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Dam Big Bullfrog

Pennsylvania AdventuresWe got there just in time to be serenaded. Ribbit, ribbit ribbit, dork ribbit, splabit dork, splabit. Dusk came quickly to the banks of the Mt. Holly Dam, home to hundreds of bullfrogs, some little, some big. We were being greeted. Dad took us (us being a brother or two) quite often to this place, Mt. Holly Dam, only 2 1/2 miles from home. Friday night arrived, he and Mom were done working for another week. No homework for the weekend. We came here frequently for a night of fishing and relaxation.

Mid-July, and the weather for this evening could not be better. The moon hid in its dark phase, as a soft, gentle breeze from the south created small ripples on the water, and gently caressed our skin.

Hooks were baited and cast into the cool mountain water, lanterns were lit, and everyone settled back into a favorite fishing chair. The not-so-lucky ones found a log or rock on which to sit. The frogs quieted down somewhat. For the most part, peace and tranquility settled along the banks that night. The sounds of water slowly spilling over the breast of the dam were relaxing. Any moment now someone may get a strike. Catfish, bluegills, eels and bass were always fair game. Occasionally a pickerel or pike would bite. We were relaxing and fishing, not a bad combination. I may have even given thoughts to checking out the goody bag. After all, two long hours had passed since this young boy of 15 had eaten, and fishing is tough: you gotta keep your strength up.

Occasionally the silence was broken by a slap, slap, slap of something flat being beaten against the surface of the water. We were not far from the dam and knew that a beaver, upset, or had found a beaver smorgasbord, could be sending signals to another beaver. Beavers use their big fat, flat tails for a lot of things.

Suddenly there was a rush of warm wind, which awoke the sleepy frogs. Ribbit, ribbit, dork, BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM sounded to our left. I jumped up, and immediately shouted "Dad, Dad did you hear that." Of course he did, sitting right next to me. Again BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM sounds came from our left. A big bullfrog, taking a stand and letting its presence be known, came even closer than we expected. As I stood there, Dad burning more Prince Albert in his pipe, and with a twinkle in his eye, began to reel in one of his cast-out lines. BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM, this dam, big bullfrog wanted some attention. Dad is going to oblige him.

Mt Holly Springs Dam has quite a storied past. In the 1800s, Mountain Creek was dammed to supply water to generate power to the paper mills nearby. In 1863, Confederate soldiers marched into nearby Mt Holly Springs and raided the town for paper machine parts, on their way to defeat at Gettysburg. 1900 saw the area turned into a recreational park and preserve with people coming from miles around to ride the Trolley to Holly. This lasted for 15 years until the automobile became a reality. The park closed in 1928. Still the town continued to flourish as other paper mills were built and made use of the water.

The name Mountain Creek is sweet music to my ears. It is the supplier of all the water that flowed over so many dams. It also produced many famous fishing spots, especially for trout. I fished these waters many times, and have many good memories from the past. The creek originated in Michaux State Forest lands and mountains. The waters from this very cold, limestone stream are absolutely a perfect habitat for trout. As it winds north and east towards the mighty Susquehanna River, it's flow is interrupted countless times. The creek flowed through Mt. Holly, thus the name Mt. Holly Dam, one of many built to use the water wisely. This is close to my birthplace and very much a part of our daily activities.

I was born in 1940 and fished in the dam waters all my teen and early 20 years, being 15 at the time. The town of Mt Holly is a hustle and bustle of activity. There were two paper mills, a shoe factory, two crystal plants, five or six dress factories and two major grocery stores. All this just two and one-half miles from my birth place. Fortunately for me, 1949 to 1965 began the era when we fished the most. In the 1980s, powerful rains flooded the valleys of the South Mountains with a lot of devastation to the surrounding landscapes. Two of our landmarks, the Holly dams were breached and it remains that way now. There is little evidence of what the little town used to be like – except for inside my mind.

