Fruitcake

Turman Capote and I have a shared history.  We had loving spinster aunts as partners in fruitcake preparation.  When I taught a high-school course called the American Short Story, students’ reactions to the old-fogey ways Capote related in his A Christmas Memory were not ones of delight.  But I was thrilled to revisit my childhood.

It’s the time of year when I buy things at the grocery store that I would normally never allow past my lips.  Some candied fruit (I don’t even want to know how that is accomplished), a lot of sugar, butter, nuts, disposable baking pans.

This is a result of a lifelong habit of eating fruitcake at Christmastime.  My mother baked the dark fruitcakes for as long as I can remember.  She chopped all the fruit by hand, added nuts that either my grandmother or my Daddy had picked out of the shells, and that I had picked up from underneath the trees at home, and filled the house with a delightful smell including vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Mama made these cakes and gave them to family and friends.  Her gifts were generous, a full recipe baked in a tube cake pan.  They were huge!  Every year the search was on to find a store selling the round tins which would hold these 5-lb treasures.

Once I was grown, I became a recipient of the heavy gift in the tin.  Mama would always have ours ready to take home at Thanksgiving and we would savor the treat throughout the holidays.

Jim found a way to improve on Mama’s recipe.  We would remove her foil or waxed paper wrapping, substituting cheesecloth.  The cheesecloth would soak up the brandy Jim added and make the cake more moist.  Yes, that’s it, moist.  Once when Mama came to visit us at Christmas, I served dessert.  She remarked, “This is GOOD fruitcake.  Who made it?”  “I made it?  Are you sure?”  “Well, I don’t know.  This tastes much better than the one at my house.”  We never confessed the alteration.

Mama gave a cake to anyone who she thought would like them.  Only when I started following in her footsteps did I realize what a gift a fruitcake was.  The time, and expense, to bake these was no small matter.  A few years ago, a cousin said, “You know your Mama always made me a dark fruitcake at Christmas.  I always took it.  But I couldn’t stand those things.”  She lowers her voice when she uttered the words “dark fruitcake,” as it she were speaking of something evil.  Now that I think about it, I bet Mama realized Charlotte was unappreciative, but she was one of those people who would have been hurt had Mama not given her one.

I’ve found some shortcuts to Mama’s process.  I sometime buy nuts already shelled, and bake the concoction in small foil pans.  Once the cakes are cooled, they are ready to wrap for presentation to appreciative friends.  I know fruitcakes are the punch lines for many jokes, and I know we are all more conscious of our diets these days, but most reactions I get to the fruitcakes I share are of the “oh, I love this – it takes me back to Christmas of my childhood” type.  And when I take a plate of sliced fruitcake to social gatherings this time of year, it’s always emptied.

If your mouth is watering for a trip down memory lane, here is Mama’s recipe.

  • Mama’s Stirring Fruitcake
  • 1 lb candied cherries
  • ½ lb candied pineapple (white)
  • ½ lb candied pineapple (green)
  • 3 pts shelled nuts, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ lb raisins (⅔ cup)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ lb butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring
  • 2 teaspoons almond flavoring
  • 2 teaspoons cake spices
  • Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at the time and beat well.  Add flour and spices and beat well.  Add fruit and nuts.  Pour into a large greased pan and place in 375 degree oven (note that she found 300 degrees in her oven to be better).  After baking 15 minutes, stir.  Do this a total of 3 times.  After 3rd time, pack in tube cake pan and bake 15 minutes longer.  Let stand in pan for 15 minutes before turning out.

My recipe notes:

I reduce the nuts to about 4 cups.

“cake spices” seem to be unavailable these days, so I use: 1 t. allspice, ½ t. nutmeg, and ½ t. cinnamon

I sometimes use 3” x 5” loaf pans to give as gifts.  This recipe fills five of those.  The plate pictured above the recipe shows one of those small loaf pans sliced.  So the whole recipe is five of those!

Note:  An internet search will yield numerous links to Truman Capote’s story, analyses of that work, and even audio files for your seasonal listening.  It’s worth the time.

Star Over Tahiti

This time of year I often think, “I need to make more red and green quilts.”  And, I sometimes stitch using those colors, part of being  in the holiday spirit.

But here is a quilt I made one Christmas season that isn’t red or green.

I needed something seasonal to hang above the table where my Nativity scene would live for the holidays.  I had always loved the raw-edge technique of Rosemary Eichorn’s work, and had enjoyed making Stella, Harvest Princess using that method.  I was in a hurry to have something on the wall, so I was off to the fabric store to find ancient biblical – looking foliage.

