In My Easter Basket

Ours were not this pretty!
Ours were not this pretty!

When I was a child, Easter meant dressing up for church on Easter Sunday, maybe even with a hat and gloves in my youngest years.  Daddy gave each of us girls a corsage to pin to our dress.  In good years it was an orchid, and in bad years it was a carnation.  So the celebration involved spring and going to church, as we did every Sunday, but with extra accessories.

For me the best part of Easter was the Easter basket which the Easter Bunny left for me.  Mother and I would color eggs with one of those Paas kits, robin’s egg blue, bright pink, pale yellow.  But these didn’t go in the basket.  The basket was always a surprise, even when I got to be a teenager.

Mother loved any holiday and believed strongly in special food and decorations.  One year she made an Easter cake for my nephew John B. which she had seen in Good Housekeeping or some other magazine.   It was a from-scratch white cake in graduated pans like a traditional wedding cake, with coconut frosting, and little nests of coconut dyed green holding multi-colored jelly beans. It was really cute, except the cake was too “short” (i.e., full of butter or, more likely, Crisco) and the layers crumbled as she tried to frost it.  John B. loved it anyway; I think he said it was an “Easter mountain.”

Mother in her guise as the Easter Bunny got the ingredients for the basket and put them together–colored fake grass, jelly beans, and a chocolate rabbit.  The rabbit was always hollow and not huge, because chocolate rabbits were expensive.  She never had such treats when she was a child, growing up on a farm before the Great Depression.  I never questioned why the Easter Bunny used the same basket every year!

But the best treat to me was the stuffed animal.  I loved stuffed animals and collected them, sleeping with my favorites.   Even as I got older Mother got me one.  One year she let me pick it out from the offerings at this old drug store in town.  It was a rabbit, but a brown one with longer fur that looked like a real rabbit, and was soft and squishy.  I loved that one dearly.

Happy Easter to everyone.  Spring is here at last, after an awfully long winter.


Country Ham for Easter

Smokehouse in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Smokehouse in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I have been hunting for a recipe for this, through all my white trash cookbooks.  I have not found a thing, not in the Cracker Barrel cookbooks, or Miss Daisy Celebrates Tennessee, or even my mother’s Sunday School class cookbook from the ’80s.  So I will try to remember what I saw, and write it down for you.

Pap, Daddy’s father, loved country ham, and he liked it boiled.  So that’s what Mother did for Easter.  The ham had been cured by storing it in a salt pack (buried in salt in a bin) and then it was smoked in the smokehouse for several days.  All this was done in the fall after the frost came, and in the early winter.

The ham was left to hang in the smokehouse and dry until wanted.  You could also put it back in the salt, as I recall, but I couldn’t swear to that.

When it was time to consider cooking it, Mother took it out and plunged a knife close to the bone, bringing it out to smell.  This is how she could tell if the ham was good or had spoiled.  If it smelled good, then she went to the next stage.

The country ham was soaked in a lard can full of water for a couple of hours, to get some of the salt out of it.  When that was over, Mother built a fire in the back yard.  The ham went back into a clean lard can which was filled with water up to a few inches from the rim.  She put the lid on, and hefted the heavy load onto the fire.  The ham cooked in the lard can for up to four hours.  I’m not sure how she decided when to take it off the fire.

When she removed it, she immediately wrapped the can in quilts and left it.  The ham continued cooking for some hours.

End result?  Sweet, moist, smoky country ham, not salty, very tender.

The New York Times article today made me remember this process!  Thanks to them for helping me recall how you cook a real country ham!

P.S.  Pap loved this.  He said Mother cooked the best ham he ever had.

Tuesday’s Child?

Mother Goose building in Hazard, KY
Mother Goose building in Hazard, KY

Do you recall that old Mother Goose rhyme?

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child has far to go

Friday’s child is loving and giving

Saturday’s child works hard for a living

But the child that is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

I was born on a Tuesday, and I spent many years wondering why I wasn’t a dancer, or able to walk on a balance beam without falling off.  It was a long time before I learned the rhyme might have meant a different kind of grace.  According to Merriam Webster, there are a lot of possibilities:

  1. Unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification
  2. A virtue coming from God
  3. A state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace
  4. Approval, favor
  5. Charming or attractive trait or characteristic
  6. A pleasing appearance or effect
  7. Ease and suppleness of movement or bearing
  8. Used as a title of address or reference for a duke, a duchess, or an archbishop
  9. A short prayer at a meal asking a blessing or giving thanks
  10. Sense of propriety or right <had the grace not to run for elective office  — Calvin Trillin>

I have decided my favorite one is #8.  Just address me as “Your Grace,” and all will be well.

So, my friends, which day of the week marked your birth?  Let me know.  In case you don’t know, here’s a fun website that will calculate it for you.  And I hope you aren’t full of woe.


Love in a Cold Climate

Catrin O Ferain, from Wales
Catrin O Ferain, from Wales

Two of my cousins got into genealogy some years ago, and delved into the Bowers family tree back to the early 1600s in Connecticut.  They then pursued a line back to England, but it turned out to be mistaken.  It’s clear, however, that the Bowers’s came from England at some point prior to that, and settled in Connecticut, and then in New Jersey, and then moved to Tennessee and stayed there for nearly two centuries.

The family is present on both sides of my immediate family–my parents were distant cousins, not unusual when you are born into a farming community in Tennessee before the Great Depression.  I’ve been thinking about it today, however, because my sister Glenda and I have both been dealing with skin cancers for several years, and no one else in our immediate family has had that problem.

We are both pale, fish-belly pale, even though we once had very dark hair.  Glenda has brown eyes, and I have light hazel eyes, like our mother’s father.  There’s a lot of environment going on, because no one in the 1800s was lying on a float in a swimming pool for hours at a time.  There’s also misguided medical practice, because I had x-ray treatment for acne when I was a teenager.

But I like to picture our foremothers (and forefathers) plowing fields in a green England under perpetually cloudy skies, or maybe cruising around in Viking boats, pale as ghosts and deadly as spectres.  It’s a comforting fantasy when the dermatologist starts to biopsy that basal cell carcinoma.  If we were still in Wales or Yorkshire or Denmark, this wouldn’t be happening.

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