Sunday, July 31, 2011

Graham Cracker Cake

This is my FAVORITE cake recipe in the whole world.   My mom & I got the recipe from my Grandmother Tressie Goad Burnette.

This is a VERY rich cake and a small slice goes a long way towards satisfying your sweet tooth. We usually only make it for very special occasions (family reunions, homecomings,Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc).

Graham Cracker Cake

1/2 lb real butter (do not use margarine)
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 lb graham cracker crumbs, crushed (we always crushed our own when I was growing up, but recently, I have started using boxed graham cracker crumbs...faster & less messy!)
1 cup coconut
1 cup black walnuts, chopped
1  8oz can crushed pineapple, drained, save the juice for the icing recipe!!  (Be sure to get pineapple in heavy syrup, not natural juices.)
5 eggs
1 cup milk (use whole milk)

Cream the sugar & butter together.  Add vanilla, baking powder, crackers, and milk and mix thoroughly.  Then add eggs, well-beaten.  Add coconut, pineapple & nuts.  Bake in a tube pan for 70 minutes at 325F.
(We always line the bottom of the tube pan with wax paper and greased and floured the pan well. I am sure there is a certain name for this type of tube pan, but it is the sort where the bottom and center tube lift out.)

1/2 cup real butter
1 lb box confectioner's sugar
Juice from the pineapples.
Pinch of salt 

Cream the butter with the sugar.  Add the juice (just a bit at a time because you do not want the icing too thin) and salt and mix well.  After the cake is cool, spread over the top and sides.


Copyright 2011--All Rights Reserved--The Wheel & Distaff by Kimberly Burnette-Dean. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dirty Potatoes

I worked as a historical interpreter for 18 years. During that time, I heard some very funny and interesting comments made by visitors. Here is one of my favorite stories.

I took care of an heirloom garden and prepared the food in a fireplace as part of interpreting life on an 1890s mountain farm.  One day, I decided that I was going to pick a mess of beans and dig a few new potatoes to cook with them.  While I was digging out some of the new potatoes, a couple of ladies, who were in their 30s, walked up.  After welcoming them to the farm and sharing pleasantries, I told them that I was getting some beans and potatoes from my garden to cook for dinner. (I was standing in the garden and they were standing on the pathway leading to the farm and there were several rows of potatoes between us.)

They stood there and watched me for several minutes with puzzled looks. Finally, one of them said, "Well, how are you picking any potatoes?. . . I don't see any on those vines!"   I explained that potatoes are a root crop which means that they grow underground.  Silence.   One of the ladies said, "You are KIDDING!  UNDERGROUND?!" the DIRT?!"  Obviously, these ladies did not grow up on a farm!

I held one of the potatoes out for them to inspect.  Since we had a brief shower early that morning, there were small clumps of mud stuck to the potato. This was enough to make the women hesitant to actually TOUCH the potato.   As luck would have it, there was a big, pink, earthworm wiggling around in one of the clumps.  Both of the women must have seen the earthworm at about the same time because they both let out a scream.  After one of the women calmed down, she said "Well, of course, you will throw that one away because of the worm."  I explained that the worm was in the clump of dirt, not in the potato, and that I would just wash the potatoes off.  Her reply?  "I can't BELIEVE that you are going to eat that after a worm has been on it.  I am just glad that McDonald's does not get THEIR potatoes from places like this!"
I replied, "Er, well, yes, ALL potatoes are grown in soil with worms crawling around!

Another scream.  "Oh my Gawd!  I will NEVER eat french fries again!"

While this was extremely funny at the time, it is a sobering incident. It is sad that so many people are so far removed from our agrarian roots. It is no wonder that people do not even realize that they should be alarmed by all of the chemicals and genetically modified foods that we eat everyday.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How to Save a Chicken

In 1993, I was working at the Humpback Rocks Mountain Farm at Milepost 5.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  On the farm I interpreted life in 1890 by doing many of the things women would have been doing.   I took care of an heirloom garden, made quilts, did spinning, weaving, knitting, & dyeing, cooked in a fireplace and took care of a flock of chickens.

