Sister Act

Most people would never admit this, but I’m not most people. I have laughed so hard at times that I have peed my pants. Of course, I have also sneezed and coughed and had the same result but those events correlated to age and childbirth rather than humor.

I think I got my sense of humor from my mom. My dad thought things were funny and would laugh and carry on but he could quit giggling at the snap of a finger. My mom and me, not so much. We would laugh until we nearly made ourselves sick (or wet our pants). Air gasping, sides hurting, tears streaming… And whatever the event that would start these uncontrollable fits of giggles, they would be just as funny to us days, if not years, later. Yes, we made public spectacles of ourselves on more than one occasion but the one that comes to mind and was probably our first public display just happened to be at the expense of my sister, Karen.

I loved to sing and began my sharing my “talent” with my church when I was around 14 years old. Thank goodness that they loved and cared about me as that first year or so was painful—for them and me but that’s another story. As I gained confidence, I expanded my repertoire. I would occasionally play the piano or do an instrumental duet with Karen, her playing the French horn and me, the piano. Where I made the critical, and hysterically funny (at least to me and mom), mistake was deciding to do a singing duet with her.

Karen is five years younger than me and very good natured. I come up with hare-brained ideas at times and she is usually a willing participant. Naturally, when I asked her to sing with me at church, she agreed. We were going to do a simple duet, “Give Them All to Jesus” by Cristy Lane, but even simple songs required practice. We knew that song inside out and were prepared for every possible disastrous scenario, except one…

That Sunday arrived and, as we stood to sing together for the first time, we looked out over a congregation, filled with family and friends, that had watched us grow from small children and was excited to hear us perform. I knew Karen was nervous because I grabbed her hand and it was ice cold. The first chords were played and we began on cue. We were singing and doing a fabulous job until the chorus. Part of the chorus was written as an echo. I started with “Give them all” and Karen echoed “Give them all” but the second time, her voice cracked on “Give.” At that precise moment, I looked at mom—the disastrous scenario for which we had not planned.

Believe me when I say this, you would never find a mom who was more loving or supportive as ours but she was also a mom who was finely tuned to our nervous systems. If we had nerves, she did too and I think it was harder on her watching than on us performing. That being said, mom and I locked eyes on the cracked “Give” and that was it. I spent the next 90 seconds giggling, tears streaming down my face and trying to catch my breath while Karen continued to sing.

I had no idea how my church family was reacting because every time I looked out, it was at mom. Actually, it was at the top of her head. She was bent over, laughing so hard that the pew was shaking. I could see my dad, mortified, poking her and telling her to stop but she couldn’t. Neither could I. And bless Karen’s heart (and I mean “bless” in a good way, not in the Southern way), she, much like my dad, never cracked a smile and sang until the song was over. At the end, all I could do was reach over, hug her, apologize and tell her I loved her.

It was then that I finally looked at the congregation. Everyone was clapping and a few were crying. Afterwards, nearly everyone, to a person, told us what an excellent job we did and that they were touched by our duet. Dad, on the other hand, forbade us to ever sing together again if mom were going to be watching in the audience. And mom and me, we laughed like crazy after church and years later, every single time we would talk about it.

As for me and Karen, there was never to be a “Sister Act II”. Since that fateful Sunday, we have been on many hare-brained adventures together at my urging but I was never able to convince her of a repeat performance. I guess love covers a multitude of sins except laughing through a debut singing performance with your sister!

Karen and me

Happy Birthday, Mom

Today, April 28, is my mom’s birthday.  She would have been 77 years old. I often wonder what she would have been like as she aged. She was active and interested in new things, especially technology.  She had her first computer long before I did and I’m sure she would have been texting or using a smart phone before me too.

My mom, Donna Sue “Susy” Yelton Deaton (I use her whole name, including nickname, as genealogy was one of her passions), was an amazing woman—she wasn’t perfect but she was perfect for our crazy family. She loved us without measure and was a great encourager to have in your corner.

She’s been gone since April 17, 2004. More days than not, I can talk about, tell stories and remember her with smiles and laughter instead of tears. Some days though, without warning, the grief will wash over me in waves and take my breath away.

