of their annual migration. We had few ideas about what to expect and no preconceptions whatsoever. We were given maps to a bridge over the river near Hershey, Nebraska, and told that the sunrise lift-off of hundreds of cranes from an upstream overnight resting site was a spectacle worth the time and trouble of getting up in the freezing dark and finding the unlit bridge on the tiny road.

We were informed correctly. And we have joined the ranks of the people who come from all corners of the world to watch the Nebraska spring crane arrival. The scientific term for such people is "craniacs," and we are deeply afflicted with the condition.

Cranes displaying in the field

The sandhill cranes of Nebraska have been arriving there for millennia, before there even was a Platte River. They have been wintering in the sun in Texas, in New Mexico, and even down into Mexico. I learned about them in their wintering sites in Texas and New Mexico from early childhood. At some point in March, the light changes, the days lengthen, and they start the long flight north. The Lesser Sandhill Cranes, which congregate around the Hershey area, will go on to the high Arctic and Siberia to nest and raise their young (which are called colts, not chicks). They rest on and in the broad, shallow Platte, and feed in the surrounding fields all day long, building up resources for that next long flight.

Cranes in flight

The cranes are feeding and pairing up during the day, gleaning waste corn from last year's crop. They drift across the roads in the area all day, sometimes in tiny groups, sometimes in huge flocks, calling almost constantly with that ageless trilling call.

Crane pair

We spent Friday driving, surveying the feeding flocks. There is a Common Crane (a Eurasian species) that has been reported with the Lesser Sandhill Crane flocks for several years now. One was seen this year in our area, but not by us. We were, as always, transfixed by the sight and the calls of these lovely and graceful birds. Our friend Thomas Labedz, who graciously met us and shared his expertise for the weekend, said something that resonated deeply with my own experience: after thirty years of working with cranes, he doesn't have to see them, but he does have to hear them. The sound of their calls wraps around our hearts.

Group of three cranes and companion

Thomas also educated us on a couple of other points: 1. a group of three cranes flying together, as in the picture above, is almost always a family group of the parents and last year's colt, and 2. the colt has a distinctive "baby call" very different from the call of mature adult cranes. It is a higher, softer call, once heard, never forgotten. Cranes live for up to thirty years and form lasting pair bonds. Those calls keep them linked.

Hershey bridge on the Platte, looking downstream, as early in the morning as the camera and I could focus. At this point we had been on the bridge for an hour or so, sans caffeine.

We got up very early on Saturday and found that we had the bridge outside Hershey all to ourselves. It was very cold and a bit windy. We had heard the cranes talking amongst themselves as they settled in the night before, and the morning was more of the same: there was constant crane chatter, and small groups flew up every now and then to head to the field.

Distant group of sandhill cranes rising up. The sound was deafening.

Close-up of crane-rise at sunrise

Solitary crane feather drifting downstream after the crane-rise

We were transfixed, standing there against the bridge railing. It is estimated that there are 500,000 sandhill cranes in the Platte River valley all across Nebraska in late March. There were thousands of them at the Hershey bridge alone.

Cranes in the field, framed by the fence

The wind continued to build during the day Saturday. You may be able to tell that the cranes in the flock above are nervous and wary, facing into the wind, not feeding. After surveying the field again, we left Hershey and birded our way to the Kearney area for round 2.

Fort Kearny crane-watchers' sign

Kearney, Nebraska, and its surrounding region have embraced the craniacs. We were there during the weekend of a crane festival at the Rowe Sanctuary downstream. Our friend Thomas recommended that we go to the viewing bridge at Fort Kearny (yes, the spelling is different) for the sunset and sunrise watching. In Hershey, we had a tiny roadway bridge to ourselves, with only the occasional sheriff's deputy to talk to (and the occasional monster pickup to zoom past). At Fort Kearny, there were dozens of people on the quarter-mile bridge span, watching and waiting.

