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Country Moon

Seasoned with Love

Country MoonRemember the family cookbook that I started back in January? Well, six months later I have learned a few things about “recipes.” It is amazing the variety that I have. I asked for heritage recipes and what I received have exceeded my wildest expectations. They run the gamut from sugar cream pie that you stir with your fingers to homemade marshmallows to skillet cake baked in cast iron and beyond.

At last tally, my recipe count was a little over 300. These included the normal comfort foods such as homemade mac and cheese, different versions of meat loaf, and new twists on brownies, to name a few. Banana bread was the hands-down favorite, as this was the most popular one I received and, amazingly, they were all a little different.

Some of these family favorites will also pose a challenge for anyone trying them. Many of these heritage recipes come with directions straight from Grandma’s kitchen — with her unique measuring system, too. A dash of this, a pinch of that, a “reasonable” amount of that — the measurements (or lack of) are the purest example of how folks used to cook. Recipes were passed down from generation to generation, with a few tweaks along the way. No need for exact measurements, because kids learned by watching and doing and passing it on.

I didn’t test each recipe and try to figure out measurements. To do so would be to take the character away from each submission. Besides, who am I to impose my interpretation on each family’s tried and true? Many of you will make your own educated guesses and then adjust it to your particular tastes. You will remember what Grandma’s signature dish tasted like and eventually you will tweak the recipe to come pretty close to hers. Obviously, each particular recipe brings back a particular memory or you wouldn’t have submitted it.

After collecting the recipes, I had two options for submitting them. I could let the company enter them on their submission forms or I could type them in using their online program. In the interest of saving more money on the cost per book, I chose to type them in. After all, how hard could it be? That was my thought before the reality of it actually set in. The plan was to do this during the lingering winter evenings and have the last few to finish up this summer. Well, you know what they say about best laid plans!

Here it is midsummer and the garden is growing and the gentle breezes are blowing and I have 300-plus recipes on slips of paper, in e-mails, and in text messages waiting to be entered. Well, last week I thoroughly cleaned house, you know the kind where you pull all the furniture out and vacuum behind it as opposed to running a couple passes in front of it. I despise dusting, after all it is futile since it always returns. Every knick knack is thoroughly spit shined. When I was home, I used to trade out chores with my sister so I wouldn’t have to wash windows. Ugh. Windows are washed.

Literally, I did everything that I could think of to get out of the typing. However, it soon came a time that I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. Then something magical happened. As I started typing each recipe, I thought about the person who submitted it, how I knew them, and why they chose each submission. But the real clincher was the notes. I had asked folks to include the stories behind the recipes. Some of these stories relate tender memories that will trigger those same reactions with other family members and friends.

Many of the notes included stories about how a particular recipe was a special part of Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions for the family. Others related childhood memories that centered around a particular food. Food is very much a part of a family’s heritage. A friend from Pennsylvania related how making homemade ice cream was always a family affair at her house. My nieces submitted cookie recipes that Grandma (my mom) would make for them and now they make with their kids.

What started out to be a monumental chore soon turned to a labor of love. I found myself anxiously anticipating the next submission. I checked the recipe count and I had entered 166. Wow!

Then there were the special “recipes” that gave ingredients such as love, respect, and honesty for a happy marriage; recipes for happiness, etc. It was fun to sprinkle these among the others.

From the onset, I had struggled on what to name the book. After all, it was bringing the heritages of four families together. The common denominator was Jim and myself. Everyone who submitted was connected to us in some way. Now, through the book, they are all connected by this one thread, all seasoned a little by each other.

There it was, staring me in the face, so obvious that I almost missed the whole concept. The title is “Seasoned With Love.” Not only are the recipes seasoned with the tastes and memories of our pasts, but each contributor is seasoned with the connection to all the others that this book has brought together. I can hardly wait to see the finished product that the love of all these folks has created. I love it when a plan comes together.

