Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow

Phyliss Miranda sig line for P&P BluebonnetAs lot of you know, I’ve been away from P&P for a few months due to a knee replacement. I’m certainly glad to be back and thank everyone for the wonderful cards and words of encouragement.

My stint away and the experience gave me time to think.  Basically, about the improvements in medicine amongst other things.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with my college grandson about what is the best oils to use for cooking. His argument was something on the line of which is better to buy olive oil or coconut. I told him he didn’t have to buy anything, because I had both in the pantry.  He was shocked and said he thought I probably still used shortening. That gave me food for thought. My grandmother was born in the late 1800’s and she used lard then later shortening.  I know one thing her fried foods couldn’t be beat.  Then I thought about the path from lard (pig fat, used since prehistoric times) to olive and coconut oils. I’m doing this by memory, so I’m probably showing my age, but from shortening, I remember going to plain ol’ vegetable oil, and later a zillion kinds of vegetable oils, corn, soybean, and sunflower.  Of course, we had to adjust our baking recipes accordingly.

Crisco ShorteningCrisco, arguably was the first popular national shortening.  It began being manufactured in the late 1800’s and it’sLard still on the grocery shelves today, as is lard.  There are some older recipes for cakes in particular that are just not the same without shortening.

This took me back in time to a lot of changes that have been made in the kitchen in particular that make our grandchildren think of their grandparents growing up kinda like we think of the pioneer families.

One thing we have in common, to a degree, was simply being able to come home from school, and yes I walked then took the public bus when I got in high school, getting our homework done and playing outside.  I remember how much I enjoyed smelling supper up and down the street.  Meatloaf and baked beans could really catch my attention.  We didn’t have storm doors but plain jane ol’ screens where the scents could escape.   During supper, there were no distractions like television, phone especially cellular ones, no iPads or game machines.  It might sound odd to many of the younger readers, but we didn’t have those distractions. We talked, unique as it may seem today. Of course we had phones but most everybody had a party-line.  You had to carefully pick up the phone and not make any noise in case there was a conversation going on.  I think the party-line was shared by four households.Telephone

After dinner, we washed the dishes and then we’d go to our rooms, shared by other siblings, and read and play our record player.  Our parents would sit out on the front porch with neighbors and talk.  Oh yes, and the reason we didn’t sit in front of a television was because we didn’t have one!  I vividly remember the day we got our first black and white TV and had only one channel!  Yep, one local channel.

Life was truly more simple.  Mother and Daddy didn’t have to worry about my driving because I wasn’t allowed to drive.  We only had one automobile (and you’re not gonna catch me on my age by my revealing the model or year of our brand new Chevy).  If we wrecked it, Daddy couldn’t have gotten to work.  Mama kept it once a week to do her grocery shopping.  I don’t know about you guys, but Monday was washing and Wednesday was grocery shopping, because that was the day for the “new deals” to come out which meant Mama got more grocery store trading stamps.

Hanging Clothes on the lineI can remember the smell of clothes hanging out on the clothes line, but didn’t necessarily like to hang them.  Nothing is better than sheets dried outside.  In the summer we always had a gallon of tea for sun tea on the porch.  Add one cup of sugar and water to the top and we had southern sweet tea paradise. I still make it to this day except I boil the water and steep the tea in a pitcher.

Another smell I’ll never forget is perked coffee. It’s just like the Mr. Coffee but there’s something special perk-o-lator pictureabout the water running over coffee once verses it being perked up and over the coffee grinds again and again until it’s just the right color.  There was no fixin’ one cup of coffee at a time, after you’ve gone through a couple of dozen flavors.

As writers of historical westerns, for those of us who are, I’d really be interested in the changes that we made from 1850 to 1950, and especially those from 1950 to today.  Many of the changes came about when women began working outside of the home, plus taking care of the children, cooking from scratch, grocery shopping, sewing clothes for both boys and girls, being Boy Scout and Girl Scout leaders, Sunday School teachers, homeroom mothers, plus being a loving mother and wife, and the hostess of the home.  And a home is what I grew up in … not a house.

What are some of your greatest memories from growing up … and no iPads, Xboxes, or cell phones, please?

 

The Troubled Texan GoodTo one lucky winner I will send you a gift certificate to purchase my latest book from Kensington The Troubled Texan and watch for my next Kasota Springs, Texas, contemporary Out of a Texas Night.

Welcome a New Guest to the Junction – Pamela Howell!

HowellChilly, winter nights, a blanket of stars and a crackling campfire conjure up stories of the American West and its quintessential icon — the cowboy — better for me than almost any setting I know. Throw in some great camp cooking over an open flame and it’s possible to almost smell the smoke from the fire as it tinges the night air with a distinctive smell of mesquite or coals. Ah, nothing quite like it.

Growing up in the wide, open spaces of West Texas, I’ve stood around my share of campfires with bubbling pots of venison chili or homemade peach cobbler, but I’ve never been the pot stirrer, always just the pot partaker, so I thought it was interesting to learn that there is an organization devoted to the art of black pot, or Dutch oven, cooking.chuck wagon

The Lone Star Dutch Oven Society (LSDOS) has chapters throughout Texas who work to preserve the historical aspects of black pot cooking, a way of preparing food that dates back several hundred years. LSDOS members provide classes for greenhorns like me who want to learn how to cook in a Dutch oven. Members also participate in historical re-enactment events, recreational expositions and education activities in their communities.

