Mail Call: March/April 2011

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At least one South Carolina reader was most impressed by GRIT's Guide to Homemade Bread.
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Dave’s tidy urban gardening oasis in Rome, New York.
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This hen was lucky to survive, although without a bill, during the brutal 1937 winter.
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I enjoy Grit and the gravy recipes (January/February issue). When it comes to gravy, my dad’s recipe was for Jerky Gravy. Dad jerked a cow every year, usually after the first frost. Here’s a picture of him and me, and this is how I learned to ride.

Dig into this issue’s Mail Call, letters to the editor from our readers. This time around, we heard from people about their gardening experiences, stories about making homemade bread, memories of draft horses and pheasants, and much more.

Our Own Little Paradise

Although I do not have sprawling acreage in rural America or a farm of my own, my father’s house includes a rare triple lot within our small community. It is surrounded by nature, and that space has been large enough to create a sizeable gardener’s retreat – a destination that we both love. There are only a few magazines I consistently subscribe to in order to absorb the knowledge and wisdom of the pros, and GRIT is one of them. I look forward to every new issue, as each is jam-packed with tools, techniques and resources to help nurture my gardening hobby. 

As I excitedly searched through late-fall seed catalogs to plan next year’s garden here in central New York, we were in the midst of winter’s icy, cold, dim grips. While New York winters can be depressing at times, a recollection of the hours of fun spent in my father’s garden over the past summer is usually enough to snap me back to reality. I wanted to share the wealth, and provide a mid-July photo of our garden to help remind the readers of what we all have to look forward to in just a few short months. 

It is not huge, but the fenced portion of the garden (about 30 feet by 40 feet) supports two or three favorite varieties of tomatoes, two types of corn (sweet and ornamental), an assortment of culinary and medicinal herbs, spinach and salad greens, several varieties of sweet and hot peppers, summer squash and cucumbers. Outside the fence’s perimeter, we often grow an assortment of whimsical ornamentals, including decorative fall gourds, luffa, birdhouse gourds and a variety of perennial flowers for decoration. Lavender varieties are tossed into the mix as well, and the smell is wonderful when working in the garden. Rounding out the urban gardening oasis is solar lighting, a stone path and a functional greenhouse.

Just talking about it makes me eagerly anticipate the approach of April, when we start many of the plants indoors! So, GRIT magazine, thank you so much for the years of valuable reading, the wealth of cogent information, and the hours of entertainment that your magazine provides. Happy spring and happy gardening!  

Dave DeProspero
Rome, New York 

Here’s to you, Dave, and the joy and inspiration your comments have brought! – Editors

Rolling in the Dough

I have baked bread for 50 years, more or less. I bake 20 loaves for the spring and fall church luncheons, and the same for Service League bake sales and the fire department’s deep-fried turkey dinners.

One time, my friend who worked for the landfill construction company asked me to bake bread for their employees.

I said, “How many on the payroll?” He said, “76.”

I began at 9 p.m. and by 9 the next morning, my baker’s rack had 100 loaves on it. Needless to say, my name in this small town of New Buffalo, Michigan, is “The Bread Lady.”

I think the most fun for me is if I happen to be baking bread when one of the construction company’s employees comes to plow our snow-covered driveway, and I can run a fresh loaf of bread or an apple pie out to him or her.

My Southbend stove’s oven holds eight loaves. My batch is four loaves, so it is easy to have 16 loaves in the bowl, rising or being kneaded. I use powdered milk with warm water, which eliminates scalding milk as in the olden days. I buy bulk yeast and usually 50 pounds of flour at the Little Store on the Prairie near Decatur.

Christmas is a fun time, too. One Christmas, I dropped off a loaf to a friend who made the famous Ericann Candies (shipped all over the world – he brought his recipe from Germany). He gave many of his expensive candies to the employees of the banks, the city, township, etc., and when I handed him a loaf of warm bread the day before Christmas, he said it was the first time anyone had ever given him something for Christmas. Don’t feel too bad for him though, he was a millionaire developer along Lake Michigan.

My bread has been put on the train to Ann Arbor, when my daughter lived there; and on a plane to New Jersey, when they lived there; and on a plane to Hawaii, when our son lived there. It’s also been stashed away in any of the children’s cars when they came home from Alabama, Chicago, college, etc.

I love GRIT magazine – brings back many memories from many years ago.

