Soup and Cornbread

Today was a snow day, a sew day, followed by a cold, cold night.  Our supper was one we have frequently in this weather – vegetable soup and bread.  Sometimes the bread is a crusty loaf we can dip in olive oil, sometimes it’s soft yeast rolls with butter.  This night it was a southern favorite, cornbread.


Cornbread baked in my mother’s  cast iron skillet.  That skillet holds more memories than grease molecules.  My mother baked cornbread in it every single weekday of my memory.  No matter what the menu, no matter how hot the kitchen would be in the summertime, the oven and pan were preheated to 400℉.  Meanwhile, a simple mixture of self-rising cornmeal, egg, and whole milk was stirred together.  When the pan was hot, bacon drippings were poured in, then the batter, then it cooked until done.

The round pone was always inverted on a plate, cut into eight wedges, and set on the corner of the table next to Daddy’s plate.  I don’t recall Mama ever eating any, but Daddy ate it at lunchtime, and again sometimes at supper.  Sometimes his supper was simply a wedge of cornbread (room temperature, never reheated) and a glass of milk.

Aunt Nellie, my mother’s maternal aunt, preferred hoecakes; thin cornmeal cakes cooked on top of the stove. From her comments, I inferred that Mama’s recipe was one from Daddy’s family and that she adopted it for our meals.

We ate plenty of leftovers at our house, but never leftover cornbread.  Even if only one wedge was eaten at lunchtime, the remainder was discarded and a new pone cooked the next day.  I don’t know why.

In my adult life, I’ve tried many cornbread recipes, many pans, and many other options.  The alternatives are all good; we enjoy jalapeño cheddar cornbread occasionally, hoecakes are served at our favorite local restaurant, and once I discovered Tasha Tudor’s cornbread recipe, that complex sweet concoction sometimes finds its way to our table.  Tasha advised that hot cornbread is better with a bit of butter and honey or blackberry jam on it.  I agree!

I’ve baked cornbread in square pans, long pans, muffin pans; some glass, some stainless steel, some cast iron.  But nothing gives the crust like Mama’s old cast iron skillet.  But the cornbread will stick to that pan if I use any lubricant other than bacon grease.  So I’ve learned to cook bacon for breakfast if I’m planning to cook cornbread later in the day.

A nice rubdown afterwards with a paper towel is the only cleaning my skillet gets.  No water, no soap.  A childhood memory more than 50 years ago is of Mama and Aunt Nellie building a fire outside and “burning off” their cast iron cookware.  Then they seasoned them with grease of some kind and put them in the oven.  This skillet was one of those.

Mama’s Cornbread Recipe was: 1 cup self-rising cornmeal, 1 egg, 2/3 cup whole milk.  Mix ingredients.  Preheat oven to 400℉ with iron skillet inside.  Pour 1 tablespoon bacon drippings into pan, swirl around bottom and sides of pan, then pour in batter.  Bake 20 minutes. (All quantities are my approximations, she didn’t measure anything.)

As for the vegetable soup recipe, it varies depending on what’s on hand.  Tonight’s version started with a leftover rump roast, potatoes, carrots, onions, portobello mushrooms, corn, some frozen butterbeans, diced tomatoes.  Cooked slowly, tasted, seasoned, simmered some more…

Summertime in South Georgia

Memories of a hot summer day in my childhood include sweet, juicy, sticky watermelon.  At our house, there was most always a melon or two cooling in the shade of a pecan tree in the backyard.  Mid-morning was the time we would gather round the picnic table with Aunt Nellie’s butcher knife, some forks, and a big appetite!  I had a salt shaker in my hand, too.

This quilt is made using a photo of childhood friends with slices of that summertime treat.  The photo is printed on vintage linen fabric, the watermelon slices are painted and seeds are hand stitched with black thread.  A seed stitch was used, of course.  Machine stitching and wool batting adds dimension to the piece.  It is layered on red fabric and a remnant of denim jeans, measuring 10” x 12”.

Thanks to Arlene for permission to use the photo.  She and her brothers Wayne and Jerry portray the perfect summer scene in south Georgia!


