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City Life, Country Garden

The Joy of Finding a Long-Lost Recipe

City Life, Country GardenIf you have read my books or follow my blog, you already know that I write about heritage. I have fond memories of Sunday suppers at Grandma’s, fishing with my dad, and a time much slower than the one in which we live today. So it is with great joy that I share the recipe for Black Walnut Apple Cake and how I found it.

I had searched for the walnut-apple cake recipe for many years, primarily because of the memory it triggered: Standing beside Granny watching her slowly spoon caramelized butter and sugar over the still-warm cake.

Of course, it goes without saying that my job was pot scrapper and spoon-licker. Granny made this recipe in a tube cake pan (which I do not have, I had to use a Bundt cake pan). I remember her sliding a knife around the edges of the cake, placing a plate atop the pan and with a quick flip and a couple licks on the bottom of the pan, it was time to make the frosting.

The search for this recipe was long, years actually. Granny had loaned out her recipe book to one of her children who accidently placed it on a still-hot stove eye thus ending any hope of me ever recreating the cake. Until ... a visit with a friend.

Linda and I were sitting in her kitchen, going over her new cabinetry design when I glanced down at her notes and wouldn’t ya know, there it was. The recipe! Don’t anyone move! Linda had never tried the cake, just thought that the ingredients sounded like it would make something worth trying. I couldn’t contain my joy. This was the long-lost recipe, sitting on the counter of a dear friend. But enough about the journey, let’s bake the cake.

Black Walnut Apple Cake
Total Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Baking Time: 75 minutes

2 cups sugar
1  1/2 cups canola oil
3 eggs
3 cups plain all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup nuts (prefer black walnut, but pecans will do)
3 cups finely chopped apples
1 teaspoon vanilla

Frosting Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup cream (I use evaporated milk)
1 cup brown sugar (packed in measuring cup)

Preheat oven 350 F. Peel and chop apples and set aside.

Mix sugar and oil.

Add eggs, flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Mix well. Batter will be thicker than regular cake batter.

chopped apples  Batter

Stir in nuts, apples and vanilla. Mixture will be very thick. Use spatula to scrape sides of bowl.

Batter   Batter in pan

Spray the tube pan and sprinkle with flour. This will help prevent cake from sticking.

Spoon batter into pan (pan will be very heavy when filled).

Bake approximately 75 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean. Do not over bake.

Remove cake from oven and let it rest five minutes still in the pan. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, place a plate on top of the pan, invert, and make frosting.


The Frosting Process:

Melt butter on medium-high temperature

Frosting  Frosting

Stir in brown sugar and evaporated milk.

Stir until mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat and frost cake.

You will need to slowly spoon the frosting on the cake and allow the cake to absorb the frosting.

Finished Cake 

As you can see, this cake is beautiful. I can’t wait for you to taste it. My first bite tasted like Sunday’s at Grandma’s.

bookcoverRenea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches, a book that contains delicious recipes such as the one you read here. Farming was the chosen No. 1 New Gardening Book Release by Amazon in October 2014.

Order directly through publisher. Type the word facebook in the coupon window to receive a 20-percent discount AND free shipping.

Order from Amazon. Kindly order new copies as author receives ZERO money from used copies.

Order signed copies from author. Each order receives free seeds.

Renea's other books: Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia; A Hardscrabble Christmas; and In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes, her first book, which earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. Email her through her website at She welcomes new friends on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

The Mysterious Bill Mathis Bean

City Life, Country GardenFriends, I need your help. I am obsessed with beans. I believe the obsession began about five years ago when I started helping my farmer friend, Billy Albertson. He tilled up a portion of his backyard so I could plant tomatoes, but once we saw the dirt, we decided there would be time to plant a couple rows of pintos, and then the tomatoes.

From that moment things have been getting out of hand; at least on my end. If you are a Facebook friend, you know that what started as two rows of pintos grew into a search for unusual beans. And for me, who grew up in western North Carolina, anything other than a white half runner bean falls into the “unusual” category. I have a particular fondness for October beans, but that is an aside that really doesn’t have a thing to do with the mystery I need your help with.