 Sunset on the Fort Kearny bridge, with distant cranes

The Platte River at this point is much broader, though only a fraction of its historic self, when it sprawled across the valley and was described in early records as "a mile wide and an inch deep." At Hershey we were on the North Platte fork, which comes down from Wyoming. Just outside the town of North Platte, it joins up with the South Platte, coming up from Colorado. The Platte defines the state of Nebraska in so many ways.

We watched huge flocks of Lesser and Greater Sandhill Cranes drifting in with that odd elegant grace of theirs, until the light was gone. On Sunday morning we were again on a bridge in the dark, listening, waiting for the light and the flight.

We were not disappointed. Here is what crane-rise at sunrise looks like from the Fort Kearny bridge.

We could not get a decent picture of the last and best sighting of the day: a Whooping Crane feeding in a field at Grand Island, 40 miles downstream. This may have been the rarest, most endangered bird I have ever seen, probably 1/4 mile away from us. It was graceful beyond belief, at rest and in flight.

They will be back next year, and so will we.


Thank you again to my parents for the gift of cranes.

29 March 2010

Family recipe Monday: baked goods

El horno Leona, hand-built wood-fired brick oven, courtesy of Nathaniel and Mary

Spring is in full force up here. I had a phenomenal time on the Nebraska crane watch and will be posting that saga soon. Among other high points, we watched sandhill cranes dancing, got a good long look at a whooping crane standing, feeding and flying, and witnessed the lek of a number of greater prairie chickens. We are by no means out of blizzard season, but the spring greening and migration has started, along with the bird dances. We were all so, so ready for it.

We'll press our luck to the limit this weekend and see if the weather gods will allow a third prairie trip for our paleontology students. Gene and I will provide chili and cornbread Friday night, if the blizzards stay north of us.

Spring means it's time to thaw out indoors with bread baking. For some reason, it's one thing that our family members seem to specialize in doing, as witnessed by the perfectly splendid oven above. Many of the recipes we have collected from family sources have little written down about them. Breadmaking was apparently supposed to be hard-wired in our genetic code.

Joan’s bran bread
3 cups water, warm
3 (cakes?) dry yeast
3/4 cup oil--Crisco
3/4 cup sugar
1 T salt
1 cup bran buds
Flour (8 to 9 cups)

Note in Vada’s handwriting: “4 loaves”
--Joan Austin

Another no-directions recipe, but easy enough to make if you know Bread 101. As you can see from the scan, this little slip of paper has received a real workout, sign of a wildly popular recipe. This makes a large amount of dough and lovely brown bread with a good crumb. I recommend mixing it as a large batch and then dividing it in two for kneading, rising and proofing. Bake at 325* for 30-40 minutes.

Sally Lunn bread
3½ to 4 cups unsifted flour, divided
1 pkg. dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup milk
½ cup water
½ cup softened margarine
3 eggs, room temperature

Combine 1 1/4  cup flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Combine milk, water, and margarine, and heat until warm (margarine does not have to melt). Add liquid gradually to dry ingredients. Beat. Add eggs and I cup flour. Beat (knead). Add enough flour for a stiff batter. Cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour). Stir batter down and beat well (1 to 2 minutes). Spoon into greased tubepan. Cover and let rise until doubled. Bake at 325* F for 45 to 50 minutes.

This is a classic soft, sweet, egg bread, almost like a sponge cake, and a very old recipe dating back to Colonial times in the USA and older times than that in England, where Bath claims to be the home of the actual Sally Lunn, if she existed. I would not use margarine, but would substitute butter. There is a lot of lore about both the recipe and the name; check it out here. Our recipe here is different in that it calls for baking the bread in a tube pan rather than brioche-style on a baking sheet.

Tube-pan Sally Lunn bread as pictured at http://breadbaking.about.com/od/batterbreads/r/colsallunn.htm

Here are two dinner-roll classics.