To whet your appetite for cooking the black pot way, the LSDOS offers many recipes on its website at www.lsdos.com. Here’s a tasty sample:

Spicy Black-eyed Pea Soup
Mary & Gale Merriwether
SALTGRASS  CHAPTER of the Lone Star Dutch Oven Society

12 inch well-seasoned Dutch Oven                Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS

4        cups Black-eyed peas (dried)

1        cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

4        tablespoons bacon drippings

2        can of Ro-Tel tomatoes (10 oz.)

2        cup beef broth

Salt and pepper, to taste

1        large onion, chopped

Tortilla chips


DIRECTIONS

  1. Rinse and cook black-eyed peas according to package directions.  When tender, drain off most of the water and retain in case you need more liquid for soup broth.
  2. Sauté onion in bacon drippings until soft.  Mash the peas with potato masher and add to onions in the pan.
  3. Add the tomatoes, beef broth and cheese.  Simmer until the cheese has melted.  Salted and pepper to taste.
  4. If needed, add retained water from cooking black-eyed peas to make soup the desired consistency.
  5. Serve hot and garnish with tortilla chips.

Note:  You may substitute 2 small, peeled fresh tomatoes and a minced jalapeno pepper (seeds, stems and ribs removed) for the Ro-Tel tomatoes, if desired.

 

Until next time, here are a few photos of West Texas which were taken by my husband on a recent day trip around Ft. Stockton. These photos really speak to my heart as a writer and I hope you enjoy them, too.

 

FtStocktonBOQ DSC_0313

 

DSC_0285

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**Giveaway Alert: Pamela will give away one free, autographed, paperback version of her novel A RIDE HOME. One reader’s name will be drawn at random. You can connect with her at www.pamelarobertshowell.com or on her Facebook fan page Pamela Roberts Howell.ARideHome_BookCover

Pamela Howell is an author, teacher, and freelance journalist. She has won numerous state, national and international awards for her writing as well as her marketing leadership skills. A native Texan, she lives in San Antonio with her husband of 26 years where she enjoys writing Christian fiction, scrapbooking, reading and crafting.

 

Her novel, A RIDE HOME, is set in West Texas and tells the story of college student Kayla Hartley who accepts a ride from a stranger, a handsome cowboy named Mark Lawson, who charms his way into her heart. But, is it the best decision? It’s 800 miles across an unforgiving, barren landscape from San Angelo, Texas, to her hometown in Arizona, and as night falls and the road becomes more desolate, Kayla begins to wonder if she’s made a mistake, a terrible one that might cost her dearly.

A RIDE HOME Book Trailer —

 

This is Pamela’s first blog on Petticoats & Pistols. We’re happy you joined us, Pamela!

 

 

Taming the West One Meal at a Time

MargaretBrownley-header

Nothing changed America as much as the iron horse. People were finally able to travel across country in relative comfort and not have to worry about the weather, Indians, or some of the other mishaps that plagued early travelers. A train passenger’s greatest fear was food poisoning. That’s how bad meals were along the rails.

It took one efrednterprising Englishman to change the way travelers ate. His name was Fred Harvey and his Harvey House restaurants eventually stretched along the Santa Fe railroad tracks from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles and San Francisco—one every hundred miles.

Hear That Whistle Blow

Fred Harvey invented the “fast-food” concept long before Ray Kroc. Passengers were allowed only thirty minutes to get off the train, eat and board again, so time was of the essence. He devised a system in which train conductors would telegraph passenger food orders to the restaurant in advance. This allowed the restaurant staff to prepare the food before the train pulled into the station.

From Dishwasher to Household Name

Harvey learned the business the hard way. After traveling to America at the age of seventeen, he landed a job as a dishwasher at a famed New York restaurant, working his way through the ranks from dishwasher to line-cook. He eventually landed in St. Louis where he took over the Merchants Dining Room Saloon. His success lasted only a short time. The winds of war could not be ignored and after his partner joined the secessionist army, taking all the money the two men had saved, Harvey’s restaurant was doomed.

After a series of jobs and personal losses, he eventually took over an eating house at the Santa Fe depot in Topeka. He arranged for fresh fruit and meat to be railed in from Chicago and other states. His food was so good that railroad officials worried that no one would want to travel past Topeka.

First Female Workforce

As the number of his depot restaurants increased, so did his troubles. Black men were hired as waiters, but this often created conflict with cowboys. After one unpleasant midnight brawl at the Raton Harvey eating house, Harvey’s friend Tom Gables suggested a radical idea; why not replace black male waiters with women? Harvey decided to give Tom’s idea a try.

Harvey ran ads in newspapers for “young women of good character, attractive and intelligent, 18 to 30, to work in the Harvey Eating Houses.” He offered a salary of $17.50 a month, a tidy sum for a young woman. Soon he had all the help he needed.

300px-Harveyhouse3
This Harvey House is in Barstow, CA. It’s now a museum. I used it as a model for my story.

The women lived in dormitories above the restaurants under the watchful eye of a house mother. Their uniforms consisted of a black dress, black shoes and stockings, and a crisp white apron. The women had to adhere to strict rules and were not allowed to marry for six months.