I came home with some leafy fabric, did some fussy cutting, and went to work.  The patchwork sky was easy.  I had some brilliant blue fabric with flecks of sparkle that made for a perfectly magical sky.  I drafted a star with some elongated points, stitched that in place, and cut Bethlehem-like buildings free form.  Then I added palm trees and was proud of my accomplishment.

Jimmy G, who had been called upon a few times to give names to quilts, promptly named this one Star over Tahiti.

Whatever you call it, it served as a backdrop for the nativity scene.  And, I learned some ways to get a functional piece together in a minimal amount of time.

Finished measurements are 22″ x 30″.  I used cotton batting, cotton thread.  The quilting stitch secured the free-form pieced elements and raw-edge appliqué, all accomplished in the quilting process.

Pomegranates and Poinsettias


For many years I decorated for Christmas using my Grandmother’s basket quilt she made in 1890 (that story is  here).  When I started quilting, I longed to make my own holiday quilt.  Now one of the first steps in decorating our house for Christmas is to swap out the fall quilts for red and green ones.


I love to sew with red and green fabrics during this time of the year so I often start a new project for my sewing serenity during the season.  In the days of Christmas 2008, I began work on what became  Pomegranates and Poinsettias.  I was spending quite a bit of time with my mother-in-law, Sadie, during a time of failing health for her.

She loved helping me decide which red fabric should be used for a particular bloom, which green should be used for stems and leaves.  She loved the sampler background (as does everyone else who sees this quilt), and when I decided to add buttons for the berries, she giggled like a little girl.  Imagine, putting BUTTONS on a quilt.
That was something her mother had never done!  This piece was finished in June 2009 and has been the focal point on a wall in our house every Christmas since.  It is based the Holly Threads pattern by Need’l Love.  Mine finishes at 44″ square.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Galadrielle

gingko-and-skyIt’s a beautiful fall day, the sky is blue, gingko leaves are at their peak of golden, so we head to the cemetery.  Isn’t that what all families do on a glorious day?  They do if they live where we do and have a more than 200 acres of serene beauty to stroll.

Rose Hill Cemetery was established in 1840 on 65 acres of land along the banks of the Ocmulgee River.  In 1887, another 125 acres of adjacent land was devoted to Riverside Cemetery.  Both of these were designed by highly respected landscape architects and were intended to be used as a park as well as a solemn final resting place for citizens.  Continuing that tradition, both of these cemeteries are now part of the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, a walking, biking, communing-with-nature space which we treasure.

So, with camera and crayons in hand, we headed out the door.  We had walked these trails and admired the art of the cemetery before I became acquainted with the art of Susan Lenz.  Finding her work answered the question, “how can this beauty be incorporated into a quilt?”  So now I am prepared with fabric and crayons, just in case.

galadrielle-detailMy latest art quilt is the result of last Saturday’s stroll.  Jim took the photo of Galadrielle, an angel at the foot of Duane Allman’s grave.  I printed it on vintage linen fabric, added some stitching though layers of wool batting, more vintage linen, raw silk, and an indigo-dyed remnant of an old quilt.  A few buttons and a bit of angelic lace came out of my treasure bins for this project.

 

galadrielle-backI used free motion machine stitching to define the shape of Galadrielle and add dimension and detail.  Hand stitching was used everywhere else.  Some unknown sewist had done some hand stitching on the remnant I used as the base.  Her hand quilting and cross stitch has a new life. The worn quilt has been cut up and used in several of my favorite pieces.  I’m loving the blue ones best! I wonder if this unknown colleague did her hand stitching while visiting with friends, or perhaps while listening to the television, as I do.

The quilt finishes at 14” x 23”.

Shopping Small

I have never been to a mall on the day after Thanksgiving. I’ve just never understood the need to battle for a sale item.  I detest crowds.  So the concept of Shop Small suits my kind of thinking. In our household, we try to support local business owners every day of the year.
church-with-chimneyOn this Black Friday we wanted to drive backroads with the camera and maybe find an antique shop or two.  One goal of photography was some country Christmas scenes.  The treasure of the day was a church decorated with Christmas wreaths on every window.  And, this church has a chimney.  I’ve never seen a church with a chimney.  An old cemetery surrounded by a white picket fence is well maintained by a local boy scout troop.

Following a spontaneous zigzag route from one small town to another, we drove though rolling hills we’d never seen.  Beautiful farmland, horses enjoying the glorious fall day, a friendly gentleman in an otherwise sleepy town, made it seem like a bit of time travel.

