Tuesday, August 30, 2011


My friend Keetha, from down Winona way, is a writer of blogs, of cookbooks, of prose capturing the heat of the day,  the swell of a proud heart, the tastes and feel of a wonderful Southern town/family/way of speaking and thinking and cooking.     Her own blog Write Kudzu was one of the first on my sidebar when I began Lawn Tea, and it's always a treat to see it blink on at the top (kinda like the "Hot Now" sign on Krispy Kreme).

Today, she's again taking a simple, wonderful thing, and relating it to cooking, memories, family history, and the carrying-on of traditions in one of the best ways possible---doing things like a dear Grandmother did---because of love, of connection, and because it WORKS.
One way of being green:

My grandmother kept a pantry full of them: mason jars, Ball jars, mayonnaise jars.  She didn’t have pickle jars, because she made them. Neither did she have jelly jars because she made jelly and jam, too.  I picture her buying canning jars one time, early in her fifty-year marriage. She used the same ones over and over. Like most people her age, she was frugal. Those jars were practical, a way to store foods.

She’d be amused, I think, by how popular mason jars are now. People decorate with them, up-cycle them to use as vases and gifts. High-end home magazines show them all over the house, looking stylish and chic.

I’m right there with those decorators, in love with jars. There is something so pleasing and restful about the shape of canning jars. They give the eye a place to rest. 

An old Ball jar sits on a shelf in the kitchen.

An empty jar, a brand new canning jar, with a lid, sits on my desk for no particular reason except that I like it.

I have a quilted glass jar that is filled with dirt from the site of the first house I remember living in in Shelby, Mississippi. The house was empty and falling in when I was in high school. I must have told myself a hundred times to stop and get a brick, a doorknob, something from that home. I never did. Eventually the old house was knocked down and everything taken away. The Mississippi Delta earth in a glass jar is what I have of it.

I like old jars. I like new ones. They’re simple and reusable and attractive.

They’re great for gifts of food. I was hunting up something to put a batch of toffee in that I was giving as a little “happy.” I didn’t want a Ziploc bag, or a plastic container, or even a cellophane bag. I snapped the toffee into wedges and filled a canning jar with the buttery pieces. It was easy and it looked great.

There are a couple of reused jars in my pantry filled with white beans and popping corn.

I’m drawn to old ones at thrift stores and gravitate toward boxes of new ones in the grocery store aisle next to the picking spice.

Like my grandmother, I keep empty jars in the pantry. I have pasta sauce jars, pimiento jars, jars that held marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and pickles. No mayonnaise jars; they’re all plastic now.

I like having the jars to draw from, and using them over and over. I love finding that kinship with my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who's been gone some five years now. Alzheimer’s had taken her from us ten years before that. Here something as simple as an ordinary household item keeps a connection from me to her.


Stay Tuned, Y'all!

Keetha will be Guest Blogging as soon as I can get the post put up.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


We've heard from both sets of our VA friends, both via  Kim's Blog and through our comments page, and are SO glad to hear that only minor damage and some power outages amongst the families are reported.

I'm immensely thankful that the enormity of that storm did not have all the consequences it could have, and that our Dearies have come through safely.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


When I was six, I walked down the block, around the corner, and into the little hometown movie theater in the still-light of a Summer day.    Though the grown-ups sitting on the porch after supper had lauded the movie as “real good” and “you’ll like it,” nobody seemed to want to stir from their post-supper swing-and-toothpick relaxing, so I just took my dime and marched off.

The usual newsreels, previews, cartoon time were interesting, and then when the music began, all the people and land the-same-color-as-our-old-family-pictures didn’t impress me much, for ALL my previous movies had been in black and white.

The tornado got it a bit exciting, and the house-spinning spun me into the story, and back down with the same bump that lifted the little girl from the bed.

And then---when Dorothy opened That Door---that magical, heart-stopping door into the colors and music and charming small folk halfway ‘twixt fairy and flower--it was as if my own little khaki sunsuit were transformed into pink petticoats and my drab rag-curls into shining ringlets.   I was THERE.