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Berries' Bounty

Country MoonSummers here in the Midwest offer a sweet bounty all their own, free for the taking. There are so many things to love about summer as a season, but from mid-June to the end of the month there is a special magic in those golden days of summer for me.

It’s when everything turns green, and not just green, but rather countless different hues of the color. Driving through farmland, all the fields are oceans of green, which radiate against the wooded backgrounds of deeper, darker greens. It’s when fireflies make their debut for the season and light up the early night sky. Who needs fireworks with the show they put on!

Though for me, the most special part of these couple of weeks is when the berries begin to ripen. Strawberries are nearing their demise for the season and blueberries are not quite ready, but wild raspberries, blackberries, and other varieties are just beginning to ripen. My favorite, hands down, of all these are the wild black raspberries. Here in southern Michigan and central Indiana where I spend my time, the wild ones grow prolifically and are free for the taking.

I love heading to the woods early in the morning, before the hot sun bakes them for the day and while the morning dew is still on, and seeing what bounty I can harvest for the day. There is a certain solitude about being in the fresh air, one with God and picking the ripe, juicy and sweet berries that he has provided. Never mind that my shoes and pants usually get soaked and my hands are stained for days. What a small price to pay for the sweet bounty.

Of course, the ultimate reward of berry picking is the savory sweet treats that make out-of-this-world cobblers, pies, and ice cream. Sometimes the best way to enjoy them is just straight from the patch. This is an activity that just about everyone can partake in, with only a few rules to keep you safe and successful.

It used to be that wild black raspberries could be found along roadsides, and sometimes that is still the case in some areas. However, they are usually found along fence rows, in overgrown meadows, and along the edges of woods. Unlike other fruits, they do not ripen once picked, so only choose the deep purple ones and don’t tug on the berries because the ripe ones will fall off easily. The clusters that receive the most sunlight ripen first, so the ones on the ends and outsides of the brambles will catch your eye. But don’t be fooled into thinking you have found them all because down in the centers of the foliage is where the largest and juiciest ones are sometimes hiding.

The biggest challenge here is the brambles themselves with their thorns. They like to intertwine, which makes getting into the thick of them a challenge. Always wear long pants and long sleeves to keep from getting scratched on bare skin. Some wear gloves, but they have always been too cumbersome for me; I’ll risk a few thorn cuts to get the treats. I also take an old coffee can with a wire makeshift handle attached. This not only serves to collect the berries, but I also use it to push the briars away in my path.

Unfortunately, we humans are not the only ones in the berry patch. Wasps, mosquitoes, chiggers, snakes, and poison ivy also like to hang out there. Always watch where you are stepping so as not to disturb snakes that are sunning themselves in the cool grass. I usually start out with mosquito spray as I know they are always there. So far, the worst I have come back from the patch with are mosquito bites and poison ivy. Of course, this year you can add ticks to the mix. Always remove clothing when done picking and check for these nuisances.

Some folks have trouble distinguishing black raspberries from blackberries. Both are delicious, but if you are looking for one type in particular, it is good to know the differences. The stems of black raspberries are bluish-white and smooth, whereas blackberry stems have ridges and are angled. Blackberries are totally black in color and come cleanly off the vine, whereas black raspberries are a very dark purple in color and when pulled from the vine leave a cone-shaped receptacle on the plant. Also, the underside of the black raspberry leaves are almost white, whereas the blackberry’s leaves are just lighter in color.

For me, the best ones have always been straight from the patch into my mouth, even though pies and cobblers taste great, too. Washing the berries is pretty simple since all you need to do is rinse them off under some cool running water to remove leaves and other debris.

Perhaps the most important part of wild berry picking is to remember to ask permission before going on someone's property. No matter how tempting these berries are, it is never an excuse for brash and rude behavior. This year when we went for our first picking we found that trespassers had already taken their share from the private property. The berries had been plucked and the vines were trampled down.