His new female staff was a great success and helped ease racial tensions. Even the roughest of cowboys and railroad workers were willing to don the required (and dreaded) dinner jacket just for the pleasure of being served a good steak by a pretty girl.

He Kept the West in Food—and Wives

That quote from Will Rogers says it all; Among his other talents, Fred Harvey not only “civilized the west” he was indirectly responsible for more than 5000 marriages. That’s enough to make you want to forgive him for inventing fast-food. Almost….  

What’s the best or worse meal you had while traveling?

                   

 

Calico SpySomeone is killing off the Harvey Girls. Undercover Pinkerton detective Katie Madison hopes to find the killer before the killer finds her—or before she burns down the restaurant trying.

 

Amazon

iTunes

 

 

 

 

 

Black-eyed Peas: Harbingers of Doom (plus recipes)

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Did everyone have a merry Christmas? Good, because a new year is on the horizon. No red-blooded southerner can let New Year’s Day pass without complaining about honoring one of the most reviled respected traditions of the day.

So let’s get it over with.

No one in the American South escapes childhood without becoming painfully aware black-eyed peas are a mandatory part of the New Year’s Day meal. I say “painfully” because I would rather eat dirt than the black-eyed peas grown in it — and I’m not alone in that sentiment. Nevertheless, no matter what else is on the New Year’s Day menu, the cook had better sneak black-eyed peas into the mix somewhere or the whole year will head straight for hell on the handbasket express.

black-eyed peas
Notice the pure evil in those little black eyes.

Native to Africa, black-eyed peas reportedly migrated to Virginia in the late seventeenth century. Not until after the American Revolution did anyone take them seriously, but that didn’t stop the little connivers from worming their way southward and westward with settlers. The scoundrels proved incredibly hardy, darn them, and soon were well entrenched in fields hither and yon, biding their time until the moment was right to spring onto some unsuspecting family’s table.

According to legend, that moment occurred in early 1864 as General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union troops ran roughshod over every square inch of ground from Atlanta to the sea. As if the situation weren’t dire enough for the Confederacy, the Yankees “confiscated” (read “stole”) every edible scrap they could get their hands on, leaving behind only things they considered livestock feed: black-eyed peas, greens, and corn. For Lord only knows what reason, they also left the salt pork, although they made off with every other kind of meat they could scavenge.

Little did Sherman and his men know that by abandoning the black-eyed peas, they abandoned an excellent source of calcium, folate, protein, fiber, and vitamin A, among other nutrients. (That is the only nice thing I will ever say about the vile vegetable.)

cornbread
Here — look at the pretty picture of cornbread. It’ll settle your stomach.

Thankful the Yankees left anything in their wake, white southerners learned to consume food slaves and po’ folks had eaten for generations: black-eyed peas, greens, salt pork, and cornbread. Those staples helped southerners survive the winter. When New Year’s Day 1865 rolled around, they were delighted to find themselves still alive. The same could not be said for their palates, if the black-eyed pea custom is any indication.

Thus, a tradition was born, dang it.

According to southern lore, black-eyed peas, greens, pork, and cornbread each symbolize a hope for the future (or a reminder of the “just shut up and eat it” principle):

  • Black-eyed peas are for prosperity, because they swell when cooked. Some also say the peas represent coins. Folks who want to get technical about their prosperity eat one pea for each day of the coming year, although for the life of me I can’t figure out who has the patience to count out 365 black-eyed peas per serving.
  • Greens (collard, turnip, or mustard) bring money, because they’re the color of dollar bills. In addition to eating cooked greens, some folks hang uncooked stalks from the ceiling in order to attract prosperity. To my way of thinking, that habit just means one more thing to dust.
  • Pork symbolizes forward progress, because pigs root forward when they forage.
  • Cornbread symbolizes gold. It also does an excellent job of soaking up pot likker — the liquid left after greens are cooked — which is considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. In addition, if you crumble enough cornbread into a serving of black-eyed peas, you’ll never know the peas are there.

There’s a trick an art to preparing inedible irresistible black-eyed peas: Disguise their flavor and texture with a whole mess of other ingredients. If you feel compelled to adopt or continue a tradition passed down to today’s southerners by ancestors with a sadistic streak, my recipe is below. (A word to the wise: I cook by taste, not necessarily by recipe. The one dish I don’t taste while it cooks? Black-eyed peas. I prefer to conserve my appetite for dinner, in the fervent hope the disgusting delicious peas will have been devoured — or mysteriously disappeared — by the time I get to the table.)

 

A Pot of Good Stuff with a Couple of Black-eyed Peas Thrown in So I’m Not Singlehandedly Responsible for the End of Civilization as We Know it

Black-eyedPeas4 or 5 slices of bacon
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups fresh or frozen black-eyed peas
3 lbs. smoked ham hock, a large, meaty ham bone, or an enormous slab of ham (The more meat, the less chance a black-eyed pea will creep into your portion, so go…ahem…hog wild.)
½ tsp. kosher or sea salt (or to taste)
Ground black pepper to taste
¼ tsp. allspice
1 Tbsp. Tabasco or other hot-pepper sauce (use more or less, to taste — I use about half a bottle)
4 cups chicken stock
Additional chicken stock or water, as necessary

In a large stock pot, fry bacon until crisp. Remove and set aside.

Sauté onion, celery, and garlic in bacon drippings until tender.

