29 January 2010

Barbara Brackman and Kansas City Star

It's been another hectic week up here. Getting ready to move into a new building, coupled with the first weeks of the semester, will do that. I have a couple of longer posts in mind, and am anticipating a few more from our other contributors in the near future.

But today I think I'll relax with eye candy for quilters, posted by the legendary Barbara Brackman. Take a minute to look at her authoritative post on Kansas City Star patterns. I'm in love with those 1930s colors and prints. TGIF.

26 January 2010

Don’t pass it out

A few of the ribbons my grandmother won for her baked goods at the South Plains Fair, ca. 1960.

I've had a few questions about Family Recipe Mondays. The recipes are in fact all family favorites, most of them older than I am (which is no longer insignificant, alas). We have spent a long time sorting, organizing and scanning them so that everyone who wants a copy can have one, in the original handwriting and measurements. It's been a labor of love.

I have transcribed the recipes, and Gene has scanned them. I made the judgment call early on that I was not going to try to update measurements or ingredients. These are relics of their time. There are a number of them I will probably never make, but they are fascinating glimpses into the history of the family, time and place. I can tell the difference between a 1920s favorite and a 1960s favorite in many cases from the ingredients alone. And I am having fun sharing these.

My grandmother and her sister were just the opposite: they did not give out recipes to anyone except family and trusted friends, and sometimes not even then, even to each other, depending on the status of their relationship at any given moment. Cooking was the touchstone of excellence for them. They were good at it, but convinced that someone was going to take this from them somehow. So I have an occasional twinge when I post one of their recipes, knowing that they would never have done what I am doing now and putting them out for the world to see.

Dessert recipes were especially hoarded. Desserts were the proof of one's cooking prowess. The most elaborate desserts were variations on layer cakes and custard pies. Me, I've never tried the Nesselrode pie recipe below--and don't have any plans to do so; that is a LOT of maraschino cherries--but the warning at the end, from my great-aunt to my grandmother, reminded me of the recipe wars all over again.

Gladys’s Nesselrode pie

1 graham cracker ready-made pie crust
1 ½ tsp unflavored gelatin (½ packet)
1 pkg. (3 oz) instant vanilla pudding/pie filling mix
2 cups whipped cream
1 cup chopped, drained maraschino cherries
½ to 1 cup pecans
6 maraschino cherry halves

Combine gelatin with dry pudding mix according to pudding directions. Cool to room temperature. Fold in whipped cream, chopped cherries and nuts. Spoon into crust and chill until firm (3 to 4 hours). Decorate top with more whipped cream, cherry halves, slivered semi-sweet chocolate. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Gladys’s note: “Nesselrode [was] named for a Russian diplomat and statesman (Count Karl Robert Nesselrode). This dish was a favorite of royalty before it crossed the sea to America. I make my own pie crusts from butter-flavored Crisco; I make 3 to 6 at a time. I buy my maraschino cherries by the half gallon. Hope you don’t have this recipe, hope you like it and dine like royalty. Don’t pass it out any more than you did the Texas cream [pie].”

--Gladys Brooks Strickland

Well, she was right about the Count and the dessert (originally more of an iced custard) being named for him. I'm not sure that this early 1980s version has much connection to the original Nesselrode pudding, however. Women of my grandmother's generation weren't shy about jumping on time-savers like prepared pie crusts and instant mixes. They had, by that time, spent 60+ years in the kitchen, starting with wood-fired stoves, through gas to electric. Pies were still the test of their cooking skill, and a rich indulgent one like this was perfect for impressing a club meeting or a bunch of rowdy grandchildren.

So there it is. Use this and all of our recipes as you like. Some things are not really meant to be secrets.

25 January 2010

Family recipe Monday: bread and butter pickles

This is an interesting variation on an old favorite.  Bread and butter pickles are crisp sweet pickle slices, said to be good enough to use as the filling in a bread and butter sandwich with nothing else added. They were popular during the Depression, urban lore has it, for that reason.

Why I call it a variation: well, there are several reasons. First of all, the sweetener is honey, rather than sugar. I have to wonder if that goes back to the beekeepers of the family. This is my grandmother Johnson's handwriting, and she is a direct descendant, so it's not unlikely. Next, this is a refrigerator pickle recipe, with no processing or canning, which helps with the crispness. Finally, I have not seen another recipe that calls for pickling squash as well as cucumber slices. Maybe this will help with the late-summer zucchini overload.