I don’t know if we ever come to the end of grieving the death of a parent. There is always something missing. It’s like putting together a puzzle that has 1,000 pieces and when you’re almost done, you realize that you’re about 10 pieces short. You can see the whole puzzle but you notice there’s something missing as well. Thankfully, from my personal experience, one thing I’ve found is that the days eventually get better. They will always, from now and until I’m gone, be different but they slowly become better.

So, what about today, her birthday? I will acknowledge her special day and the fact that she is not here with us to celebrate it. Ignoring these days tends to deepen the feelings of loss and isolation that often accompany grief.

Today, amidst smiles and a few tears, I say,

“Happy Birthday Mom. I love and miss you. Until we meet again, you will always remain in my heart.”

Your “favorite oldest” daughter,

Nancy Lynn

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Cornflower Blue

Most people would agree that there are things that will trigger memories—maybe it’s a perfume or a song—that transport us to a moment of time in an instant. But what about a color? Can a color do the same thing? Well, for me it can. There is one color that never fails to remind me of a few miracles that happened on a certain Saturday when I was around 10 years old.  And the color? Cornflower blue…

I have a younger sister, Karen. She’s the only sibling I have. I am a little over five years older than her. If you have ever read any articles on birth order and spacing, they often tell you that having children separated by five years or more is optimal for rearing well-adjusted children. For those of you who know us, you know we destroyed that theory!! The five-year gap presented challenges in that, when we were young, it was light years away in life experiences. When I was starting school, she was born. When I was on my way to middle school, she was starting elementary. Likewise, when I was in college, she was in middle school (and a great asset to me with Algebra 101!) For the most part when we were kids, we got along very well, probably because we didn’t have similar interests and stayed out of each other’s way. Luckily, for my parents’ sake, that meant we were seldom partners in crime so they never worried what kind of mischief we were into when we were together. Because of this, they never questioned the time we spent together that Saturday morning.

It was an ordinary Saturday. Although I don’t remember the exact date, I do remember it was warm enough for us to ride in the back of my dad’s “Sanford and Son-esque” pickup truck. The neighbor boys, who were in their mid-teens, helped dad load an air compressor in the truck to take to my uncle. The thing was so heavy that they barely had it in the truck bed. Dad had a hard time closing the gate.  Karen and I jumped into the back for the short ride to my uncle’s house.  My uncle lived back a road. To get to the house, you had to drive through a creek bed. That didn’t present a problem unless it had been raining. And it had been raining… Had dad not had the air compressor in the back, we would have just parked the truck and walked around the hill to get to the house but since the whole purpose in going was to deliver the compressor, we were going to drive across the creek.

My dad rarely saw obstacles as deterrents. That whole square peg/round hole thing was a challenge to be overcome. So, when the truck wheels stuck in the creek bed, the test began. Karen was sitting in the front corner behind dad and I was in the other front corner behind the passenger side of the truck. As I recall, it was kind of exciting. Dad would put the truck in reverse, give it gas, then slam it into drive. The mud and rock would fly but the truck wouldn’t budge. At this point and in defense of my dad I must say, he would never, ever knowingly place us in any type of dangerous situation. He may have been fearless where he was concerned but never with us. With that disclaimer being made, I continue… We were at a very slight downhill angle and I guess all the rocking with the truck caused the air compressor to slide. With his “never give up” attitude, he didn’t notice it moving and neither did I until it completely slid directly over Karen—pinning her in the truck bed.

I think between the impact behind him and me screaming, Dad knew something had happened. He jumped out of the truck and looked down to see Karen bleeding. I don’t know if you’ve ever read about adrenaline and how a rush of it can give you the strength to do something that otherwise would be impossible. Well, it’s true. I witnessed such a thing that day. I saw my dad reach over and move an air compressor off my sister that not even 15 minutes earlier had taken three people to lift. Thankfully, my uncle, who had heard the commotion of the struck truck, was on his way with his truck to pull us out. Dad had Karen in his arms and they immediately took off in his vehicle to our little local hospital. I went back to the house so my aunt could take me home and take my mom to the hospital.