For us kids, any one of three brothers, fishing and exploring the dam became an adventure. Two words describe it, delightful and intimidating. Let me explain. The dam, well constructed, was easy to access. It's lengthy, 155 feet long and at least 6 feet wide. We walked along the edge of the fishing bank and just stepped onto the dam. In the summer it became pure delight. Removing shoes and socks, we waded across the 2 or 3 inches of water that gently spilled across the cement pads. The water, warm and delightful, tickled the toes on our young, tender feet. The intimidating part of the walk involved one cement pad that had sunk into the foundation. It appeared 8 or 9 inches lower than the level of the rest of the dam. Of course, more water flowed across this section and at a greater speed. We always stopped to look and consider if crossing appeared safe. Someone, usually me, would venture into the swifter water and make a decision. If I could not stand on my own, we joined hands and prudently crept and wiggled our way across this very dangerous section of the spillway. The other side consisted of a steep mountain range. Exploration became necessary, and, returning back to Dad, we always reported that the fishing would be so much better on the other side. He nodded and didn't move an inch.

Let's get back to 1955 and the bullfrog.

Hearing my alarm and the sounds of this gigantic bullfrog, Dad retrieved his one line from the water and re-rigged it with one hook. Then he did something that I knew nothing about and remember to this day. Reaching into his pocket, he retrieved a big red handkerchief. Cutting a 2-inch square from the corner, he attached it to his bare hook. "What's this old man doing," I muttered to myself. I am 15, a know-it-all. "That won't work." Glancing at his face I saw a slight smile and a look of "wait until you see what happens." Slowly he worked his way along the bank to where this monster laid in wait.

Suddenly, WHAM that big frog jumped from his spot in the mud and grabbed that piece of handkerchief with the fury of a mad bull, steaming at the nostrils. It was like he got shot out of a gun. A struggle ensued like one I had never seen. This frog, as big as a watermelon and legs 3 feet long, was in a very bad mood. Kicking and jumping and kicking some more he and Dad went round and round. "Vernie, Vernie, quick, get the burlap sack out of my tackle box." Fumbling around I got it and the struggle continued. Every time we got one leg in the bag, and grabbed for the other, out would come the first leg. It was like trying to put a 40-pound frog in a 30-pound sack. Finally in the bag, we returned to our seats for some more fishing and relaxation. As I sat there rehashing what had just happened, another soft south wind gently caressed our faces. The now lit lanterns created a soft, mellow orange glow on the water and on Dad's face. Puffs of Prince Albert smoke surrounded his countenance, but I could see a almost angelic glow of satisfaction.

I loved and respected my dad, but that night became special. A thought occurred to me, that old man really is smarter than me. Imitating a big juicy insect for a frog – what a great idea. I had a lot to learn.

He would take the frog home and Mom would cook it for him. That's just the way they were.

Many memories flood my mind when we return from time to time to Pennsylvania. As Route 34 winds over the mountain and comes close to Mt. Holly, I still recall the night Dad wrestled and bagged a Holly dam, big bullfrog.

God is good.

Disclaimer: Let it be known that the youthfulness and zest of this young fisherman have resulted in some discrepancies in regards to the frogs description.

American bullfrog | 


Mr. McGregor's Dilemma

Pennsylvania Adventures“How did a rabbit get up there” I muttered to myself. This is a raised bed I use for planting vegetables. It's 2 feet off the ground; how did a momma rabbit jump that high and have a litter of three in my garden box? To make matters more amusing, two days earlier I had planted cabbage in the same location. What a pleasant and amusing discovery. Nevertheless there it was.

My wife and I had just returned from our winter home in Florida, and, while knowing it was late for an early garden, I proceeded to plant all the early vegetables we enjoy; onions, radish, parsnips and cabbage (all fine fare for a rabbit). The following day as I was inspecting my handiwork, there it was, right in the corner where I had my hands. A clump of fine grass and white fur, all woven into a round cover for the precious recipient’s underneath. Apparently momma jumped up into the box, liked what she saw, and proceeded to start a family, right there in the corner of the box. I never saw it the day before. I gently removed the soft woven dome and there they were; three brown, soft, little rabbits. I quickly put the roof to their home back in place, and chuckled to myself. Aren’t these the same animals that had decimated my young trees just months earlier? Let me explain.

