Of Texas and Muscadine Wine (plus a recipe)

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In the Old West, folks couldn’t just walk into a liquor store and pick up a bottle of their favorite hooch. Some saloons and general stores sold wine and spirits by the bottle or jug, but a goodly number of people — especially those who lived on remote homesteads — fermented or distilled their own. Homemade wine was common all over the South and West, where pulpy fruits and weeds like dandelions grew in profusion.

P&P RECIPES LOGOWild muscadine and scuppernong grapes provided the base for many southern home-brews. The two varieties differ primarily in color: Muscadines are dark, from deep cherry-red to almost black; scuppernongs are green to bronze to almost white. Both are highly acidic. Failure to wear gloves while picking or mashing can leave a rash on the skin. However, the high acid content, coupled with prodigious fruit production, makes muscadines and scuppernongs excellent candidates for fermentation.

Although the muscadines and scuppernongs used in contemporary artisanal wines are cultivated like any other crop, the wild foundation stock behaved — and still behaves — much like kudzu, overgrowing everything in its path. To say the grapes are aggressive and abundant would be an understatement. The landscaping around my home can attest to that.

wild muscadine grapes (photo by Bob Peterson)
wild muscadine grapes (photo by Bob Peterson)

In fact, according to local lore, the people who owned this house in the 1920s made good use of wild muscadine grapes. They had to be sneaky about their “hobby,” though, because during Prohibition revenuers were everywhere. Reportedly, the covert libation operation was discovered when a driver lost control of his car and collided with a hastily erected addition to the house, which dutifully collapsed. Vats and vats of muscadine wine spilled into the street. I’m not sure how that worked out for the brewers, but since they were prominent citizens, I doubt anyone got in too much trouble.

The homeowners rebuilt the addition with a good deal more attention to sturdiness. I use it as an honest-to-goodness living room (as opposed to the formal living room at the front of the house) and call it “the wine cellar.”

Muscadine wine comes to the rescue of the hero in “Making Peace,” one of two short novellas in The Dumont Brand. Heroine Maggie Fannin mixes quinine with her homemade wine to treat the malaria hero Bennett Collier picked up while tramping through swamps during the Civil War.

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The Dumont BrandHer back to him, the woman stood at a rough-hewn table against the wall on the opposite side of the hearth. Sunlight leaked through chinks in the mortar between the split logs, gleaming along a russet braid that traced a stiff backbone. A faded calico dress hung loose on a frame without softness or curves.

She turned and caught his stare in eyes the color of warm cognac. A soldier’s eyes: resigned, yet defiant; determined to go down fighting.

Levering up onto stiff arms, he braced his palms on the floor.

The woman knelt and shoved a tin cup forward. “Drink.”

His gaze dropped to the vessel for only a moment before returning to those fascinating eyes.

Her lips and brows pinched. “Drink or I’ll pour it down your throat. I didn’t nurse you through three days of the ague just to turn around and poison you.”

The rustic music he’d heard earlier underlay the sharp words. Holding her gaze, he shifted his weight, took the cup, and drew it to his lips. The sweet wine almost hid a familiar bitterness. “You found the quinine.”

Quinine—more precious than gold to any soldier who’d spent too much time in the swamps. He’d stolen the near-empty bottle. The righteous Bennett Collier, a common thief. “You went through my saddlebags.”

“I didn’t take nothin’ else. I swear it.”

He hadn’t meant the statement as an accusation. “Nothing in there worth taking.” Except the bundle of letters from his father. I miss you, son. Keep yourself alive and come home. Three years too late. He nearly choked trying to clear his throat.

He tossed back the rest of the wine. The bitter drug sharpened a pain in his chest; the sweet wine, a bitter memory. “Muscadine.”

****

Today, most home-brewers use commercial yeast and add pectic enzyme. The latter clarifies the wine and draws more color from the grapes. Typically, those who ferment wine at home also add Campden tablets (potassium or sodium metabisulfite) to kill bacteria and inhibit the growth of wild yeast.

None of those ingredients would have been available in Maggie’s rundown shack on the mainland across the bay from Galveston, so her recipe might have looked something like the one below, which I found written in tidy cursive on a yellowed slip of paper tucked into one of my grandmother’s books. I have no idea how old the recipe is or from whence it came. The comments in parentheses are mine.

