Mail Call: September/October 2012

1 / 5
We hope local hardware stores are not a thing of the past.
2 / 5
When you walked into Louie’s local hardware store, the wood plank floors would creak, so he always knew when someone entered. The aisles were small, and the old metal drawers had pictures drawn by hand to let you know what was inside. Louie could tell you exactly what drawer contained what you needed, anywhere in the shop.
3 / 5
Making hay the old fashioned way is a surprisingly easy task that takes you back to the land.
4 / 5
We’re all about from-scratch foods, cooking the old-fashioned way, and sourcing food from local operations when it can’t be grown at home.
5 / 5
I am hopeful that more chefs will connect with local producers. It’s just a crazy situation the way our food system works today.

Louie’s Local Hardware Store  

I was reading your article about old-time hardware stores (Local Hardware Stores Aim for the Future, March/April 2012), and it brought back a fond memory of my younger years. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and most people would not think of that as a small community, but that was the beauty of Brooklyn. I lived in an area called Marine Park. Though I left almost 25 years ago, I still remember it. We had a main shopping area that had three candy stores, a bike repair store, two German delis, a Met food — owned by a Holocaust survivor — where you could call, and we would deliver (that’s how I paid for my gas while in school), and Louie’s Hardware. When you walked into Louie’s, the wood plank floors would creak, so he always knew when someone entered. The aisles were small, and the old metal drawers had pictures drawn by hand to let you know what was inside.

Louie could tell you exactly what drawer contained what you needed, anywhere in the shop. We used to build go-carts, and Louie would come outside to see how much wood we needed, cut it for us, and then tell us what bolt we would need so we could steer the carts down the block without hitting a pole or a car. He never asked where we got the wheels, but he knew someone’s baby carriage was on blocks. For the holidays, he’d set up Christmas trees on the sidewalk and an old drum nearby with a merry fire burning to warm people as they picked out a tree.

We learned a lot of things by asking him questions or having him explain things to us. I know the store is no longer on Avenue S, but in my memories it will always be there with the creaking floors and Louie sitting by the cash register. 

Frank DiBella
Howell, New Jersey

You know, Frank, we never realize how important those experiences are until we’re older. Guys like Louie are responsible for doing their fair share of teaching and shaping youth without ever opening a textbook. We hope it’s not a thing of the past. — Editors

The Digital Age

Your article in the recent issue of GRIT on emergency preparedness (Disaster Planning for the Small Farm, July/August 2012) was very interesting and informative, and it can be adapted to any small business. I was especially glad to see mention of how important it is to back up your business’s digital and electronic records off-site. Too many small businesses fail after a disaster because their records are lost. Thanks for the great magazine.

Anne L. Cavanagh
Kettering, Ohio

Thanks, Anne! We love to see local businesses succeed, and digital tools are extremely helpful in reaching new customers; particularly for small enterprises. Keeping backups of electronic info can turn calamity into a minor bump in the road. — Editors

Real Food

Hank, I listened to the program with Evan Kleiman (a radio interview with Editor in Chief Hank Will about our new cookbook, Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking With Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient), and it brought back many memories.

My parents were first-generation Croats/Slovene in northern Minnesota. Each spring, my dad bought a couple cows, pigs and chickens. Each fall, he would butcher the animals. The meat would be placed in boxes lined with paper in the back of his old truck. Once home, our family lined up assembly-line style … identify, wrap, label and freeze!

Later, my mom spent a day rendering fat. The hot, oily substance would be strained through cheesecloth, and one of us would run to the unfinished basement and pour the substance into a large clay slow cooker. All the small pieces of “cracklings” would be stuffed into an old coffee can and frozen.

In the middle of winter, my mom took out a few large spoonfuls of the cracklings, warmed them, and spread them on homemade bread dough (cinnamon bread style) to bake. What a wonderful thing to eat: fresh bread with swirls of cracklings! Of course, the fat served us well for the year. I feel so fortunate to have a good connection to food. Fresh fish in the sink ready to clean; game from the woods; berries, nuts and apples from the forest; and fresh veggies from our garden. My mom could make something out of nothing! Thank you for the joy of looking at food differently.

Nancy Kochevar
Oak View, California

Nancy, I can almost taste your mom’s crackling bread, and I bet she knew what many folks are relearning today: Real, whole foods were the best for her family. — Hank Will 

Getting Skunked

The article What’s That Smell? (May/June 2012) by Terri Schlichenmeyer reminds me of an incident that took place some 81 years ago. One summer, I was playing in some shade on the north side of the house. My dad had cut a hole through the wall of the house, so the pipe to the sink drained directly outside instead of into a bucket under the sink. Thus, I had moisture for scraping roads with a hoe or whatever I was pretending to accomplish. We had some highfalutin company from Wyoming visiting inside the house at the time. No doubt my mother sent me outside to play since they were there, and I asked too many questions.

While I was playing outside, a skunk came along. Being so young, I didn’t know it was a skunk. According to the article, skunks are night creatures, so maybe it was rabid. Anyway, I tried to pet the “kitten,” but instead of purring, it sprayed me. Crestfallen, I ran inside to tell Mom that the kitten didn’t like me. She rushed me out of the room where she was entertaining the guests and tried to get rid of the smell I had brought into the house. The visitors couldn’t get out the door fast enough!