We made one stop in a feed & seed / quilt shop near Covington.  Though the business lost a bit of its charm when it moved out of the downtown location, their old time merchandise is still appealing.  As I paid for a fat quarter and spool of thread, the clerk recognized the bank name on my credit card and shared pleasant experiences she had there. Somehow I don’t think I would have had that sort of exchange in a mall shopping experience on Friday.

monroe-safeWe had lunch at our favorite locally owned restaurant in Monroe, GA, across the street from this pocket park.  The focus of this park is an old bank vault (left when the downburst of ’93 destroyed the building).  Two treasures here: the safe itself  and the fact that the town preserved it and made a park there.

 

 

 

shop-small-findsVisits to a few antique stores generated minimal purchases.  The highlight for me was  packages of old bias tape and rickrack, all cotton, all unopened, bearing original $.19 price tags.  I could imagine the vendor thinking, “nobody will want this old stuff.”  And, I’m thinking, “WOW.  What fun is this!”  The wicker item had a tag saying “lampshade,” but I thought “bee skep”.

sunset-in-monroeYes, we did some shopping on Black Friday.  But we didn’t elbow anyone out of the way, never stood in line, didn’t get frustrated, and had no traffic snarls to navigate.  Back roads and small businesses, that’s the way to do it.

All photography (except bias tape) by Jim Gilreath.

Treasure Hunting

A beautiful fall day, an escape from routine, time spent with my best friend, vintage linens; how can I decide which one of these is the most treasured?

treasures-bee-linenYesterday Jim and I went junking.  Well, not really.  Dumpster divers we aren’t.  We aren’t even heavily into yard sales or estate sales.  We like antique malls where someone else has made the selections, maybe done some cleaning up, and displayed items in a pleasing manner.  Well, the last is not always true.  But, we do like antique malls.

We’ve had booths before.  The set up and decorating is fun, but we didn’t make a lot of money because we don’t enjoy the junky level of searching. But as is true in all aspects of life, it’s not about the money.  We do find Saturdays out and about discovering treasures, recalling memories, and driving back roads to get there to be joyous.

Yesterday’s finds were numerous.  Now that I have found a way to include vintage linens that I love in my quiltmaking, I sometimes have a list of things I need.  Often it’s linen to use in the printer for photos, or fabric doilies and coasters to use as labels.  Yesterday I really needed nothing.  I have quite a collection on hand and friends have even started sharing their treasures hoping I can find a use for them.

treasures-old-quiltBut  I did find a few things I couldn’t leave behind.  An old quilt with a masculine look will be perfect as the backing for men in photographs.  The homespun backside is amazing, too.  A blue cross-stitched linen tablecloth.  A couple of bargain pieces which will be amazing labels, and a lovely bee!

treasures-coatsI didn’t really plan to spend a day this week cutting apart old wool coats and felting them.  But at $5.00 each, these 100% wool coats begged to be included in a quilt project.  Ok, will do.  Any ideas about what to do with the fur collar?

treasures-boothAnd I found inspiration!  Not so much in the textiles themselves, but in displays.  Old suitcases opened with vintage trims and fabrics inside, laces and ribbons wrapped around old wooden spindles, jars of buttons pleasingly arranged.  These kinds of things make my heart sing.

Julie Cameron would be proud of the date my inner artist had yesterday.  Not a solitary trip, but a real date with my soulmate and my soul!  The drive though pasture land (the solitary chimney on 52 Tuesdays was on the route), lunch at one of our favorite local establishments, and an ice-cream cone treat reminiscent of childhood drives made it heavenly!

Swamp Bird

Sandy art quilt

The gist of a recent conversation with a friend:

Friend:  Hey, have you been busy?

Me:  Oh, yeah, a bit.

Friend:  Sewing?

Me:  Some, but I did have a few days last week when I accomplished less than usual.

Friend:  Why the downturn?

Me:  Exercising my Medicare card a bit.  I can’t believe I’m old enough to have one, and I got it just in time for my annual doctors’ visits.  And, an unexpected visit to another.

Friend:  So what have you learned from the interruption to your life?

Me:  That sometimes a few days to rest and reflect is a good thing.  An interruption can allow you to shift your focus.  Also, that I can see better without my reading glasses than I realized.

Friend:  So what’s your latest finished project?

Me:  An art quilt featuring a photo Jim made of a Prothonotary Warbler in a local swamp.

Friend:  Tell me details.

Me:  I printed the photo on silk fabric, layered it with wool batting atop a square of hand-dyed osnaburg fabric and used dense free motion quilting in the background of the image.  The lines are about a toothpick’s width apart, roughly parallel, but it’s obvious that it is hand guided.  I don’t use rulers.  I want the finished piece to reveal that the project was handmade.