Muscadine Wine

(makes 5 gallons)

5-gallon bucket very ripe (soft and starting to shrivel) muscadine grapes

12 lbs. white sugar

Spring water (or any water without chlorine)

  1. Rinse grapes. (If the grapes have been sprayed with pesticides, wash them. Otherwise just rinse. Wild yeast on the grapes’ skins and in the air, combined with sugar, causes fermentation.)
  1. Mash grapes in large (glazed ceramic) crock. (The vessel should be large enough to hold the mashed grapes and the sugar with a couple of inches of “head space” between the top of the liquid and the lip of the crock.)
  1. Add sugar. Give mash a good stirring.
  1. Cover crock with thick cheesecloth (or use a T-shirt). Tie string around lip (to hold the cheesecloth). Set in warm place.
  1. Give mash good stirring every day until stops bubbling. (The amount of yeast in the environment will determine when the mixture starts bubbling and how long the activity lasts.)
  1. Strain juice into clean (glazed ceramic) crock or churn. Add spring water to make five gallons. (Again, leave head space between liquid and rim.)
  1. Cover crock. Set in cool cellar or barn. Let sit six weeks. Strain into jars. (Knowing my grandmother, “jars” meant Mason jars. That’s how my grandfather bottled his moonshine. I’d use wine bottles, but what do I know?) Screw on lids, loose for a few days. Tighten lids, let sit six months in cellar or barn.

 

Muscadine wine
muscadine wine

I can’t vouch for the recipe because I’ve never tried it. Use at your own risk.

Home-brewing has become a bona fide trend over the past several years, so recipes and equipment for making beer, wine, and mead are everywhere. If you’d like to attempt a more modern approach to muscadine wine-making, you may want to visit this link (from Louisiana) or this one (from Kentucky).

Be aware: Unlike in 19th-century America, today’s federal government and all U.S. states have laws governing the production of alcoholic beverages for personal consumption. According to the federal Internal Revenue Code, home-brewers may produce 200 gallons of beer or wine per calendar year if there are two or more adults residing in the household; 100 gallons per calendar year if there is only one adult residing in the household. If they produce more, they must pay federal taxes on the overage.

State regulations vary widely. In Texas, for example, the head of a household or an unmarried adult living alone may produce 200 gallons of wine, ale, malt liquor, or beer per year. Those who wish to produce more — or do so “accidentally” — not only owe state taxes in addition to federal tax, but also must acquire a license.

 

Claim Me, Walnut Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookie Love

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There’s nothing better than food to bring two people together.   And baked goods, have an extra added bonus of sweetness.  That’s certainly the case in Claim Me, Cowboy and this exchange between Ty Warren and Summer Nichols.  These chunky walnut chocolate chip cookies help to get them talking again!

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She put her hands on her hips. “I’ll ignore that, Ty.  Because you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Maybe not. Or just maybe his philandering father made a move on her after Ty’s one-time best friend, passed on. It wouldn’t be out of character for him to pursue a beautiful woman, a lovely, lonely widow.  Hell, sounded like something straight out of a soap opera.

“You gonna frown at me all day, or offer me one of those cookies?”

Her lips quirked a bit.  “Still have a sweet tooth?”

“Some things never change.”

She put some cooling cookies onto a dish and set it in front of him. “Who’re they for anyway?” he asked, plucking one up from the plate.

“My folks.  I was going over for a visit today.”

He said nothing. The Simmons family didn’t have a spare sentiment for him.

She poured him a glass of milk and he looked up at her closed off expression.  “Don’t let me keep you.”

“I’ll go… as soon as you finish up here.”

He sunk his teeth into the cookie.  Sheer heaven, warm and soft and delicious.   He had a taste for sweet things.  Summer had been the sweetest girl he’d ever met and the irony of sitting here in the kitchen with her, tasting her baking and breathing in the vanilla scent of her, wasn’t lost on him.