I didn’t know WHERE, exactly, for I’d never seen color on a screen before, but it was so drinkable, so sweetly flavorful, like Mrs. White’s pink lemonade at their yearly party, I just gulped it down in great greedy mouthfuls, and anytime I’ve seen it since, I just sit down and drink it in.

I’d TIVOed it way back in May, and yesterday, with the sunshine streaming down the stairs, and us just in, hot and dusty from the yard---we got something cold to drink, a good cold washrag each for faces and arms and legs, and sat down together---her in her Snow White dress and dusty bare feet, and me in the tatty old shorts I’d just swept the patio in.

“Now watch this,” I said, “it will be kinda brown for a few minutes, then it will be BEAUTIFUL!!”

And we did watch, marveling together at HER first peek through the door.    And to her, so accustomed to a finger-touch into magical Princess kingdoms and bright cheery worlds---still it was magic.     After we’d cooled off a bit, she eased over into my lap, and then we stretched out onto the chair and ottoman, like ladies on a chaise.   She lay down on her back on my front, head on my bosom, with her feet way over on the stool, and we watched that entire movie.  

She’d turn a bit and ask a question, and or I’d murmur a comment, then she’d spin back into her mesmerized posture.    I provided the gentle comfort of an arm-around as the hokey monkeys flew and those OHHH-EEE—OHHHH fellas marched, and it was just the loveliest sharing of a childhood memory I can imagine.

No phones or doorbells or delivery people interrupted us---not for one moment while we enjoyed.   It was just the perfect First Watching.

The only thing that could have been added to that Perfect Moment was the knowing that she could just make her way home safely after dark, like I did.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I've just read of the earthquake centered near Richmond, and hope that all our lovies on the East Coast are safe and well.    All phone circuits seem to be busy, so I'll hope to hear from them all soon.

Until I can reach you---Kim and Mike and Ben and Lil---stay safe and know we're thinking of you.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Laura Ingalls Wilder spoke of her joy in receiving a set of books, one dull and endless season, when she was alone all day and expecting a child:

"On a day when she was particularly blue and unhappy, the neighbor to the west, a bachelor living alone, stopped as he was driving by and brought a partly filled grain sack to the house. When Laura opened the door, Mr. Sheldon stepped inside, and taking the sack by the bottom, poured the contents out on the floor. It was a paper-backed set of Waverley novels. . .

And now the four walls of the close, overheated house opened wide . . ." --The First Four Years

And though it’s certainly never dull here, and the days are quite filled-to-the-brim, I know how she felt---that bubble of excitement welling from the prospect of new horizons, new adventures, new and unexpected moments with an old friend.

A big snap-top lug of these was carted down the stairs and set ceremoniously upon the breakfast table, where I delved in like a kid on Christmas, smiling and murmuring and exclaiming at the boundless hours of reading awaiting.   They belong to my friend Lil, and I’ve already stashed them on a shelf of their own, easy to hand by my favorite chair.

And did I say we made preserves?   The colors were so exquisite, and I wish my photo skills were equal to the beautiful of them.   I expecially love the out-of-focusness of this one, for it’s like gazing out a stained-glass window on a particularly bright Sunday, sort of hazing your eyes to drink in the colors of the glass as you listen to the message, dazzled by both at once.

Just click on the picture and sorta go cross-eyed for the full effect.

And that amazing, jewelly pink syrup, captured in the morning sun:

There are blueberry, blackberry, red and golden raspberry, all made at her house and brought as a gift, and then some of the fig preserves and preserved figs we made here.   

And that’s my VERY LAST WORD about canning.   And figs.

Until moiré non about our own unexpected little hour, just us three, spent on a pleasantly surprising Cheese Course.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Havlon Bright always smells of Ivory Snow clothes and carries the faintest incense of cedar and pine and oak around with him like a pale, nebulous aura, for his days are spent amongst wood.   He always looks as if he’s just emerged from a pile of curly shavings, with bits of sawdust and little shining spirals of planed wood clinging to his clothes, and peeping  from the upturned cuffs of his jeans.   The sparkle of sanding dust sometimes hazes the golden hairs of his muscular forearms, and the glint gives a brassy gleam like a bronze statue.