Add remainder of ingredients, plus crumbled bacon, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 30 mins. to 1 hour, adding liquid as necessary to keep peas covered, until tender. (There’s a fine line between tender and mushy. For me, that line is before the peas are in the pot. You’ll have to determine the texture you prefer on your own.)

###

No one has to force me to eat collard or turnip greens on New Year’s Day. I’ve always enjoyed them. (Psst: The secret to great greens is vinegar, but you didn’t hear that from me.)

Always serve greens with black-eyed peas. Always, because this is where finesse comes into play: If you ladle greens on top of the black-eyed peas, you can eat your fill of greens and then push away from the table, pat your stomach, and announce “I can’t eat another bite!” before you’ve reached the detestable delectable peas hidden underneath.

 

Collard, Turnip, or Mustard Greens with Salt Pork

CollardGreens2 pounds (about two large bunches) fresh greens
4 or 5 slices of bacon
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, chopped
5 cups water
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 piece salt pork, sliced, or 2 meaty ham hocks (or both)
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and ground black pepper to taste

Thoroughly wash leaves and remove any woody stalks and center veins. (Small stems and veins are okay.) Tear leaves into large pieces or cut into strips.

In a large stock pot, fry bacon until crisp. Remove and set aside.

Sauté onion and garlic in bacon drippings until tender.

Add tomatoes and meat, plus the crumbled bacon. Pour in water and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Add greens, tamping them down so the water covers them.

Cover and simmer until tender — about 1½ to 3 hours, depending on type of greens. Turnip and collard greens require 1½ to 2 hours; mustard greens may take as long as three hours.

Do you celebrate New Year’s Day with any traditions? I’d love to hear about them. If nothing else, I’d find it comforting to know people in other parts of the world don’t start each new year dreading dinner.

Here’s to a fantastic 2016, y’all! May all of us enjoy health, happiness, and prosperity whether or not we eat black-eyed peas.  🙂

Bread Pudding: From Frugal to Fancy (and a recipe)

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Many dishes that are prides of the American table today once were ways to avoid wasting food. Shipping of all but basic staples didn’t begin until the latter half of the 19th century; perishables weren’t shipped at all until refrigerated containers, or “reefers,” were invented in 1869. Even then, perishable cargo could be carried only a few miles before the ice melted.

The first successful long-distance reefer transport occurred in the early 1880s. The first grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, opened in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1916.

Happy Cowboy ChristmasConsequently, settlers on the American frontier and American Indians used every part of the animals and plants they grew or gathered in order to avoid starvation. Frontier and farming families stewed poultry necks, tails, and wings because the meat and bones offered precious protein. Slaves in the American south prepared animal innards like chitterlings (intestines) and vegetable leavings like potato skins in a variety of ways because their masters considered those things offal. Anyone who has visited a restaurant in the past twenty years recognizes chicken wings and potato skins as trendy appetizers. At “soul food” eateries, chitlins are standard fare. (Yes, I have eaten them. No, I won’t do so again.)

Because carbohydrates offer a quick source of energy, bread, too, was a precious commodity. Many frontier families baked with cornmeal or corn flour. The latter was obtained by repeatedly pouring cornmeal from burlap sack to burlap sack and shaking loose the fine powder left clinging to the bags. Bread made with wheat flour was a treat…even though merchants in frontier towns often “extended” wheat flour by adding plaster dust. Frontier families might make a multi-day journey into town for supplies once or twice a year.

savory bread pudding
savory bread pudding

Since the early 11th century, “po’ folks” have turned stale bread into bread pudding in order to use every last ounce of food they could scrounge. Originally, the concoction was a savory main dish containing bread, water, and suet. Scraps of meat and vegetables might be added if the cook had those on hand.

What we think of as bread pudding today came into its own in New Orleans in the early 1800s. Creative cooks turned the dish into a dessert by combining stale bread with eggs, milk, spices, and a sweetener like molasses, honey, or sugar. Some also included bits of fruit, berries, and/or nuts.

My family and friends talk me into baking bread pudding each Christmas, and sometimes for other special occasions during the rest of the year. They don’t have to do much arm-twisting, because the rich dessert is easy to make, relatively inexpensive, and delicious.

bread pudding dessert
bread pudding dessert

One thing to know about bread pudding: Making it “wrong” is darn nigh impossible. Any kind of bread can be used, including sweet breads like donuts and croissants. Likewise, spices are left to the cook’s imagination, fruits and nuts are optional, and sauces are a matter of “pour something over the top.”

Through years of trial and error, I’ve created a recipe that works for me. Have fun experimenting with the basics (bread, milk, butter, and eggs) until you come up with one that works for you. I prefer mine fairly plain, but you may want to add or top with raisins (a New Orleans classic), chocolate, bananas, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, rum sauce, caramel sauce, powdered-sugar drizzle, or almost anything else you can imagine.

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
(can be doubled for a crowd)

Pudding
(makes 10-12 servings)

3 large eggs
1½ cups heavy (whipping) cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
¼ cup bourbon
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
3 cups milk
1 16oz. loaf stale French bread, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes

Heat oven to 325.

Stir together eggs, cream, granulated and brown sugars, bourbon, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla in a large bowl.

Place bread cubes into a lightly buttered 13×9-inch pan.

