Mail Call: Letters to the Editor in our May/June 2019 Issue
By Grit Editors
Stories of fresh cream from a wandering milk cow, the brilliance of butterflies, friendly skunks, healthy honey, and memories of Grandma’s old stove.
Delivery Milk Cow
My wife and I live on the outskirts of downtown Bonita Springs, Florida, in a subdivision where the houses are on 3/4-acre lots, spaced about 75 feet apart. One day, about 6 a.m., our dog jumped off the bed, ran to the kitchen, and started barking. I got up and went to the sliding glass doors to the backyard, and saw a cow standing out in the yard. We’ve had other animals in the yard, including wild hogs, bears, deer, raccoons, and opossums, but this was the first cow. I thought I’d just let the dog out and she’d chase it away. I opened the door and she walked up to the cow, sniffed it, and then licked its nose and laid down in front of it like they were old friends. I grew up on a dairy farm where we raised Holsteins, and our neighbors raised Guernseys, Jerseys, Brown Swiss, Black Angus, and Herefords, but I’d never seen a cow like this. She was small like a Jersey, but black with a white face. She was making a strange sound like she might be sick. I looked at her udders and could see she needed to be milked. I got my lobster pot and started milking her. She gave us about 6 quarts, and then she walked to the end of the street and disappeared into the woods. I thought that would be the last I saw of her.
She returned at about 6 p.m. that day. I got my pot and block, and milked her again. This time I got about 5 quarts. Then she went back into the woods. I talked to several of our neighbors, but none of them knew who might own her. I named her Minerva after my dad’s cow from 65 years ago.
She kept coming back twice a day to be milked. She’d nibble on my grass, but never grazed much, and she looked well-fed. I started freezing the milk she gave us, and I even washed my dog in skim milk; her hair had never been softer!
And poop! I forgot how much a cow could poop. She never ate at my place, but she always left me a pile of poop. At first I thought I’d use it around my flowers and bushes, and to fertilize my garden, but I soon realized there was just too much. I began burying it all over the backyard, but before long, there was nowhere to dig a fresh hole, so I started packing it up and mailing it to friends and relatives for their gardens.
Bonita Springs, Florida
Being a professional entomologist and consummate butterfly gardener, I was particularly delighted to read “Spring Showers Bring Maypop Flowers” by Andrew Moore in the March/April 2019 issue of Grit. As penned, maypop and its relatives (Passiflora) are the exclusive larval host plants for the tropical and semitropical longwing butterflies, such as Gulf fritillaries and zebra longwings, two charismatic species that make their homes in the southern U.S.
The article didn’t mention that these two butterflies are unique in that they’re the “smartest” butterflies in our nation. Turns out, longwing butterflies as a group have inordinately large eyes and brains. These attributes enable the butterflies to memorize the precise locations of their host and nectar plants. Furthermore, because these butterflies are unusually long-lived, individuals are able to return to their favored plants for weeks and even months. While “braininess” is great for butterflies, of course, the trait is great news for butterfly aficionados too. Whenever I give a presentation on butterfly gardening in the South, I emphasize that maypop is a must for the smart gardener. The attractive vine guarantees the daily visitation by “smart” butterflies.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
A Friendly Skunk
We found your article “Pungent Varmints” in the January/February 2019 issue to be timely and informative. We think “our” skunk is beautiful; however, we’ll use the article’s advice to try to deter it from our front porch.
Tom & Nancy Lendyak
East Brady, Pennsylvania
I’ve read your magazine for a number of years now, and I love it. I’ve got pen pals from many different states, and I’ve read about so many things in Grit. I’m especially interested in bees.
I’m a honey eater, as I’ve had arthritis from an early age. Five years ago, I heard from a woman who told me honey could help my arthritis. I immediately started taking a tablespoon after each meal, and I took an additional tablespoon when arthritis pain woke me in the night. Within six months, I had less pain, and after a year, only minimal stiffness and soreness. I’m a honey fan and always will be. I share this information with everyone I know who has arthritis.
Opal, South Dakota
Image Getty Images/gmnicholas
When I roll out of my bed, trudge downstairs, and kindle a fire in the woodburning stove, I think of Grandpa Kludas. He was a tall, balding, rather rough farmer of German ancestry with a no-nonsense attitude. But I’m told he knew just which kind of wood and what thickness would work best in Grandma’s cookstove: for heating, one kind of wood, and for cooking or baking, another.
Grandma’s was an enameled, cast-iron stove, all cream-colored with green trim. There were round burner ports on the cooking surface, with an interchangeable handle to lift the port lids so you could stoke the fire directly beneath each burner. The oven had its own firebox to one side and a convenient temperature gauge built into the oven door. There was a warming shelf above the back of the stove, where plates could be stacked, awaiting the food being cooked below. Why put warm food on a cold plate? Besides, the warming shelf had a door that made the ideal place to let bread rise.
It was the firebox for the oven that Grandpa stoked, and that’s what made the kitchen warm and toasty on frosty mornings. While the stove heated to the right temperature, Grandpa would mix up a batch of biscuits, and then he’d set up the coffee percolator.
Image Getty Images/Maxfocus
Farmers needed fuel to do the milking, and cows won’t wait until after breakfast, so Grandpa’s biscuits with fresh-churned butter and homemade jam, along with a cup of strong coffee got you up and going, so you could get out to the milking barn. After the milking was done, you got a good breakfast, with bacon and toast, eggs from Grandma’s chickens, some home fries, or maybe a big bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar and fresh milk. Another ritual I remember around the kitchen stove was the Saturday night bath, whether you needed it or not. Grandma used to warm water in her kettle on the stove, and then pour it into a big tin washtub.
So there we were, my sister and I, one at a time, getting warm and sudsy in the tin tub on the kitchen floor. In the days before efficient central heating, taking a bath in front of Grandma’s kitchen stove was a chance to get toasty warm. Afterward, she’d towel us off and pop us into our flannel pajamas before sending us up to beds piled high with quilts.
Times have changed. Now, I can take a good, hot shower as long as I like. Coffee or tea is basically a matter of plugging in the pot. Using a gas or electric stove is more convenient, too. But when taking off the morning chill by lighting the woodstove, I give thanks to Grandpa for stoking Grandma’s stove.
Small Backyard Gardening
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are is our motto or in this case with the backyard gardening space available.
Homemade Wheat Bread
We love the letters from our Grit readers. This month: firewood cutting tips, a wonderful whole wheat bread recipe, more switchel recipes, and photos of toad houses.
Reader Letters, July/August 2021
Letters from our readers this month include musings on saffron, homemade noodles, uses of blood meal, and cherishing family time.