Mail Call:January-February 2009

1 / 5
Miss GRIT 1952 runner-up, Sharon B. Hallagin, has taught in Dodge City for more than 30 years.
2 / 5
In the March/April Grit, Miss Clementina of Amelia Island, Florida, asked in a Mail Call letter, “A Simple Search,” for information on living off the grid and other homesteading help. Reader Cecil Smith responded with some enthusiastic and pertinent advice.
3 / 5
Maceroni and cheese is good no matter your age.
4 / 5
There's nothing quite like a freshly dug potato to complete your mashed potatoes recipe.
5 / 5
Our recipe for green tomato mincemeat pie provides a way to deal with those ripening trays of green tomatoes.


My sister recently gave me the gift of a Grit subscription. Wow! What a change in format since 1952. It is even greater than before.

I still have a copy of a 1952 edition. In that edition you published the Miss Grit winner and runners-up. I was a runner-up and received a check, which was great for a high school freshman ($25). In fond remembrance of that occasion I have chosen to share the present with the past.

Thanks for my brief glimpse of recognition. I have been a teacher for more than 30 years and realize the value of encouraging a positive self-concept in young people.

Thanks again.
Sharon B. Hallagin
Dodge City, Kansas

This letter piqued our interest, so we contacted Ms. Hallagin. Turns out her photo was featured along with the first-prize winner’s and 10 fellow runners-up in the Women’s section of Grit on November 9, 1952. Three movie icons of that time, Farley Granger, Fernando Lamas and Peter Lawford, judged the contest.

Even though a girl from Brady, Texas, named Dorothy Blake Taylor won first prize ($250), Hallagin says her nomination still benefited her.

“It was really an ego boost for me to be selected,” she says. “I did have gentlemen calling me after my picture was in the paper.” She says around five men contacted her after the picture was published. “One of them even drove from Missouri and called my house. He was at the café on the highway and wanted me to come have coffee, and my mother went with me. I had no interest or inclination for that sort of relationship, but as a teenager it was just kind of cute.”

Hallagin grew up in McDonald, Kansas, and attended Fort Hays State University before settling in Dodge City where she’s currently a special education coordinator.

We’d love it if other Miss Grit contest participants would write in and share their memories. – Editors

Grit Escape

I was surprised to find Grit on the newsstand. I remember reading it when I was a kid, growing up in a small town in Missouri. I subscribed immediately.

Now I live in downtown Chicago and hope to soon return to a place where I can have a garden. I miss the three vegetable gardens we had when I was young. Then, of course, I didn’t like all the hoeing, watering and other work. A few years of eating bland, pink tomatoes from the grocery store – and living amid concrete and noise – will change one’s mind about that.

You seem to have a lot of readers who already have a garden or even a small farm, but I bet many of your readers are city folk like me who enjoy a getaway just reading your magazine.

Chuck Mallory
Chicago, Illinois

We try to keep you dreamers in mind when we choose our stories, Chuck. Be sure to check out Paul Gardner’s blog. He’s living the rural life in suburbia. We also published Chicago’s City Farm: Farming in the City in our November/December issue. You can find it on our Web site at And keep reading! – Editors

Potato Question

I’d like to offer a comment regarding the article “All the Trimmings,” by Susan Belsinger in the November/December 2008 issue. As a relatively new subscriber I have been delighted with your magazine. The articles are great, and the information very helpful.

The article by Belsinger was well written, and I was especially pleased that she recommends buying local at farmers markets and farmstands – a very good practice anytime it is possible. But as a potato and garlic grower, I was taken aback and a little confused when I read her ingredients for the “Roasted Garlic and Mashed Potatoes.” Idaho potatoes? Are we supposed to go to an Idaho farmstand for this recipe? And exactly what are Idaho potatoes? Russets?

In all parts of the country, varieties that would be excellent for this recipe are grown. On our small, Northern California farm we grow several great mashers. One is Caribe, a beautiful purple skin with white flesh that will fluff right up with little liquid added. Yellow Finn is similar to Yukon Gold, but in my opinion better – it is moist and very mashable. But in our house, the potato that will be on our holiday table is the German Butterball. I used them according to the recipe in the article and with half as much unflavored olive oil and very little of the reserved cooking water.

I can attest to the result being pure mashed potato heaven. So let’s open our minds and broaden our horizons, try your own local potatoes in this recipe. The fresher the better!

Carrie Stogner
Nelsen Ranch
Tomales, California


In the past, many of our commercially grown and shipped potatoes came from Idaho and the russets were the ones recommended for making mashed potatoes. When I first wrote this recipe, years ago, I recommended Idaho russets or something similar and somehow the Idaho didn’t get deleted. Thanks for catching this and taking note. Agreed, saying Idaho potato is like saying California garlic–much of it comes from that locale–but that doesn’t mean it is the best or that there aren’t other choices.

Since then, I have grown many kinds of potatoes and there aren’t any homegrown organic potatoes that I have grown that I wouldn’t use in making mashed potatoes. There is nothing like a freshly dug potato. I do enjoy Yukon Golds, Inca Golds and Yellow Finns and they make a lovely pale yellow mashed potato. I also use red-skinned potatoes like Norland, Caribe, Pontiac, and Viking Red and have mashed them with their skins on (I personally don’t mind skins in my potatoes, but some take offense). I have grown the All Blue for the fun of a blue potato and mashed them for the kids to have blue mashed potatoes, but personally I prefer them roasted or steamed. 

Any potato that we buy at the farmers market–red, yellow, white or blue–is bound to be fresher and tastier than the supermarket. The amount of liquid that the potatoes will absorb will depend on the variety, how they are prepared, and how long they have been stored.  I will look for you’re your German Butterballs and try them in mashed potatoes. Thanks for writing.