Most of you know that I avoid “big box” farm supply stores like the plague. I like my local folk; independent farm supply stores that have provided seeds and fertilizer, baby chicks, and animal wormer to my family for generations. I am fiercely devoted to the independent farm supply stores. Here’s why.

Inside stores such as these, you’ll find seeds named after the local farmer who brought them in. You’ll overhear someone whispering about Bill Mathis beans, and you’ll almost push that someone out of the way to get your hands on a sack of them. I didn’t actually push, but I did tap my foot and hope the person ahead of me didn’t buy them all.

I didn’t know what the beans were, didn’t really care. All I knew was if some farmer from the western North Carolina mountains was selling his bean seeds, then I needed to get my hands on a handful … pronto.

And while some may think I need therapy for this obsession (I do), I now have a bit of a mystery on my hands. Take a look at this.

Mysterious Bag of Beans

Mr. Bill Mathis did not sort his beans! Any farmer worth his salt knows I can't plant the seeds like this.

Bringing my bag home, I quickly arranged my loot according to appearance, coming up with this method.

more sorted beans

Then I placed a coin beside the bean for a size-reference.

Sorted beans

Unfortunately, the bag contained only one seed of some of the larger beans. One bean! What if that particular seed was the last of its kind in the whole wide world? (Perish the thought!) So, I determined that I'd best get to the garden and plant a test area, a place where I could grow these beans just for the purpose of having more seed next year. The only problem is that I haven’t a clue what these are!

That is where you come in. Can you help identify any of these seeds? If you can, please let me know.

Numbering a piece of paper, I laid each seed out beside a number and took a picture. Does this help any of you seasoned bean growers identify what in the world I’ve planted?

sorted by number

Next, I went to the garden and planted each of these seeds beside a flag with the coinciding number. As the growing season progresses, I will share images with the hopes that you can help me identify what in the world I’m growing.


If you can identify any of these beans, (even just one) and are on Facebook, please visit my page and leave me a message. Or, contact me through my website. Just say bean No. 1 is (insert name); bean No. 2 is (insert name). Truly, I need your help.

Until then, I’ll keep growing and searching for unusual seeds.

As always, thank you for reading, and for your help.


Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In September of 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at She welcomes new friends on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter here.

The Beauty of Appalachia

City Life, Country GardenI usually write about gardening, and sometimes sprinkle in stories about spectacularly special people I meet during my life-journey. Today I want to tell you about a magical place, The Historic Monteith Farmstead, located in Dillsboro, North Carolina. Those who have boarded the Great Smoky Mountains Railway when it departed Dillsboro probably missed a hidden gem, one that was nestled down in the flatland within walking distance of the train depot. Perhaps that is why the house survived. Sometimes the best place to hide is in plain sight.

It is no secret that old homes call me. They whisper come … see … listen to the secrets I have to tell.

Every home has a story waiting to be told; just like every person.

The Monteith Farmstead was constructed in, or around, 1908. It is a simple house. Two stories. Front porch. Gabled roof. A structure built to shelter a family for many generations. It was what I call a working house, which was required during the time, one that would withstand the elements, be functional, and eventually … loved by the small community of Dillsboro. The walls and ceilings are beaded board and almost pristine, rare in today’s doze-it-down-and-develop-it mentality. The fact that the structure remains today, is nothing short of a miracle.

Monteith Home 

Take a moment to look at this photograph. What does it say to you?

Sisters Edith and Edna were born in the first two decades of the 1900s. Change had come to their tiny community. Roads. Traffic. People. Noise. Edna’s father, E.B. Monteith, was the postal clerk. Edna followed suit and became a clerk at age 20 in 1928. Edith stayed home with her mother and tended the farm.

Edith Monteith

Unique to the property is a canning house, a treasure you just don’t find in the rural mountains of western North Carolina. Here is an image of the canning house. This, my friends, is one of the reasons why we must save this property. This, Dear Ones, is history you will find nowhere else in Appalachia.

Monteith Home Can House Exterior 

Here is a shot of the interior of the canning house. Couldn't you just swoon? Don't you want to get inside?

