Mail Call: September-October 2009

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Cathy West adapted the bread oven directions in the November/December 2008 GRIT for her wet Florida climate.
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Cathy West adapted the bread oven directions in the November/December 2008 GRIT for her wet Florida climate.
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Cathy West adapted the bread oven directions in the November/December 2008 GRIT for her wet Florida climate.
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The stalk from this monster rhubarb may be sufficient for a pie all by itself.
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Brandi Payne's great-grandmother, grandmother and mom all served a version of Veronica's Slumgullion.

Adapted Bread Oven

I used the article on building a bread oven (“Backyard Bread Oven”) in your November/December 2008 issue and adapted it for Florida. Using the instructions for the base from the magazine I then used firebricks and mortar for the upper dome of the oven. Adobe is not a material that would hold up in our wet state.


In addition to the directions in Grit, I poured concrete into alternating holes in the foundation to give it stability. Holes not filled with concrete were filled with sand. I also mortared the firebrick oven floor into place. I used 44½ bricks for the floor. The firebrick dimensions were 9 inches long, 4 inches wide and 2¼ inches deep. Make sure to use firebricks.

Mortar mix

I used WhiteAcre 100 percent Ground Fire Clay and Amerimix SI 500 Pre Blended Mortar (this is a Portland Cement and Sand pre-blended mix).

Mortar recipe

Mix one part clay and five parts Pre Blended Mortar to an applesauce consistency – I used a coffee can for measuring and mixed it in a wheelbarrow.


I used the basic 1-over-2, 2-over-1 brick pattern to give the walls strength. Those bricks were placed on their sides instead of flat to allow for a taller wall height (12 inches, plus mortar). The other half of the split firebrick used on the floor is used for the top of the vent in the back wall.

A 2-inch aluminum angle iron supports the top of the front door. Be sure your door opening is wide enough to accommodate your peel. My door is 15 inches wide for a 12-inch peel.


I constructed a frame of 1-by-1s and placed it inside the oven’s walls. I used this to support the walls and as a base for a large cardboard dome pattern. I taped the cardboard to the frame with duct tape. I cut pattern pieces for the back on either side of the vent areas and taped those to the frame, cardboard dome and brick from the inside. I patterned cardboard pieces to fit from the front walls and angle iron to the dome. Once the cardboard dome form was completely taped into place I added scrap wood to support it from the inside. I then covered the form with plastic wrap to keep the mortar from sticking to the cardboard. After the mortar cured, I was able to remove the cardboard and support structure from the inside the oven and discard it before firing.

Mortaring the dome

The first inch-thick layer was applied over the entire oven. This gave added security to the brick walls and incorporated the front, back, side walls and dome into a cohesive structure. A heavy wire mesh was then placed across the structure from the base of the left wall, over the dome and all the way to the base of the right wall. A second inch-thick layer of mortar was applied so the wire was completely encapsulated. Take care to prevent air bubbles from forming between the wire and concrete layers.  A final inch-thick layer of mortar was then applied. A minimum of a 3- to-4-inch dome of concrete is best.


I used an old cookie sheet for the door and attached a handle to it. I have been baking some wonderful bread in this oven.

Cathy West
Wesley Chapel, Florida 

Thanks, Cathy! We’re glad you made the directions work for you, and we love to hear how resourceful GRIT readers are. – Editors

Playing in the Dirt

I enjoyed your article on red dirt (“What Makes Red Dirt Red?” May/June). Growing up in western Oklahoma, I’m quite familiar with red dirt. Brooks and Dunn, one of whom is from Oklahoma, wrote the song, “Red Dirt Road.”

I also found your article on poultry interesting. My parents raised many chickens – White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks. My mother gathered eggs and took them into town every week to get money to buy our groceries.

Bernadine Wells
Spokane Valley, Washington

Thanks for the compliments, Bernadine, and we’ll be humming that song all day! – Editors

Tote Bag

I still have a GRIT newspaper canvas bag that I used when I was a child selling the GRIT newspaper. I would sell the papers for 10 cents (at least 40 years ago).

Steve Smith
Pelion, South Carolina

Steve, we’re glad you’ve kept your GRIT bag. If you’d like a newer one, visit our website Editors

Getting Reacquainted

First let me tell you how pleased I am to be reintroduced to GRIT. Many years ago we received GRIT from the neighbor boy who came around door-to-door selling it. We enjoy it now just as much as we did then. I really enjoyed the article about the Corn Palace (“Corn Palace Gateway to South Dakota Destinations,” July/August) because it brought back nice memories of vacation last year to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It is truly something to see, not to mention the other sights mentioned in the article – Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug and The Badlands. They are all among those sites that you just have to see to really appreciate how great they are.