My uncle was flying over country roads, while my dad was pressing his shirt against the side of Karen’s head, trying to stop the bleeding. The nozzle of the air compressor hit her head upon impact. I don’t know if it was the hit to the head, or the shock of what happened, but she was laying lifeless in his arms. At some point during the short drive, my dad reached down and grabbed Karen’s hand. At that point he said to my uncle, “Jimmy, you can slow down. It’s too late. Her fingernails are blue” but my uncle kept up the pace. Grandma Yelton was a housekeeper at the hospital and it just so happened that she was working that day. She said Dad and Uncle Jim were a mess when they arrived. There was blood everywhere and dad was crying and telling the doctor Karen was gone, that her nails were blue. The doctor took her back to the small ER while dad waited for mom to arrive so he could break the news.

But see, there’s part of this story that Dad didn’t know at the time. Karen’s nails were just not blue, they were Cornflower Blue. I had just painted them that morning with the brand-new polish I had purchased the weekend before!!! In just a few minutes, the doctor came out and said Karen would be fine but she needed stitches and that her fingernails were blue because of nail polish and not from losing blood. Karen had a complete recovery with no lasting ill-effects but boy, she milked those stitches for all they were worth! Of course, I don’t blame her. What five-year-old wouldn’t?

So, now that you know the story behind the color, you may be wondering what were the miracles that day? The air compressor nozzle missed my sister’s temple by less than a quarter inch. The doctor told my parents that had it hit her temple, it would have killed her instantly. My dad moved that air compressor off her by himself. Adrenaline rush or miracle? I saw it and think it was miraculous. And finally, the bottle of Cornflower Blue nail polish disappeared as if by magic, never to be seen again.

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A Born Entertainer

Way before I ever was a twinkle in someone’s eye, my Great Grandma Dunn saved money selling eggs. With this money, she purchased furniture and little knick knacks from traveling salesmen. One of her purchases was a little folk art bentwood log cabin smoking stand. It was about 30 inches tall and the neatest feature is that the roof lifted off of the log cabin. She never used it as a smoking stand. I imagine she bought it because it was whimsical and caught her fancy. I cannot imagine that she ever dreamed how much of a financial drain that stand would become for my uncles.

I know this might come as a bit of a shock to some people but I was a born entertainer. I don’t know how my family discovered this trait. Perhaps it was my proclivity to mimic like a myna? Or my propensity to make myself the center of attention? Whatever the reason, Grandma and Grandpa Yelton’s house was the perfect place to display my talents as there was usually a captive audience to be found around the kitchen table. When I began to speak clearly, which according to my mom was about at the age of one year, my great uncles started “rehearsing” me. In the early 1960’s, Tide released a commercial where they used the phrase “Intensified Tide.” Since I was born in 1964, that commercial was still running. My uncles coached me so that when I came through the door, I would shout out, “Intensified Tide!”

You can only get so far with one one-liner. I needed to expand my repertoire. They taught me more little songs, limericks, jokes, commercial tag-lines but in order to keep my attention, they began to bribe me with money. I don’t know exactly when they began putting the money under the lift-off roof of the smoking stand but it didn’t take me long to catch on. I would run into the house, sing or recite a joke or commercial, and then run to lift the roof off the stand to see what coins would be there. Mostly, there would be a couple of pennies or a nickel but on the rare occasion, there would be a quarter! I know a lot of people wouldn’t even stoop to pick up a quarter nowadays but in the late 60’s, a quarter would buy a heck of a lot of candy!

Sometimes they would forget to put money in the log cabin. Grandma told me that after my “performance” when I went to collect my pay, if the cabin was empty, the next time I came to the house, I wouldn’t open my mouth until I checked to see if my “fee” was under that roof. I must have been fairly entertaining because I cannot recall there ever not being some kind of change under there for me.

I briefly tried a side gig. My Uncle Buck was the Virtuoso of the Veg-O-Matic. With his calloused fingertip, he would pluck the blades of that thing and make them “ping.” I guess I figured that if I added an instrument to my act, my pay would increase. After begging and pleading with him, Uncle Buck began teaching me the nuances of the Veg-O-Matic. You had to carefully flick your finger at the appropriate angle to get a “ping” out of the blade otherwise, you might slice and dice your fingertip. After a bit of coaching, I was ready to make Ron Popeil and Uncle Buck proud. As the story goes, I began to play… “Ping!” “Ping!” “Ping!” “Ouch!” The tears flowed and sadly, my Veg-O-Matic playing days were over.