Those callused hands give a powerful handshake, and you can feel the work of years in their hard surface; the two little fingers, though never broken, have a slight bend which has firmed over the years into an immovable curve, so that he always looks as if he’s raising his pinky-fingers over a dainty teacup.

He wears khakis year-round, varying only sleeve-length, and in the short time of the seasons’ changes, sometimes shows the long sleeves of thermals, pushed up to his elbows like pale bellows beneath the short sleeves of his button-shirts.   He would like to be a suspender-man like his Daddy, but somehow a plank or a tool or an edge of a counter seems to catch or snap into the elastic, and so he wears rather wide belts.    His favorite is the nice tooled-leather one his daughter had made by an inmate in Parchman, with his initials on the back, and a hammer on one side and a slender saw on the other.

Havlon just KNOWS wood---he can walk into Laster’s Lumberyard, and aim his nose at the pine or maple, knowing almost exactly the place of its growing and the time in the cure, and can be trusted to choose and carve and carpenter anything from a gun cabinet to a whole library of shelves, to a complete kitchen, copied from a magazine and set down entire in what used to be Miss Carlisle Emerson’s bumped-out garage.   

He’s known best for the beautiful hutches he builds right into people’s dining rooms, any size, any space, with shelves and drawers and carving satin-smooth as fine furniture, and always signs his work on the back, even if it means just writing his name on a board he’s about to nail on a wall. 

When you Hire Havlon, you just tell him what you want, and come back to find it---he’s been a part of the town’s carpentry family all his life, and his inherited touch for woodworking is equaled by the Bright Voice---a pure clear tenor, ringing out from the Methodist choir in perfect harmony with his alto twin sister, Olivia Dee.   

They’ve been singing together since they were small, and though Havlon’s size and physique suggests Basso Profundo, he pours out those silvery notes as effortlessly as he thumbs a planed edge.   Scarce a single person in town has been buried in the past fifteen years, but that Havlon and Olivia Dee stood at graveside at the end, beginning “Amazing Grace” in perfect pitch, and all the assemblage joining in, soaring those smooth notes heavenward in escort with the Dear Departed.

  Only once, when Olivia Dee was still in the hospital after the birth of her second child, did Havlon do the honors alone, and then it was the funeral of old Mr. Killebrew, who had served in WW II.   The song was “Danny Boy,” and that’s pretty much best as a solo, anyway.

Internet photos

Friday, August 19, 2011


It’s been almost two weeks, and I’m still behind on posting our friends’ visit, and all our moments seem to have been in the kitchen or at the table.

At Sunday Breakfast, we had a quiet hour before they went off to the Fair for the day.   In amongst all the other fruits and vegetables from their garden, they’d brought three IMMENSE blackberries, just to show us the size of their crop.   In all my picking and jamming days, I’ve never seen such beauties:

We’d forgotten to put out the cheese plate the night before, so we made a little dish with a cylinder of Brie and a tip-wedge of rich, tangy Butterkaase.   (This is a 7 1/2" SALAD plate, so you can see how enormous the berries are).

We had scrambled eggs, topped with tri-color peppers, onions, cheese and bacon—sorta an inside-out omelet.

More Decker melon and their blueberries, one of the tastiest, most beautiful combinations in the fruit world:

Leftover Pastries:

The fig preserves scrapings from the pot---the rich, thick fudgy rings that form as the pot bubbles.  You always put that last little bit in a bowl to have at the very next meal, even if it's supper.   Delicious with the cheeses and also a bite of Paminna Cheese.

Just above and to the left are two loaves of zucchini bread---one that we made, and a darker, moister loaf which he’d made at home and brought for comparison.