The yellow osnaberg layer was hand stitched to a bit of linen I dyed in the indigo vat, then that layer to a piece of commercial fabric, and then to a vintage quilt.  All of these were attached using the seed stitch and varying threads.  The beads were hand stitched, too.

Sandy art quilt

The label on the back is a portion of an embroidered vintage linen napkin. That and the hanging sleeve were attached using Jude Hill’s invisible baste.

The finished piece measures 16” x 20”.  Jim titled it Swamp Bird.

Friend:  Anything else I should know?

Me:  When you ride your bike, wear your helmet.

Is It Fall, Y’all?

stella-closeupIt’s still hot.  The calendar says tomorrow will be fall, but temperatures still reach 90 everyday.

Nonetheless, I have some pumpkins out in my house.  I love the fall colors.  Maybe it’s the vivid blue skies when the humidity drops, maybe it’s the complimentary colors of the turning leaves and that glorious atmosphere.  I wince whenever Tess, our guild’s Challenge Queen, requires a bit of orange in a quilt, but I don’t know why.  I could just always put a pumpkin in.

In recent years, I have collected pumpkins from other artists including needle-felted beauties by a north Ga artist, wooden pumpkins a friend made, and several pottery ones from Shelby West and Charlie Bob West.  But many of my autumn decorations are of the fabric variety.

pumpkins-and-fall-basketsFall Baskets was made in 2008, using autumn colors of batiks and quilting cottons.  This may be the first quilt I designed using Electric Quilt software.  Now using EQ7, I sometimes turn to this software to audition such quilt features as block size and width of borders and sashing. This one finished at 45″ square.

 

sunbonnet-with-pumpkinThis Sunbonnet Sue piece is one of the first times I made one block ( 9″ x 12″) and said “done.”  Quilting, a binding, and it’s a remarkably fun way to welcome the season.  The block is from a book by Betty Alderman.  I guess it’s unnecessary to point out that the apron is a little brown check.

pumpkins-fusedI have a few quilts with pumpkins on them.  Some wool appliqued pumpkins, some needleturn appliqued ones, and even this fused one (sorry, I don’t recall the name of this pattern or the designer).

 

 

 

stella-harvest-princessMy favorite fall quilt is Stella: Harvest Princess, finished in 2004.  It uses raw edge techniques in the manner of Rosemay Eichorn.  Fall motifs were cut from a commercial autumn print or two, pinned to a base fabric, and free motion quilted with a flannel layer as batting. The technique was fun, the motifs whimsical, and the learning process was transformative.  I use this raw edge appliqué method still.  Looking at this piece for the first time in almost a year, I wonder why I don’t play with those decorative stitches on my machine any more, or use metallic thread very often.  It was FUN to do this experimentation. It measures 25” x 16”.

There is more to Stella’s story – there was quite a learning curve for this one. I saw the technique on Simply Quilts, bought a book by Rosemary and studied her technique, cut and pinned the raw edge motifs in the fall of 2003.  Then it sat in a basket for almost a year, waiting for my free motion quilting skills to improve to the point of completion.  Finally I dared to load the machine with some invisible thread and give it a go.  When asked at my guild how long it took to make it, my answer then was, “a day and a half, or a year and a half, depending on how you look at it; actual construction time, or time from beginning the process to sewing on the label.”  That’s often the most direct answer I can give.  I work in spurts on some things.

pumpkins-in-jailhouseA couple of years ago, Jim and I spent a lovely fall day in Porterdale, GA, where we saw hundreds of pumpkins for sale in and around an old jailhouse.  I took many photos, planning to make a quilt someday called Pumpkins in the Jailhouse.  Maybe this year will be the year that gets done.

Golden Bells

Recently driving down the road, to a destination two hours south and a few decades in the past, I was playing Angel Band full blast.  People in other cars could see me singing and think I’m crazy.  Well, maybe, but my singing along with Emmylou is not sufficient to have me committed.

This is how I deal with sorrow.  I was headed to the funeral for my cousin Wallace.  So When They Ring Those Golden Bells, We Shall Rise, and Drifting Too Far are soothing sounds to my soul.  Wallace loved these songs, too.

It’s been a long time since I played this collection; so long that I actually had forgotten some of the words.  Jim and I both find comfort in music, and this CD and others by Alison Kraus, Ralph Stanley, and selections from O Brother Where Art Thou and Cold Mountain soundtracks have blasted away in the car on too many trips down that same road. For part of this trip we were in separate vehicles, and my solitary time is when I had the music the loudest.