Agnes Conway
New Buffalo, Michigan

Guide to Homemade Bread

My hat is off to you! I have been working on a family cookbook for a number of months now so we don’t lose wonderful recipes by lost and older relatives. Yesterday I bought the Guide to Homemade Bread and was absolutely thrilled to find in it a couple of recipes I thought were gone forever (worn out, torn from use). Thank you so much for a timely and wonderful special issue! As I look through it, I find others that I must try and will most likely add to the family cookbook. Regardless, the magazine stays! I know the quality of your publications from years of familiarity, so there is no doubt these will all be great.

Corine Barnes
Ladson, South Carolina

Thanks, Corine, our Guide to Homemade Bread was created with people like you and Agnes Conway in mind. We loved putting it together! – Editors

Horsing Around

Thank you so much for the article on logging. It brought back some wonderful memories. Until I was a teenager, our home in western North Carolina was heated by wood, with cooking done on a woodstove, and my grandfather always used horses for logging. His favorite horse was a gentle Percheron, named Dan, with his ornery mate, May. Every year in September, we would go to the woods and begin cutting trees for the winter and for lumber, since Granddaddy also had a sawmill. I never saw a tree so large Dan and May could not pull it out, and some of the trees were virgin timber bigger around than I was tall.

Then the work really began for us when the logs had to be cut to length, split for size, and stacked for use by the family. The old adage about cutting wood once and being warmed twice is very true.

Pat Queen
Lakewood, Colorado

Pleasant Pheasant

The article about the ring-necked phea-sant in the November/December 2010 issue (“Catching Up with the Ring-Necked Pheasant“) really meant a lot to me.

I remember the winter of 1937 well. It was a terrible, snowy, icy winter. Dad loved pheasants, and he wanted to save as many as he could.

He put two washtubs in the basement that year and put warm water in them. He took gunnysacks and went to the grove to pick up pheasants, and then he’d bring them to the basement. It was my job to put them in the warm water and work out the snow and ice.

His words as he went out were, “Skippy, be very careful. The bills are frozen and you could break them off.”

When he got too cold, he came inside and started to help me. I heard him say, “Skippy, I did just what I told you not to do; I broke off a bill.”

We checked it out. The hen didn’t ever have a bill again. She had a mouth just like a little rabbit. We put her in a separate pigeon crate so we could watch her eat.

When Dad could finally get to town, he called J. Stevens, the game warden who lived in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Stevens came through the snow and picked up the crates with the pheasants and took them to Boone, Iowa, to the hatchery. We had 200-plus pheasants Dad had brought to the house. Mom was not too happy about that many birds in the basement.

Here is a picture of Dad with the hen pheasant in his arms; you can see she has no bill. He’s standing in front of a car where the license plate says 1937.

Betty Neuberger
Klemme, Iowa

What a wonderful image to accompany our writer’s research, Betty. Thanks, and your dad seems like a heck of a good man. – Editors

Sturdy Article

Troy Griepentrog’s article in your last issue was an excellent gate-building primer, including tips to stop sagging. Another way to compensate for sagging, especially in long gates, is to make them slightly out of square, such that the latch end is initially higher.

Nick Russian
Central City, Pennsylvania

Thanks for that great tip, Nick. Your approach works for wood-framed-glass cabinet doors, too! – Editors


I ran across your website by accident and was very pleased to see the periodical is still in business. As a 12-year-old (some 50 years ago), I sold the GRIT newspaper on street corners in Greenwood, Mississippi. When good things change, they just get better!

Tom Owens
Via e-mail

Barn Quilts

Thank you for the article about barn quilts, “Barn Quilts in Rural America,” written by Bill Nelson. I was delighted to see my mother’s tobacco barn with the Snail’s Trail pattern in the opening photograph. Mr. Nelson did a great job capturing the essence of the project. My life has been filled with joy, meeting folks from all over the country who are finding joy working together to create public art and celebrate their community. Grit was the perfect magazine to feature this project.

Donna Sue Groves
Manchester, Ohio

Donna, we totally dig community! – Editors


The Looking Back column (“Finding Warmth in the Snow,” Page 14) in the January/February issue contained an error. While there is a Memphis, Mississippi, Cathey Frei lived in Memphis, Tennessee, and her family’s farm was located 7 miles away in Horn Lake, Mississippi, just across the Tennessee-Mississippi state line. GRIT staffers are seeking a geography course at the local grade school. – Editors