Can House interior

If we are honest, most of us are descended from hard-working folk like the Monteith family. The Monteith sisters, like many women of that time, knew the importance of being frugal. They canned. They saved. They held onto their little piece of heaven even while a major highway was being constructed. And then, sadly, in 2001, E.B. Monteith’s lineage came to an end with the death of the last remaining heir, Edith. The house sat empty.

Interior Monteith Home

I believe that homes get lonely. They miss people walking the halls. Miss people raising the windows to let in a cool mountain breeze.

That’s where you and I come in.

Recognizing the historic significance of this property, the citizens of Dillsboro rallied to protect this home. Their plans: to create an Appalachian Women’s Museum. A place of honor where our children, your children, and children from all over the world can come and learn about the heritage of the area and, in doing so, learn something about themselves. The property is protected from development, but protection is only a small part of the project. It will take $16,000 to restore the roof. We can make it happen. You. Me. Our friends. Our neighbors. We can own a little piece of history. A place where we can walk the grounds, touch the earth, listen as the house tells us the stories of her people. I’m pretty certain that she will whisper the words, Thank you for caring.

So today I ask you to donate $20. If your budget allows a larger contribution, the fine folk of the Appalachian Women’s Museum will be over the moon, elated, thrilled. I not only ask you to donate, I am asking you to become ambassadors for the women of Appalachia, whose stories deserve to be told. I am not affiliated with the Appalachian Women’s Museum. I don’t sit on the board, don’t have a vested interest other than to see this house saved. That is why I ask you to do more than just share this blog on Facebook, write a personal message with the post. Send an email. Talk about this project. Mail a check!


Because you, yes you, hold the future of this property in your hands. There’s been talk, you know, talk of the negative variety. “You can’t raise the money. That old house ain’t worth saving.” People talk when you try to change the world; some even try to discourage others. Can you help me prove them wrong?

Of course you will. You’ve seen the house. You’ve felt her magic. She has whispered words in your ears. She is depending on you.

Monteith Home

Donations in any amount are accepted via electronic payment at this link.

Please mail personal checks to:

The Appalachian Women’s Museum
PO Box 245
Dillsboro NC 28725

Is it coincidence that your check will be processed in the town where sister Edna once worked? I don’t think so. Do you?

Author’s note: Images for this blog were taken from the Museum’s Facebook Page. Learn more here.

About Renea: Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In September of 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at She welcomes new friends on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter here.

Preparing for a Hot Growing Season

City Life, Country GardenFriends, something in my gut tells me it’s going to be a hot and parched growing season in Georgia. I don’t want to use the “D” word; it’s too early. Mercy, we’ve just now started busting up the dirt and getting serious about planting. Still, it takes only a few days to dry out the Georgia clay, less if the temperatures climb to above eighty as they did today, as they are predicted to do the rest of this week. A constant wind doesn’t help either.

My garden soil is powdery and I’m beginning to fret.

Knowing that I am powerless to control Mother Nature, I have taken matters into my own hands. It’s time to mulch.

Yes, I know, it’s early. The beans have barely sprouted. The corn is only 3 inches high. But time, and garden duties, wait for no man.

Today I heaved shovels of mulch to my garden. The wheelbarrow also contained a bucket full of soggy newspapers.

Soggy Newspaper and Mulch Make the Garden Happy

Adding newspaper is the best way to lure earthworms to your garden. Gardens need moisture; earthworms aerate the soil. Mulching the garden early this year should give plants the extra help they need during what I think will be a hot and dry growing season.


After shredding the soggy papers, I laid them around the plants then shoveled mulch 1-inch thick. I sprinkled more water around the plants and added another layer of mulch.

The rest, my friends, is up to Mother Nature. What do you do to protect your plants from the harshness of the growing season?

Garden Mulched and Ready for Growing

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In September of 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at Friend her on Facebook here. Follow her on Twitter here.

Building a Hoop House for Fall Vegetables

The growing season of 2013 was a bust here in Atlanta’s zone 7b. Spring rains pounded our garden until puddles formed and vegetables rotted. Summer sun, was non existent. Heat loving tomatoes and okra refused to bloom. I’ve been depressed my friends, but like most stubborn farmers, I won’t give up. My pepper plants are just-now producing and I must extend their growing season. Extend your growing season with a hoop house

Now that we’re entering the fall growing season I’ve decided to build a cold frame, which most folk call a “hoop house” I’ve decided to locate the house on top of my deck planter. From start to finish it was an hour investment and should allow me to extend the growing season until the green peppers develop.

