Saturday, June 26, 2010

Prolific Gardens Make Good Neighbors

Reverend Baker can always be counted on to bring the best goodies to my children. The sweet elderly couple across the street has taken a shine to my three younguns. Reverend Baker and his wife, Betty seem to look for excuses to stop by and visit. Mrs. Betty has trouble getting around, so we don’t see her as frequently as her outgoing hubby. My husband frequently stops by with at least one of the children so the Bakers can fuss over them a bit. Lately, Reverend Baker has come bearing the overspill of his son’s garden.

I don’t see how anyone could go hungry in the country in the South. Friends and neighbors are always quick to share their extras. It’s not uncommon to come home and find that one friendly neighbor has stopped by with a bundle of greens, or a box of beans fresh from the garden. With our own prolific squash plants, and extras from my sister’s garden, I’m kept busy putting up veggies. Soon the pears, figs and jelly palm fruit will be ripe and I’ll be very busy putting up jams and jellies.

But today, I have to figure out what to do with a grocery bag full of the tastiest, reddest, sweetest tomatoes you’ve ever seen!

A Quartet of Singers

I like old things.

I have four Singer sewing machines. They range in age from over a hundred years old to just over twenty-five years old. They all work great. Not only that, each machine has sentimental value. Each one belonged to someone else before it came to me. There’s something comforting in knowing that loving hands lifted the presser foot, or adjusted the stitch length decades before me.

Twenty years ago, when I struck out on my own, I realized that one of the appliances I couldn’t keep house without was a sewing machine. I didn’t like the new plastic ones. I wanted an old, heavy metal Singer machine like the ones I’d learned on. So I combed the paper looking for old machines for sale. I found what I was looking for in an estate ad. When I went to take a look at the 1970’s made Singer Creative Touch 1030, the seller confided in me that she wasn’t a seamstress. The machine and table had belonged to her mother. After her death, she’d had little use for the machine, but wanted it to go to a good home. It was love at first sight for me. Any plastic on it had yellowed with age, but Grandma had bought all of the accessories for the old machine, and she had everything I needed to do any sewing I might want. It was the best twenty-five dollars I’d ever spent. I got the machine, the decrepit old table, and all of her accessories. Best of all, I got a well cared-for machine that has served me for twenty years.

When my oldest son was born, I would take my little stitchery projects to my mother’s to show off to my mom and great-aunt Gladys. You see, Gladys is the one who taught me to sew. She’s the one who put me on the old treadle machine with scraps of fabric and turned me loose. Hers was the 1950’s-era Singer 403A that I’d learned on. Hers was the model I’d been looking for when I went searching for my own machine. In her eighties by that time, Gladys offered me her old Singer. I eagerly accepted. Though what I’d do with another machine, I didn’t know. In the end, I made my daughter’s bassinet skirt on it. Gladys couldn’t have been prouder of my skill.

The oldest of my quartet is a Singer 127 treadle machine with Sphinx decals circa 1922-24 that once belonged to my great-grandmother, Mama Boley. It once held a place of honor in her kitchen, beside a window. Though the house had electricity and indoor plumbing, Mama Boley never saw any need to upgrade to a modern machine. It doesn’t do fancy stitches, but what it does, it does well. When I was a child, I learned to sew on it. The gentle sound and motion of the old treadle machine is a soothing contrast to the whir, thump and hum of a modern electric sewing machine. I enjoyed spending hours in that old kitchen, finding the rhythm with my feet and watching the needle rise and fall leaving neat stitches in the fabric. My mother likes to tell of Mama Boley singing hymns while she sewed, keeping time by rocking the treadle with her feet. When Mama Boley passed away, her belongings were divvied out among the family. As one of the youngest, and a lesser grandchild, I had little say on where her things went. But when my grandmother passed the old Singer along to my sister, I was happy to be able to visit it frequently. Years later, when I moved into my century-old house, my sister offered it to me. I accepted without hesitation. You see, one of the reasons I fell in love with this house is that it reminded me very much of Mama and Granddad Boley’s house. Her machine seems very much at home in my long center hallway, and a few other pieces of Mama Boley’s furniture have found their way into my home to keep it company.

 Says a lot for the durability of Singer sewing machines, doesn’t it?