You can see the loaves better in this picture---the whole thing looks as if we were breakfasting by candlelight.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


The first Saturday of Lil and Ben’s visit began with getting the overnight-sugared crushed figs on the stove.   We had breakfast (two posts ago), then whilst Lil and I canned up the preserves, Ben began the Blueberry-Pecan Zucchini bread.    They had brought the zucchini, already grated, frozen and bagged in recipe-portions, plus the immense blueberries from their own bushes.    The pecans were from the trees at Lil’s Mama’s house.

The batter, ready for its additions:

With the pecans and berries:

In the pans---there were five loaves:

After the pans all came out of the oven, we left them to cool on racks while we all drove over to Batesville to tour the town, visit a flea market, and eat dinner at the famous Sherman House.   Their fried dill pickles might have come from the kitchen at the Hollywood Café.

After a long day, we came home and started up the simple syrup (1:1) for the preserved figs.   We’d handled them super-carefully; in fact, they’d brought in pan after pan from the motor home Friday night---single layers so that each fig was cradled to keep it whole.   The number of 9x13s that came out of their fridge would have done a Southern Church Supper proud.

As I washed them bobbing in one layer in a big bowl, Lil looked each one with the scrutiny of a Hosiery-Mill inspector, making two big trays:  For the preserves, and the perfect ones for the Preserved Figs.

Each one went as carefully into the syrup (I’ve told her that I think she’ll need to increase it to a 1:1 ½ ratio for the huge green figs she has at home, for the syrup did not can out quite as thick as Mammaw would have liked). 

On a gentle simmer for about twenty minutes, to poach them through:

She removed each one gently in a teaspoon, laying them into the jars with great precision, then we poured in the syrup and processed them in the water-bath for another fifteen minutes:

When all was finished, and the last drop of sweet syrup washed from the pots and the counters, and those jars with their lovely pink jewelly syrup cooling on the table, this was our reward at the end of the evening---retreat from the hot kitchen and a nice sit-down with a cup of decaf and a slice of that exquisite  blueberry-studded Zucchini Bread:

And I didn’t know until after they were gone that there were so many jars of goodies on my kitchen shelf:  both kinds that we’d made, and a jar each of blueberry, raspberry, golden raspberry and blackberry preserves, all from their own bushes and brambles.

I told you they were YOUR kind of guests.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


There’s a saying in the South:   Rushin’ the Season.   I know we’ve been praying and hoping for a break in the weather, and seem to have come out on the other side of that drastic heat.  The skies are blue with the poufiest clouds, the sun twinkles through the refreshed-by-the-rain trees and bushes, and it’s heavenly to BE out there in the sunshine when it’s in the early—morning sixties and right-now 72.

But Y’all, we went to Cracker Barrel for a late lunch on Sunday, and they just Take It Too Far.  I headed over to the little Clearance Corner while he registered, and looked over the little display of beach stuff and garden stuff and that one draggled pink rabbit probably still languishing from the February after-Easter sales.

I heard a little noise, and something bumped me in the back.   As I turned, I was face to face with an immense purple satin hat, atop  the stick of a cackly broom circling the floor like some zany Hogwarts roomba.    I could practically hear strains of The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

Broomba churkled some more, reversed, and headed off toward the canned apples and old-fashioned candy, as people parted before her heedless path, scooting their feet out of the way and doing that little batter's-tuck like when the pitcher zips one a little too close to his mid-section.

 Not my picture---this one's from Youtube.  Mine had a more interesting hat---an enormous purple number that was a cross between a smushed velvet rose and Miss Belle Watling's lampshade.

I ask you, folks---who would BUY that thing, and what IS it with the headlong plunge into the holidays, when we’re still wiping the Coppertone sweat from our brows and shaking sand out of the Samsonite?

There were whole displays of pumpkin-and-cat stuff, and great shelves of turkey-and-corn dishware and décor, as well as sweatshirts and jackets and sweaters in all the above.  

And worst of all, as we stood at the counter to pay, we could hear a muted Jingle Bells from the far corner shelves sneaking quite a few Santas and trees into the landscape.