Grandma Yelton gave me the smoking stand years ago when I got married. Even now, I occasionally lift the roof. I don’t know what I’m looking for since I no longer give command performances but old habits die hard. But what fun it would be to run through that kitchen door just one more time to see their faces and hear them laugh. I might even try to revive the lost art of Veg-O-Matic playing!

This is the little bentwood smoking stand that honed my performance skills.0204171401-1

Candy Making 101

I was never allowed in the kitchen when I was growing up. Primarily, my mom did not like us traipsing through and nosing around while she was fixing a meal. And the other reason, I had a few kitchen disasters while growing up.

The one that brings the most laughter, now at least, was my foray into candy making. When I was in high school, you had the option of taking Home Economics as an elective credit. This class wasn’t “just for girls.” Savvy guys took this class because they were surrounded by females and food, two things that are probably most dear to a teenage boy’s heart. I enjoyed this class. Among other things, we learned about nutrition, food safety and how to cook and bake a few things—lessons that are still worthwhile, especially in this age of fast food and microwaves. It was fun to walk into a large room filled with all the necessary equipment to put our lessons into action because I never got to practice at home! Until one Christmas…

During the holidays, Home Ec classes focused on desserts and candy making. If it had lots of sugar, chances are, we made it. Cakes, cookies, lollipops, fudge, hand-pulled taffy… Oh the taffy! How that fascinated me. It took skill and precision to make taffy. The sugar had to be boiled to the “hard-ball/soft-crack” stage—between 260 and 280 degrees. Now I know, for people who have never made candy or messed with boiling sugar, that term might make you chuckle but there is quite a bit of science behind it. If the taffy was undercooked, it was fudge and if it was overcooked, well, then you had a lollipop. When properly cooked, the sugar was poured onto a sheet pan, allowed to cool and then “hand-pulled” until it had the opaque, matte finish of what you find in the candy shops of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It was then cut into pieces and wrapped in waxed paper.

I have to say, my parents were rather impressed with the samples I brought home from class. I begged my mom to let me make batch over Christmas break. Looking back, I have no idea what in the world possessed her to allow me to boil sugar in her kitchen (which is akin to making liquid fire) when I barely knew how to boil water but whatever the thought process, or lack thereof, I was allowed to make taffy.

One important distinction needs to be made about Home Ec class recipes and regular “home” recipes—the recipes made in class were in quarter amounts of the full recipe. Cakes would have never baked and taffy would have never been pulled had we made a “full batch” recipe. Our real world experience would have been limited to just reading and tasting so we made quarter batches in class and took home instructions for full batch recipes.

Now the day we made taffy in class, in preparation for pouring the cooked sugar into the sheet pan, we placed another pan underneath filled with crushed ice. This allowed the sugar to cool quicker so that it could be pulled. The quarter batch of sugar poured over the iced pan cooled pretty fast and we had to begin pulling almost immediately to avoid it becoming grainy and inedible. I added all this information so you would have the back story as to how I made my critical error of judgment.

So I am at home on the first day of Christmas break. I’ve got my sheet pan buttered and nested into another pan of ice, my full batch of sugar cooking and my mom, just steps away, watching me work my magic. The sugar finally reached the hard-ball/soft-crack stage (I say finally because it takes quite a while for boiling sugar to reach those temperatures) and I poured it into the iced sheet pan. Without further thought and just going on my quarter batch experience in class, I immediately plunged my fingertips into the liquid sugar. I vaguely recall Mom hollering at me when she saw what was happening. 270 degrees registered pretty quickly on my pain meter but not before the damage was done. I spent the next two and a half weeks with blistered fingertips, eating shiny, grainy taffy.

I took away two life lessons from that experience: as much as it pains me now (and more so, then), math matters, especially in cooking. One quarter is not equal to a whole! And there has be to an easier, less painful way to permanently alter your fingerprints!

 

This is a photo of my mom’s kitchen and the scene of my taffy debacle.moms-kitchen

Appy-English

My dad was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Breathitt County, Kentucky. He would always say that he was so far back in the mountains that he would barely catch a glimpse of sunlight most days. Seeking better job opportunities, he moved north to the metropolis of Newport, Kentucky. But as the old saying goes, you may be able to take the man out of the mountains but it’s almost impossible to take the mountains out of the man. That’s why I talk the way I do.