This is so wrong on so many levels. Just because something hasn’t been planted as a crop does not mean it is free for the taking if it is not on your property or if you do not have permission to go on the property where it is. Some of the best things in life are free, but you still have to use common sense and have respect for others. This way it keeps an enjoyable legacy for all.

Our first day of “berrying” is safely tucked away in the freezer (except for those that we bagged in the patch!). Tomorrow and the next few days will be repeated like today and I will enjoy every minute of it. I am always sad to see the short berry season end, but then some other summer delicacy will certainly follow.raspberry1

The Buck Stops Here

Country Moon

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Did you ever notice how some things can be a blessing and a curse both at the same time? 

We had had some much-needed rain and could not get the grass mown for over a week. Naturally, it was rather tall by the time we got to it. Nestled out by the chicken house in some tall grass was a small fawn all curled up. It was so new that it had to have been born the previous night, right in that spot. How cute!

Well, it wasn’t so cute when I noticed that its mom and dad, and probably a few other relatives, had been chowing down on my hostas, rose bushes, and a few other choice plants. They had probably chosen these for dessert since I had kept the deer out of the garden by spraying the plants there with an all-natural deterrent. Seems like everything is bittersweet.

More and more folks are having trouble with deer helping themselves to garden vegetables, fruits, flowers, and other ornamentals. I don’t want to harm them, after all it is not their fault. They are just hungry. But it’s not my fault either and I should not have to sacrifice my plants for their cause.

Spring and early summer is when they are the hungriest, so it’s no wonder that they are a little braver then. Researchers estimate that there are between 18 and 24 adult deer per square mile, depending on the area. These adults eat between 6 and 10 pounds of greenery per day. What’s a person to do?

After doing a little research, I found that there are some non-harmful ways to repel them from yards and gardens. Here are some suggestions:

1. Especially if you live near a wooded area, keep gardens, flowering shrubs, and flowers as close to the house as possible. Along the edges plant garlic, chives, mint, lavender or marigolds to deter deer. Also plant thorny or prickly shrubs at the perimeters. Plants like barberries and cleome will sometimes deter them, depending on how brave and hungry they are. Last year they ate my black raspberry bushes and this year they feasted on my roses, thorns and all.
2. On the same note, you can try deer-resistant substitutions. Scotch or regosa roses may ward them off more so than other varieties. Trade tulips for daffodils.
3. Especially for gardens, if you can surround them with thick hedges of boxwoods or spruce trees you may have a better chance of keeping your garden for you. Many times, they don’t bother what they can’t see.
4. Trim tall grasses to deter bedding. Just as in my case, the grass was tall enough that mama doe could make a bed for her fawn. If it had been cut, she may have chosen elsewhere.
5. Create levels. Deer are jumpers but not climbers. Try sunken gardens or terraces. Some folks have even stacked pallets around areas where they want to keep them out. True, pallets aren’t sightly, but sometimes you have to make choices.
6. They tend to fear the unfamiliar. Try scarecrows, sundials, garden ornaments, wind chimes, and bright lights. We rigged up a spotlight one year and turned it on at dusk every night and they did not bother the garden. Different noises sometimes work too. Some people let radios play, especially between stations where it is all static. Of course, you need to be able to stand to listen to it too! Wind chimes made from tin cans and motion sensors will help.
7. Wrapping new plantings so that deer cannot get to the trunks and putting netting over fruits, bulbs, and bushes helps too. However, this can be time consuming and it can also make it hard to harvest the fruits and vegetables. On this note, some people have had success by stringing fishing line around certain plants, starting 2 to 3 inches above the ground. This is like an invisible barrier.
8. If you have a dog, let it out as much as possible. Deer aren’t too fond of their barking and scent.
9. Use repellents. There are a number on the market, but if you are going to go this route just be sure that they are made from natural ingredients and are non-toxic. I have used Deer Out brand, which can be bought as a concentrate and mixed with water or comes premixed and ready to use. It is made from essential oils and other natural scents that deer do not like, but is not offensive to people. You spray it on the plants and around the perimeters of gardens and flower beds. It is definitely effective because when I used this in the garden the deer did not enter the garden but went for my flower beds. The downside is that it needs reapplied after rain. Other products that are reported to work are Havahart’s Deer Away Big Game repellent, which is a powder that contains smelly egg solids to target their sense of smell; Deer Off, which contains capsaicin that targets their taste; and Hinder with ammonium salts.
10. Some home remedies also work. People have hung bars of soap and fabric softener sheets out to confuse their sense of smell. Also on the list are hot pepper sprays, garlic and rotten egg mixtures, blood meal, and bags of human hair. One of my favorites is sprinkling red pepper on the plants to give them a real thrill when they take their first bite. A remedy that I have not tried but sounds promising is to take 1 bar of Fels Naptha soap, 2 bunches of scallions, 2 heads of garlic, 4 eggs, and LOTS of chili powder and put everything except the soap in cheesecloth in cheesecloth. Fill half of a 5-gallon bucket with hot water and put the bag in it and shave the soap in the bucket to dissolve the soap. Fill the rest of the bucket with water, cover and let it set one week. Strain the liquid off and put in a sprayer and spray plants after rain or every two weeks...that is if you can stand the smell!
11. Last but not least, if everything else fails you can always build an 8-foot-high fence. This will definitely keep them out, but it will also be harder for you to get in to till and weed the garden and harvest the produce, not to mention the cost and labor of building the fence.