Susan Belsinger

Fade Prevention

In the Grit September/October 2008 issue, the topic of faded laundry was discussed. I can tell you how to keep the colors from fading. Take white vinegar and soak items you want to prevent from fading for two hours. After these items dry, nothing will fade them.

I do this when I buy bright-colored T-shirts and the color lasts as long as the shirts.

Sylvia Jones
Shoals, Indiana

Thanks for sharing your method with us, Sylvia! I’m sure we won’t be the only ones who try it! – Editors

Mac and Cheese, Please

I am a new subscriber and just received my first copy (Sept./Oct. 2008 issue). I read in the Mail Call section a letter from Sue and Dean Zielger. It referenced a recipe for mac and cheese that was in the July/August issue.

I would like to get a copy of that recipe and wonder if it is available on your website or if I can arrange to get a copy of that past issue of Grit? Thanks for your help and keep up the great work.

Gordon Jackson
Arlington, Massachusettes

Gordon, all of our recent issue content (since the September/October 2006 issue) is posted online at We would love for you to check us out online and let us know what you think of our website! -Editors

Miss Clementina’s Adventure

In the March/April Grit, Miss Clementina of Amelia Island, Florida, asked in a Mail Call letter, “A Simple Search,” for information on living off the grid and other homesteading help. Reader Cecil Smith responded with some enthusiastic and pertinent advice.

Good luck with your new lifestyle. We bought a well-built, three-bedroom home encircled by huge trees with 3 acres of forest and 4 acres pasture. We remodeled the house from floor to roof, cut logs for barns and sheds, and split two 106-foot cedar posts to fence the property. The county cleared road ditches and, with the 26 loads of fill dirt, we made a pad for a barn, developed a garden area, built a road and lane and filled other areas. It was all free dirt.

We found it took our last energy burst from 2000 to 2005 to complete the projects. Now, at 72, I could no longer work those hours, and it would be impossible to hire help to accomplish what we did.

Now I would like to try to help you consider some points in getting started.

In finding the property, consider the climate; if corn, tomatoes or apples are grown in the area, there will be four seasons. Consider the amount of rainfall; can you raise a garden or pasture animals?

Also, consider the type of soil. Gumbo soil is sticky when wet and concrete when dry. It will produce hay and pasture. Sandy soil is good if irrigation is available. Don’t rely on a well for water. Loam is the best soil. If there’s enough dirt in rocky soil, you can grow strawberries, cucumbers, etc.

After you’ve found a place, there are a number of things to consider. Can you afford it? Can you build on it? The real estate agent may say yes, but the planning/building department of the county may say no. Check before you buy, and check on the cost of building and other permits.

Consider if the property has a private or public road. One-lane roads can prove to be a pain in one’s southern section. Gravel roads are slicker than pavement, and many are not plowed after snowstorms.

Regarding animals, I’m unfamiliar with Florida’s guidelines. I do, however, know that some states – Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, for example – don’t have the restrictions that Oregon does. For instance, there may be a limitation on an individual raising livestock for personal use.

I would suggest miniature cattle (for meat and milk, and they may become pets), a hog (Hampshire or Yorkshire) for meat, goats (for pets, Boers or Saanens), and a horse (a Morgan gelding might be best) to ride and work the land.

Be sure to buy a place with a slope for septic drainage. Check the area for wells. How deep are they? Wells need to yield at least 5 gallons per minute for best usage.

Some other questions you might want to ask: Are there are any property-line disputes? Is there enough timber to build a house? Are you permitted to harvest timber?

Build your house a good distance from all property lines; it will offer space, privacy, freedom of movement, cut down on smells and offer more drainage advantages.

Just some “food for thought” on your project. Good luck.

Cecil Smith
Rogue River, Oregon

Thanks for the great advice, Cecil. Sounds like you’ve had the experience to know. We also suggest a look at Buying Land for the Perfect Homestead, an article published in our sister publication, Mother Earth News. The article is posted on the Web site, – Editors

Rave reviews

I am a new subscriber to Grit, and with my first issue I tried your recipe for green tomato mincemeat pie (in the November/December 2008 issue Mail Call). I had to try it, as I was trying to ripen some trays of green tomatoes in the house. I fixed the clutter by trying the recipe, and it is a godsend. The pie, made mostly from green tomatoes, apples and raisins, tastes just like a real mincemeat pie. Just had to tell you and other readers to try it!

Constance Hood
Hotchkiss, Colorado

‘Sister’ Pen Pals

About 8 years ago, I was introduced to Grit, a newspaper at that time, and really enjoyed it. I love to write, so your section on getting new pen pals got me very interested. I started writing to Janice Wooton in Columbus, Ohio. Now, seven years later, we declare we are “sisters.” We have so much in common and have become trusted and lifetime true friends.

We planned on meeting for the first time this Memorial Day, but two weeks before the day, she found out her cancer had come back. We both cried but felt sure we would meet in due time.

As time has gone on since May, the cancer has spread, and the tumor has enlarged. We are trying to work something out, even meeting at the airport for a couple of hours to have a cup of coffee and finally meet. We both pray that somehow we will meet after such a strong bond of friendship has formed.

Even if we never meet, I just want to thank Grit for giving me the pleasure of having this great lady in my life for all this time. If we somehow get a chance to meet, I’ll send Grit a photo. That will be a photo to remember always in my heart.

Love you, sis, and thank you, Grit.
Barbara Jordan
Ballston Spa, New York

Glad this friendship was formed, Barbara, and we look forward to seeing that photograph! – Editors