Appalachian English is a “thing.” It is recognized as a distinctive American dialect and is studied by linguists and college students alike. Hey, it even got a mention in the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project. Purists recognize distinctive differences in dialect dependent upon the region of Appalachia you inhabited. For instance, in Virginia when referring to either a single person or group, the word “you-ins” is used but in Kentucky, it’s “y’all.” My primary language is Appy-City English—a mix of eastern Kentucky Appalachian with a bit of northern Kentucky/Cincinnati thrown in to keep it interesting.

I know my pronunciation of words can cause confusion. Over the years, I’ve had to repeat myself, often finding synonyms of the words I’m saying in order to be understood. For instance, when we were living in Virginia, our electric was out and I called a friend to see if they were affected as well. I asked, “Do you have power?” except it came out sounding “Do you have par?” After several exchanges of “What?” and me repeating myself, I finally said, “Lights? Electricity?” And then I got, “Oh pow-er… I had no idea what you meant!”

I also have “Aints.” Not as in, I “ain’t” gonna do this or that. My “Aints” are my dad’s sisters or the women married to my uncles—Aint Mag, Aint Polly, Aint Rose, etc… (I have read where this particular pronunciation and also pronouncing the word “cannot” as “caint” is regionally distinctive to eastern Kentucky.) You may get tired, I get “tarred.” I use a match to start a “far” with the “farwood” in my “farplace.” If you get a job, you were “hard.” I like to listen to the “reddio” in my car. And speaking of cars, I get the “ol” changed in my car every 3000 miles. In my defense, I do not “worsh” my hands in the “zink.” That is not to say I don’t “wash” my hands, I do—often and with soap. But for as many words as I slaughter, how I ever got those two words right is beyond me!!

The Double Negative in Appalachian English is not positive but negative as in, “I don’t know no better” which would imply that “I know better” but in Appy-English, I really don’t! And the “A”-Prefixing which is adding “a” to a verb so you would have something like “She’s a-going to the store” or “I’ve been a-meaning to get that ‘ol’ changed in the car” is distinctive as well.

For your edification, I’m including a few more terms. While I may not use them much now, I heard them quite a bit growing up.

Poke—A brown paper bag. Grandma would give us a poke filled with goodies for the car ride home.

Spell—To rest. When my dad would mow, he would ask us to “spell” him so he could take a break.

Ill—Bad tempered. While it might come as a surprise, I’m sure I’ve been a little “ill” at times.

Pop—A carbonated drink. Now I’ve switched to Coke, which is another word for any carbonated drink.

Blinked—Something that’s soured. Is that milk blinked? (Or blinky?)

And so for now, I’ll be a-finishing this piece because I don’t know no more to add!

The Noontime Meal at Grandma’s House

It’s always been a bit confusing to label the “noontime” meal. My family always referred to it as “dinner” (and we called the evening meal “supper”) but depending on where you live, the noon meal is “lunch” and the evening meal is “dinner.” Just for clarity’s sake, whenever I refer to “dinner” I am referencing the noontime meal. Old habits are hard to break…

It always seemed to me that, whenever we were at my grandparents (which, by the way, was in eastern Kentucky, Breathitt County, to be specific), a large part of the day was spent eating. As soon as the breakfast dishes were done, Grandma began to work on dinner. There were many times when all of the family was together (before we–the grandkids–started marrying) that Grandma was cooking for 27 people, three times a day. And the amazing part is that she made it look to easy.

Dinner was a whole new meal. It usually consisted of some type of beans (soup beans, green beans or cooked dried green beans which she called “leather jackets” or “shuck beans”), cornbread, fried chicken, potatoes and whatever else she decided to fix. During the summer months, we also had whatever fresh vegetables that were available from the garden.

I cannot count how often I have seen my Grandma go out to her chicken pen which sat behind the house, grab a chicken, and as quick as anything, wring it’s neck and begin to pluck the feathers off. We ate fresh, free-range chicken before the word “free-range” was in anyone’s vocabulary. Eventually, she bought chicken from the store but even then, Grandma kept a few laying hens for fresh eggs and a few older ones to use as stewing hens for her chicken and dumplings.