 

Chunky Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

2 cups (10 ounces) all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chip

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS

Adjust oven rack to upper and lower middle positions and preheat oven to 325°F. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter and sugar for 1 minute. Whisk in egg, yolk, and vanilla extract. Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Scoop out dough in 1/4 cup measurements and drop onto baking sheet. Bake until just golden on the edges, about 15 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet.

 

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Photo credit to Carrie Vasios

 

Margaret, The Reluctant Cook Shares a Recipe

MargaretBrownley-headerP&P RECIPES LOGO

Margaret’s Philosophy about cooking

A meal should never take longer

to prepare

than it takes to eat

 

Whenever anyone suggests I share a recipe, I cringe. Not that I don’t have a recipe file, mind you. It’s just that instead of recipes my file is where I keep the telephone numbers of local take-outs.  So you can2_NutcrackerBride imagine how I felt when an editor asked me to include a recipe with my story The Nutcracker Bride. 

In desperation I turned to my daughter for help.  (Yes, the very same one who once thought school cafeteria food akin to the eighth wonder of the world. In her youth she was the Julia Child of the Lucky Tray Special.)

jelloAs I recall, she was particularly impressed with the Jello. She couldn’t believe it actually kept its shape after the mold was removed.

“Big deal,” I muttered.

“And the orange juice doesn’t taste burnt,” she persisted.

“They probably defrosted theirs in the microwave instead of on the stove,” I said defensively. I couldn’t believe she actually preferred bland orange juice.

She looked at me suspiciously. “And the rice could be eaten with a fork.”

“Probably one of those mountain grown brands,” I said weakly.

For the record, that smart aleck kid is now a professional chef and has raised three children who hate cafeteria food. When asked why she became a professional cook she claims it was for self-survival. 

Here’s the recipe she whipped up for my story.  It breaks my rule of no more than three ingredients per recipe, but you know how these chefs are.  If, like me, you use your oven for storage, don’t worry. I’ll be happy to provide the telephone number of a great German bakery.

 

German Zimt Makronen Cookies

1 cup ground hazelnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs separated. Need only the whites
pinch of salt
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup of granulated sugar
Whole hazelnuts to top cookies
Mix together ground nuts, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Beat egg whites. When eggs are stiff add lemon juice and salt. Continue to beat until stiff. Gradually fold sugar into beaten egg whites and fold in nut mixture.
Using two small spoons place small mounds of cookie dough onto greased baking sheet.
Top each cookie with a whole hazelnut and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for about 20-25 min. Leave to cool. Enjoy with friends and family.

Okay, how many of you enjoy cooking? What is your least favorite kitchen chore?  

 

More Love and Laughter from Margaret Brownley

The Nutcracker Bride: He’s a Texas Ranger and she just shot him!

12brides of ChristmasThe Nutcracker Bride can be purchased separately or as part of this great collection of stories from some of your favorite authors, including our very own Mary Connealy.

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TRANSPORTATION IN THE 1880’S by Faith Blum

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Today, we can get around the world in hours. We take for granted that if we want to visit our friends or family anywhere in our country or around the world, we just have to hop in our car and drive a few hours to get to them. Or we can get on a plane and fly there in an even shorter amount of time. But what was it like in 1880 before cars had been invented and the first working plane was another 13 years in the coming?faith blum 7

I found out while doing some research for my fifth novel, The Solid Rock (due out Spring 2016). I’ll share a few of them with you.

By horse, the most you could go without killing the animal is 50 miles, and that’s only on flat ground with a really good horse. In normal conditions, 20-40 miles per day was the limit. A wagon would be even less since the oxen would be pulling all your belongings and most, if not all, of your family. By train you could go up to 50 miles per hour!

In The Solid Rock, my main character, Joshua, travels from Chicago, Illinois to Cheyenne, Wyoming. At first, I was going to have him ride his horse the whole way there. Then I found out how many miles there were between the two cities and how many miles a horse can go. If I had him ride his horse, the man he went to rescue would probably be dead before he got there.   faith blum 4

 

Later in the book, he pushes his horses hard and goes from Castle City, Montana (a ghost town about 60 miles east and a little south of Helena or about fifteen miles north of Ringling) to Cheyenne. He brought more than one horse so he could keep riding even when one of the horses started to get tired. I also found a great map of railroads online and used that to get him from Castle City to Caspar, Wyoming where they could hop on a train directly to Cheyenne. The map is a little confusing, especially since it doesn’t have a lot of the city names on it, but I figured some of them out. Enough to make it workable.