You Can Make Anything

I’ve long had a quilt in my mind called Family Lines in which I would record oft-repeated lines from family members.  It would bring warmth as a cover, but also warm memories for others to recall the voices from the past.  Some of those lines I’ve already written about, like Daddy singing “Pa, he bought him a great big billy goat…” or Wallace’s oft-quoted line “you shore can’t sop syrup with ‘em.”  Advice like Aunt Nellie’s, “Always plant geraniums in clay pots,” and Jim’s   query to the girls, “did you unplug the curling iron?” will add practical notes, too. (Details of those stories are here, here, and here.)

One line I would have to include from my mother is, “You can make anything.  But you can’t make everything.”  I quoted this to a young quilting friend of mine last year as we were discussing some of the tempting patterns for making tote bags.  Though they are lovely and give one a unique accessory that displays favorite fabrics and techniques, they are time consuming to make.  She repeated my mother’s line and said, “Wow.  That’s so true.  And a powerful line to remember.”

Yes, she was right – it is a powerful message.  I’ve had that line running through my head a lot lately.  I look around my sewing space and see fabric waiting to go in the dye pot, fabric that’s been dipped in the dye pot and ready to compose into Rescued Remnant pieces, photos to print on fabric, strips of fabric waiting to be woven backgrounds ala Jude Hill.  In my sketchbook is a series of churches I want to put on cloth. On my design wall are components for my Paducah journal quilt in progress. In another basket are luscious wools cut and ready to stitch.  Of course, the time for the guild challenge draws closer.  And there’s more, including a few UFOs that could command my attention.

Then there’s the avalanche of images and ideas that press into my mind wherever I look.  Especially if I look online.  Projects that are physically unbegun, but I have to resist the temptation to begin them.  My mother also said, “Finish what you’ve started before you start anything else.”  ( I know –  the mention of a few UFO’s tells that I don’t always follow that advice.)

I try to use the brainpower generated by my morning walk to plan my “work” for the day. (I put that word in quotes because I do think of the “do the work” advice given to artists fits my daily activities, but in no way is what I do in the sewing room anything but FUN.)  Lately my focus of that brainpower has been to narrow the field of possibilities and remember, to paraphrase my mother’s advice, “I can do any of these things, but I can’t do all of them today.“

The photos show snippets of today’s temptations.  At least one of those will get some focused attention.

Mail Call

Oh, boy, oh, boy!  Excitement arrived in the mailbox today.  I opened a package from a distant relative and was transported back in time to the days when my Grandfather wrote letters to me from California.  I was in elementary school and he was my best pen pal!  He typed his letters on onionskin paper and folded them very precisely to fit just so in the red and white striped air mail envelope.

Our newsy exchanges were pretty humdrum everyday stuff, but it was exciting to me because our letters traveled by plane.  GrandDaddy had moved to California when I was a young child to escape the Georgia humidity with his asthma.  He did return to visit a few times,  and there were occasional long distance phone calls, but our deepest conversations during my formative years were by letter.

After my most recent post including him in a photo, Ilse and I chatted and she said she had more photos of his that she could send.  GrandDaddy (Homer Youngblood) had two families.  My mother was born to his first wife, Cora, who died when my mother was four years old and her sister was two.  Later, GrandDaddy married Miss Katherine and had two more children.  Ilse married Homer, Jr. and is the keeper of many memories and stories he shared.

Today is the anniversary of my first blog post.  Site stats say this is the 105th post I’ve written.  I never made a formal plan to share something on a schedule, and didn’t really have a plan as to what I would include.  If I had an original goal in mind, it was to continue the journaling I’ve done on paper, on cloth in 52 Tuesdays, and now on the web, to encourage others to record their stories in some way.

This blog has grown into a way to document my quilt stories, old works and new projects as well.  The new projects that excite me have included many photos, sometimes family members, so the old stories behind the photos have now been written down, too.  And I’ve been the joyous recipient of others’ stories (and sometimes their photos) once readers knew I was interested in such things.

This package from Ilse holds some family photos, both previously seen and new to my eyes, as well as some of unknown people GrandDaddy was hired to photograph.  All are interesting, but the treasures are the ones of him that I had not seen before.  Oh, my, I think Ilse in Arizona must have heard me squealing as I opened the package!

Now to scan, print, and stitch!

Four Brothers

The man on the far right…what’s that he’s holding in his hand?  That’s my grandfather, here with three of his brothers.  When I find a photo in which he is included, I’m always intrigued by how the photo was taken, since he was usually the one behind the camera.