Mayra Harms
Stillwater, Oklahoma

Sounds like one heck of a party, Mayra! Skunks are not necessarily nocturnal, but they are known to be crepuscular creatures — active during twilight — though they do occasionally roam around during the day, as you found out the hard way! — Editors

Bison Issue

This comment pertains to the latest issue, which included an article about free-roaming bison in Montana. The flippant and casual way in which you refer to the issue of free-roaming bison does a disservice to the hard-working men and women who put food on the table of America and the rest of the world.

Although the National Wildlife Federation would have you believe that “most” Montanans have no problem with free-roaming bison, that is a fallacy perpetuated by those who don’t understand what is required to wrest a living from the land, and don’t understand the hardships and difficulties of ranch and farm families.

If a survey was conducted of those individuals, you would get a strikingly different answer. Unfortunately, the National Wildlife Federation is not interested in the input of those families. Releasing these large, dangerous, disease-carrying animals that compete with our domestic livestock for food would not only do irreparable harm to those families, it would also be another step forward for environmental activists trying to put an end to the very industry that is feeding them and much of the world. Please don’t be another entity on the long list of environmental activists who would prefer to keep their head in the sand and pretend to care without understanding the details.

Mark Rude
Plentywood, Montana

GRIT-ty Heritage

I just received a copy of GRIT, and I love it! My dad used to pick one up when we were young, and I always enjoyed reading it. I’m not a country girl, but something just clicked with your publication.

Nancy Gies
Bay City, Michigan

Glad to hear that our beloved publication appeals to folks in the urban setting as well, Nancy! We do our best to include something for everyone. It’s a fun one to work on, we assure you of that! — Editors

Food Connections

Mary, I enjoyed your article, Farm to Table Restaurants, in the July/August 2012 issue of GRIT. I am hopeful that more chefs will connect with local producers. It’s just a crazy situation the way our food system works today. In my humble opinion, it can’t be sustained. Thanks for the great information.

Nebraska Dave
( Blogger)

Storm Shelter Safety

I noticed some safety concerns when I saw the photo of a shelter from the article Disaster Planning for the Small Farm in the July/August 2012 issue. The tree should not be located near the shelter. The wind can blow it down, taking roots and all, possibly uprooting the stones of the shelter or falling on it and trapping a person inside.

Some years ago, in Alabama, a woman in a concrete block shelter was killed when a block hit her in the head when a nearby tree fell, roots and all, crushing.

Sidney Love
Selma, Alabama

Excellent point, Sidney, and thanks for pointing this out. It’s crucial to locate your storm shelter or root cellar away from anything that could fall and cave it in.— Editors

DIY Food

I’m a new subscriber to GRIT, and I enjoy the magazine, but I have a request: Could you please include more recipes that are not dependent on store-bought ingredients? My family eats only self-produced or locally sourced foods. For example, we use honey instead of sugar and very little grain; for the most part we use nut flours instead. We’d really like to see you print recipes that can be made using such ingredients.

Mary Barclay
Cleveland, Texas

That’s excellent, Mary! We’re all about from-scratch foods, cooking the old-fashioned way, and sourcing food from local operations when it can’t be grown at home. Thanks for the meaningful feedback; we hear you loud and clear! — Editors

Cutting Hay

We were inspired by your recent article Making Hay By Hand: How to Use a Scythe, in the July/August 2012 issue of GRIT. My husband uses a wheeled string trimmer/mower to cut tall grass in our (small) pastures. It does chop the grass more than a scythe, but I wondered if you’ve ever heard of anyone who has made hay with one of these. We’re thinking that we may try it next year: cutting with the mower, windrowing the new-mown hay, and then storing it loose in a shed.

We love GRIT magazine, and hope to see more articles about older farmers and gardeners. We’re former “back-to-the-landers” and have downsized a lot in the last 20 years; we’re growing more veggies and fruit now, rather than livestock. Keep on keepin’ on!

Karen and Bob Hughes
Franklin, Pennsylvania

We’ve never seen it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done! Try it, and let us know how it goes. Such stories will inspire new generations of folks to connect with the land in similar ways. — Editors 

Garden Gumption

To the garden gurus at GRIT — I’m one of those people who prefer to eat my vegetables without all of the man-made pesticides, but I have to tell you that I’m getting to the point where I might change my mind. My garden is being maliciously attacked from below ground. I have black ants that are stripping all the leaves and stems off of my potato plants and my cantaloupes, and get this: Termites are destroying my root crops. They are even invading all of my potted veggies. My neighbors who raise gardens think I’m crazy — they don’t have problems with termites eating their root crops.

I’ve read about mixing in diatomaceous earth, and sprinkling baby powder around plants to get rid of ants, but I’m a bit wary of the diatomaceous earth — if I have to wear a breathing mask, gloves and goggles to apply it to the ground, how can it be good to put it around my food plants, and what does it do to the soil?! I don’t want to dress in a biohazard suit just to till my garden!

Arlene Dull
Nettleton, Mississippi

Diatomaceous earth is not toxic — it’s the fossilized remains of microscopic organisms called diatoms. It is abrasive, though, and that’s why a mask and gloves are useful if you’re handling it — it can irritate the skin, and getting it in your eyes is dangerous. Once it’s on the ground, it’s usually not a problem. We’ve never heard of termites eating anything but cellulose, but putting out borax will often take care of them. An old nontoxic remedy for ants is to leave cornmeal out — the ants cannot digest it and die. Please let us know how it goes! — Editors

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