Heat milk and butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until butter is melted. Do not boil.

Stir ¼ cup of hot milk mixture into egg mixture. When well-combined, slowly add remaining milk mixture, stirring constantly.

Pour egg mixture evenly over bread. For a fluffier pudding, lightly press bread into egg mixture so all bread cubes are coated with the liquid. For a dense pudding, allow the pan to sit for 20 mins. before baking.

Bake for 45-55 mins., until top is browned and no liquid is visible around the edges. (The center will look soft. Don’t bother with the toothpick test—it won’t tell you anything.)

Allow pudding to stand for 20-30 mins. Top with bourbon sauce and serve.

Bourbon Sauce
(This will knock folks across the room, so be careful how much you pour on each pudding serving. 2 tsp. vanilla or other extract may be substituted for bourbon, if desired.)

1 cup heavy cream
½ Tbsp. corn starch
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup bourbon

In small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to a boil.

Whisk together corn starch and water, then add the mixture to the cream, whisking constantly.

Bring the mixture to a boil.

Whisk and simmer until thickened, taking care not to scorch the cream on the bottom.

Stir in sugar and bourbon. Taste. Add more sugar and/or bourbon to taste.

Ladle sauce over each serving of warm-from-the-oven or room-temperature pudding.

Serve and enjoy!

 

PRPA MAIL ORDER CHRISTMAS BRIDE WEB.JPG FINALBread pudding wouldn’t be on the menu in the dingy cafe on the wrong side of Fort Worth where the heroine in my latest story works. The job is a big step down from her previous life as a pampered socialite. “A Long Way from St. Louis” appears with stories from seven other authors—including filly sisters Cheryl Pierson and Tanya Hanson—in Prairie Rose Publications’ new holiday anthology, A Mail-Order Christmas Bride.

A Long Way from St. Louis
Cast out by St. Louis society after her husband leaves her for another, Elizabeth Adair goes west to marry a wealthy Texas rancher. Burning with anger when she discovers the deceit of a groom who is neither wealthy nor Texan, she refuses to wed and ends up on the backstreets of Fort Worth.

Ten years after Elizabeth’s father ran him out of St. Louis, Brendan Sheppard’s memory still sizzles with the rich man’s contempt. Riffraff. Alley trash. Son of an Irish drunkard. Yet, desire for a beautiful, unattainable girl continues to blaze in his heart.

When the debutante and the back-alley brawler collide a long way from St. Louis, they’ll either douse an old flame…or forge a new love.

Here’s an excerpt:

If the lazy beast lounging on a bench beside the depot’s doors were any indication, the west was neither wooly nor wild. As a porter took her hand to assist her from the railway car, Elizabeth Adair stared. The cowboy’s worn boots crossed at the ends of denim-clad legs slung way out in front of him. Chin resting on his chest, hat covering his face, the man presented the perfect picture of indolence.

Surely her husband-to-be employed a more industrious type of Texan.

Her gaze fixed on the cowboy’s peculiar hat. A broad brim surrounded a crown with a dent carved down the center. Sweat stains decorated the buff-colored felt. Splotches of drying mud decorated the rest of him.

Lazy and slovenly.

Pellets of ice sprinkled from the gray sky, melting the instant they touched her traveling cloak. Already she shivered. Another few minutes in this horrid weather, and the garment would be soaked through.

The porter raised his voice over the din of the bustling crowd. “Miss, let’s get you inside before you take a chill. I’ll bring your trunks right away.”

Taking her by the elbow, he hastened toward doors fitted with dozens of glass panes. Ragtag children darted among the passengers hurrying for shelter. Without overcoats, the urchins must be freezing.

She glanced around the platform. Where was her groom? She had assumed a wealthy rancher would meet his fiancée upon her arrival. Perhaps he waited within the depot’s presumed warmth. Her hope for a smattering of sophistication dwindled, but a woman in her circumstances could ill afford to be picky.

A group of ragamuffins gathered around the cowboy. As the porter hustled her past, the Texan reached into his sheepskin jacket and withdrew a handful of peppermint sticks. A whiff of the candy’s scent evoked the memory of a young man she once knew—a ne’er-do-well removed from St. Louis at her father’s insistence, and none too soon.

After depositing her beside a potbellied stove, the porter disappeared into the multitude. The tang of wood smoke drifted around her, so much more pleasant than the oily stench of coal. Peering through the throng, she slipped her hands from her muff and allowed the hand-warmer to settle against her waist on its long chain. She’d best reserve the accessory for special occasions. Judging by the people milling about the room, she doubted she’d find Persian lamb in Fort Worth unless she stooped to ordering from a mail-order catalog.

Mail-order. At least the marriage contract removed her from the whispered speculation, the piteous glances.

The shame heaped upon her by the parents she’d tried so hard to please.

Elizabeth put her back to the frigid gusts that swept in every time the doors opened, extending gloved palms toward the warmth cast by the stove.

Heavy steps tromped up behind her. Peppermint tickled her nose.

“Bets?”

A gasp leapt down her throat, colliding with her heart’s upward surge. Her palm flew to the base of her collar. Bets? Deep and smooth, the voice triggered a ten-year-old memory: If ye were aulder, little girl, I’d teach ye more than how to kiss.