Come spring, I will remove the pvc piping and store for later use.


Supplies:Supplies Needed

(4) pvc pipes ½ inch in diameter. Note: number of pipes depend on growing area

(8) ¾ inch metal straps

(8) wood screws  Note: the bag of straps I bought did not include screws

Plastic sheeting

Hot glue

Christmas tree lights (serve as makeshift lighting)



Depending on the size you wish to cover, space the pipes far enough to support the lightweight plastic (mine are 34 inches apart).

Secure firmly to wood

Measure both sides of the frame then secure metal straps into the wood. Metal straps should be snug. Insert onepipe and bend to secure in place on the other side. Press pipe firmly in dirt. 

Repeat until the bones of the frame are in place. Side view of hoops

Sew vegetable seeds, or plant fall vegetables. Now here’s a trick. Outdoor Christmas tree lights provide both light and a nominal amount of warmth. Even though winter brings less sunlight, inside the plants will be warm and toasty in the light. Water soil then drape plastic sheeting over pipe. Drape plastic over hoops

You’ll notice there is no door on the frame. I secured the plastic on one side with dots of hot glue. Leaving the other side loose, I tuck the plastic into the frame.

secure protective covering to pvc


As lettuce and peppers are ready peel the plastic back and harvest. For those who do not have an existing deck planter. First measure your garden area, then build a small frame using 2 by 4 or 2 by 8 lumber. Regardless of the size, I encourage you to grow your own winter vegetables. 


Renea Winchester is an award-winning author. Her latest release,Mountain Memories is available exclusively to Kindle Customers. In 2014, Mercer University will release, Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Learn more about her at


2011 A New Year of Gardening

A photo of Renea WinchesterThe weatherman reports that Atlanta could see another dusting of snow. Which caused my spirit to sink. The kids are excited at the possibility of playing in the white stuff, but I am ill-equipped to handle dreary weather when it dips “down south.”

When the weather turns icy I can think of nothing better than to curl up on the couch and read the latest release. I’m not talking about what the New York Times list tells us we should read. I’m referring to the stack of seed catalogues that receive top priority during the month of January.

With pen in hand and sticky notes ready, I thumb through each magazine. This is the year, I convince myself, that my garden will surpass those I see on the cover of a magazine. I’ll begin by planting a salad bed (which, by the way, should be planted fairly soon here in the south). It will produce a rainbow of leafy goodness. Not the boring “lettuce” and “mustard” like my parents grow. We’ll have none of that in my garden. Oh no, my salad “bed” will be exotic.

Lettuce bed 

I’ll have a garden filled with lettuce no one can pronounce: Purple Mizuna and Rouge d’Hiver, and a touch of Skyphos (to add some pink to the mix). This year, I’ll sprout my own wheat grass (have you checked out the prices of wheat grass lately?), I’ll give Dill one more try and plant Chamomile, primarily because I noticed a charming Chamomile Rake that seems to be the smartest invention since the sticky notes that now color the pages of the catalog.

I’ll draw out my design and plant the seeds with care. I’ll call my dad and brag because my planting season in Georgia begins a few weeks before his in North Carolina. He’ll laugh, because he knows that regardless of what I plant or when, his little Bowen tractor has worked the ground into a powdery consistency that grows anything he darn well pleases.

Dad on his Bowen tractor 

As an aside, last week he worked two truckloads of nearly-rotten sawdust into his garden.

That’s his secret.

Find sawdust in Atlanta.  Go ahead, I dare you.

So with my purchased soil that has been fortified with fireplace ashes and a bit of goat manure, I once again begin the quest to grow something ... anything better than those who’ve much greater experience than I.

Let's be honest. There is a 99.9% chance my garden will look like this, instead of my Dad's.

The reality of my garden graces this Shoebox Card. 

I’ll begin the growing season filled with hope and ignore the card which sits at the corner of the desk. This year my dream garden will become a reality.

