An Easter Basket of Memories

Rabbit in Cabbage 2On Easter my family usually went to dinner with Great Aunt Alice. Until my sister was born when I was 8, I was always the only child present. Aunt Alice had several toys she would bring out to amuse me. One was a little truck loaded with colorful blocks. They had letters, numbers and pictures on them. Even now I can see that red and yellow toy with a string to pull it by. The bed of the truck was loaded with the blocks, and I was always careful to put them back when it was time to go upstairs to dinner.

The other toy was a very special, ancient rabbit that lived inside a head of cloth lettuce. When it was wound–only adults were allowed to do that, and the golden knob on the side was pulled out, the rabbit head would emerge, extend itself and turn. Its ears would rise into the air. Then it would chew on the small piece of cloth lettuce in its mouth. When it finished, it would retract into the cloth lettuce with a little snap as the ears went back against its head.

I thought of that rabbit when I was contemplating what I would write for this column. I wish I had it now. I remember my children being shown it when they were little. Though I don’t know if they remember it the way I do. I loved patting it. It was covered in soft, white actual fur. It did not play music or do anything more than just that. I believe it had been in the family at least since my Great Aunt was a child. when I was contemplating my column and it leapt vividly into my mind as though I had seen it yesterday.

Once we arrived and took off our coats, the adults stood around and drank cocktails, while I had ginger ale. Aunt Alice, who favored simple appetizers, always served a plate of peanut butter on crackers and there were also nuts in a bowl. Too young to read, I sat on the big rug and played with the blocks. Dinner was served upstairs in a large dining room. The oval mahogany table gleamed with silver and cut glass. The platters and bowls of food were brought in by women in black uniforms with white aprons. There was usually soup, then a roast and vegetables, and finally, dessert, followed by fingerbowls to dip fingers into and cloth napkins to dry them with. My treat would be the chocolates for after dinner, something we never had at home. My mother did not think it was healthy to eat candy and never bought it.

Time is a strange accordion. It can compress decades into years, and years into moments. I can see so clearly the large thick rug I sat on to play with the alphabet blocks and watch again the white bunny with the pink glass eyes rising up out of the faded green cloth leaves. It looks so real as it turns its head, the ears rise into the air and it chews on its bit of green cloth. I can feel again the soft fur as I pat the head and the ears, stiff with wire beneath the fur. What was only yesterday has added itself to now creating an Easter basket of memories for me to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Recipes Can Be Useful by Tasha Halpert

Kitchen ImplementsSometimes I use recipes, sometimes not. I have loved to cook ever since I was a small child when I made up mud and berry pies and added dandelion fluff for decoration. I had a spot in the lilac grove on one side of our yard where I kept my play dishes and utensils. When the wind blew, the boards for shelves I stuck between the branches would fall to the ground along with my dishes. That was a most unsatisfactory pantry. I did not learn to cook with real food until after I was married. . My mother did not allow me to make anything but salads and brownies. She did not consider me responsible enough for meal preparation.

These days in my kitchen a heavy magnet holds a collection of recipes to my refrigerator. There are always more of them than I can reasonably expect to attempt. Some, when I go over them as I must do from time to time will prove too time consuming. Others will require ingredients I don’t have on hand or want to invest in. Still, when I first saw them I had considered making them, and might even have done so were I inspired to.

Every few months, when the collection is beginning to outgrow the magnet I go through it. Then I discard those that, while they seemed tempting no longer appeal to me. Then I generally pull out one or two of the remaining ones to try. Some will become great favorites and get written into my spiral recipe notebook or pressed into the pages of a loose-leaf notebook that holds the recipes I have accumulated over the years. I truly enjoy cooking and like many who do, have collected recipes for most of my adult life. I also create my own recipes for that spiral notebook.

My husband and I are fond of garlic. One day I invented this recipe for fried eggs that is now a real staple. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Cover the bottom with three or four large sliced garlic cloves. Turn the heat down to medium low and break in three or four large eggs. Place fresh basil, cilantro, or in a pinch parsley leaves over the eggs. Cook until whites are firm. Carefully divide and turn eggs over. Cover with slices of your favorite cheese. Take from heat and cover. Let cheese melt, then serve to two.