She whirled to find the lazy cowboy, his stained hat dangling from one hand. Her gaze rose to a face weathered by the elements, but the blue eyes, the crooked nose…

Brendan Sheppard.

What’s your favorite holiday dessert? I’ll give an ebook copy of A Mail-Order Christmas Bride to one of today’s commenters who answers that question. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)

Gingerbread History and Fun Facts

WG Logo 2015-04

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. As I mentioned in my post last month, I have a new book out right now, The Holiday Courtship. In one of the scenes in the book, my heroine and several other characters are constructing and decorating gingerbread houses. So for today’s post I thought I’d share a little history and trivia surrounding gingerbread and gingerbread creations.

  • In ancient times, Greeks and Egyptians utilized gingerbread for various ceremonial purposes.
  • Gingerbread is thought to have been brought to Europe from the East in the late 10th century by a monk for medicinal purposes.  He promoted its use to treat indigestion and other stomach ailments. For a time, monks were the only people in Europe who made gingerbread, and they often created them in the shapes of saints and angels.
  • Responsibility for the first gingerbread men has been credited to Queen Elizabeth I. In preparation for a state event, she had her bakers shape them to resemble visiting dignitaries and then she  presented the treat to them as gifts.
  • Gingerbread houses became overwhelmingly popular in Germany in the 19th century as a direct result of the Brothers Grimm publishing the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. In fact, it was the early German settlers who brought this tradition to America.
  • The hallmark of a true gingerbread is not only that ginger is the dominant flavor, but it must use either honey or molasses as the sweetener. Other than that, there is no one standard recipe for gingerbread.  In fact, according to one statistic, if you search Google for gingerbread cookie recipe, you will find over a million versions.
  • There is a town in Norway, where every year the citizens create an entire city made from gingerbread houses .
  • The world’s largest gingerbread house was constructed in 2001 and stood approximately 67 feet high. It utilized 1,800 Hershey bars, 1,200 feet of Twizzlers, 100 pounds of tootsie rolls, and thousands of other pieces of candy as decorations. The construction took nine days to complete and it and was housed at the Mall of America in Minnesota.
  • There are a number of superstitions involving gingerbread. Here are just a couple of them:
    • Swedish tradition says that if you put the gingerbread in your palm, make a wish and then break the gingerbread with your other hand, if it breaks into exactly three pieces, then the wish will come true.
    • In England, single women have been known to eat gingerbread “husbands”, hoping it will bring them luck in meeting their future spouse.

 

There you have it, just a little of the history and lore surrounding this yummy treat.

So do you like gingerbread? Do you have any hands-on experience constructing gingerbread houses or making gingerbread men?

Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for a copy of my new book or any book from my backlist.

20 THC smallTHE HOLIDAY COURTSHIP

He Wanted A Wife by Christmas… 

As Christmas approaches, Hank Chandler is determined to find a wife to mother his sister’s orphaned children. When schoolteacher Janell Whitman offers to help him with his niece and nephew, she seems to be the perfect match—but she won’t accept his proposal. Instead, she insists she’ll find him another bride before the holidays. 

Janell moved to Turnabout, Texas, to put her past behind her and focus on her future—one that doesn’t include marriage. But while she plays matchmaker and cares for Hank’s children, she loses her heart to the two youngsters…and their adoptive father. If Janell reveals her secrets to Hank, will he still want her to be his Christmas bride?

 

 

All Hail Texas Pecans! (and a recipe)

Kathleen Rice Adams headerIn Texas, pecans are a Big Deal. The trees are native to the state, and according the archaeological record, they’ve been here since long before humans arrived. When people did arrive, they glommed onto the nuts right away as an excellent source of essential vitamins (19 of them, in fact), fats, and proteins. Comanches and other American Indians considered the nuts a dietary staple, combining pecans with fruits and other nuts to make a sort of “trail mix.” They also used pecan milk to make an energy drink and thickened stews and soups with the ground meat. Most Indians carried stores of the nuts with them when they traveled long distances, because pecans would sustain them when no other food sources were available.

Pecans
Texas pecans

An individual Texas pecan tree may live for more than 1,000 years. Some grow to more than 100 feet tall.

Pecans have been an important agricultural product in Texas since the mid-1800s. In 1850, 1,525 bushels left the Port of Galveston; just four years later, the number of bushels exceeded 13,000. In 1866, the ports at Galveston, Indianola, and Port Lavaca combined shipped more than 20,000 barrels of pecans.

Nevertheless, as the state’s population exploded, pecan groves dwindled. Trees were cut to clear fields for cotton. Pecan wood was used to make wagon parts and farm implements. One of Texas’s great natural resources was depleted so quickly that in 1904, the legislature considered passing laws to prevent the complete disappearance of the pecan.

Left alone to regenerate for a couple of decades, Texas pecan groves came back bigger than ever. Until 1945, Texas trees produced more 30 percent of the U.S. pecan crop. In 1910, pecan production in the state reached nearly 6 million pounds, and the trees grew in all but eight counties. During the 1920s, Texas exported 500 railcar loads per year, and that was only 75 percent of the state’s crop. The average annual production between 1936 and 1946 was just shy of 27 million pounds; in 1948, a banner year for pecan production, the crop zoomed to 43 million pounds produced by 3,212,633 trees. In 1972, the harvest reached a whopping 75 million pounds.

