From the Barnyard to Baking

Reader Contribution by Tracy Houpt
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I love the smell of a barn; a wet barnyard is a different matter, and with the monsoon June we’ve had in our area, that is unfortunately what it smells like as I go out for morning and evening chores. The bugs are bad, the animals are bored, and the garden is waterlogged. The rooster spends his days up by the barn and sinks to his spurs if he doesn’t stay on the gravel path. We need a drying out period! The upside of all this water is that the rain barrels have remained full. That’s what I try to focus on as I go about the daily work.

Of all the animals that live here, the barn cats seem best at taking difficult weather in stride. In the winter, they have lots of warm hidey holes in the hay and straw, and staying dry is not a problem; in hot weather they lounge on various shelves and surfaces, legs dangling carelessly as they nap. I envy their adaptability. My genetics make me prone to wilt in hot and humid weather. My ancestors came from Scotland, where a day in the 60s can bring swimmers out for ocean fun. (We saw that happen once, when I was with my parents and an aunt on a three-week trip to that gorgeous country.)

The other animal who wilts quickly around here in warm weather is our Great Pyrenees, Sam, who finds relief by digging holes in and around the barnyard to reach cooler dirt. In fact, he’s dug quite a hole near the front of the milkstand, and I think we’d better fill it in or my milk goat and I may have an unpleasant jolt one of these days … how many ways can a bucket of milk get spilled? That would be one more.

Our old farmhouse does not have central air, but we use window air-conditioners and fans to keep things comfortable. I’m grateful for electricity! I grew up in a big two-story farmhouse, and we had a wonderful concrete and stone screened porch that held sleeping cots in the hot summer months. A big attic fan supposedly drew air up through the house, but it didn’t help me sleep in my upstairs room when the temperatures were sweltering. I’d head for the porch, and eventually fall asleep listening to the bullfrogs croaking in the pond. Sometimes friends would be there for a sleepover, and we’d make pallets on the living room floor and wait for the oscillating fan to blow in our direction. Despite the heat, I remember lots of laughter and silliness.

My mom didn’t really do much outside with the animals. That was Dad’s area, and mine. She was good at promoting gracious living, and she always had cold iced tea or lemonade for me and my friends. Even though we were just children, she’d pick sprigs from the big mint patch and put one in each glass, as if she were entertaining her most treasured friends. We’d have lunches and suppers on that screened porch, with family and friends, and she had an eye for food presentation that I can only envy.

She had a favorite chicken casserole recipe that she made many times; one time we got through an entire summer porch meal with friends when she suddenly said, “Well, I forgot to put the chicken in that!” We all had a good laugh, and did just fine without the chicken. We probably had peach cobbler for dessert that night. My mom made the best pie crust and the prettiest pies! Apple and peach are the ones I remember the most.

One time she bought seven different kinds of apples from an orchard, made seven different pies, froze them, and then at Thanksgiving we tried them all to decide which we liked best. That was a tough job, but somebody had to do it!

I like to bake, too, and for me it’s about the traditions and memories as much or maybe even more than the food itself. I don’t make homemade yeast bread or pies very often, but I try to keep muffins or quick breads on hand for breakfasts and snacks. I use many of Mom’s recipes, but I’ve found a lot of favorites from other sources over the years, too.

Now my daughter, Kelly Meyer, lets me know when she’s found a good recipe, and we enjoy trading them. Her “signature” cookie at Christmas is a glazed orange-almond cookie, and I look forward to a batch every year now. Mom would love them, I’m sure. And when something good is baking in the oven, at least the house smells good, even if the barnyard doesn’t.

Glazed Orange-Almond Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped slivered almonds, optional

1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
4 to 5 teaspoons water

1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange peel

Preheat oven to 400 F (375 F if using dark or nonstick cookie sheet).

In medium bowl, beat butter, confectioner’s sugar, orange peel and almond extract on medium speed until smooth. Beat in flour, salt and almonds.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. On ungreased cookie sheet, place balls 1 inch apart. Bake 7 to 10 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Cool cookies on wire rack for about 30 minutes until completely cool.

In small bowl, stir together glaze ingredients. Add enough water for pouring consistency.

In another small bowl, combine topping ingredients. Dip tops of cookies in glaze, then sprinkle with topping.

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