I recently wrote about the coincidence that both my husband and I had maternal grandfathers who were professional photographers.  Sometimes we can find a cable in the photo leading to a remote shutter release.  Those were available from as early as 1918 in  advertisements like this one found here.

In this case, zooming and examining (you can click on any image to enlarge it) reveals no cable, and in the 1940’s when this photo was probably taken, there was no timer built in to cameras as we have now.  However, my Grandfather did have a son who helped him with his photography business by that time. Homer, Jr. went to work in the darkroom at age 7, in 1935.  It is likely that he, Jr.,  is the one taking this photo.  And, GrandDaddy is probably holding the remnants of a cigar.

I printed this photo on fabric from a vintage linen tablecloth, painted some elements, layered it on wool batting, and stitched around the figures with silk thread.  It is layered on cotton fabric, a layer of old burlap, and then on an old quilt remnant.  The resulting piece measures 14” x 17”.

The process of stitching these photos sometimes yields as interesting an image on the back as on the front.  Here you see what one viewer considered the shadows of these brothers.


Grits for Supper


Grits are a staple in any southern girl’s diet.  We have them for breakfast sometimes, but all my life I’ve had grits at sunset more often than at sunrise.

My mother occasionally served a breakfast menu at suppertime.  Usually country salt-cured ham and redeye gravy were part of that, along with grits, eggs, and exploding biscuits.  (Thus the comment young Wallace made.)   And we always had grits when we had fried fish for supper.  Nowadays, breakfast menu items appear at supper in the form of omelets all year long.  But when the weather is cool, we sometimes have the full meal with sausage or ham, eggs, biscuits, and grits.

Every time I make grits, I think of my friend Ferrelle.  Ferrelle owned a wonderful cooking, kitchen, and gift shop, and served up fabulous ideas for enjoying life.  We once had a conversation about grits which “upped my game”.  Ferrelle’s advice included using stone ground grits (we favor the yellow ones from Nora’s Mill in Helen, GA), cooking them with chicken broth rather than water, and adding a bit of cream right before removing them from the heat.  Oh, my.  They are so rich and creamy.  I vary the flavor by adding different cheeses at times, and cooked, crumbled bacon on top adds flavor and garnish.

Since Ferrelle retired, I rarely see her.  But we keep in touch through mutual friends and Facebook.  And I think of her often when I use a kitchen gadget that I bought from her, when I need a gift for someone and mourn the fact that her store is no longer around, but most especially when I cook grits.

In recent years, I’ve added a “grits and greens” casserole to my cooking repetoire, giving grits an excuse to appear at lunchtime or to go to a potluck dinner.  A google search by for that title will yield many recipes, but Ferrelle’s advice will make any of those better, too.

There is a drawback to possessing this knowledge.  Sometimes we see grits on a menu in a restaurant and order them.  We are always, always, disappointed.

Photo notes:  Since I seem to think everything should be a story in cloth, I’ve begun stitching on a Nora’s Mill bag.  You see images of the front and backside.  More work to be done, but I know you’re hungry, so go cook some grits.

Addendum:  How could I forget fried grits?  After I posted this, a friend reminded me, saying that her grandmother “would also refrigerate left over grits in a shallow pan, then dip chilled finger-sized slices in beaten egg and fry them like French toast. These, drenched in syrup and served with a patty of sausage, made a wonderful Sunday evening meal.”

I haven’t tried the French toast/syrup idea, but I have fried them similarly and served them as a side dish with grilled salmon or pork chops.  At least once I prepared them similarly and served them as croutons on a salad of Spring Mix greens with goat cheese and prosciutto.  A balsamic vinaigrette topped it off.  It was wonderful.  How could I have forgotten that?


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.

Spinster Sisters

spinster-sistersNeither of them ever married.  This photo was taken sometime around 1912.  They were 18 and 15 at the time.  Within ten years, their mother would be confined to a wheelchair, their older sister would die in childbirth, leaving two young daughters to their care.

The family was rich in acreage, but World War I and the  boll weevil meant cash was in short supply, and these two women contributed financially to the household.

The older of the two earned teaching credentials, sometimes living with families in distant communities (ten miles from home) and sending money home.  The younger ran the household as the orphaned nieces and younger sister grew up.

