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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Cooking up the harvest

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hi neighbors. Most people today take having food for granted. If you run out of food in your cupboard, there is always a variety of food at the local store. If you can't wait to go shopping, buying and bringing it home to cook; you can go to a local drive-through and be eating a hot meal within 10 minutes.

It's not like the days when you had to first find a chicken, catch and kill the chicken, pluck it, butcher it, clean it and then cook it. A "quick" Sunday diner might take four hours to prepare.

Maybe it says something about our culture that we not only want, but expect, instant results for any of our problems. If we are hungry, we don't want to wait for food, and we don't want to expend too much effort to acquire it.

My grandmother would get up by 5 a.m. to make biscuits for breakfast. She didn't do this for a special treat one day a month. She did this every morning -- cold days, hot days and wet days, and probably many, many days when she would have preferred staying in bed. But she knew that if she did not bake biscuits there would be no bread for breakfast. And the family always expected biscuits to go with their fried eggs, ham or bacon and coffee.

I think one of the first things women stopped doing when the "modern" age hit, was baking their own bread and their own biscuits. I don't remember my grandmother baking bread, but I know from family stories that she did for many years. She, like most other women, found buying bread was well worth the nickel it cost.

White, soft bread does taste good, but it can't compare to a cold biscuit served mid-morning with hot coffee and covered with homemade apple butter.

My grandmother made apple butter on a wood cooking stove and one year I got to help.

First, we went to the old family orchard a little more than a mile away. The men drove us in a wagon pulled by two horses. The orchard has been in the family since the 1830s and it still is to my knowledge. I don't know the history of the orchard; who planted it. I used to imagine as a child that Johnny Appleseed himself must have planted it on his way through Missouri. They are, after all, called Jonathan apples.

We picked from the small trees and picked up from the ground beneath them several bushels of small red apples; loaded them on the wagon and headed home. For a basically untended orchard, there were few worms in those apples. I remember that well, because each worm would give me shudders and I would have to run out of the kitchen with the offending apple slice to throw it to the chickens.

Although I was old enough to use a small paring knife, my grandmother soon discovered my peeling left much to be desired -- and much too much apple flesh left on the peel. So she peeled and I quartered and diced. Each large bowl of apples was washed a couple of times and emptied into an enameled dishpan sitting on the warm stove.

When the huge enameled dishpan was full, the apples were covered with water and left to cook. There was a long-handled wooden spoon that had to be used to stir the apples every few minutes.

This "cook down" took all day, and although the kitchen smelled really good, the enthusiasm for cooking was long gone before the chore was finished. Granny added salt, sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon to taste.

I ran in and out, bringing in more wood to keep the stove at just the right temperature. Some time between breakfast and supper we had to cook a big lunch for the men who came in from harvesting to eat. They knew when the food was ready because I would go out to the yard and pull on the rope to ring the big dinner bell. Ozark hills carry sound well and that dinner bell could be heard for miles.

Before supper the apple butter would be cooked down to a deep brown, sweet concoction, dipped into quart jars, sealed and set on the porch cupboard to cool. Inevitably at least one jar didn't seal, so that was ready for supper. Everyone enjoyed the long-awaited apple butter covered biscuits!

Until the next time friends, remember, for food to be truly cherished, it has to be a little difficult to acquire and require a little time to cook. Enjoy your supper tonight!

Nancy Malcom
The Third Cup