The winter of 2014 in the central Plains was one of the coldest, harshest winters on record. Much snow and high winds were made worse by nights of sub-zero temperatures. I understand the snow piled up around everything, and as soon as one storm was over, another arrived. Of course I had no concerns, since we were snug and warm in sunny Florida. I gave little thought to how the animals that I had nurtured to stay in the garden were making out. They knew what to do. For them it was an everyday struggle to stay alive, even if it meant eating the bark from the young trees just recently planted; and eat they did. Rabbits, deer, mice, all took their turn at foraging on the young soft shoots and bark. What other choice did they have? Eat my trees or die. The end result: eight young fruit trees gone as a result of animals foraging in or near our garden. For a while I was an unhappy gardener.

Then reality set in. Who was I to say who could live and survive on my young trees, and which would not eat and die? I was warm and comfortable in Florida, and they were just trying to survive. My thinking process changed. I no longer was upset about the winter kill in the orchard. After all I have options, animals don’t.

Back to the rabbits in the raised bed: I checked on them every day, and one day they were gone. That made me happy. Next year I will take precautions to protect the trees, and what I don’t will be fair game for my garden friends. God is good.

Rabbit - Hudgins 

Photo: Hudgins

Blue Skies and Apple Blossoms

Pennsylvania AdventuresMay in southcentral Pennsylvania meant apple blossom time. This particular day was Sunday, my favorite day of the week. It was a day filled with worship and gratitude for all the blessings that surrounded us, the blessings we so easily take for granted.

As I looked up at the beautiful white and pink apple blossoms against a dark blue, cloudless sky, I softly uttered these words, “How can anything be more majestic, more perfect?”

A lush, green carpet of grass surrounded trees heavily laden with blossoms, while yellow dandelion flowers dotted the orchard landscape. Bees, thousands of them, were busy doing what – well, what bees do naturally. I watched as they scurried from blossom to blossom, becoming heavy and slow as they drew nectar into their sacks and collected pollen on their back legs. Off they went to deposit this precious cargo, only to return and do the same thing over and over again.

Who else but our Creator could arrange this?

Apple blossom time was a special celebration in our small villages and communities, especially Adams and Cumberland Counties. The sights and smells of those delightfully fragrant blossoms signified newness of life and spring. Thousands of people from nearby communities visited this section of Pennsylvania just to be part of the festivities.

The first Sunday in May was always set aside as “apple blossom Sunday.” A tourist train made runs through the hills and valleys to view the beautiful blossoms. Numerous busses and automobiles crowded the back roads just to take in this “once a year” floral spectacle.

South Mountain Fairgrounds in Adams County was the focal point for these activities, which included delicious barbecued chicken. Vendors set up stands selling arts and crafts, as well as apple blossom honey. This honey had a mild, sweet taste and scent. It reminded everyone of spring.

The apple blossom has a flower composed of five petals, which are usually white with a touch of pink. The fruit and leaf buds flower at the same time, which creates a tree completely covered with beautiful blossoms. On those days when the sky is cloudless and deep blue, it is an awesome sight.

apple blossoms 

Photo: Fotolia/hal_pand_108

The apple blossom is one of the most desired flowers for special occasions, especially for weddings in early May. These blossoms, known as aromatic flowers, impress people with their distinctive and pleasant smell, as well as peaceful beauty.

There is no way to accurately describe the aroma, but others have used terms like romantic, pure spring, clean and new, and refreshing.

That was the setting where I found myself on that perfect Sunday.

After attending Sunday school and worship, it wasn’t hard to figure out what was for dinner. As we all climbed out of the old Chevrolet and walked up the big, stone steps past the forsythia, which was in full bloom, the smell of roast beef drew us right to the kitchen. Watching my sisters peel potatoes to mash, I decided to leave the kitchen for a while. The house was small. The kitchen was small. We, on the other hand, were not small. There definitely was not enough room for everyone to help make dinner.

We kids engaged in some form of trivial activity for an hour, just biding our time until the potatoes were cooked. I knew there would be mashed potatoes on the table this day.

Back then, I was an avid photographer. With dreams of someday being famous, I took a mail correspondence course. It wasn’t unusual for me to walk with my new Agfa camera, since there were so many fresh, new subjects to be photographed. That day, I walked up the hill behind our home to the apple orchard, which was in full bloom.

Sundays were so very special to me, and they remain that way. We learned to never work on the Lord’s Day.