I also would like to comment on your article “Watts Up.” About 5 years ago, I purchased a Black & Decker cordless string trimmer, and I have to tell you it’s the best thing there is. We were always replacing the gas ones, not to mention I always had a hard time pulling the rope in order to get it started, and I didn’t want to mess with electric versions dragging around 200 feet of cord. When I saw the cordless model, I thought I’d give it a try. I’ll never go back to others. I can trim about half my space before I have to recharge, at which time I get on the riding mower and mow the yard. By the time I’m done with that, the charging is done and I can finish my trimming.

Oh, by the way, the recipes are great, too.

Connie Flowers
Benton, Illinois

We’re glad you rediscovered us, Connie! We’ll keep working to deliver stories you can relate to. – Editors

Comforting Comfort Foods 

I read Jan Hasselman Bosman’s article about handwritten family recipes (“Family Recipes, Family Heritage,” July/August) and thought about the generations of history my own recipe box holds. Then I flipped the page and discovered a true family favorite under the name “Veronica’s Slumgullion.” My great-grandmother, my grandmother and my mom served it all the time, using home canned tomatoes and adding ½ teaspoon chili powder to the ingredients listed in the printed recipe.

We always called it “Poor Man’s Dish” because my great-grandmother said it was the best dish a poor man could put on the table in hard times. These days I serve it to my family using tomatoes and onions grown in my raised-bed garden. It’s a simple, hearty meal, and no matter what you call it, it’s comfort food to me.

Brandi Payne
Ellerslie, Georgia 

Sale Barn Antics

I just finished reading your article “How Not to Act in a Sale Barn” (January/February). It was great and practical and also made me laugh.

One tip for a beginner, if you are not sure how to even bid, is to call ahead and ask current prices, put in your order, and the auction staff will bid for you. It is also a good idea to just sit there and figure out how it’s all done. Some auctioneers are difficult to understand, and two or three trips will help you decipher auction-talk.

When you purchase an animal and bring it home, it’s best to pen it alone at first. Use a building or small fenced area it cannot escape from. All animals want to go back home. This also helps prevent the spread of disease, and penning the animal in a small area gives you a chance to get to know the new animal; it will be happier and more willing to stay when it gets to know you. It’s also a good idea to get to know your local large animal vet and ask her or his advice.

Joan Carpenter
Jacobson, Minnesota

That’s great advice, Joan. A little preparation and care is all it takes to keep a new animal experience from becoming a disaster. Editors

Photography Fan

The March/April issue is your best ever. The difference is all those photographs people sent in of their barns. Now that is country – just what we expect from GRIT. Thanks so much, from a 75-year-old organic gardener in Appalachia.

Carroll Herman
The Rooster Farm
Zirconia, North Carolina

Thanks for taking notice, Carroll! It was a joy putting together such a beautiful collection of photographs. – Editors

Cast-iron Help

How do you clean iron skillets? I would like someone to tell me how to clean an iron skillet so that it won’t rust. I have people try to tell me but it still rusts.

Belle Zike
Williamsburg, Ohio

Readers, what do you think? We took a crack at some of the basics in “Cooking with Cast Iron” (November/December 2009). Anything you can add? – Editors

Massive Rhubarb

First, I want you to know how much I enjoy your magazine. I especially enjoyed your article on rhubarb. Here is a photo of the rhubarb that I grow in my Pennsylvania garden. My family enjoys all the treats I bake with it.

Ruby Shearer
Leechburg, Pennsylvania

Holy cow, Ruby! That is HUGE. – Editors

Breezy Life

After reading the article “Harvest the Breezes” (May/June), my wife said she agreed that a windmill sounds and looks peaceful. She had always wanted a windmill behind our house and, as luck would have it, she happened to find one that a farmer had just taken down and wanted to get rid of. We bought it, and the farmer delivered it to our house where we put it up in the pasture.

Neal and Lisa Weber
Olney, Illinois 

Share your thoughts

GRIT welcomes letters from our readers. If you would like to comment on an article or share your opinions, send a letter (with photographs, if available) to GRIT, Mail Call, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609, or e-mail us at