Potato rolls
2 pkg. dry yeast
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup Crisco
1 cup scalded milk
½ cup sugar
1 cup mashed potatoes

Dissolve yeast in 1 cup potato water. Add 2 beaten eggs and salt. Melt Crisco in warm milk and add to the above mixture. Add sugar and mashed potatoes and 2 cups flours, then enough flour to make a thin dough. Let rise until double in size. Knead down again and make out in rolls. Let rise again. Bake at 400* F.
Mrs. J. D. Peters
Note on card: Mrs. J. D. Peters--Jewel--landlady and friend

That note alone dates the recipe in my family to the late 1930s, when the Johnsons moved from Altus, Oklahoma, to Lubbock, Texas.
Finally, the all-time dinner favorite.
Bran rolls
½ cup Kellogg’s All-Bran
½ cup Crisco
1 beaten egg
½ cup hot water
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp salt

Dissolve one yeast cake or package of dry yeast in ½ cup lukewarm water. Mix into first mixture alternately with 3 cups flour. Can be put in icebox overnight and made into rolls or can be made into rolls immediately. Allow at least 1 hour to rise, longer if dough is chilled.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Vada’s note on the card: “I always double this.” She had to. They went fast. Bake these on a greased baking sheet at 350* for 20 minutes or until done. They burn easily, so watch them closely. These are good with just about anything. Excellent with honey after dinner.

Happy Monday.

25 March 2010

Quilt Thursday: On the road yet again

Log Cabin quilt, Barn Raising variation, as featured on Barbara Brackman's Material Culture blog.

It's late March, so it must be time to head back to the Platte River for the annual official crane-watching trip. Last week's trip was an unexpected preview; this one will be more in-depth. Last year this trip was a no-go, game called on account of blizzard, four weekends in a row. This year, we are cautiously optimistic that the trip is a go, so Gene is awash in maps and notes plotting this out. I'll file a wildlife report when we return on Sunday. Based on the racket we are hearing around the house from bluejays and flickers and other avian members of the orchestra, spring is in full swing up here. Next weekend is yet another trip to Nebraska, the western side, after which I think we get citizenship in the state. Or something.

In the meantime, feast your eyes and your inner historian on Barbara Brackman's post on Log Cabin quilts, "Log Cabin--How Old is the Name?," at her site. The Log Cabin in all of its variations may be one of the oldest quilt blocks named, according to her research, and is an ancient pattern. I'm particularly fascinated with her discussion of the same pattern in Egyptian animal mummy wraps.

Happy Thursday.

22 March 2010

Family recipe Monday: three classic pies

Yes, I realize I should have posted this for Pi Day (March 14 at 1:59; you math geeks types will get it), but I have an excuse. It's not signed by my mother, but I do have witnesses. I was off in Nebraska preparing to do a series of lectures the next day, and I didn't have the foresight to do the prescheduled pie posting instead of the prescheduled cake posting last week. So sue me. The complaint line forms at the left; take a number and wait to be called.

Here are three classic pie recipes from the Simple Gifts files. Gene and I have somehow fallen into the pie-baking niche of the family, and these are a few favorites. The first one, another one written on a moving-company scratch pad, is for a classic southern delight, pecan pie. There is not a Texan or other Southern type alive who doesn't believe that his/her version is the best on the planet. Gene believes that his Virginia version is better than this one. So be it. He is, of course, misinformed. He is, of course, from Delaware.

Pecan pie
1 cup pecans
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1 cup white Karo syrup
¼ cup butter
2 tsp vanilla
1 unbaked pie shell (9”)

Put pecans in bottom. Pour mixture over. Bake 10 minutes at 400* F, then 50 minutes at 350* F until done. Add 4 eggs if too sweet.
--Gladys Brooks Strickland

This needs some interpretation, stat. That's 4 eggs total, not 4 eggs added to the 3 you already mixed. You do not want this to be a 7-egg pie. Trust me on this one.

Southerners will argue ALL DAY about mixing the pecans into the syrup vs. pouring the syrup over the pecans. We (by which I mean "I") fall squarely into the latter camp, and it's not up for discussion. (NB: The word is pronounced "pe-KAHN," and that is not up for discussion, either.) The white Karo syrup and vanilla make this an aromatic, delightful version.