Gladys passed away less than a year after my daughter was born. My mother made sure I inherited her vast collection of vintage sewing patterns, as well as all of her accessories and the fourth machine. In the early 1980’s, Gladys, her husband Brooks, and I went shopping. Though she did little sewing anymore, Gladys couldn’t pass up a display of modern sewing machines. Sears had a new Singer 1425N that she fell in love with. Inside of a tall armoire, the sewing machine rose into sewing position at the flick of a switch. This camless machine would do just about everything she could ask. I remember it was an expensive piece, as much furniture as appliance.
I still haven’t brought myself to clean out the armoire and fill it with my own sewing implements, many inherited from that unknown grandmother, many purchased over the years, and still more passed down from family members and friends who didn’t sew, but wanted their mothers’ and grandmothers’ tools to find a loving home. But as my children get a little older and I find more time to knit, sew, and do needlework, my thoughts turn more to Gladys’ armoire. In the mean time, I have spent the last few days refurbishing her old sewing table, a folding card table with a cut out in the top that’s just the right size to hold her old Singer. There is a pile of mending in a basket in the corner, and an old Singer sewing machine, ready to go to work once more.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Blackberry Cobbler

Since I posted "The Blackberry Traditions of Summer" I've had a lot of requests for my blackberry cobbler recipe. So I thought I'd post it here for everyone to enjoy.

Blackberry Cobbler

3 cups fresh blackberries, washed and hulled
1 cup plus 2 Tblsp sugar
½ cup water
1 Tblsp cornstarch
¼ cup butter, cold
½ cup butter, melted
1 cup Bisquick
1 plus ½ cup milk

Preheat oven to 375. In medium saucepan, heat blackberries, 1 cup sugar, ½ cup water 1 Tblsp cornstarch. Boil, stirring constantly until sauce thickens slightly. Reduce heat to simmer.

In mixing bowl, add Bisquick and ½ cup melted butter. Stir until well mixed. Slowly add milk a little at a time until the batter reaches the desired consistency, not too thick, not too thin, but easily poured or spooned out. You may not need to add all the milk.

Remove berries from heat and pour into 8x8 baking dish. Dot with ¼ cup cold butter, then top with batter. Put the baking dish into the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes or until top is golden brown and syrup is thick and bubbling. Remove from oven, cool slightly. Serve warm with ice cream, milk, whipped cream, or alone.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Passing Along Summer's Treasures

There is something magical about summer when you’re a child. Now that I’m a parent, I get to experience it all over again through my own children. There’s a lot to be said for having a second childhood. With my children clamoring for popsicles and other icy treats out of the freezer we keep in our garage, I’m reminded of all the familiar sights, smells, flavors and sensations that heralded the lazy summer months of my youth and I wonder how to pass those treasures along to them.

It’s not really wanting to relive my childhood through my children. I know their experiences and memories will be vastly different from my own. The decades of my youth are long gone, as are many of the familiar trappings. But there are some experiences that I can be sure to pass along to them – some things are timeless. To this day, I find the smell of sun warmed skin, saturated with chlorine and mixed with sunscreen to be more attractive than any man-made cologne.

Growing up in Florida, we had to have a backyard swimming pool. Everyone did. I think it was some kind of law. My brothers, sister and I made great use of it. Large and deep, our pool was situated a fair distance from the back of the house. It dominated a brick patio that my father had lined with concrete classical columns topped with torches that flickered in the sultry Florida night. During the day the turquoise water glittered with reflected sunlight, beckoning one and all to find relief from the heat in its cool depths.

We younger children made the most of it all morning, turning the calm surface into a wave pool by rocking ferociously on big black inner tubes until the brick steamed with the overflow. Afternoons the older siblings took over. My eldest brother pulled on his scuba tank and weight belt and found blessed quiet at the bottom of the pool while the rest of us splashed and played on the surface. With an army of us, quiet was a valuable commodity. The nighttime belonged to my parents. With flickering firelight from the torches and the mellow glow from the light of the pool, our back yard became an enchanted garden of brick-lined tropical walkways, complete with statuary and exotic and fragrant flowers.

When my friend Lynn called for an impromptu party at the local YMCA pool yesterday, a jumble of memories flooded me and I loaded my three children into the car. Now, a public pool is a bit different from having one in your own back yard, but the principle is still the same. After dousing the children with sunscreen, my friends and I turned them loose in the mini water park and settled back for a chat. For a few hours, the older children played with the younger ones, good naturedly retrieving pool toys that had drifted too deep, offering encouragement and swimming lessons and in general splashing about and savoring the warm sunshine.

My son Liam became the talk of the town when he, in a good faith effort to not relieve himself in the pool, pulled down his swimsuit on the deck to relieve himself a few feet from the water. Fortunately, I got him to the bathroom in time, but not before my friends resolved to tease me mercilessly about it.

When my children showed signs of fatigue, I bundled them off for home, Winnie-the-Pooh video playing in the back seat. At the end of the day, when my husband and I were bidding them goodnight, the weary trio trooped past for their kisses and as I kissed each of them, I breathed deeply of the scent of their warm skin saturated with chlorine and sunscreen, and I smiled.