My grandmother used gallon glass crocks for refrigerator and countertop pickling. Living near the prairie, I can get all my canning and pickling supplies at the farm and ranch feed/equipment store just down the street, in season. It's wonderful. It's like a time machine. Gallon glass crocks are hard to find these days, but canners and picklers are thick on the ground up here. Last year I managed to produce spiced local crabapples. This year, I'm trying this one.

Bread and butter pickles
4 cups vinegar
2 cups honey
1/3 cup pickling salt
1 ½ tsp. celery salt
1 ½ tsp. turmeric
1 ½ tsp. mustard seed
3 medium onions
1 gallon of slices of cucumber and squash

Let vinegar heat until sugar and spices dissolve and let cool before pouring over vegetables. Refrigerate.

--Vada Brooks Johnson

Mack and Vada Johnson, probably late 1920s

23 January 2010

Bad weather

Scottsbluff, Nebraska

I've missed a few days here for no good reason other than the start of the spring semester. Everyone's back: students, faculty, volunteers, all needing to figure out what is happening and when this spring. More on that tomorrow.

Today we're keeping a wary and puzzled eye on the weather. The forecast for yesterday and the weekend includes, or included, ice, freezing rain, snow, freezing fog, and high winds, in varying amounts around the state, with possible glaciers moving in. OK, ignore that last one. So far we have seen about 10 minutes of light sleet. That's all.

The vagueness of the forecast was enough to make Gene decide to cancel today's scheduled bird club field trip. Driving around in the northern Black Hills means that weather conditions can change completely within a couple of miles, with changes in altitude and microclimate conditions. With forecasts like these, this is a tough call to make. Now the really bad weather is likely to hit tomorrow rather than today, and we have to wonder if we should have gone out after all. We keep telling ourselves that there wouldn't be any self-respecting birds out in view, anyway. That, children, is called self-serving rationalization.

Harrison, Nebraska

My problem is that I actually like bad weather, as long as I do not have to be out in it. Tornado Alley kids all too often turn out this way. We grow up watching some of the most violent and frightening storms that can be thrown at anyone, and wind up either terrified or fascinated, or both. I'm not a tornado chaser, but I do like watching the weather change and marvelling at the swiftness and occasional ferocity of prairie storms. With so much horizon to work from, the weather changes are incredible spectacles. Everything changes in a few heartbeats.

Badlands, South Dakota. Sometimes there is an eerie silence just before the winds roar in.

Before I moved out here two years ago, a colleague who went to school here in this same program reassured me that the winter storms were not all that bad. Really? Thanks, I said, that's good to know. No, he said, what I am saying is that you won't see most of the blizzards until spring.

And he was exactly right.

Spring in Rapid City, 2009. April, to be exact.

So we're not sure what tomorrow will bring--high winds and snow are likely, unless they're not. I am sure that I'll be watching, fascinated, with hot tea close at hand.

19 January 2010

Quilts from the 1930s: the butterfly quilt

We all inherited quilts from my grandmother as we reached adulthood or a reasonable facsimile thereof, there being several of us in my generation who do not consider ourselves to be actual grown-ups even yet. Most of these quilts were made in the 1930s and 1940s, when my great-grandmother was alive and well and had her quilting frames available. These were rigged on a pulley system so that they could be stored at ceiling level when they were not in use. Gran Brooks pieced by hand or machine, appliqued by hand, and quilted exclusively by hand. I would kill for her set-up today.

The fabrics from the 1930s are classic and are now being reproduced. The prints are tiny conversation prints, and the colors are bright and clear. Quilting had zoomed in popularity during the Depression, as it has again in our tough times, and new processes made a wide range of colors and prints more available. Women's magazines and local newspapers, most famously the Kansas City Star, ran quilt block patterns for their subscribers, and many quilters faithfully clipped and kept these. More than one friend has mentioned that their mothers or grandmothers subscribed to these publications only for the quilt patterns. It was a joyous feature in a bleak time.

This butterfly quilt is a classic 30s applique pattern that may have been a Star pattern, although the only one I can find in the Star archives is pieced. It was a gift from my grandmother to our co-blogger Tartan Girl when she reached her semblance of adulthood, and had already suffered damage from being folded and stored too long. Some of the fabrics were very durable, some were faded, and some had simply disintegrated, victims of the cloth, the dye and time itself.