Here is a particular family favorite.

Gladys’s caramel pie
For 2 pies

1 cup sugar, browned in a heavy iron skillet
4 egg yolks (reserve whites)
3 cups sweet milk
4 T flour
1 cup dry sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 T butter or margarine

Mix all ingredients except browned sugar. Pour over browned sugar and let dry sugar melt. Pour into baked crusts. Use whites for meringue. Top with meringue, brown in oven, and cool.
--Mary Marcella Walker Brooks, Gladys Brooks Strickland.

When the Johnson family would go to the Brooks farm in Littlefield on Saturday morning, Gran Brooks usually made a caramel pie because it was Shirley’s favorite. To this day, Shirley associates caramel pie with Saturday nights at the farm.

For a reliable meringue, try this.

Never-fail meringue
1 T cornstarch
2 T cold water
½ cup boiling water
3 egg whites
6 T sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla

Blend cornstarch and cold water in a saucepan. Add boiling water and cook, stirring until clear and thickened. Let stand until completely cold. Beat egg whites at high speed until foamy. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff, but not dry. Turn mixer to low speed and add salt and vanilla. Gradually beat in cold cornstarch mixture. Turn mixer back to high speed and beat well. Spread meringue over cooled pie filling. Bake at 350* F for about 10 minutes. This meringue cuts beautifully and never gets sticky.

Finally, just to keep you in a meringue frame of mind, here is a classic lemon pie. We have two lemon meringue pie recipes, and one for lemon chiffon that is indistinguishable from the first version of lemon meringue. Since it's called lemon chiffon on the card, we'll go with that name. The results are just as wonderful.

Lemon chiffon pie
4 egg yolks {4 eggs, separated}
1 cup sugar
1 lemon

Beat egg yolk until light colored, add ½ cup sugar and lemon juice. Cook until thick. Beat whites and add other ½ cup sugar. Put half of whites with yolks of eggs, folding slowly. {Fold into baked pie shell.} Add remainder of whites to top and brown.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Footnote: yes, we make our own pie crusts. This is apparently the part that intimidates many people. For a wonderful account of pie-making and its decline in America, read American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads, by Pascale Le Draoulec. I have been tempted to drive across the country with a rolling pin mounted on the bumper ever since I read this terrific book.

For a dependable pie crust, try this:

Pie crust
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
7/8 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg or egg yolk
1 T white vinegar
3 T ice water, or slightly more

In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, salt and sugar. Cut in shortening just until incorporated. In a 1-cup measure, beat the egg or yolk. Add vinegar and ice water and stir well. You should have about 1 cup of liquid in all. Very slowly, pour liquid into flour mixture. While pouring, mix with a fork until it clumps together. If too sticky, add pinches of extra flour. If too dry, sprinkle on a bit more water. Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Chill, then roll out into a circle slightly larger that the pie plate. Fold dough in half, place in pie plate, and then unfold. Makes 1 double-crust or two single-crust pies.

It's fun and it's better than anything you can buy. Happy Monday.

18 March 2010


Sandhill cranes rising at foggy daybreak, Rowe Sanctuary, Kearney, Nebraska

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Quilt Thursday to bring you an update on the sandhill crane migration.

They're back on the Platte River in Nebraska and will be there for the new few weeks.

That is all. That is enough.

Sandhill cranes are my totem. I grew up in a West Texas city near one of their main refugia (Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge) and their call will forever mean the changing of the seasons for me. No other sound catches my heart as their calls do. So I was delighted beyond belief that we moved just one state north of one of their oldest and biggest migration stopovers: the Platte River in Nebraska.

Platte River. I heard but did not see a badger near here.

We led a trip from here down to Nebraska two years ago to watch the cranes along the Platte. Last year we had bad luck with blizzards--not just minor snowstorms; outright blue northers--every weekend that we scheduled for the trip. This year, we are scheduled to lead the trip next weekend. I had an unexpected opportunity--that's how I am choosing to look at it--to drive down to Lincoln for a course I was teaching, and so I decided to check out the crane action on the drive back.