The key to all of these deterrents is to change them up. After a while the deer will get wise to your game if you use just one method and it won’t bother them anymore. Rotate your kinds of spray, go after their sense of taste, then put noise deterrents up and then go for the bright light. The idea is to stay one step ahead of them.

This may sound like a lot of work, but if you go to the trouble to have a garden and flower beds, then it is worth it to protect them. I like to see deer, they just need to know their place. I’m standing my ground on this one — the buck stops here!

Making Water

Country MoonAir and water — without these two elements life cannot exist, and concerns are continuously being raised regarding purity and availability of both. Growing up I never dreamed that people would be buying their water, and now it is becoming the norm.

Current water suppliers are failing to meet the worldwide demand. When water quantities become low, water quality also suffers. The World Bank estimates that 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, resulting in the deaths of 3.6 million people annually. If the present water use and contamination continue at today’s rate, in another 25 years the world will be using 90 percent of the available fresh water supply. Over 60,000 chemicals may be in a public water supply at one time, with only 91 currently being regulated.

These numbers are staggering and clearly suggest that there needs to be a better way to supply pure water in sufficient quantities. Perhaps there is. Atmospheric water generators are being marketed today. Simply put, they are devices that turn the humidity in the air into clean, pure drinking water. Basically, these machines are capable of providing an unlimited water supply since there is 12 quadrillion liters of water in the atmosphere at any given time. These units come in various sizes and the only limitation to how much water they can produce is each model’s size and capacity.

If there is the right mix of humidity, temperature, and altitude an atmospheric water generator (AWG) takes advantage of the natural process of condensation through dehumidification. There are two basic methods for how these devices work.

Most commercial models work on the same principle as air conditioners and dehumidifiers, although they do not produce cool air. The process starts with warm air gradually being turned to cold. This involves moving a compressed refrigerant throughout the machine. Outside air is pulled in and condensation from the air is left on coils that line the generator interior. This condensation is then drawn into a holding tank where it is filtered for impurities and then stored. It is held there until needed and can stay in this holding tank for extended periods of time because the machine refilters every so often to keep the water pure. This type of machine is especially valuable in parts of the world where people do not have access to clean water.

The less common type of atmospheric water generators uses chemistry to perform its function by making use of chemical salts to absorb the air’s moisture. As the moisture bearing salt is heated and melted, the moisture rises as the melting occurs. As it does, steam is collected into holding tanks for filtration and storage. This type of AWG is most often used by the military or big business because the units tend to be expensive.