This was obviously a child's quilt, a quilt for a little girl. My mother can look at this quilt and identify her childhood dresses that went into it. This was a way of using and re-using precious fabric scraps, of making do with what was at hand. My grandmother, to the end of her life, disliked and distrusted quilts that were made wholly with fabric bought for that purpose. As she said at a quilt show, a bit tartly, "That isn't what quilts are supposed to be." So the butterflies are each unique, from different shirts and dresses, and they have aged in very different ways. Tartan Girl wants to fix the damage so that the quilt will continue to bring joy.

What we, the quilt women of the family, have decided to do is to replace the threadbare wings and bodies with reproduction fabric as close to the original as we can get, or guess, without removing any of the original work. The old butterflies that are too deteriorated to be repaired with careful silk thread work will be covered by new butterflies and embroidery. If anyone ever wants to study the quilt, they will find the original work under the new stitches. We will back the quilt with a new and sturdier backing, so that the old fabric is eased and protected.

Absolutely everyone I have consulted about this has offered the same words of wisdom, at first startling to museum people: use the quilt, joyfully, happily. Lay it on a bed, hang it carefully on a wall, but do not put it away in the dark to be forgotten. Use it. Quilts are made for warmth, sharing and comfort. These are a direct point of contact across four generations. The wear is part of the story.

I hope that we get back to this quilt this year and have it returned to its cheerful warmth for Tartan soon.

This post was approved by Mel Blanc, feline quilt line supervisor.

 And my mother thinks I should be a quilt appraiser when I grow up.

18 January 2010

Family recipe Monday: Shirley's Shrimp Creole

This one is posted at the request of our co-blogger, Tartan Girl, who knows and loves this recipe. Again, the spatters show just how popular this recipe has been. The scan was not cut off; the card must have been rolled onto the typewriter a bit low.

Shirley’s shrimp Creole

Melt 6 T fat. Add:
4 T diced onion
4 T diced green pepper
½ cup celery

Lightly brown above. Then add:
2 cans Hunt’s tomato sauce
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
¼ tsp chili powder

2 cups (1 lb.) freshly cooked shrimp or 2 5-oz. cans shrimp

Cover, simmer 15 minutes. Serve over hot cooked rice. Serves 4. Ha!
--Shirley Johnson Shelton
(Shirley says it is generous for 2 people.)

It’s worth noting that this recipe card has 2 shiny red stars on it. This is a popular family alternative to turkey on Thanksgiving, poultry not being a favorite of at least one family member. The fat can be butter or olive oil. The shrimp is, of course, best fresh or frozen. There have never been leftovers that any of us can recall. Happy Monday.

Shirley Johnson, 1952, as associate editor of the Texas Tech student newspaper. She says that she had just returned to the newspaper office after having her finger bandaged at the quack shack, the result of a minor injury.

17 January 2010

Unexpected genealogy: beehives?!

I have a good friend from college, Bill Page, who is an ace genealogist. He can find anyone in the world, I think. My grasp of genealogy stops at the difference between first cousins once removed and second cousins, which fried my synapses when I was 12. So it was only natural that I notified Bill immediately of my discovery of the Honnoll family and my connections to it (see the quilt post for details). Did he commend me on my detective work? Hardly. Being Bill, he contacted me no more than 15 minutes later to say "Is this your ancestor who filed this beehive patent?"

Of course it was. Bill wins again. As if I ever had a chance. (He points out to anyone interested that patent archives can be an astonishing source of unexpected genealogical information.)

Peter A. Honnoll and Mary Savage Honnoll, parents of Nancy Ellinor Honnoll Walker

Peter A. Honnoll (1812-~1893) was born in York County, South Carolina, and died in Itawamba County, Mississippi. He married Mary E. Savage in Bolivar, Hardeman County, Tennessee, in 1836. The Honnolls seem to have kept wandering south and west after the original arrival, William Honnoll, arrived from Germany and landed in Harford County, Maryland (through which I commuted to work every day for seven years). Their daughter, Nancy Ellinor Honnoll Walker, wound up in Altus, Oklahoma, and her daughter wound up in West Texas.

But this post is about Peter and his beehives. The drawing above is part of the letters patent filed in 1875, titled simply "Improvement in Bee-hives." Apparently this was a major part of the family enterprise in Mississippi. Peter awarded two-thirds of his rights to his sons, James and Moses. Moses went on to receive yet another beehive patent in 1899, titled even more simply "Beehive."

Apparently beehives figured in Peter's will; a family genealogy correspondent states that he left his beehives to his second wife, Malinda.