All of these were taken in the early morning on an overcast and foggy day, which added to the beauty. What I can't convey here is the sound of thousands of cranes rising up off the river banks and calling as they started the day. I only left because they did.

Cranes feeding in field

They're back, dancing and getting ready for the next flight to the far North. Part of my heart goes with them, but they always bring it back.

15 March 2010

Family recipe Monday: three classic cakes

In case anyone was wondering why we are spending so much time rescuing family recipes, take a look at this one. Many of the Simple Gifts family recipes are like this. Things were written down on the first available scrap of paper and then never rewritten. This looks like the back side of an old ledger page or receipt. Since such papers were not exactly designed at the time to be archival, the recipes are crumbling and fading. We've scanned and transcribed them, put them in archival sleeves, and given them to Shirley, the keeper of all records.

This recipe is for a good solid old-fashioned no-holds-barred bring-out-your-arteries pound cake, another treat to have ready for drop-in guests. It is a dense, sweet cake, good by itself or with fruit, preserves, or ice cream. Pound cakes keep and freeze beautifully. Note the low, low temperature and long baking time.
Pound cake

Grease and flour a 9”x5”x3” loaf pan. Cream thoroughly for 1 minute 1 cup of soft butter. Add gradually (10 minutes) 1 cup sugar. Beat in (30 seconds) ¼ tsp grated lemon rind and 1 T lemon juice. Beat in one at a time (1 ½ minutes each) 4 large eggs (1 cup). Sift together and beat in all at once 2 cups sifted Softasilk flour, 1 7/8 cups Gold Medal flour, ¼ tsp baking powder. Beat until just smooth (1 minute). Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 300* F (slow oven) for 75-90 minutes. Bake until cake tests done with a wooden pick.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Here's another recipe for a lovely, very old-fashioned cake. Two different cards, same recipe. Any jam flavor will do; I am partial to either blackberry or peach, personally. It is explicit on the ingredients, a bit cryptic on the directions. You will want to grease that pan. Take the warning on the second card to heart and use a big pan. This is another one that is baked at a lower temperature--I would tend more to 325* F than 350* F. This is another recipe that perfumes the house.

Aunt Coy's jam cake
4 eggs
1 cup nuts
1 cup butter
½ lb raisins
2 cups sugar
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup jam 
1 tsp baking soda
3 cups flour

Bake at 325*-350* F for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cook in a 9”x2”x11” pan--this cooks over in a Bundt or angelfood [pan].
--Coy McLean Brooks

Aunt Coy was my grandmother's sister-in-law and possibly one of the sweetest people who ever lived. She was a generous soul and a wonderful cook.
Aunt Coy fishing at her home in Arkansas

Finally, here is another classic, best served fresh and warm. I am not sure where the name comes from. You may want to poke the cake surface gently with a fork all over to allow the filling to run in a bit before broiling. The broil time is very, very short, not more than a minute or so. Ignore this warning at your peril. Burned cake is awful.
Lazy daisy cake

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
½ cup boiling milk
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

Beat eggs light and add sugar gradually. Stir in vanilla; sift flour, baking powder and salt together and add alternately with boiling milk. Pour in shallow pan and bake in moderate oven.

9 T brown sugar
5 T melted butter
4 T cream
1 cup coconut

Mix together and pour on top of cake and brown under broiler. Cut into squares.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Cheers, and happy Monday.

13 March 2010

On the road again

I am off for Lincoln, Nebraska, for a few days, to teach in a museum curation training course and to get together with friends from the museum world. I won't be posting much until I get back, assuming Lincoln stays glacier-free. Friends are posting about buds popping up in Texas; I am hoping the last of the snow melts soon and stays gone. No, I am not holding my breath on that one.