I  hope that the demand for that purple-hatted broom is so great that they’ll all have been snatched up before our next visit.

(And I looked to see if there were a picture of the thing, and there’s only a video, posted in JULY).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Coffee area set up by Chris last Saturday, for the arrival of our friends Ben and Lil for breakfast. 

They’d asked several times, “Please try to get a Decker and save it for us---we’ve heard SO much about them.”    Perhaps it was the long dry spell which languished their growth, for they’re usually totally gone by the last day of July, but we were lucky to find two lovely ones.    This one seems to have saved its splendor just for Ben, whose amazement and delight in all those seeds-for-next-year were good to see, and the flavor---as always, perfection.

He strewed the smiles with the huge blueberries from their bushes at home.

Eggs from their little farmer-lady's hens, right down the road from their house in Virginia.  Does the sight of big ole mis-matched brown eggs just make you want to get out a skillet RIGHT NOW??   There's even one pretty little pale-green araucana down there on the right.    They were absolutely fabulous---deep-orange-yolked beauties, and though they'd brought them for making the zucchini bread, a gently fried one apiece was a MUST for breakfast.

And when we came home from dinner the night before, I’d pointed out the little local Panaderia, and since they’d wintered in FAR south Texas, right on the border, they were delighted to see those fantastic pastries almost within smelling distance right here, and so they stopped for a bag on the way over for breakfast.  Are these YOUR kind of guests, or WHAT?

Little golden sticks of that rich Alabama Hoop Cheese in the bowl.

Table set with all the goodies, and the new/vintage Watertown Lifetime dishes Chris brought home last week.   I'd said ,"Please don't bring ANYTHING ELSE FROM A FLEA MARKET into this house until NEXT YEAR!"    But, after all, it IS Fifties plastic, and cheery as all get-out.

An odd little bun-fellow---yeasty and slightly sweet, with the crunch of sugar on top.   It looks to me like a rosy-throat Loves-me-not daisy, discarded after the petal-charm.

Lil's plate---LOOK at that yolk---the deep, rich orange outshining both melon and cheese.

A leisurely breakfast, then on to cooking and canning out the fig preserves, whilst Ben made five loaves of zucchini bread:

And of those, and the preserved figs, moire non.

Monday, August 15, 2011


We were talking of the early school-starts yesterday  morning, Chris and I, speaking loudly from adjoining rooms, after he'd read me a line in his book which perfectly captured the scent of penned-up humanity, and both those subjects segued us into our own memories of those echoing halls and all the sounds and scents and colors.   He mentioned the floor cleaner that we both remember so well---the canful of crumbly, rubbery stuff scattered before the janitor’s broom to quell the dust from all those playground feet.

His words in blue; the rest are mine.   

It came in a big paper/cardboard barrel, with a metal lid that fit around the edges with a levered cammed strap that popped into place to hold the lid on.

It was the scent of looking down the cool-shaded hall, where the smell rose from the wooden floors and enveloped your senses in an invisible pink---almost a pepto-bismol---aura, like that pink coin candy that came in a wrapped stack like a roll of quarters.     The flavors were not exactly like any real flavors, but there was a pink coin in there that was a cross between pepto-bismol and the smell of that floor cleaner.

He was speaking of Necco wafers, long-lived Edsels of the candy-world---crinkly-tubed flat things, with none of their dusty pastels flavored as they looked, but rather like succeeding pale whiffs of the mysterious nostrum bottles behind Leon’s drugstore counter.

The crumbly red compound with the consistency of slightly wet sawdust had the smell of that pink candy rising from it like heat.

The janitor was a person of consequence at the school---not like a teacher or an administrator, but a person with power of unspoken things.     You could look over into the can, and see the gallon can he’d gone to the lunchroom and got---the label was still on, from the cut green beans or peach halves.    He used the can to scoop out a canful, and then grabbed handfuls of it and strewed it down the halls like a farmer throwing crack-corn to his chickens.  He would cover a length of the hall with a good dusting of this stuff, then start the sweeping, manning a big wide push-broom.