Humpback Rocks Mountain Farm--Blue Ridge Parkway--Milepost 5.8

I always tried to make sure that I removed all of the eggs from the chicken coop on a daily basis, especially after one of the hens started getting broody.  Well, she was a sneaky hen and before I realized what she was doing, she was setting on a nest full of eggs.  At that point, I did not have any idea how long she had been setting and the thoughts of throwing away eggs that already had developing chicks inside made me very sad, so I decided to go ahead and let her hatch them.  On the morning that I thought they were going to hatch, I arrived at work extra early and heard soft little peeps from inside the chicken coop before I could even get the door open.

There was the hen, still on the nest, with several little beady-eyed chicks peeking out from under her!  I knew that the eggs might continue to hatch for awhile, so I went ahead and turned the other chickens out and fed and watered them.  All day, I continue to go out and peek inside the coop.  The little chicks were running around inside the coop and they were so cute!  By early afternoon, the mother hen had left the nest and was running around with the other chickens down in the woods.   I took the opportunity to see how many chicks there were and how many eggs were left.  There were three eggs still in the nest.  Two of them made an ominous slushy sound when I gently shook them.  I knew those were as rotten as they could be, so I tossed them far up into the woods were they exploded with a loud "pop".  When I picked up the third egg, I could tell that it was not a rotten egg. In fact, the egg had been "pipped" by the little chick inside.  When I listened carefully, I could hear the little chick peeping inside!  I gently replaced the egg in the nest, determined to let nature take its course.   A couple hours after that, I went back to check on the egg.  Nothing had changed.  I picked the egg up and listened carefully.  There was no movement inside the egg.  There was still just a small crack in the shell.  And I heard just a couple of very faint, weak peeps from inside the egg.

Well, I was just sure that since the hen had left the nest hours before, that the little chick was dying inside the egg without the warmth of its mothers body and that it was too weak to get out of the egg without assistance.
Yep.  I peeled that little chick out of the egg.  I had no idea that this was going to be a bit of a gross undertaking.   I took a small towel and laid the little chick on it.  It was too weak to stand up and it could barely peep.  But it had its little eyes open.  I knew that I needed to get it warm, so I wrapped it up and held it against my chest so that hopefully, my body heat would warm it up.

While all of this was going on, Parkway visitors were coming by the cabin and asking me why I was holding a dishtowel to my chest.  I will never forget when I showed the little chick to one family, which included an elderly grandfather.  He took one look at the chick, which was just laying in my hand, gasping for breath, and said, "That thing ain't gonna make it.  Ya might as well just throw it in the woods!"   That comment made me SO mad!

It got to be 5pm, which meant it was time to go home.   I tried to sneak the little chick back into the nest with the other chicks, but the mother hen immediately started viciously pecking at the little orphaned chick.  Now what?!  There was nothing to do but to take the little thing home with me.  After I got home, I was looking at the little chick, which was still to weak too stand up.  I thought that maybe it was hungry.  So, I mixed up some cornmeal & water and made a thick gruel. I force fed that little chick using an eye dropper.  I was not very successful.  (What I didn't know at the time was that chicks do not really eat in the first day or so of their life and there I was trying to force feed the little thing!)  Well, I had no way to keep it warm, other than holding it against my body, so when I went to bed that night, I wrapped it up in a towel and held it against my chest as I slept.

When I left for work the next day, I held the little chick to my chest as I drove to work.  I held that little chick all day long.  When I was working in the garden, cooking in the fireplace, feeding the other chickens, talking to visitors, and working in the visitor center, all were done while holding the little chick.   By late that day, the little chick was able to take a couple of wobbly steps, but it would fall over often.   I held the little chick as I was eating my supper and as I slept that night.  The only time I was not holding that chick was when I took a shower. This went on for several weeks.