I like Nebraska. In two weeks, again assuming that the weather cooperates this year, Gene and I will be leading a trip to western Nebraska to watch and celebrate the sandhill cranes returning to the Platte River. The cranes will be there, as they have for eons, bad weather or not. We will do our best to meet them on their ancient grounds.

In the meantime, here is where I will be found in Lincoln for the next few days when I am not having to act like an adult. UNL has the International Quilt Study Center and Museum right there on campus. I'll be there until I'm ordered out by the guards. Have a great weekend.

11 March 2010

Quilt Thursday: bees and quilts, or synchronicity strikes again

The Honey Bee quilt block from the Kansas City Star collection, originally published in 1929.

Our family genealogy work, as I mentioned before, started in earnest with my need to document an 1881 quilt. That led to the discovery of our connections to the Honnoll family. And that led to the discovery (thank you again, Bill!) of the unsuspected beekeepers in the family. Which in turn explained some of the older family recipes made with generous amounts of honey instead of sugar. Everything is connected; not for nothing is this blog called Threads and Traces.

So imagine my astonishment and delight to see today's Kansas City Star blog post entitled "Bees and Their Quilts." This is not just about quilting bees...it seems that quilts are actually part of the construction of some beehives. No matter which angle you take, you cannot separate bees and quilts.

Publisher Doug Weaver elaborates:
"A friend...is exploring the world of beekeeping. She recently shared some photos of her and her friends building beehives. And she mentioned that the Warre Hive style of beehive includes a quilt frame that sits toward the top of the hive, under the roof. ...The frame, with fabric attached at the bottom, is eventually filled with insulation – straw, sawdust, peat, wood shavings, etc. The quilt 'absorbs the hive's moisture more easily and communicates to the hive the heat outside,' wrote Emile Warre, the Frenchman who developed the hive design in the early 1900s.

"Warre called the design the 'People’s Hive' because of its simplicity. (All of his thinking is detailed in his book, 'Beekeeping for All.' I like Warre … clearly a man of the people and, like the bee itself, a lover of community, it appears.)

"Granted, this beehive quilt isn’t the kind of quilt you and I know and love. It’s basically a piece of plain cloth, attached to the frame....Still, there’s something comforting in knowing that, as we put honey on a biscuit, quilts might have contributed to that sweet combination."

A Warre hive with the "quilt" layer labelled, from http://thebeespace.net/warre-hive/.  

Weaver goes on to provide a link to an entertaining history of quilting bees and to compare quilting bee and beehive dynamics. There are many points in common; quilting bees were social microcosms of the larger community.

This line especially resonated with me:
"In isolated regions gathering women in the area together helped overcome the loneliness that so many pioneer women experienced. Often these women often didn't have a big house with a parlor for hand quilting."

So true. Every hand-stitched quilt is a collection of memories, often of friends and family coming together on rare and cherished occasions. I wish I knew more of the story of the 1881 quilt, but I can't imagine that it was anything other than a mother and daughter project, and that made the quilt so precious to my great-grandmother that she kept it close by her for her entire life. If you'll excuse me, I need to go touch it now and wonder.

Happy Thursday.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.

--Emily Dickinson (1830–86)

08 March 2010

Family recipe Monday: gingerbread

Baking gingerbread is a good way to make a house feel like home. Baking anything is a good way to perfume a house, but gingerbread in particular has that dark, spicy aroma that warms everyone. It's too good to save just for the holidays. If the weather is still cool enough that baking seems like a good idea, it's a perfect time for gingerbread.

Here are a couple of recipes for cake-style gingerbread from the family recipe files. I'm not sure that my recent ancestors recognized any brand of molasses other than Brer Rabbit as being legal. My mother typed this up when she was a teenager, as she did most of the typed recipe cards we have scanned.