He’d start pushing, leaning into the broom, sweeping always toward the door in the hall, sweeping into the light, and as the little grains like coffee grounds gathered the dust in upon themselves, the floor was magically clean in those just-swept rows, like the tracks of a very close lawnmower.

Mr. Book was erasing all the scuff-marks and tracks and spills, with all those old erasers, eradicating those traces for one more day.

Then when he got to the end of the hall, he’d take a big flat piece of cardboard he’d cut from a box, and scoop it up onto the cardboard, and when he’d picked up everything he could trap, he’d wide-sweep all the rest out the big doors, giving a big hard swack or two on the threshold to dislodge the last of the crumbs.

On some days, especially hot ones, you’d approach the school doors and get a big whiff of the rubbery-mint scent under your feet, like someone crunching one of those flat dusty candies had blown his breath in your face.

The floorboards were a bit wider than the ones in the gym, and dark and oily like the planks at the feed-store; they looked like they’d been worn down by the shoes of centuries, and it’s just possible that by the time the school had been there for a few more years, the floors would have been worn through entire, completed by the sanding of those crumbs.

Image result for old wood-plank floor

I always thought the stuff was all the old ground-up erasers from every school that there was, thrown useless into the trash with a tick onto paper, or a plink into the bottom,  then picked up all over the country and retrieved from the bottoms of countless big brown metal cans in unknown classrooms.    I had visions of all the inch-pencils, too short to hold, with their erasers being hulled out with a little twisting motion, like the wrist-twist to release an oyster from its shell. 

Where this big universal grinder was, nobody knew, but it turned out great barrels of the rubbery-mint crumbs.    Who EVER saw or smelled anybody using that particular stuff in a doctor’s office or a bank?   It must have been manufactured exclusively for schools, and made to erase that unmistakable chalk/gum/hot-puppy odor of children.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by last night's tragedy at the fairgrounds.   I pray healing for the injured and healing peace and comfort for all the families in mourning.

Today, we are all Hoosiers, and we're all bereaved.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


We're making Fig Preserves!

Our Friends Lil and Ben came for a visit last weekend, and brought some lovely figs and blackberries and raspberries from their home garden.   When they got here on Friday, we started getting the figs into their sugar-soak so they could create all that luscious syrup in the fridge overnight.    A bobbing wash in the big pan, a nip of the little stem, then just a finger-pinch to pull them open and crush them just a bit.

Sugar on, ready to stir in.   A drop of the wonderful new vanilla they brought me from Mexico, and a couple of wisps of lemon peel, paper thin and fragrant.

Ready for their sleep,

A long gentle simmer on Saturday morning, til they were thick and bluppy in the pan, with a gleam like spun candy:

The finished figs---I think there were more than a dozen jars.  I turn all canned goods upside down to cool, especially things which don’t go into a water-bath for processing.   The boiling syrup or jam or jelly insures sterilization of the jar, and flipping it at once scalds the bare space at the top and inside of the lid.  Don’t be dismayed by the “head-space” gap---when the jars taper, the half-inch left at the top looks like much more when flipped.

I missed getting pictures of the putting-into-jars and of the handy little green insert they have for the water-bath.  It’s like Silpat, I think, able to withstand all the high temperatures, fits into any pasta pot, and holds six halfpints neatly through their boiling.   It has little  detachable handles, (and got left IN the drained pot after the last batch, which is one of the reasons they’re coming back by today).

Chris saw the finished-with pot, just sitting on that huge cast-iron stove, still gleaming with heat, so he dumped the hot water and set the pot back in its place.   How we missed that neon-green little insert is beyond me---it's vibrant and BRIGHT, and if I canned any more, I'd certainly want one.

Len made five big loaves of Zucchini-Blueberry Bread before we went out for the afternoon,  and we came home and canned a batch of Preserved Figs (a different method and product) after we went to dinner.

Moiré non on figs, bread, meals together, visiting.