The wait for lunch – we called it Sunday dinner – was well worth it, with tender browned roast beef and buttered mashed potatoes, all covered with dark, slightly salty gravy, with a side of succotash. I loved Sunday dinners.

After a wonderful meal, we helped with the dishes; I dried.

It was then nap time as everyone found a cool spot to relax. The sisters went upstairs to nap on the soft bed, while we four boys sprawled out somewhere on the floor or on the oversized couch. Mom and Dad kicked back in their well-used recliners and listened to the South Sea Islanders, a band that played slow, melodic Hawaiian music.

Soon, everyone was asleep.

Sometime within the next hour, Mom started to stir. That was a sure sign for everyone else to get up.

“Come on, boys, get up. It’s time to go visit Dad.” Then she went to the stairway and hollered the same thing to the girls.

Within a few minutes, we all stacked into Dad’s old car. Stacked was what we were. Dad had a five-passenger Chevy Coupe. As a family of eight, we made it work: five in the back seat and three in the front. It always worked. Away we went for a Sunday visit, all the while singing out loud.

Grampaw was a big man with broad shoulders, a big wart on his nose and not one hair on his head. A widower for many years, he lived with his two oldest un-married daughters, named Dude and Hid.

Back in the late 1940s, not much happened in our rural community. It only seemed right to visit him on a Sunday afternoon. Grampaw had nine kids, and they all had kids, so it was not unusual for everyone to show up, sometimes as many as 30 or 40. Since we all got there later in the afternoon, food was eagerly anticipated.

Dude and Hid worked all their lives in the local sewing factories. Preparing supper for the Sunday evening gang consumed much of their time during the week. Everyone knew the sisters worked very hard feeding so many. We suggested they stop doing it, or at least slow down, but deep in our hearts, we wanted them to continue this tradition.

Later, I realized they took much joy and pride in their cooking. It gave them a purpose for living, other than going to church and Sunday school. They worked for 40 plus years in that noisy, dusty, old garment factory, and nothing ever changed. Preparing meals gave them something to look forward to on the weekend.

Some of my fondest memories came from the meals they served us on those warm, sunny Sunday afternoons.

The adult men gathered on the front porch and talked about the latest fishing trips for trout or catfish. Another favorite topic centered on shooting a trophy buck, at a time many years ago, at a place I knew nothing about. Sometimes that old wooden porch seemed covered in fish scales or blood.

Other times, talk centered on the Indy 500 race. Usually by the end of the day, we could almost smell burning rubber in the air as an unlucky driver spun out, or hit the wall.

Whatever the stories, I loved every one of them.

All the women gathered inside. I have no idea what they ever talked about, because we stayed outside. The younger kids played football somewhere, or maybe baseball.

Before long, Dude and Hid announced, “Time for supper.”

The men didn’t move. The kids kept playing, but there was a flurry of activity in the kitchen as all the women pitched in to help serve the meal.

The aunts always went to extremes when they prepared food, and we loved it. They made two entrées, with a couple of side dishes, different kinds of cakes, and maybe a pie or more. They served the food on individual trays, like the ones used in a school cafeteria or church hall. The men sat on the porch, the kids on the grass when it was nice, and the women remained in the kitchen.

The stories didn’t stop. Someone continued the tale about missing a big buck. With each telling, the rack on that buck got bigger and bigger. The same was true when they talked about the ever-growing carp that got away.

My favorite all-time best meal was hamburgers. McDonald’s did not create the quarter pounder or that half pounder. They missed it by 40 years. The aunts made them big and juicy, and “Oh, so tender.” They combined fresh ground beef with oatmeal, egg, and onion as fillers, and then fried them ever so gently in a big iron skillet. Put one patty in a fresh bun with some ketchup and mustard, and I was in hog heaven.

I never tasted another burger as juicy and tender as the ones served on Grampaw’s front porch. Those two dear aunts still cook and serve whenever anyone shows up.

Add a huge slice of deep, dark, moist chocolate cake – triple layer, of course – with lots of dark, creamy, gooey icing, and I was stuffed to overflowing.

I loved the times when we talked Dad and Aunt Sammie into playing the banjo and piano. Sammie was an excellent pianist, and Dad was pretty good on both. We gathered around the piano, they played, and we sang all the old hymns we could possibly remember.