Grandma made the absolute best chicken and dumplings. And again, it was without a recipe which is sad because no one can quite replicate what she did. In the same big old metal tub of flour that she made her biscuit dough, she would make her dumpling dough. Grandma would then roll this dough out with a drinking glass (usually one that she had gotten from a box of soap powders years earlier) and pinch the dough off into little pieces, dropping them into the rich broth from the stewing hen. When they were ready, she would carry the big old cast iron dutch oven full of dumplings over to the table. There would be a layer of bright yellow chicken fat on top. The thicker the layer of grease, the better the dumplings would taste. My aunts and uncles often referred to dumplings as “slickers.” No wonder.

One of the best fried chickens I ever ate was at Grandma’s house. I always pestered her to let me gather the fresh eggs. Because of black snakes and roosters, she would usually do it herself but she let me go. As I grabbed the galvanized bucket and was headed to the gate, she hollered out to me, “My girl. Leave that old rooster alone.” In the literary world, this is what as known as “foreshadowing.” There was a huge rock that I had to climb to reach the laying hens. I guess I was so intent on climbing and looking out for black snakes that I failed to hear the clucked warnings behind me. I had gathered a few eggs before I noticed the sounds. As I turned, my heart began pounding. It was the old rooster–he was clucking, prancing around and staring directly at me!

I slid off the rock that I was on, grabbed a much smaller one and threw it at the old bird. That was mistake number two… Mistake one was going into the chicken pen in the first place. He immediately stepped up his pace and started towards me. As I made my way to the gate, the rooster did too. Panicked, I grabbed at the gate and couldn’t open it. At this point, the old guy began to flap his wings. Having been previously “bitten” by a goose, I didn’t want to feel the wrath of this chicken. With no other options available, at least none that occurred to me at that moment, I decided, one way or another, I was getting over that fence.

My mother, who was looking out the window above the kitchen sink, watched the drama unfold. Years later she told me it was an awe-inspiring sight: the bucket thrown up in the air with eggs flying in every direction and me, her 12 year old daughter, vaulting over the fence like a conditioned Olympic athlete with the rooster right at my heels. All I can say is that fear is an amazing motivator. I ran into the house, leaving the frustrated rooster flapping his wings against the fence. Wanting to get away as far as possible from that old bird, I briefly relayed the story to Grandma before I shot out the front door, in search of a far less dangerous adventure.

Later, as we gathered for dinner, there was a huge platter of fried chicken on the table. As I sat down, grabbed a piece and began to eat, my family asked me how it tasted. It was delicious (Grandma’s fried chicken always was) so why would this be any different? Laughing, they told me I was eating the old rooster. With Grandma’s help, I got the ultimate revenge. I was taking a bite of the bird that had earlier wanted to take a bite out of me!!12-2

This is my grandma, Malinda Turner Deaton. Behind her is the chicken pen and to her right, you can see where the hens laid their eggs.

Breakfast at Grandma’s House

Grandma got up before daylight to cook breakfast. As she prepared the food, she sang. The words always sounded vaguely familiar but I never recognized the melody. I was a nearly a grown woman before I found out why this was. My grandparents belonged to a non-instrumental Church of Christ. They believed that the only instrument necessary for music was the voice. So although Grandma knew the words to “Amazing Grace,” she did not sing the popularized melody but rather the one that had been handed down to her from her family–a tune that was generations old. Now I know that had I listened just a little harder and had a little better imagination, I would have heard the songs of my Highland ancestors through an Appalachian filter.

The breakfasts Grandma cooked were wonderful! Certainly not made up of the foods that, in our health-conscious society, we would eat today. All the foods were of the home: homegrown, home-raised or homemade. A typical breakfast always consisted of fried meat (usually some kind of pork but sometimes chicken–even fish on the rare occasion), biscuits, eggs, fried potatoes, fried apples and peaches. Oh! And coffee! The coffee grounds were dumped into the bottom of her coffee pot, water was added and it was set on the stove to boil for hours. Espresso had nothing on Grandma’s coffee. It was certainly an eye-opener!