Enjoy those seed catalogs and remember, keep those hands dirty!

Road-Side Produce Stand Launches a Book, and a Friendship

A photo of Renea WinchesterHere in the south, fall is the perfect time to plant what we call a “salad garden.”  Turnip, collard, and mustard greens all thrive in addition to lettuce, radishes and onions. Billy and I especially needed something green in his garden, because during the past year, in addition to helping my seventy-eight-year old farmer friend, I’ve also been writing a book about him.

On October 23, 2010, Little Creek Books released, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes.

In the Garden with Billy cover 

When searching for the ideal venue to launch the book, I looked no further than the “Little Strip of Land” where our remarkable friendship began.

I can’t give away the plot, but I can say that In the Garden with Billy is not a “How-To” gardening book. Yes, there are a few tips, like how to make homemade wine; however, the most beneficial “How-To” is “How To See People.” I had traveled past Billy’s home for almost ten years and never “saw” him. Simply put, I was too busy.  However, a tiny sign with the words “Baby Goats 4 Sale” was a beacon for my daughter. Her insistence that I allow her to see the baby goats provided the catalyst for our meeting. Billy’s outstretched hand coupled with a bountiful crop of “tow-maders” lead to us returning to his garden as volunteers.

At this point I should mention that the backdrop for In the Garden with Billy is Atlanta Georgia. Billy Albertson operates the last remaining working farm in what used to be farm country. Today, it’s prime real estate. But ya’ll can find that out when you read the book.

As the book launch approached, the local newspaper paid a visit. The field was full of crinkly corn which, I thought, would make a great photo-op. Billy, however, decided the garden needed “cleaning up” and cut down every stalk of corn moments before the photographer arrived. The newspaper managed to capture a couple shots of Billy on the tractor so that tragedy was avoided.

It seemed like every time I visited Billy was “cleaning” the farm. I finally explained that readers were going to think I was a terrible writer if he didn’t stop! I encouraged him to focus his energy on the “salad garden” that was beginning to take shape.

October 23rd arrived, and we were blessed with glorious weather. I had painted the dilapidated garage door that hides his Cub Tractor. My plan was to encourage visitors to sign their name and jot down personal messages.

Garage door painting 

That way, he would be able to see how much he’s loved every morning on his way to feed the “critters.”

With the books displayed, we set up a jelly booth and popped some popcorn. We even had sweet potatoes and gourds for sale and refreshments for visitors. The only thing we needed were readers. We hung the “Special Events” sign (on his truck of course) and waited for friends to arrive.

Special Event sign on the farm truck 

What happened next still has Billy and I shaking our heads.

Soon Billy’s “little strip of land,” was transformed into something resembling a family reunion, fall festival, with a little splash of the Holy Spirit sprinkled in for good measure. Family he hadn’t seen in years arrived. Strangers who-like me-had passed his home for years finally paid him a visit. In a word, the day was magical.

Magical book launch day 

Children, who had never seen a chicken or a goat, had the opportunity to experience both up close and personal. There were hayrides (on the lawnmower no less), and old-timers swapped stories.

Old-timers swapping stories 

Smiles were everywhere, and on more than one occassion, Billy and I cried tears of pure joy. Is there truly anything more fun that a fall day on the farm? The book launch celebrated a life dedicated to farming, and a friendship made when two strangers reached out and found each other.

Billy signs and smiles 

I invite you to read this story of hope, especially now when many of us are so stressed.

I challenge you today, stop at the road-side stand. Reach out to a stranger in the grocery store. Give someone a little bit of your time, because when you do I know ... I know, something magical will happen.

In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes is available through my website, and in bookstores everywhere. They can order the book with the ISBN number (ISBN 978-0-9843192-5-1). As always, I love to hear from you, please visit my website at and drop me an email.

Happy Gardening, and remember, get those hands dirty!

Renea Winchester is a two-time winner of the Appalachan Writer’s Award for Essay. Her work  has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Georgia Backroads, Smoky Mountain Living and Long Leaf Style as well as Georgia Public Radio 90.1 FM. She is a frequent contributor to Her memoir, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons about Life, Love and Tomatoes, was released by Little Creek Books in October 2010. 

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