When they got tired, we begged Sammie to play her (and my) two favorite songs, “Under the Double Eagle” and “Silent Confession.” I loved those songs, and listened to them over and over until she got tired. I really miss those afternoons of just singing, laughing, and being together with the family. As I look back, I just miss those good old days.

Soon the day was gone. The sun put on one final display of deep, red-orange blaze, then faded to dull orange-gray, then, finally, nothing.

Sunday was over. It was another blessed day.

Ten Was Fun

Pennsylvania Adventures”Boys, you better stop throwing stones onto that roof!  When your dad get’s home, you’ll be sorry.” Harsh words from a mom who had her hands full with a couple of boys who were 8 and 10, and a few in the house still in plastic underpants. Of course we stopped, for a while, and went looking for mischief somewhere else. Just one of the many things I experienced as a young boy on our small farm in south-central Pennsylvania.

The year was 1950, and my younger brother and I were starting to experience life on the farm, and how sometimes it can get one into trouble. The barn, hog pen and chicken house all had tin roofs, and it was just so much fun to find flat stones and just skip them onto the roof of one of the farm buildings. I suppose we just liked the sound and the skip, I don’t know. To be sure, it wasn’t appreciated by the proprietors, especially when we chose bigger stones and they landed with a thud and made a hole in the tin. We were fairly warned, so on to something else.

Barn with tin roof - iStock 


Dad turned the hog pen into a nice work shop, and in that smorgasbord of nuts, bolts and paints, there surely was something we could get into. One of my favorite things to do was make gold or silver nuggets. We had just gotten TV and the influence of the Lone Ranger had rubbed off onto me. I would walk along the road and pick up a handful of stones (seems I had a thing for stones) about the size of a nickel. Then I would lay them out on a board, find a can of Dad’s spray paint, preferably gold, and spray them until they looked like gold nuggets from a stage coach robbery. After they were dry I would put them into a bag and pretend I was rich.

Sometimes being a man with a bag of gold was not enough, and I would change professions and become a baker of mud pies. This was also serious business. Not any old garden soil would do. It needed to be sifted so there were no lumps in the batter. Water was added to make them the right consistency. Then they were formed into a patty shape, decorated with dandelion flowers and left to bake in the hot sun. The next day we pretended to eat them.

Maybe the next day we would find an old tire or two from the shop, and roll them to the top of the hill behind our house. It then became a contest to see whose tire would roll the farthest. If it hit a big bump, jumped into the air, and kept on rolling, you were declared the winner.

Old Tires - iStock 

Photo: Nieuwenhuis

A recent email informing me that my latest issue of “Looking Back” was in the mail made me do just that.

Some other summer delights back then were walking in the swift water after a heavy down pour. We should have been warned that walking in 3 inches of water was not safe!

Bugs and insects were always a big part of farm life. Horseflies and grass hoppers were our favorites. We would catch a horsefly and attach a piece of straw to his back, and then release him. Or we would pick up a grass hopper and make it spit tobacco by gently squeezing its sides. Insects on our farm weren’t very happy with us.

Dad saw fit to get us a BB gun. When shooting at targets or cans got boring, we switched to birds, but never hit any. Our favorite was shooting at the paw-paws along the road. We tried them and they tasted terrible, so we shot them.

Speaking of tasting things, have you ever eaten a peanut butter and molasses sandwich? Try it, you may like it. One of my all-time favorite things to eat as a boy was milk soup. Mom would get bottled whole milk from the milkman a couple times a week. Dad would get fresh white bread from the store. I would tear the bread into cubes, put them into a cereal bowl, add some sugar and top this with some cold, fresh whole milk. Fit for a king, or at least, this king. How about stewed crackers? Mom would steam saltines until they were soft, and serve them in a bowl with melted butter and milk. Back then, a delightful treat.

These are just a few of the things that bring joy to me as I “look back.” I am thankful for a very active, clear memory. God is good.

The Red Candle

Pennsylvania AdventuresI love Christmas and I love candles, especially the red, green and orange ones that we would find in those old smelly boxes in the attic at Christmas time. I loved the old fashioned plastic kind. Some candle stands had five candles, reserved for the front windows of our house. Some had three reserved for the upstairs, and then there were the single candles used for the side windows and other odd windows that just needed to be decorated. All were hollow, plastic and contained a different color bulb. My all time favorite color, and still is, the single red candle. This is how this memory came to be.