The bottom line for these devices is that the rate at which water can be produced depends on relative humidity, ambient air temperature, and size of the compressor. Atmospheric water generators become more effective as relative humidity and air temperature increase. As a general rule, cooling condensation AWGs (those most likely found in homes) do not work efficiently when the temperature falls below 65 degrees Fahrenheit or the relative humidity drops below 30 percent. They run optimally any time the humidity is 35 percent or higher.

Thus, the cost-effectiveness of an AWG depends on the capacity of the machine, local humidity, temperature conditions, and the cost to power the unit. For home residential use, AWG wattage ranks anywhere from 300 watts to 1200 watts depending on the size of the device and its generation capacity. This energy usage is on the same scale as a PC desktop computer system or a home entertainment system with a plasma TV and Xbox. When you do a cost analysis to decide if the energy usage is worth having a system, usually it boils down to being less expensive than buying bottled water but significantly more expensive than tap water with a filtration system.

Another consideration is whether or not an atmospheric water generator makes enough water for a household’s needs. For drinking and cooking under ideal conditions, a unit can often provide sufficient water to meet these needs. However, most models cannot sustain an entire household’s use. Of course, the two variables to be considered here are how much your household uses per day and how large of model you need, which in turn dictates how much you want to invest in one.

As with anything else, units range from the low end of the spectrum to the high end. Units can produce anywhere from 5 gallons to 3,000 gallons of water per day. Some smaller units that require no additional energy input can produce 11 gallons of water per day and cost around $135. These would be fine to supplement the existing water supply. Much larger solar powered units use less energy in the long run than those that run solely on electricity, but the upfront cost is considerably higher. Some solar units can produce between 40 and 100 gallons per day, but they require solar thermal and electrical inputs. These units sell for roughly $9,000. The advantage to one of these units is that it can be completely solar powered or solar combined with grid power.

Several models also come with perks such as options for hooking into the tap so that once the water in the holding tank is used up, the owner can still use the filtration system for their tap water. Some even have separate tanks so that hot and cold water are available on demand.

So, is an atmospheric water generator right for you? There are a lot of variables that need to be carefully weighed. Just as a power generator can provide freedom from depending entirely on the grid for electricity or during in power outages, atmospheric water generators can provide peace of mind that you will always have a water supply. As the water crisis becomes more real with droughts, pollution, depleted snow packs, and other issues shortening our fresh water supplies, these devices provide viable options to ensuring a continuous water supply.

Whether they are energy and cost-effective for your personal use is something each household must weigh for themselves. The answer to this depends on your reason for supplementing your existing water supply and how the cost weighs into the matter.

The one distinct advantage is that the water collected in this manner is pure and needs no reverse osmosis or additional filtering. It eliminates the hazards caused by viruses, bacteria, pesticides, and heavy metals. Basically, it is like drinking rain water. Unlike distilled water, it won’t leach your body with chemicals.

Although they are not new on the horizon, many people have not heard of atmospheric water generators, myself included until recently. Like any other invention though, models are being improved upon every day. As more municipal water supplies are found to have some kind of contamination, such as in Flint, Michigan, and as more chemicals are leached into our ground water, these units will provide a very viable source for clean water — the life blood that every organism needs to live.

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Photo by Adobe Stock/gertrudda

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Country Moon

Planting 2017a

Oil and water don’t mix. Remember all the old western movies where sheep herders and cattlemen were always at odds over grazing grounds? Well, sometimes this difference of opinion or lack of understanding on both parts exists between farmers and non-farmers trying to co-exist in today’s world.

It used to be that a farming community was just that — a farming community. Everyone was working toward the same goals and understood each other’s way of life, heartaches, worries, and tribulations. Then, slowly, suburbanites and city dwellers who longed for a quieter and more peaceful way of life started to build homes and encroach upon the farming community.

Most of the time this arrangement works fine; with new country dwellers anxious to learn about the farming way of life and to see where their food actually comes from. Farmers usually go about their business without disturbing their new neighbors. Most of the time this is the case, but there are times when disagreements escalate into community wars, usually because of simple misunderstandings that could have been avoided with just a little forethought.