Texas pecan orchard
Texas pecan orchard

During the Great Depression, the pecan industry provided jobs for many Texans. The nuts had to be harvested and shelled. Shelling employed 12,000 to 15,000 people in San Antonio alone.

The Texas legislature designated the pecan the official state tree in 1919. Between then and now, pecan nuts became Texas’s official state health food (Texas has an official health food?), and pecan pie became the state’s official pie (and my official favorite pie). Pecan wood is used to make baseball bats, hammer handles, furniture, wall paneling, flooring, carvings, and firewood.

Yep. Pecans have always been, and continue to be, a Big Deal in Texas—especially during the holidays. I’d be surprised if any native Texans don’t bake at least one pecan pie for either Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or both.

Texas pecan pie. Do you see how dark and luscious that is? Milk-custard, my hind leg.
Texas pecan pie. Do you see how dark and luscious that is? Milk-custard, my hind leg.

The first known appearance of a pecan pie recipe in print can be found on page 95 in the February 6, 1886, issue of Harper’s Bazaar. I’ll bet Texans were baking the pies long before that, though—and I’ll bet even back then Texas pecan pies weren’t the wimpy little milk-custard-based, meringue-covered things Harper’s recommended. In Texas, we make our pecan pies with brown sugar, molasses or corn syrup, butter, eggs, a whole bunch of pecans, and sometimes bourbon.

Another thing Texans have been making with pecans for a long, long time is cinnamon-pecan cake—another treat lots of folks enjoy around the holidays. My family doesn’t put bourbon in this dessert. Instead, we pour a delicious whiskey sauce over each slice. (It occurs to me that for a passel of Baptists, my family sure cooks with a lot of liquor. See the old family recipe for muscadine wine here.)

On to the cake recipe!

 

PecanCakeCinnamon Pecan Cake

1 cup butter, softened
2 ½ cups sugar
5 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped pecans
Additional chopped pecans or pecan halves for topping, if desired

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.

In large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.

In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed 3 to 4 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beating at low speed, add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

At low speed, alternately add milk and flour mixture into sugar mixture, beating just until blended. Fold in pecans. Spread in pans. Sprinkle chopped pecans or arrange pecan halves on top, if desired.

Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove to wire rack and cool completely.

 

VanillaWhiskeySauceWhiskey Sauce

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
½ Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup bourbon

In small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to a boil.

Whisk cornstarch and water together and add to cream while whisking constantly.

Bring to a boil, whisk and simmer until thickened (taking care not to scorch the mixture on the bottom). Remove from heat.

Stir in sugar and bourbon. Taste. Add sugar and whiskey to adjust sweetness and flavor, if desired.

 

Folks in Fort Worth in the 1880s would’ve eaten this cake—or something very similar—during the holidays. That’s exactly when and where “A Long Way from St. Louis,” my contribution to Prairie Rose Publications’s Christmas anthology A Mail-Order Christmas Bride, takes place. The book—with stories by fellow fillies Cheryl Pierson and Tanya Hanson—bows November 27, but it’s available for pre-order now at Amazon.

PRPA MAIL ORDER CHRISTMAS BRIDE WEB.JPG FINALHere’s a little about “A Long Way from St. Louis”:

Cast out by St. Louis society when her husband leaves her for another, Elizabeth Adair goes west to marry a wealthy Texas rancher. Burning with anger over the deceit of a groom who is neither wealthy nor Texan, she refuses to wed and ends up on the backstreets of Fort Worth.

Ten years after Elizabeth’s father ran him out of St. Louis, Brendan Sheppard’s memory still sizzles with the rich man’s contempt. Riffraff. Alley trash. Son of an Irish drunkard. Yet, desire for a beautiful, unattainable girl continues to blaze in his heart.

When the debutante and the ne’er-do-well collide a long way from St. Louis, they’ll either douse an old flame…or forge a new love.

 

So, readers… What dish—dessert, main course, side, or appetizer—absolutely must be part of your holidays? I’ll give an ebook version of A Mail-Order Christmas Bride to one of today’s commenters who answers that question. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)

 

Of Texas and Muscadine Wine (plus a recipe)

Kathleen Rice Adams header

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.

****

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.

 

Russian Easter Bread~Tanya Hanson

MarryingMinda Crop to Use

 

Thanks to my lovely filly sister Karen Kay for letting me piggy-back with her today. I couldn’t resist sharing a paska recipe. Easter blessings to all y’all out there~from me and mine, He is risen indeed!Easter logo 2015a

 

However, anybody who knows me longer than a day knows I am terrified of cooking with yeast. So I freely admit I’ve never made paska. Maybe this year I’ll give it a shot.

Paska, a dessert-like bread, is usually featured at Easter. With origins in Poland (called kullich) and Ukraine, paska bread is often baked in a round coffee can and topped with a braided-dough cross. Sometimes even a dyed egg.

When served as dessert, paska contains white raisins and cherries and is drizzled with a cream cheese frosting and decorative sprinkles. The cherries symbolize royal jewels in honor of Christ the King. As bread during the main meal, a plain paska is topped only with melted butter.

Although baking soda can be used as leavening, most recipes call for yeast. I’m sharing a recipe today given to me by my Aunt Grace long ago.  Her given name was Hrunya. She’s gone now. She and Uncle Ivan (Johnny) died just two weeks apart in 2001 after a marriage of more than 60 years! I wish I’d spent more time cooking with her and learning the details about my heritage and forebears.