They saw women get the right to vote, lived through the Great Depression, and World War II.  There were adventures, too:  travel with an eccentric millionaire, letters from faraway lands, and a barnstorming adventure.  Charles Lindberg did fly in Georgia, was he the pilot?

spinster-sisters-olderDuring WWII, the teacher was offered “script” as her paycheck (a promise for money from the state someday), so she traveled further to work in a naval ordinance plant.  The younger worked as a switchboard operator and in so doing, connected many families to news of their beloved ones.  She was the first in town to get the word that the war was over, running down the stairs of the downtown office to spread the news.

As they laid their parents to rest and saw their young charges grow up and establish lives of their own, they continued to hold their shares of the land together, hiring others to farm the land while they moved to town.  They lived together until the death of the younger from breast cancer at age 49.  A few years later, the older would face the same diagnosis, but her treatment would be successful.  She would live her life productively until the age of 91.

These women were a big part of my childhood.  From them I learned that life is to be lived fully and to be enjoyed on a daily basis.  It may be hard to meet responsibilities in front of you, but complaints don’t help; just get the job done with a smile on your face.

Because of them, I am not surprised to read the ‘revelation’ that spinster does not have to be a derogatory term.  In the later Middle Ages, the term spinster was first used.  Then, it denoted a person who spins yarn and therefore has a marketable skill.   Memories of these sisters convey the modern interpretation of” a woman who can live independently and doesn’t need a man to be happy.”

spinster-sisters-backDetails of quilt:  A vintage photo (circa 1912) of two unmarried sisters was printed on a remnant of a vintage linen tablecloth.  Hand-guided, free-motion machine quilting was used to add detail, lace collars and beading were added with hand stitching.  The linen background for the photo was attached to a vintage linen log cabin quilt made from silk.  A vintage cotton doily was used for the label.

Hand stitching on the piece was completed while demonstrating work at the Georgia National Fair.  The quilt finishes at 16” x 20”.

My Daddy Wore Overalls

herbie-holding-sandyThere’s something iconic about a man in overalls.  To me, it means he is unpretentious, hardworking, honest.  Someone with whom I would want to spend time in conversation and in hugging.

There aren’t many photos of my Daddy in overalls.  Though he wore them every day to work, when he came home, his first order of business was to take a shower and change into his “knock-about clothes”, khakis and a sport shirt.  That would be his uniform until bedtime.  And on Sundays, a suit, or at least a sports jacket and tie.

He wore overalls when he farmed.  I heard stories of his walking behind the mules and plow in his overalls and barefoot.  When he left the farm to begin building houses, he added work boots to his wardrobe, but kept the overalls.

The many pockets had designated uses.  The partitions in the bib held his wallet and a fat flat pencil, you know the kind wood workers used. Another held a pocket knife, used for sharpening that pencil, among other things.  One of those spaces sometimes held his wristwatch if it needed protection from the task at hand.

A long pocket on the leg of the overalls held his folding carpenter’s rule and a hammer hung in the loop.  He could flip that wooden rule open to just the right length for a measurement and refold it in the blink of an eye.  If you don’t remember those devices, or that they are called rules, not rulers, you are a young whippersnapper.  See, just thinking of overalls has me using his words.

I can smell the denim.  And the sawdust embedded in the fibers.  Maybe a little tobacco scent, too.  And I remember how heavy they were when wet.  I was a tiny little thing, but one of my jobs was hanging clothes on the line.

man-in-overallsMaybe all that is why I was so intrigued by the man in this quilted piece.  I snapped this street photo the minute I saw him.  Since then, I have come to know who he is and have secured permission to use his image in my art.  He, like my Daddy, is worthy of long conversations and hugs.


man-in-overalls-backThe quilt measures 10” x 18”.  The photo is printed on vintage linen fabric, hand painted, then quilted.  I used cotton thread, using hand-guided free motion quilting on my domestic machine.  It is layered with raw silk, a remnant of denim, and a worn reclaimed quilt fragment.  The label is a vintage cocktail napkin.  (I found this one with the rooster in an antique store ramble just as I had finished this piece.  Perfect!)

The photo of my Daddy holding me is one of the few I have of him wearing his overalls.  I guess it’s obvious why men wearing overalls pleases me so.  And, I still have that chair.

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.