The time was somewhere between 1945 and 1955. When it came time to decorate for Christmas, our house never changed. We would have candles in each window, a small wreath attached to the window blind, and, of course, a tree all decorated with ornaments from past Christmas seasons. Living in a rural community in southcentral Pennsylvania, we didn’t attract a lot of traffic to see our house, but I knew that Santa could see it, and that was the most important thing.

One year, when I was 7, I decided I would help Santa by making our house just a little easier to find, in case there was snow or fog. I chose the side window facing the driveway. It was the most important window in the house, according to me. From this window we could see if company had arrived, if the snow plow had gone, and most importantly, was Dad home yet. By the window was a hassock, and this was where our furry friend “Tiny,” a terrier dog of small stature, would sit and warn us of any intruders, and it was where I spent most of that Christmas evening. I placed the single red candle in the window (I may have even washed the window), and rolled the blind up as far as it would go. Quite often I would go to the window, sit down on the hassock beside Tiny, look up and wonder if Santa could or would see my candle. Of course, he did.

A candle in the window


I’m not sure what I asked for that year, but I must have gotten it. As a family of eight, living off the garden and the smokehouse, we never had many material things and never expected any. Dad made little money, Mom took care of us, and we were happy, but somehow they always managed to get us that one “something special” item from the Sears Christmas catalog.

There was a beautiful blanket of snow that year, and as my brothers and I sat playing with what Santa had provided, I looked out the window, and there was Dad, wading around in the snow with an ax in his hand, trimming out a tree that had fallen into our yard.  “What is he doing out there,” I asked in a very concerned voice, but no one answered. Then it dawned on me. Santa did not bring my dad anything for Christmas! It made me so sad to see him out there working, while we were inside enjoying the day. Mom was cooking a wonderful Christmas dinner, my sisters were probably trying on something new that Santa had left, we boys were playing in a warm house, and Dad was outside, all alone, working. And then it dawned on me. As I looked out the window I saw a Dad who had given his all for his kids, and I cried. I saw such a pure, unselfish, shining example of what our Heavenly Father did for us when He died to take away our sins. His salvation plan became so much clearer that day    

That Christmas I received the best Christmas gift of all, compassion. I did not know what the feeling was at the time. All I wanted to do, at that very moment, was to somehow give my dad a present. Maybe I already had and didn’t know it.

That memory with the candle and ax are still with me, and they have served me well. As I grew older, I came to realize that these feelings of love and compassion could be expressed and shared, with Dad and Mom and the rest of the family, and eventually the whole world.

Sitting here at the computer, December 2013, those wonderful memories come flooding back to me. Dad has long since passed from this earth and Mom just recently. I know they would approve of me passing on that gift that was given to me so many seasons, ago, when I put a single red candle in the window.

Strawberry Jam and Raspberry Custard

Strawberry Jam and Raspberry Custard

VernSummer is here and this ten year old is happier than a pig in -- well, a pig in his pen. Strawberries are in bountiful supply with the patches around Dad and Mom's little farm are being visited every day to "pick your own."  It seems everything ripens and matures at the same time. No sooner do the strawberries taper off when the first picking of raspberries are ready. In between all this there are sour cherries and sweet cherries.

It is a smart thing, especially as a mischievous boy like myself, to be really nice and help my parents, especially in June. I am not able to pick a lot of the fresh fruits from the surrounding farms, something about child labor laws, but there are no restrictions on eating. 

Mom makes a shortbread kind of thing for our strawberry shortcake. She calls it a "happy day cake", and it is all that we needed. She makes it several times during the week, and we enjoyed this moist yellow cake. Cut a three inch square, place it in a bowl and the fun begins. The berries always were sliced and sweetened. After a time in the refrigerator, to draw juice, they were ready. Place them on a warm slice of happy day cake, sprinkle sugar on top even though it was not needed, and pour cold milk over everything, that is how we eat this most wonderful June treat.

Strawberry season is almost over, and I am ready for Mom to move on to another sweet treat. But wait, she has one more trick up her sleeve. Strawberry jam. Just saying this makes me want to toast some bread. The making of jam is one of my most vivid memories.