Most everyone knows that farming is in my blood and I have a soft spot for farmers. They are a different breed and look at things a little differently from the rest of the world. Being stewards of the land, they are usually the salt-of-the-earth, simplistic, say-it-like-it is sort of folks. By the same token, most of them come from generations of farmers and assume that everyone knows their way of life. There lies the problem.

Recently, a farmer spread hog manure on his land. This by-product of swine operations makes excellent fertilizer and is much cheaper than commercial fertilizer. So it just makes sense to spread and work it into the land. However, the downside is that it stinks to well...you know where. Depending on the type and amount this can be pretty potent and overpowering. Many newcomers to country living don’t understand why the farmer would do this and why they have to put up with it.

Yes, the farmer has a perfect right to use this procedure, especially on his land. He probably never gave it a second thought since this is part of his lifestyle. Though with just a little forethought on his part he could have avoided a confrontation by mentioning and explaining to the city neighbor before he proceeded with the spreading. As it was, the neighbor worried that this may be an ongoing thing and wondered if he had located in the wrong spot.

The same is true of herbicides and pesticides that the farmer sprays to control weeds and bugs. Most farmers are conscientious about when and where they spray. They can control where their spray is directed and most do not spray when it is windy anyway because they don’t want to waste what they have had to buy. However, accidents do happen and sometimes the spray will get onto a neighbor’s garden or other ornamentals and either kill or severely stunt them.

Yes, accidents happen. There is no turning back; the only thing to do is to own up and offer to replace or pay for damaged plants. This happened with my parents’ raspberry plants years ago. Spray accidentally killed them, but the farmer refused to take responsibility. The whole matter ended up in court, which cost both parties extra time and money, not to mention added aggravation.

Of course, there are things that homeowners can do to help avoid these situations. Realize that farmers do spray their fields, sometimes multiple times during the season depending on the crop that they are raising. Make sure your garden, fruit trees, shrubs, and other plants are far enough away from the fields so that in case of an accident they will not be affected. The farmers that farm my land actually refrain from spraying to the edge of their field just to make sure my yard and garden are not affected. To them an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

For you newcomers to the farming community, understand that you’re not in Kansas anymore. Things are different from the city and suburbs. After all, that is why you left; because you wanted a change. Embrace the difference and, if something seems not right or you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to approach the farmer and ask. After all, he’s probably been doing the same thing for many years and it is just commonplace for him.

Communication is the key. Most every farmer I know loves to talk and “spread the knowledge” about cultivating and living on the land he loves. However, I know of no farmer who likes to spread this knowledge during planting or harvest season. These are crunch times for him and he is only in one mode…Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! I dare say that even their families don’t ask them any more than they have to during this time. They become different creatures altogether, so wait until their world returns to normal.

The world is getting smaller all the time, and so is the countryside. It no longer belongs solely to farmers. More and more people from all walks of life and all lifestyles are seeking the peace and tranquility of the country. It can be a pleasant co-existence for everyone if we all give a little more and take a little less. With a little consideration on both sides, no one will have to ask “Why can’t we all just get along?”

               

CAST IS BEST

Country MoonWhen people think of cast-iron cookware, it usually brings to mind savory beans, stews, and other foods cooked over an open campfire. There is no doubt that any food cooked outside over the fire tastes so much better. Part of that is due to the fresh air and part is due to being cooked in cast iron. Many folks forget that cast iron can be used in modern kitchens as well.

Cast-iron cookware is made by hand pouring iron into sand molds that have been carefully formed. Although this process has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years, the vintage cast iron is definitely of higher quality than the more modern. In the old days, the cookware was polished until the pebbly surface was satiny smooth. By the 1950s, production was scaled up and streamlined so much so that the final polishing step was dropped from the process. Thus, modern cast iron has a bumpy, pebbly surface, which makes the vintage so much better.