Little did I know that I had created a little monster!  Once the chick could walk, it followed me EVERYWHERE.  It had to be with me 24/7 because it had  imprinted on me and, in its eyes, I was its mother hen.  Anytime that I got out of its sight, it would start peeping in the most desperate sounding chicken voice that I have ever heard.  George, who was a volunteer at the visitor center helped me come up with a name.  Since we didn't know if it was a boy or a girl, we decided on a name that could be either.  So, now, the little chick was known as Sydney.

The only time that I ever left Sydney alone was when I took a shower or when I had to go into town to the grocery store.  Somehow, I don't think that Kroger would have been understanding about me bringing my pet chicken into the store.   Sydney even went on a three hour trip to Meadows of Dan every other week with me when I went home to visit my family.  His favorite place to ride was perched on my hand which was resting on the top of the steering wheel.  Needless to say, I got quite a few bizarre looks coming down I-81 from my fellow travelers!

The amazing thing about this little chick was that he would not go to the bathroom while I was holding him.  He always waited until he got down onto the floor where I had newspapers spread.  Sydney ate normal chicken scratch feed, but he also loved popcorn and Diet Pepsi.  That chicken was CRAZY about Diet Pepsi and would keep on drinking it as long as I would give it to him.  All he had to do was see me with a Diet Pepsi  bottle and he would start dancing and peeping like a chicken possessed!  At that point in my life, I did occasionally smoke and Sydney thought it was a great game to jump up on my lap, grab the cigarette out of my mouth with his beak, and take off with it, running through the house with a lit cigarette.   Very dangerous, but funny too.

When I would take a shower, Sydney would always stand just outside of the shower stall peeping his little chicken head off.  If I pulled the shower curtain to the side and looked out so that he could see me, he would stop peeping.  But the minute I closed the curtain, he would start up again.  By this time, Sydney was starting to get a few little feathers and he was starting to flap his tiny wings when he jumped up on things. So he would stand outside the shower desperately peeping and flapping his wings until I reappeared.

One morning, I was in the shower and Sydney was panicking as usual.  All of a sudden, he got very quiet.  I thought that he had finally figured out that there was no reason to be so upset.  After I got out of the shower, I dried off and combed out my hair.  I hollered for Sydney and he didn't come.   I searched through the entire house and could not find Sydney anywhere.  I was the one panicking now!  Finally, I returned to the bathroom.  I searched the bathroom again and that is when I glanced at the toilet.  There was Sydney floating face down in the toilet bowl.  He wasn't moving.

I screamed and grabbed him out of the water.  He was not moving or breathing.  I was screaming and crying and apologizing to him.   I had killed my little sweet chicken because I was too stupid to close the lid on the toilet bowl.

I wondered if it was possible to do chicken CPR.  I turned Sydney upside down and gently squeezed his tiny body.  A bit of water bubbled out of his beak.  So, I squeezed again and again until water stopped bubbling out.  He still was not breathing or moving.  So, I put his beak in my mouth and breathed a very gentle puff of air into his lungs.  Then I squeezed him again.  Then another puff of air.  Squeeze.  Puff.  Squeeze.  Puff.  All of a sudden Sydney let loose with a cross between a sneeze and a cough and he stood up!!!!!

I had saved Sydney from death a second time!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Old Spinning Wheel in the Corner

I was always fascinated with the stories of Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin.  Sleeping Beauty's handsome prince was interesting and I could only dream of making gold out of straw.  But what really grabbed my attention was the mention of a spinning wheel.  I will never forget the day that my Grandpa Burnette told me that there was a spinning wheel upstairs in the closet.  OH MY!   I immediately started to beg him to let me see it.  It turns out that the wheel was in the BIG closet.  To understand what was I mean by the "BIG closet", let me draw you a mental picture.  There were three big walk-in closets upstairs in my grandparent's house. Two were big, but one was HUGE!  It ran the entire length of the house.  I am horrible at distances, but it had to be at least 30 feet long and about 6 feet wide.  It was tucked underneath the rafters, so at one side of the closet you could walk the length standing up.  The other side was only about 3 feet high.    And it was cram-packed with stuff.   So, getting at something in that closet, unless you knew the exact location, was a big undertaking.