Beehives would have been the difference between success and failure to the poor farmers of the time and place, but nothing about them has come down in any way through the years to my generation. This is as unexpected and alien as if Peter had been a pirate. Beekeeping was hard and constant work, both for the crops and for the honey harvest. There is no record as to when Peter started, whether he was the first one in his family to take up apiculture, or where he was in his travels when he set up beekeeping. Obviously he was good enough at it to take out a patent at age 63 and to inspire at least one of his sons to go even further, but other than the letters patent there is not a clue about this activity.

In 1875, Peter had survived the Civil War (in which he lost a son) and had left Tennessee for Mississippi. At least one of his children, Nancy, had packed up her family and left for Arkansas and Oklahoma; they never saw each other again. Farming in the Reconstruction South was a difficult life on a poor clay soil. And yet, he must have had that creative spark, looking for new ways to house the bees and harvest their hives without harming them.

I am fascinated. And I still don't know anything about beekeeping or why this beehive was so new. But I learned more about my ancestor from a patent file than any of us had ever known before. Thanks, Bill.

15 January 2010

Concrete wildlife (another continuing series)

Dinosaur Hill, Dinosaur Park, Rapid City

Two things (among many) that people can't seem to agree on: what is art, and what is history? Without getting into an endless discussion of these, I'm putting up part of a series on outdoor concrete prehistoric wildlife sculpture. (Didn't know that was a genre, did you?) There are many prehistoric critter sculptures in this region, but the leader of them all, the oldest and most ambitious in its way, is Dinosaur Park on Dinosaur Hill in Rapid City. It's art AND history. Because I said so, that's why.

Triceratops concretensis

Dinosaur Park is a Works Progress Administration project, dedicated in 1936 on top of a hill overlooking Rapid City and the edge of the Black Hills. The dinos are built out of steel pipe, mesh, concrete, and layers of exhaustingly green paint. Who knew that they were so color-coordinated? Someone at the paint store really came through for this project.

Tyrannosaurus sans hands

The Works Progress Administation (WPA) was rather confusingly renamed the Work Projects Administration (WPA) in 1939. It was a Depression recovery program, proving a variety of public-works jobs to workers in need of them. WPA projects included a variety of public and park buildings, bridges, roads...and art. Many murals, especially a number of historic Post Office murals, arose as WPA projects. Dinosaur Park is listed as WPA 960, created by sculptor Emmett Sullivan. It was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 21, 1990. Nice day for it.

Anatotitan, the dinosaur formerly known as Trachodon

It's very simple. Dinosaur Park on Dinosaur Hill has, er, seven concrete dinosaurs in a park on top of a hill. Hence the names. You can see them on the city skyline from multiple vantage points. They mostly represent fossils found in western South Dakota and the region, with a couple of exceptions. They don't light up or roar or move. They just stand there and look impressive and historic and a little bit goofy.

Stegosaurus bizarretailensis

They were meant to lure tourists driving to and from the Badlands and points west, witth hopes that people would stop their cars and spend money in Depression-bruised Rapid City before proceeding. Skyline Drive, where the dinosaurs reside, is a scenic and sometimes unnerving drive along a steep hogback ridge at the edge of the Black Hills, and the town fathers wanted people to leave the beaten path and explore the area.

Why dinosaurs? The Chicago World's Fair in 1933-34 featured an astounding exhibit on prehistoric life, including what could be called the first animatronic representations of dinosaurs and othe extinct creatures. As part of this, the Sinclair Oil Company focused on an exhibition of moving dinosaurs as a way to tie into the formation of oil. These do not really connect, in case you're wondering, but in 1933 it brought the crowds in by the hundreds of thousands. The big guy in the postcard above could swing his head and tail and make noises, awe-inspiring at the time. Some popular culture historians suggest that our own culture's fascination with dinosaurs started in Chicago at the Sinclair Pavilion.

Dimetrodon bubbai. No, that's not his real species name.

Not all the Dinosaur Park dinosaurs are from the region, or are even dinosaurs. This is an angry Dimetrodon, who, like me, is a displaced West Texan, and who showed up too early to be a dinosaur. Maybe that accounts for the attitude--he missed the party. There are lots of photos of him with visitors' arms and legs and heads and small children in his mouth.