As Precious Memories plays, I can hear my mother’s voice as I sat beside her in church.  That song was one of her favorites and she and I thought she sounded like Emmylou does.  Another album with soothing voices I sometimes play is Trio.  When that plays, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and I join Emmylou to form a quartet.

The songs on those two albums brought me comfort in the drive to and from visits with my mother in the last seven years of her life.  Visits when I didn’t know if she would recognize me; later visits when I was certain she would not.  But the sounds she loved brought me comfort as they always had her, especially  the song Who Will Sing for Me?

Once in the church for Wallace’s service, more music was part of the goodbye.  A first-time experience for me was a lonesome harmonica playing.  That, and the later solo were nice, but I missed the Bethel Boys, a foursome of local men who have harmonized at several farewells in my hometown.  In answer to Emmylou’s question above, the Bethel Boys (and the entire congregation) sang for my mother.

We buried a lot of knowledge today.  Wallace knew where everyone was buried, who owned which plots in the cemetery, which family owned what farm and who had owned it before them.  In recent years, a visit to Wallace might include a ride around the county.  Wallace would narrate a rolling history lesson with detours to check every neighbor’s crops. He knew who lived in this house or that, who built the house and when, whose dog bit someone in the yard, who had been arrested.

I had learned to take a list of questions and a recorder on some visits.  But I’m already wondering what questions will come up this week that Wallace could have answered.

One of the preachers said that “Wallace lived 87 years and I don’t know that he ever made anyone mad except Miz Dot.”  I’m sure that’s correct.  And, I don’t think he ever said no when someone asked for help with anything.

The next generation has asked for some “Wallace stories.”  Here are a couple:

When he was a lad, Wallace stayed with my parents for a few days, maybe his mother was sick, I’m not sure why.  At breakfast one morning, he remarked, “Aunt Cleo, your biscuits taste alright, but you shore can’t sop syrup with ‘em.”  My Daddy quoted that line over many years, always with a twinkle in his eye.

When I was a child, my bicycle broke.  I don’t know how that happened – I don’t remember a crash. Daddy’s suggestion was that I ride a unicycle.  But since the pedals were on one portion and the seat on the other, that wasn’t going to work.   Wallace had added welding to his list of skills needed on the farm. He reattached the two halves of my bike and I was a happy little girl.  Wheels, whee, freedom!

A fine honest man, a community leader, a foster father to many children, one shining example of humility, integrity, compassion,  is no longer with us.  In the far off great forever, beyond the shining river, they are ringing golden bells for Wallace.

Photo:  Wallace as a boy, maybe about the age of the “sopping syrup” remark.  Circa 1937.

Disconnected and Reconnecting

mountain vistaWe spent a few days in the mountains.  The temperatures were nice, the scenery beautiful, a delightful getaway.  One of the things we got away from was internet access.  At the top of the mountain, you were in touch with the world.  But our cabin was at the foot of the falls, so we were off the internet pipeline.

That was a good thing.

We did have a television in the cabin, but saw no need to see if it worked.  A bubbling stream was entertainment enough.

One purpose for this annual getaway is to reconnect with my husband’s family.  Their reunion has been held at a state park for many years; we go to see the cousins and catch up.

I have come to know most of these people by name over the years, but I don’t share a history with them.  I can’t engage in the “we would go visit…” and “I remember when he…” conversations.

But I do have some history with Charlie.   He is my cousin-in-law, I guess.  When we first saw each other at this gathering some years ago, we shared one of those, “don’t I know you somewhere?” moments.  A few minutes of conversation led one of us to say, “I was a math teacher.”  “Oh, Rock Eagle.”

We had seen each other at professional conferences over the years, but had never had the occasion to realize we shared the same last name and make sense of that.  Now we did.

As the years went by and conversations grew longer, we learned that not only did we share the same profession and know many common colleagues, but that a cousin of mine had been Charlie’s mentor teacher early in his career.  And that another cousin of mine had been his teacher in high school.

Our most recent conversation revealed more commonalities.  We are both married to spouses who always see life through the lens of a camera, both couples enjoy traveling the backroads and exploring the unexpected side trip, and we take pleasure in enjoying every experience that presents itself.

One of the nice things about getting older is that you have had more opportunities to meet people who share the things you do, it’s easy to validate the joys in life, and those connections to the past are treasures.  Whether sharing war stories from teaching, a love of the outdoors, or simply the appreciation of traveling a back road, it’s always fun to reconnect with friends like Charlie.

My sewing basket does not need wifi, so it got its normal workout on this trirescued linensp.  There were some antique stores, and I did rescue some linens.  Some of the green  napkins you see in the center have already been cut up and sewn to something else.