 

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Research can sometimes be tedious, but you can also find out some fun things that are only relevant in your books, but can sometimes be fun to tell others as trivia items. Here are some fun facts I learned while researching The Solid Rock (they may or may not have to do with transportation).

 

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  • Kate Warne was the first female Pinkerton Detective.
  • Trains didn’t always go through what are now considered big towns.
  • Horses can’t run fast for long periods of time like you see in the movies. (Wow! Movies are unrealistic? Who would’ve guessed that? [/end of sarcasm])
  • Allen Pinkerton (the man who started the Pinkerton detectives) ran away from Ireland because he was a wanted man.
  • Allen Pinkerton also married a young lady who was probably only about fourteen or fifteen, though she claimed to be seventeen.

 

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Thanks for hosting me today. I really appreciate being able to be a guest blogger on the Petticoats and Pistols blog. I’m looking forward to the conversations we can have in the comments. I won’t bore you with a summary of each of my books. You can find out all the details about my three novels and three novellas on my website: http://www.faithblum.com. If you are interested in learning about my new releases, I have a newsletter signup form which you can find here: http://www.faithblum.com/new-releases.html.

 

One of my novellas, Pass Me Not, is free until Sunday, so feel free to pick up your ecopy: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B010B4BGT8.

 

Timothy is at his wit’s end. His twelve year old half-sister has run off five housekeepers in almost a year. Since their parents died, she has grown wilder than ever. What can he do? As he looks for a new housekeeper, his eye catches sight of a mail order bride advertisement. One young lady has a younger sister and sounds like a God-fearing woman. Could this be the answer to his dilemma or will Louise run her off, too?

I am also giving away an ebook of any of my novels or novellas currently available to two people who comment below. What is your favorite mode of transportation? Did it surprise you how long it took to get places in the 1880s? Do you have any questions about my books?

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Faith Blum is a 24 year old home school graduate who enjoys doing many right-brained activities such as reading, crafting, writing, and playing piano. Her favorite genre to read and write is Historical Fiction, more specifically, Westerns. In the Hymns of the West series, she has endeavored to create clean, fun, and challenging Western stories for the whole family.  She currently has three novels and three novellas published. You can find her in various places online: Website | Blog | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter | Amazon

Jailbreak!

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The hero in my current work in progress is in jail and needs to escape or he’ll soon be keeping company with the daisies.  The question is how? As usual, whenever I have a plotting problem I hit the books. Much to my surprise my research showed that escaping jail was no big deal in the Old West.

There was a good reason for this. Jails were often built in a hurry and were flimsy affairs. Adding to the problem, towns didn’t have the money to hire jail guards. One California jail was so poorly built that prisoners were put on their honor not to escape.

The way prisoners escaped varied and, in some cases, were even laughable. Dynamite was used on occasion, but was seldom necessary. Some prisoners simply walked out of unlocked cells. Others, like a man in a Yuma jail, wiggled the bars loose in a window.

AG jailArroyo Grande’s wooden jail house was the object of scorn and breaking out was somewhat of a town joke. On several occasions prisoners skipped town taking along the iron chains that were meant to hold them prisoners.

Roy Bean (yes, that Roy Bean) supposedly escaped a San Diego hoosegow by using a jackknife to cut through soft mortar. Bean went from escapee to the colorful judge known as The Law West of the Pecos.

Ten men escaped the Tombstone jail while the guards were having supper. They simply dug a hole in the wall and jumped fifteen feet to the ground.

Billy the Kid escaped from the Silver City prison through a chimney.

San Francisco’s first jail was a flimsy log structure built around 1846. John Henry Brown, editor of the California Star, wrote in ACTUAL EXPERIENCE OF AN EYE-WITNESS, FROM 1845 TO 1850: “One night a man, by name of Pete, from Oregon, was put in the Calaboose, for having cut the hair off the tails of five horses and shaved the stumps. As Leavensworth (the Alcalde) did not send him his breakfast, he called on Leavensworth at his office, with the door of the Calaboose on his back, and told him if his breakfast was not sent up in half an hour we would take French leave. Leavensworth sent his breakfast.”

jail treeWickenburg, Arizona didn’t have a jailhouse. Instead, prisoners were chained to a large Mesquite tree until they could be transported out of town. No one ever escaped the tree. However, so many prisoners were once chained to the boughs, there was no room for more.