John Edward Burnette
(My grandpa)

Grandpa told me that his mother, Martha Jane Cock (Cox) Burnette, had given it to him.  She had gotten it from her mother, and she had gotten it from her mother.  So, this spinning wheel had belonged to my great, great grandmother.   Even as a child, I loved old stuff and family stories, so this made me want to see it even more. Grandpa told me that he was too busy to look for then, but he would get it out for me eventually. I knew that I needed to just hush about it at that point, because he was not going to go look for it right at that moment.

Martha Jane Cox as a young woman
(My great grandmother)

Marion Columbus Burnett & Martha Jane Cox (as an older woman)

Leah Marshall Cock (Cox)--my great, great grandmother

When I went for a visit a couple of days later, Grandpa hollered for me to come look at something. (He was in the "little room" which was usually where I could always find him sitting in his rocking chair. Most folks might call that a family room these days, but there was also a bed in that room, which was quite typical in Appalachia.)

Sitting in the middle of the floor was the SPINNING WHEEL!  Well, it looked a bit sad.  Dust covered and the finish was not all shiny and glossy.  Some of the wheel spokes had been broken over time and replaced with inferior quality, hand-whittled spokes.  I was expecting a spinning wheel like the ones that I had seen pictured in my story books!!  Well, it was still a pretty wheel, in its own way, simply because it had belonged to my family for at least five generations.   And then Grandpa said the magic words:  "When I die, you can have this spinning wheel!"  Wow!  Grandpa was giving me the spinning wheel!   Once I calmed down over that announcement, I quickly wanted to see it in action.   Well, Grandpa nor Grandma could remember how it worked.  They could tell me lots of stories about watching their mothers and grandmothers use a spinning wheel, but they had no clue how it functioned.  Then, Grandpa said, "Well, I have no idea where you would even get sheep's wool or flax to even try to use that wheel."  So the spinning wheel sat in the corner of my bedroom at Grandpa's house for the next 15 years.

In this photo, the flyer & bobbin are not on the spinning wheel.

While I always thought that it was wonderful that I could say that I owned a spinning wheel, all it amounted to was just a side note.  That is until 1989 when I started working on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I was assigned to work at the Humpback Rocks Mountain Farm where there was a spinning wheel AND a big rocker beater floor loom. Charlotte, who volunteered there, told me that her mother knew how to spin!  She told me that she would ask her mother, Adeline, if she felt like coming up and showing me how.   Not only did she introduce me to spinning, but also how to weave and how to do natural dyeing.  Through the years Adeline helped me by sharing information and sources.  I treasure her letters, which are filled with her spidery handwriting, telling me secrets of the fiber arts.

So, that is how I became a spinner, dyer, and sometime weaver.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Natural Dyes, Part I

This past week, I took a drive from Roanoke to Meadows of Dan on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The wildflowers were gorgeous and I could not resist taking some photos.  Not only did I want to share these photos with you, but I also wanted to show you what beautiful natural dyes could be made from these plants. I began using natural dyes about 22 years ago.

Coreopsis--one of my favorite dyeplants.....
...and you can see why! From the beautiful old gold color
on the left to the rusty orange on the right.

Sometimes, dye plant experiments produce less than wonderful results......

See the pale, cream-colored sample in the middle?
That was the dye produced by this gorgeous Wild Indigo Plant.
A pretty plant to look at, but a horrible dye!

...but for every failure, there are many more successes!

Mullein Plant
Everything from the cream color on the left to the dark green
color on the right were all produced from mullein.

The pretty olive green in this piece was dyed with mullein

Daisy Fleabane (another favorite!)