One final trip to the field is made, and we pick three more quarts of nice firm berries. They are capped and our job is done. This is a big peoples job: a very difficult job, and very scary. Don't  ever, ever let it boil over. Here is what she does:

Mash enough berries to make 5 cups, and put them in a BIG pot.

Add a package of sure jell and a tab of butter (the latter being used to minimize the foam.) Cook the mixture until it comes to a full boil, stirring constantly, and continue for 30 seconds. By now the house is smelling so good, I am liable to start eating a drape. Then add 7 cups of pure sugar and stir for 2 more minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into jars. Mom always uses the prettiest jars she can find. Then she  seals them with paraffin. As she gets smarter and I get older, the jars are turned upside down after the hot jam was put into the jar, and that took care of the sealing. It is oh so wonderful with warm buttered toast and a big teaspoon of jam. The entrance to the cellar is the storage spot for this most wonderful treat, and it never even came close to making it through the winter.

Strawberry season is winding down, and Mom will now switch her attention to another berry that ranks very high on my like list. Raspberries are harder to grow, but the extra effort is so well worth it. The plants are pruned and tied to wire for support back in the cold days of spring. June is here and this young boy wants some of her baked goodness. It could be a fresh pie (which I like), fresh in a bowl with sugar and milk (which I really like), or raspberry pudding, fresh and warm from the oven; dare I say really, really like.

Mom is going to treat us to custard this evening, as a special treat.  I watch, and this is what she does: brings to a boil (called scalding) 3 cups of whole milk then set aside. In another bowl combine 4 eggs, 1/2 C. sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1/4 tsp. salt. Slowly add in scalded milk. Grease a glass dish. Add mixture to dish, and sprinkle in 2 or 3 cups of fresh raspberries. Set this dish into a 9 1/2 x11 cake pan. Fill cake pan with hot  water  to within 1/2 inch of top of glass dish.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 350, or until a knife inserted into the baked goodness comes out clean.

Just like the strawberry jam, this one never lasted to the next meal. In fact, Mom usually gives each of us an equal portion so all got to eat some of this goodness.

If you like egg custard which is tender and smooth with a hint of sugar, try this one. Add some big, black, fresh raspberries and it is to die for.

I so enjoy Mom's baked goodness from the kitchen, and hope I can remember everything she taught me. I want to continue enjoying all these wonderful memories and tastes when I am seventy-five.  

Pea Brush and Peaches

Pea Brush and Peaches

VernMid June arrived and I must digress from my normal mode of blogging. To this point, I took on the role of a ten year old back in Pennsylvania, following Dad and Mom around as they planted the garden. They taught me well.

Back here in Illinois our garden and orchard are looking better and healthier than any I ever witnessed, even back home. I must confess, without the awesome help from God in the form of mother nature, none of this is possible. Our state is in the path of all the bad storms that are generated from the south and west. We benefit by a lot of rain and cool temperatures. To date, this area and north to Chicago, an excess of nine inches of rain over normal totals has fallen, and it is only mid June. All this results in one fabulous garden. There is so much I want to say, I don't know where to begin.  

I relocated to Kankakee, Illinois in January of 2008 after marrying Deanna, a lifelong resident. It didn't take long for my farming and gardening instincts to kick in. There is space for a vegetable garden and maybe a few fruit trees. The only down side to this opportunity was the fact that I had two bad knees. Notice the word had. I did not want to quit gardening and become a couch potato. I am a pro-active man and decided to build raised beds to make my passion easier. Also along the same line of thought; knee replacement. The raised beds were built by a friend while we overwintered in Florida. A surgeon was contacted and knee replacement was discussed. Now five and one half years later, I am a new man; a new happy man.

Most of the gardening is contained in four 2x4x8 foot raised beds, and this year thanks to a relative I added another bed 2x4x16. As I write this blog all five beds are brimming with fresh vegetables ready for the taking.

Let me begin with the peas. Two completed beds have been planted, one shell-out peas and the other sugar snap peas. Conditions have been perfect and within a few weeks we will be eating fresh peas and new potatoes from the garden. That brings back a memory, and also an urge to share a recipe.