What remains the most fascinating food of the meal, to me anyway, was Grandma’s biscuits. Even the canned varieties today are not as uniform and exact as her’s were. Grandma kept a big metal tub underneath her sink filled with flour–it usually held 25 pounds or more. When she made the biscuits, she would pull out this tub, make a little well in the center of the flour, dump all of the ingredients in, mix it together and form her dough. If I attempted to do that, I would probably ruin the whole tub of flour. Not Grandma, she only used what she had intended to and she did it with no measuring cups, no recipe and no waste. I asked her once how she was able to do this and she told me she had been mixing biscuits this way since she was 9 years old. I think she was in her early 70’s when I posed the question.

Grandma would then take the biscuit dough, pinch off a piece, roll it around in her hands to form a ball, pat it out and put it into a pan. In no time, the pan was full of perfectly uniform biscuits. Any leftover dough was flattened out and baked to a dark brown–her version of a hoe cake. The biscuits were great fresh out of the oven and even later in the day, substituting as sandwich bread for a piece of leftover breakfast meat. My dad said that when he was a kid, she would take one of these biscuits, fill it with fried potatoes and pack it for his lunch, along with a pint of milk in a canning jar. He would keep his lunch tin the the creek beside to school to keep the milk cool until lunchtime.

Most of my biscuits memories center around using them as fishing bait. For the longest time, to get to my grandparent’s house, you had to walk across a swinging bridge. When they ended up building a flat bridge to drive over on the opposite side of the creek, we would sit on it and fish for minnows. Grandma would take a piece of thread, tie it to a bent stick pin and then give us kids a biscuit for bait. I don’t ever remember catching anything this way but at least those little fish ate as good as we did!

If you mention Grandma’s breakfasts to my sister, she’ll tell a completely different story than mine. For her, this meal stirs up memories of homemade syrup. To achieve the exact dipping consistency, the syrup had to be mixed with butter. Only then was it ready to be eaten with oven-warm biscuits. Karen says that even today, just thinking about grandma’s syrup will make her mouth water.

No matter how I, my sister or any of my cousins remember a particular meal that Grandma fixed, the one consistent story we will share is that whatever she made, it was cooked with large amounts of love.

I don’t have a recipe for Grandma’s biscuits and I have tried more times than I can count to replicate them but I have had no success. Even my aunts, her daughters, could not make biscuits like her. But I am sharing her recipe for syrup. Grandma’s Syrup

Cornbread Variations

There’s a lot to be said about cornbread in a hillbilly household.  Depending on what area of the mountains you are from will greatly affect the ingredients in your recipe.  Many kitchen wars have been waged over whether or not to use part cornmeal – part flour, hot water or buttermilk and perhaps the most divisive of all—sugar!!  (I only have one thing to say about that…  This is cornbread we’re talking about.  It ain’t cake!)

To me, the best cornbread to eat with soup beans, chicken and dumplings or green beans is just plain, old cornbread.  Here are some things I’ve learned over the years.

I always try to use white cornmeal when I can find it and not just any old white cornmeal.  I prefer old fashioned or “unbolted” cornmeal.  It’s stone ground using the whole kernel.  It’s gritty in texture and has the most nutritional value.  Unless you are going to finish off the bag quickly, it should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer because it contains the whole kernel and the “oil” stored there can go rancid if stored at room temperature and kept too long.  This is the kind of cornmeal that my Grandpa Deaton ground on the old stone grist mill in his barn.  (Yellow meal of the same type will work too.)

I also make my own “self-rising” mix and I do not add flour to my cornbread.  For my mix, I add 1 tablespoon of baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt to every 1 cup of cornmeal.  I make up a fairly large batch of this at a time and keep it stored in the refrigerator to use as needed.

I use buttermilk…  I’ve tried water.  I’ve tried regular milk.  And to me, nothing works quite as good or gives that distinctive taste like buttermilk.  And the best part about buttermilk, you can keep it well past the expiration date.  With buttermilk, I always look at the expiration date as a “suggestion” date since it’s sour tasting to begin with how do you know when it’s gone bad?!!

And finally, always bake cornbread in a cast iron skillet.  A hot skillet produces a crust and texture that a baking pan will never match.

So, with all that being said, I have more than likely scared you away from ever trying to make cornbread.  That was never the intent.  Cornbread is one of the easiest and tastiest “quick” breads to make and goes with a variety of different foods.  I’m just sharing a few lessons I’ve learned over the past 30 or so years that have finally produced a consistent and tasty cornbread.

You can find my recipe on my blog here.

 

Cornbread