Of all the brands, Griswold and Wagner are considered the gold standards. If you are lucky enough to find one of these brands at a flea market or garage sale, you have the best of both worlds since you can use it and still have it retain its value. Since this was the cookware of choice in olden days, many times cast iron pots, skillets, and other pans are found in old barns, garages, etc. Most of these finds are rusted and look as though they would be worthless. Far from it, they only need cleaned up and seasoned.

First, all rust and old food residue must be removed. There are various ways to accomplish this, depending on the severity. Many times scouring it with steel wool will do the trick. If this doesn’t seem to be removing it, heating may help loosen the residue. This can be done by putting the piece in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for an hour or putting it on a gas grill and “cooking” it for an hour. An added benefit of this method is that it also sanitizes the pan.

We were lucky enough to find an old Griswold skillet in our barn that really needed some tender loving care. After “firing” it in the gas grill and rubbing it with steel wool, it still needed some help. We put a solution of half vinegar and half water in the sink and soaked it, which loosened the rest of the grime. Then we poured table salt on it and rubbed some more with steel wool. That really did the trick and got it back to the iron.

After you get to this point, it is so important that you season the cookware with layers of oil. To  do this, make sure the pan is dry then put it over heat until it just begins to smoke. Then pour a thin layer of vegetable oil (or oil of your choice) in and rub it over all the surfaces, even the outside. Let it cool and repeat this process a few times. Doing this will create a nonstick surface.

The nonstick property does not come from the layer of oil, but rather from the layer of polymerized oil that is created when oil is rubbed in and heated repeatedly. This process breaks down the oil into a plastic-like substance that bonds to the surface of the metal.

This is the part that causes the big controversy with cast-iron cookware. There are staunch believers that cast iron should never be exposed to dish detergent since it is a known fact that oil and water don’t mix and detergent is known for breaking down grease and oil. Although this is true, the other side of the fence proposes that the polymerized layer is not oil so detergent will not hurt it. I am taking the fifth on this one since neither side will budge on their opinion.

Whichever way you lean on this matter, the key to keeping your cookware shiny and nonstick is to keep it well seasoned, which means repeating the seasoning process whenever it begins to lose its shine and food begins to stick. If done correctly, the seasoning is very resilient because it is chemically bonded to the metal. For this reason, metal utensils will not hurt it. If little pieces of black chip off, it is probably carbonized bits of food rather than the seasoning.

Cast iron is really pretty easy to maintain if a few simple rules are followed. First, always season a new piece, whether it is brand new or an old relic. Some new cast iron is preseasoned but it is not as good as doing this process two or three times on your own. After each use, make sure it is cleaned by scraping all food bits and residue out. Whenever food begins to stick or it lose its shine, re-season it. And the best way to keep it seasoned is to use it. The enemy of cast iron is to let it set because even one drop of water or moisture will let it start to rust. The best rule of thumb is to pamper cast iron when you first get it and be gentle with it when you store it.

Of course, like everything else, there are pros and cons. On the pro side, food served in it will stay hot longer since the iron retains heat. You can enjoy the nonstick quality without nasty chemicals that are present in other nonstick surfaces, some of which emit toxic fumes when overheated and some contain perfluorocarbons, which are associated with various health problems. It can also boost your iron consumption.

On the negative side, it does not heat evenly since it can have hot spots where the direct heat is and the rest of the cooking surface will remain relatively cool. It also tends to chip or crack easily or rust if not kept properly seasoned.

Yes, it does take a little work to keep cast-iron cookware in tip top shape, but it is well worth it. If you have ever had cornbread, fried potatoes, bacon and a host of other foods cooked in the iron, you will never go back to other traditional cookware. Add an open flame to that cooking and it doesn’t get any better than that.

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PRIMITIVE LIVING

Country MoonThe old adage is true that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Our parents and grandparents remember washing clothes with the old wringer washers, cooking on wood cook stoves, and listening to the radio at the end of the day. It made life so much easier when automatic washing machines, modern stoves, and televisions were invented.