The brilliant yellow in this shawl was dyed with daisy fleabane

Here is a sneak peek from the next post about natural dyes!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Round Meadow Bridge

Homesickness is a gut-wrenching feeling.  If you have never felt it before, trust me when I say that it is a not a good feeling.  Especially, if it is impossible for you to "go home" because either your home no longer exist or your family members are deceased.  I felt a bit of homesickness this weekend, so I decided to visit Meadows of Dan, Virginia.

I traveled the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway from Roanoke to Meadows of Dan.  Just traveling this road brings on the nostalgia.  My Grandpa Burnette helped build the Parkway in the Rocky Knob area,  I was employed as a National Park Ranger for 5 years, and I am currently a "Parkway Neighbor" since my property adjoins Parkway land.

In Meadows of Dan at milepost 179.2, you can drive across the Round Meadow Creek Viaduct.  This steel girder bridge was built in 1939 over Round Meadow Creek and a very deep ravine.

When I was a child, my daddy used to tell me all kinds of tales about when he was growing up and the crazy things that he and his brother used to do.  They both went to school at Meadows of Dan.  (I attended the same school years later.)

Daddy told me that one day, he and his brother, Lindell, decided to skip school and go to the Round Meadow Bridge with some friends.  It was only about two miles from the school.  The boys all decided that it would be a great idea to walk under the bridge.  Okay......under the bridge....big deal.  Until I realized that he meant on the under structure of the bridge!

That is a really, REALLY deep ravine under that bridge!!!

So, what were they walking on underneath that bridge?

See the ledge on the right?  I can't even imagine trying to walk on that, much less having to swing my body around the vertical pieces.  Oh yeah......and by the time you get to the center of the bridge, look how far down it is to the ground.  YIKES.

That is daddy on the right and his brother Lindell on the left.  They do look rather dare-devilish!

My daddy swore that he really did do this.  And,  based on some of the other tales that he told me about growing up, plus the stories that Grandma Burnette told me about him, I think I would have to believe it!!

He was a handsome young man!

Even though I do not have any immediate family left in Meadows of Dan, it just gives me a happy feeling when I visit the places of my childhood.  Sometimes the memories are overwhelming and I get a tad emotional, but I treasure these memories and feelings.  No one can ever take that away from me.  
You can go home again..... if only in your mind.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Making Cherry Bounce

When I used to work at Virginia's Explore Park, I did quite a bit of fireplace cooking using period recipes and heirloom vegetables.  Over the years, I found MANY very tasty recipes which I still prepare in my modern day home.  
I have always been curious about many of the drink recipes.  I have made Strawberry Shrub and Wassail, just to mention a couple of period drinks.  But I always wanted to make Cherry Bounce.  Maybe it is the name, because it does make me smile just to say it.  Maybe it is the fact that I love cherries.   Maybe it is because I like bourbon.  In any case, I decided this past week that I just HAD to make some Cherry Bounce.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find sour cherries anywhere because I just missed sour cherry season.  That's okay.   I just used all sweet cherries.

The recipe says to put it away for at least 6 months.  I plan on breaking it out around Christmas time and I hope to post an update then.  

1/2 gallon of sweet cherries (I used Bing cherries)
1/2 gallon of sour "pie" cherries
1 pint of honey (sourwood, clover, elderflower, or tupelo.....I ended up using wildflower honey)
Corn whiskey or bourbon
5 cinnamon sticks, 3 inches long (optional)

Wash & drain the cherries, then lightly crush them.  Transfer the juice, pulp, & pits to a wide-mouthed 1-gallon glass jar, and add the honey.  Fill the container nearly to the top with whiskey and add the cinnamon, if you are using it.

Close the container tightly and shake it until the honey dissolves. Then put it away in  a cool, dark place for at least 6 months.  Give it a shake ever now and then.   

Drink the cherry bounce neat or serve it with a few of the cherries in a large shot glass.  (I have also read that some of the cherries served over ice cream is quite tasty too!!!!)

This recipe is from:  
Rowley, Matthew B.  Moonshine!   New York:  Lark Books, 2007.

There are many 19th century recipes for Cherry Bounce also!

                                        My jar of Cherry Bounce