Out of necessity one criminal was tied to a nearby log. He got sick of waiting, so he picked up the log and walked to the closest saloon.

One woman escaped jail with nothing more than her feminine wiles. After stagecoach robber Pearl Hart slipped out of Sheriff Wakefield’s supposedly secure jail, she boasted “he fell in love with me.”

Jailbreaks were so prevalent that New Mexico governor Lionel Sheldon declared that “escapes are as easily made as from a paper bandbox.”

Not all jailbreaks were successful, of course, and some escapees were either shot dead or caught a few days later. But many did manage to get away. Out of those who were caught, some went on to escape again and again.

More Love and Laughter from Margaret Brownley

Margaret’s story The Nutcracker Bride: He’s a Texas Ranger and she just shot him!

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We Have a Winner — Three Actually

bannerHowdy!

Well, this week I let my granddaughter pick the winners, and because she made a mistake (she picked one name and then said, I want another one — and then she picked two)…(sigh).  The upshot of it all is that we have 3 winners.

Those winners are:  Whitney — Annette — Connie J.

Congratulations to you winners.  To claim your prize, please email me personally at karenkay(dot)author(at)earthlink(dot)net.  Insert a (.) for (dot) and the @ for (at).  I’ll be giving you a choice, actually of two different books, THE SPIRIT OF THE WOLF or RED HAWK’S WOMAN.  The reason there is a choice is that I was gone from home a bit during the time when SPIRIT was out — so you have a choice.  But contact me at the above address and we’ll go from there.

Many thanks to all those who came and left a comment yesterday.

Buckaroos in Paradise

Jeannie Profile Paradise SignHello everyone! I’m Jeannie Watt and I’m thrilled to be the newest filly at Petticoats & Pistols! I write western romance for Harlequin and Tule Publishing and I live in Paradise. Literally.

I know of four Paradise Valleys in the west. My Paradise Valley is in northern Nevada, and it’s a place where a kid really can grow up to be a cowboy (if his mama lets him, of course). Interestingly, cowboys in northern Nevada are not generally called cowboys. Instead they are called buckaroos, from the Spanish word vaquero.

Vaqueros started migrating to the Great Basin  from California and northern Mexico in the mid-1800s to do herd work for both family and corporate ranches. They brought with them their own distinctive style of dress and working gear, as well as their own lexicon, which is still in use today.

Modern day buckaroos may choose to dress like any other cowboy in Wranglers, a western shirt, and a belt with a giant buckle, but many working buckaroos choose to wear the traditional buckaroo garb.

 The guy in the middle is my neighbor.

They favor flat hats, short chaps called chinks, white shirts, either a vest (often harvested from a thrift store men’s suit) or a wool sweater and a large silk scarf.  They often sport a big Sam Elliot type mustache. (Gotta love a Sam Elliot anything—right?)

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A buckaroo getting ready to gather cattle. [Photo credit–Mary Williams Hyde]
They use mecates (ropes made from twisted mane hair) for reins. The mecate is attached to the bit with leather pieces called slobber straps. The saddles often have high cantles (backs) and slick forks. Instead of a rope, they may have a rawhide riata (a gut line).

 

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This shows a horse with a mecate attached to slobber straps. The mecate forms both the rein and the lead rope. There’s a riata tied to the saddle and the stirrups are metal oxbows. The cantle of the saddle is high. [Photo credit–Mary Williams Hyde]
They also tie their horse’s tails in a unique knot to keep them out of the dirt…or maybe just because it looks cool.

Now that I’ve talked up buckaroos, I have to confess that I love cowboys, no matter what. I don’t care if they’re called buckaroos,  cowpunchers, or cowhands. Just gimme a guy with boots, chaps and a cowboy hat. I’ll take care of the rest.

Do have regional cowboy trends in your area? Or are you a cowboy generalist as I am?