Dimetrodon was featured at the Chicago exhibition, too. That seems to have been Sullivan's main criterion for which dinosaurs to include in concrete on Dinosaur Hill. You're tired of driving across the prairie, you're hot and dusty, and suddenly a line of steep hills with dinosaurs on top looms in front of you. And you know what they are, you've seen the postcards from New York and Chicago, so you stop, curious. Or at least that was the hope.

Protoceratops patiently guarding what will turn out to be someone else's eggs

Protoceratops was a major find in the American Museum of Natural History's Central Asian expeditions to China and Mongolia in the 1920s. By 1933, it was well-known, thanks to the AMNH exhibit and the popular writing of Roy Chapman Andrews. Protoceratops was found with nests and eggs, which would turn out decades later to be those of the dinosaur unfairly named Oviraptor.

Even the nest and eggs are painstakingly re-created in concrete. And then painted Dinosaur Park green. It's so lifelike...

It's peaceful up on Dinosaur Hill, and I wonder just how much these sorts of parks and exhibits have influenced our thinking and wondering about the past. The dinosaurs are stoic and patient, though they have been known to get wild and sport red bows at Christmas. I'm not sure I believe that they never make noise, though. I think I'll check them out at twilight sometime.

13 January 2010

Skeins of cranes

Evening flight, Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

While we have had warm winds for a few days,seasonally we are still deep in midwinter, bleak or otherwise. By the calendar, winter ends at the spring equinox, March 21 or thereabouts. The snows may continue off and on until May, though, because prairie weather is unpredictable that way. The fiercest blizzard we have seen yet came on May 1, and the snowdrifts were melted two days later. So we don't put the cold-weather gear away in March.

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

For me, spring starts when the sandhill cranes drift in long skeins overhead, calling in a gentle trill constantly as they make their way back north to raise the next brood. It is an ancient pattern, as it is with most migratory birds. They spend the winter at the Texas coast, in southern New Mexico, and in other warm areas, congregating by the thousands.

Late November afternoon light, Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

By April the cranes will be arriving up and down the banks of the Platte River and its tributaries in Nebraska, as thery have done for centuries. Sandhill cranes are the oldest known extant genus of birds in North America, and their fossils are found in Nebraska, long before there was a Platte. They have an ancient lineage.

Cranes in a field, Hershey, Nebraska

During the winter, they feed and grow. By the time they arrive on the still-chilly wetlands of the Platte, they are courting. Courtship consists of wild jumps and dances, unexpected in birds so tall and stately. Snow may be on the ground, but it is crane spring.

Crane dances, Hershey, Nebraska

The three bird songs that define the prairie for me are those of the sandhill cranes, killdeer, and meadowlarks. Spring is the crane call time.

Crane dances, Hershey, Nebraska

Their scientific genus name, Grus, sounds just like their call, and goes back to Sanskrit, an ancient lineage in itself. Where cranes fly, it seems, people have always watched and listened. You hear them before you see them, and their migration marks a change in the seasons. Our cranes are passing through to their northern breeding grounds in spring, calling to each other constantly, gently.

Platte River at sunrise, minutes before crane-rise

Of all the birds I have ever seen, cranes are the ones I most deeply love. I have grown up with that sound and was ready to live within earshot of it again. Wildlife refuges all up and down the Plains are stopping places for these elegant birds.

Today I'm really ready for them. They are three months away, in the warm places and golden light, waiting for that ancient and mysterious signal to fly into the cold and bring spring with them.

12 January 2010

Signs (a continuing series)

It's a busy day up here, as the students start drifting back and classes start up again. Since Sunday, the temperatures have been above freezing for the first time since Dec. 21. Makes us want to take a drive soon and look for birds, architecture and signs.

We have compiled quite a collection of funny, bizarre and/or inexplicable signs over the years. All of these are 100% natural; we have done no Photoshopping or touch-ups of any kind. We couldn't make some of these up if we tried. The slightly fuzzy ones come from places where we could not come to a complete stop, so we did the best we could on the fly. Enjoy. Send yours in, too!

Ogallala, Nebraska

Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary, Nebraska

Private driveway

We went the other way

A Mexican restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

The other Mexican restaurant in Iceland, just down the block from the first one

A surprisingly clear road sign in Iceland. Maybe the languages are closer than I thought...

Scenic, South Dakota. That is a town name, not an adjective.

Bishop's Castle, Colorado

Park, South Dakota

Business sign, South Dakota

Sturgis, South Dakota

Sturgis, South Dakota

Seafood shack, Virginia (a great place, actually)

We kept going, rapidly


Store sign, Custer