Allow me to start with a memory from 1952. I was twelve and big enough to pick peas, along with a two-year-older sister and younger brother. Long rows of peas were planted and picked. Night time found the whole family on the big front porch shelling peas, having fun and making some of the best memories of all. Supper the next evening consisted of some form of meat and a big pot full of new peas and potatoes. Dad was very protective of the potato crop, and Mom would always convince him to dig out a few stalks to add to the fresh peas. They were smaller and tender, but oh so good.

Mom cooked the potatoes and peas until tender, poured off the water, added a stick of Oleo and a quart of whole milk, then reheated everything. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. I will relive that memory very soon here in Kankakee.

While I am on the subject of peas, allow me to explain pea brush. It's really very simple. When the peas had grown a couple of inches and tendrils appeared on top, Dad went through one of his rituals that I still choose to do. There is always  a brush pile somewhere on any farm; that's just the way it is. He would proceed to cut branches about two feet long containing  a lot of little branches. They were then stuck into the soil in the pea row. The result; the peas grew onto and up the branches. This kept them from rotting, they got air circulation, and it made picking so much easier.        

Back here in Kankakee, the early cabbage is growing like crazy. I planted four plants very early, and they just love the cool wet weather afforded them. The beds are four foot wide. I have two in a row, and they are touching in the center and over the outer edge. They along with some others outside the boxes will be included in another memory; making  sauerkraut. October is a good time to start. the weather is cooler and the cabbage is ready to burst.

I use one of the old time slicers where the entire head is slid across sharp blades which produce equal sized shreds of cabbage. I will weigh out twelve pounds, slice it, add four tablespoons of regular table salt and the job is almost done. After thoroughly mixing it is placed into a three gallon crock, a couple hands-full at a time, and stomped with a stomper or whatever you can find, until juice appears. Continue this until the crock is full, making sure the brine completely covers all the cabbage. Place a small dinner plate upside down on the cut cabbage, followed by a gallon jug of water for weight. Cover and place in a cool location 68-72 degrees for four or five weeks. After this time remove an inch or two from the top, discard and do a taste test. I believe you will like the results. Canning or freezing are two good ways of storage.

Sometime around Thanksgiving or New Years Day, uncap a couple of quarts and place in a big roaster. On top of this place a fresh  seven or eight pound pork roast, set the oven at 325 and forget it for four hours. Serve with some smooth, buttery, home grown mashed potatoes and a quart of canned fresh peas from your own garden. Life doesn't get any better.   

Earlier in this blog I made a statement when seeing Deanna's property for the first time "there is space for a vegetable garden and some fruit trees."  Somewhere along the line I forgot what the word some means. As of this date we have twenty-five fruit trees. Sometimes I count and forget where they all are planted. Apple, cherry, peach, pear, plum, chestnut and fig, all are somewhere on this less than a acre plot of land.

Leviticus 19:23 declares that for three years fruit shall not be eaten; it must remain on the tree. I started planting peach trees in 2009 and this is now the fourth year. The abundance of fruit on most of the older trees is unbelievable. There are apples and cherries where before we had none. The peach crop is absolutely unbelievable. The trees (eight) are so heavily laden with fruit that I have thinned all, and propped up the first tree I ever planted.

Thinning a peach tree is not for the faint of heart. For the health of the tree, no less than 90% must be removed. It is a tough thing to do for a beginner, and when not accomplished, there are disastrous results. Heavy thunder storms and high winds will break and tear off the tender limbs of a peach tree. Fruit should be the size of a quarter before thinning is accomplished, and space between peaches should be at least five or six inches. This will insure that the tree remains healthy this year and in the future. I also insures that the fruits will be larger, ripe and juicy.

I must digress again and tell a story.

Deanna was helping me thin the crop, and after awhile I noticed she was advancing much quicker than I. Some branches are solid fruit, touching each other on either side. It is not a fast job. I inquire as to how she was moving so fast. Her reply; I am only removing the tiny brown ones that come off easy. I feel like an abortionist, killing all those baby fruits. Thinning her portion of the tree was necessary when she was not present.

I am eagerly looking forward to a new experience when the hot days of August produce an abundance of rosy-cheeked, sweet peaches. Hot peach pie, sprinkled with nutmeg and smothered in whole milk--God is good.  


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