PASKA, Russian Easter Bread 

½ lb. butter

5 eggs

1 cup sweet cream

1½ cup milk

About 1/3 or slightly more warm water for yeast

2 cups sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon lemon extract

¼ pound yeast

About 12 cups flour

To add: 1 cup each golden raisins, dried cherries, citron, almonds etc.

 

Scald cream with the milk and butter.

Crumble yeast into warm water and dissolve. Pour into lukewarm milk mixture and add salt, sugar, lemon extract, and eggs.

Add the flour and knead thoroughly.

Let rise once and press down. This might take about an hour; dough should double in bulk.

Let dough rise the second time, and stir in almonds, raisins, and dried fruit. Dough can be sprinkled with sugar during this step. Spoon into greased coffee cans half-full. Or form into rolls, rings, or braided loaves.

(Recipe is unclear as to how many coffee cans; seems you’ll need at least 8.

Bake 325 for 20 minutes.

(When cooled, drizzle with cream cheese frosting and sprinkles, if desired. Or dust with powdered sugar.) 

For a modern-day recipe, check out this link: 

(The “paska” picture file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

 

 

A Hearty Welcome to VALERIE COMER

A hearty Wildflower howdy to Valerie Comer! Don’t forget to leave a comment…Valerie is giving away an e-copy of her book!MARCH 20 Headshot

Gather around, friends, and let’s talk about food in the olden days. You know about the olden days, right? I see a lot of talk about history in this here neighborhood, and I expect you know that folks back then liked their dinner as much as we do today. But maybe they didn’t have the same variety we do.

Who thinks the gold miners consumed pineapple and bananas? Who thinks Montana ranchers ate caviar? Who thinks the stagecoach stop served Indian curry one night and sushi the next?

Our ancestors here in the West believed that wealth came from a milk cow and a few chickens. Okay, maybe not wealth, exactly, because chickens don’t lay gold nuggets. But then again, you can’t eat gold nuggets, and I’m guessing after a while hard tack and jerky didn’t seem all that appetizing.

Fact is, our ancestors ate the same diet week in and week out. They ate what they could grow and preserve. They ate what kept well and they could import cheaply, like dry beans, flour, sugar, and the like.

So all the choices we have today—that’s good, right? Well, yes, to a degree. But there is a growing number of people concerned about food security. About the dangers of depending on an international supply system, to say nothing of the loss in flavor and nutrition caused by shipping food across the continent and around the world.

MARCH 20 Food

Some people want to take back their food. Want to know where it comes from. Want to grow their own or buy it from their neighbors like our ancestors did. But maybe with a bit more variety.

And… some of these people are fictional. My contemporary Farm Fresh Romance series follows the adventures, romantic and otherwise, of a group of young women who band together to buy a farm where they plan to grow their own food and live as sustainably as possible.

I know a bit about this as a gardener, farmer, and beekeeper. I’ve spent a lifetime growing vegetables and preserving them for long Canadian winters. We have three deep freezes… for two people. I’ve served my community’s food security association as a board member, blogger, and webmaster. My daughter-in-law is the manager of our local farmers’ market. My family is immersed in local food.

Green Acres (you’ve got the theme song from the old TV show running through your head now, haven’t you?) is a fictional farm set in northern Idaho, not far from the valley in British Columbia where I live. I needed to know the climate and growing season intimately for books that revolve around growing food, so my own backyard was perfect.

Dandelions for Dinner, the fourth book in the projected six-book-series, released March 3. It’s fun (for me, anyway) to see Green Acres Farm develop over the series into the kind of cooperative farm the girls had envisioned when they bought the rundown place. Through the books they’ve moved out of the mouse-infested ancient mobile home on the property and into a spacious straw-bale house. They’ve catered weddings and other events to keep the financial wheels turning. They’ve added beekeeping and backcountry tours to the mix, and now, in the fourth book, they’re finally building the farm school they’ve been talking about for years.

Through it all, I’ve had fun exploring themes of environmental consciousness, sustainability, and local food from a Christian worldview. Why don’t you join the thousands of visitors who’ve enjoyed a visit to Green Acres?

For an appetizer, the first book, Raspberries and Vinegar, is free on all e-book platforms. It’s also available in paperback and audio. I’d love to give a digital copy of Dandelions for Dinner to one commenter today, or—if the winner prefers—an earlier Farm Fresh Romance title.

 

Dandelions for Dinner

About Dandelions for Dinner:

 She hates him. He loves her not.

Men are weeds. Allison Hart doesn’t need them in her carefully tended life, though her friends at Green Acres seem happy with their guys. Why can’t Allison open her heart to anyone but her young nephew? Then again, he’ll be a man one day, too. If only the irritating contractor in charge of building her home and farm school wasn’t the boy’s favorite person.

Fireworks with Brent Callahan’s newest client shift from antagonism to the rocky possibility of a relationship. When he comes face to face with a history he’d much rather forget, he realizes hiding his failures isn’t the best option for finding forgiveness, let alone love.

Can a little boy help weed out the past before it chokes their future together? 

For buy/ download links for any Farm Fresh Romance books, click here: http://valeriecomer.com/series/farm-fresh-romance/

Photographer: Hanna Sandvig. Used with permission