So, what is the hype now with many folks craving the old items that our forefathers were so eager to forego? Antiques and primitives are a big business with more and more people decorating their homes with primitives. I have some friends who built a new home and it is completely  furnished with primitive items, including the bathroom. What a homey feeling it has when you walk in. Butter churns, butcher-block tables, old wash tubs, and countless other items from a bygone era are the norm rather than the exception.

A person’s home is his castle and whatever style conveys warm and welcoming is what is right for that person. All tastes are different. Some love the Victorian style, some like country, others prefer modern, and some choose primitives. As for me, I fit in where most people’s tastes lay, it’s affectionately called “hodgepodge.” Yep, I have a little of this and a little of that. My personal criteria for whether an item is in the home or not is whether I like it or not.

Primitives are hot items, not only for the consumer but also for the flea market, auction, and antique markets. These items are not cheap. On the contrary, they tend to be pretty pricey. Part of it is the old law of supply and demand; if the item is really old and not a reproduction, there is a limited supply and folks will pay big bucks to own their piece of nostalgia.

primitive

This whole business can be confusing, though. We hear adjectives like primitive, rustic, antique, and vintage to describe items. Although similar, there are major differences between these terms.

Primitive is described as being the first of something made, potentially the item is simple and crude made by an early artist. Primitive styles tend to harken back to recent history and they tend to be common household items that once were normally used in every home and now are rarely or never used.

Rustic refers more to a style and not the age of something, such as a reproduction. Some of today’s craftsmen can genuinely make an item look old, just like an original, by using old barn wood, distressing the wood, etc. This is why consumers have to do their homework when out shopping for primitives. They have to be able to tell a true antique piece from a reproduction. Not to say that reproductions do not have their place. Sometimes a homeowner likes the look of primitives but does not wish to pay the high price commanded by true primitives. This is the intent for which reproductions were created.

The term antique refers to something that is really old. Usually the item has been around for at least 100 years or more and more than likely is made of wood. These are your old, musty, dusty, moldy pieces that command the high dollar.

Vintage refers to something roughly between 30 and 90 years old that is “too old to be used but not as old as Grandma.” All you grandmas don’t take offense, I just borrowed this term.

Then we have retro, which is something that is between 10 and 30 years old. It is basically something that is outdated and out of style but the seller is hoping to assign a sentimental or historical value to the item. This would be like the old time toasters and other kitchen appliances of the 1950s era.

Ahh, so many terms to define old junk...in a good way!

Since the colonial revival of the early 20th century, primitives have been popular collectibles. Anyone who decorates in this style will tell you that the hunt is half the fun. They scan flea markets, garage sales, antique shops, and auctions regularly to find their next perfect item. It amazes me not only how many items are out there, but how many folks seek them out.

In Shipshewana, Indiana, every Wednesday they have a huge auction barn filled with primitives, antiques, and the lot. All of these are auctioned off by 10 auctioneers at one time. It is just hard to grasp that there are this many items out there for this to happen weekly, and this is only one place in the country.

Some of our hometown folks have started something unique. They buy up primitives and antiques, bring them home, fix and clean up whatever needs done to them, and put them in their garages and barns. Once a month they have a “primitive circuit” where shoppers can go from one place to another and shop for their treasures. There is only one downside to this venture: Obviously, those participating are drawn to these items and sometimes they find it hard to part with them. That doesn’t make for very good profits.

Primitives connect us, our souls, to our ancestors and years gone by. Also, in this day of technology where the world is always at our fingertips, primitives take us back to a simpler time, a slower way of life. They help us remember that, although life’s chores were work, they could be rewarding work.

As I look at the butter churns, sausage presses, and other tools from our past, I can almost picture my grandparents sitting around laughing and talking while performing these tasks. This is truly becoming a lost art. Sometimes I think that we communicate with our phones more than with each other. Primitives remind us that there is a better way.