½ cup sugar
3 T butter
1 egg
½ cup milk
½ cup Brer Rabbit molasses
1 ½ cups flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp [baking] soda

Cream together butter and sugar. Add beaten egg, then alternate the dry ingredients (which have been sifted together) and the mixture of milk and molasses. Pour into a buttered shallow pan. Bake in a moderate oven, 350* F, 30 to 45 minutes.
 --Vada Brooks Johnson, Shirley Johnson Shelton

This one adds nutmeg to the spice mix, substitutes Crisco for butter, uses buttermilk rather than sweet milk, and omits the salt. It is also wonderful. 

Gingerbread II

½ cup Crisco
½ cup sugar
1 egg
½ cup sorghum [molasses]
½ cup B. milk [buttermilk]
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ to 2 cups flour
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg

Cream together Crisco and sugar. Add egg and beat. Follow the directions as in the recipe above.
--Vada Brooks Johnson
The scratch pad stationery is from my grandmother's niece, whose husband worked in the moving industry. My grandmother's sister Gladys and her husband were part of the Okie/Arkie migration to Southern California in the Depression, and they and their family never came east again except to visit. By my calculations, that means that this line of the family migrated from the East Coast (Maryland) to the West Coast in 5 generations, at a time when traveling and relocating were major and irreversible decisions. Having a mover in the family was not a bad idea.

Apparently, this soft cake version of gingerbread, using molasses, is a variation on a much older European theme. A thinner batter, and you have the makings for some terrific pancakes.

Happy Monday

07 March 2010

Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative

I'd like to use today's post to get the word out about the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative Silent Auction that Ami Simms is running. Here is the information from her site:

"The Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (www.AlzQuilts.org) is a national, grassroots charity whose mission is to raise awareness and fund research. The AAQI auctions and sells donated quilts, and sponsors a nationally touring exhibit of quilts about Alzheimer's. The AAQI has raised more than $379,000 since January 2006."

Read more here.

For everyone who has lost loved ones to this disease, long before they passed away...especially those who had talents that were lost, stories you wish you had written down, smiles that became shadows...consider contributing to the AAQI cause. Take a look at the little art quilts, and consider putting in a bid on one of these tiny gems. Then go hug all your loved ones, mentally or physically, as tightly as you can.

End of public service message.

04 March 2010

Quilt Thursday: Quilt of Quilts

It's another hectic Thursday, with everyone trying to get a zillion things done before spring break starts. For a number of people up here, that will actually be tomorrow, as travel and field trips start. I will not be going on these--I have another trip planned, but that doesn't start for a week or so. That means that I am pulling double duty on a few fronts, at least through the end of next week. So no coherent thoughts from up here just yet. I could use that cloning machine right about now, please.

Instead, I'd like to share a quilt post from an unexpected source: William the Coroner's Forensic Files.  I liked his comments: "The prevailing culture...seems to be to make hand machine quilting look as much like machine quilting as possible. I can understand these goals, these are the same sort of people that do intricate scale models." Or make the ultimate hexagon quilt.

Here is his favorite quilt from the Lake Farm Park Quilt Show. This is called "Quilt of Quilts," and Wiliam the Coroner calls it a "meta quilt show." The artist's name is not listed; if you know it, please let me know. Whoever you are, this is awesome.

Happy Thursday.

01 March 2010

Family recipe Monday: Pennsylvania Dutch recipes: Koolslaa

Gene: As promised by Sally, here is the first of the recipes from the Hess-Shaffner side of things related to cooking. I can't absolutely say this was the recipe my Mom used, but it may well be. In any event, it has a history attached to it, and it  was in her collection of recipes.

Koolslaa (a.k.a. "coleslaw")

1/4 C mild vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp mustard (dry)
1 tbsp butter

Heat to boiling and add some to 1 egg slightly beaten. Then stir into hot mix in pan and cook til thick and boils. Remove from heat and beat in 2 tbsp cream. Pour hot over 3 C finely shredded cabbage. Chill and serve.

Note on card: Brought by Holland Dutch to N.Y. 1624

Hulda "Dolly" Shaffner Hess, age 17, 1952

Dolly's dietitian school report. She was a gifted cook all her life, and she loved the Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine of her heritage.