Mushrooms and eggs go beautifully together for supper. Beat three or four eggs with two tablespoons of water. (Using water greatly enhances their flavor.) Add fresh herbs to taste, or even dried ones. I like tarragon, thyme is lovely, as is parsley or sage. Add a half a cup of cheddar or Swiss cheese squares to the eggs. Melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Slice in 4 or 5 mushrooms of medium size. They should cover the bottom of the pan. stir and turn until they render up their juice and are cooked through. Add and melt another tablespoon or so of butter. Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the mushrooms. Turn gently as eggs cook until they are done and serve to two.

The Last Jar of Honey, by Tasha Halpert

Pink and white flowers  I don’t remember exactly when we met; it was between fifteen and twenty years ago. What I do remember is her smile. She never failed to greet me with it–that and a wonderful warm hug. Her name was Santina Crawford. I called her the Honey Lady because that was what I bought from her, delicious local honey from the bees her husband Howard tended so well that he won prizes every year at various fairs and exhibitions. He even proudly showed me articles that were written about him in the local papers.

I brought her all my glass containers and never failed to leave without a variety of different sized jars of honey both for us to enjoy and to give away. She and her husband also sold apples. Their farm with the apple orchard and the hives is in a densely commercial area just off highway 495 in Franklin. When I first met Santina and Howard they were well along in years, and I used to worry that they’d retire and the farm would get gobbled up by a developer. As time went by, each time I would visit I would relieved that the little sign reading “Akin Bak Farm, Honey” was still there on the pole by their driveway.

Once completely rural, the land around the farm now teems with businesses. Heavy traffic zooms past on 146 at a steady rate. Several years ago her grandson, a Cornell graduate, came to help. He revived the apple business, which Howard, because of his accumulation of years could no longer manage. He even built and began a farm stand not only for the apples, but also the produce and eggs from the chickens he and his wife began to raise on the farm. Then several years ago when I visited, with tears in her eyes, Santina told me that Howard had passed away. Santina kept on handling the honey, however, her son no longer wanted my glass jars.

During my many visits over the years we would sit and chat together in her kitchen. She shared much of her background with me. Part of a large family, she grew up on the farm where she eventually lived with her husband. While she was growing up, she and her siblings worked in people’s homes and on the farm. Every year I brought home quantities of their apples, some of them heirloom varieties, all of them special. I also brought many of my friends to meet my honey lady and to purchase jars for themselves.

When I called this fall to see the best day to get some honey from my friend I was told she had passed on in August. I was shocked and saddened. If only I had gone to see her sooner! I have only one large jar left from what I didn’t know was my last visit. It is nearly finished. I hoard the special crystals of sweetness that remain. One day the last of them will be gone. Still I will enjoy thinking of her, of our conversations and most of all her tender hugs. And although the last of the honey will eventually be gone, my heart will always hold the memory of her warm and radiant smile.

The Peddler Woman, Childhood Days A Childhood Reminiscence

Me and mama by Bachrach I was a young child during World War II. As I look back I realize this was a time of great change in American society. Not only were we fighting a large scale war in far away countries, but we were also changing the way things were done at home, especially if one lived in the country as opposed to the city. By living in the country I mean living where if you wanted to purchase anything that was not delivered to the door, you needed a car. Of course there were various catalogs, however for everyday shopping most of what we bought we purchased from the local stores. The internet did not of course exist.

Because like most people we had only one car my mother could not get out to shop all that often. My father worked as a salesman and he usually needed the car to get around. In addition, gas was rationed so no one used it thoughtlessly or took trips just for the fun of it. On Sundays, all the stores were closed. That pretty much left Saturdays and the occasional afternoon when my dad would work at home catching up on paperwork, for my mother to shop anywhere we could not walk to. Living where we did, that would mean a couple of miles trek, and with my short little legs that would have been unrealistic.

Milk was delivered, and ice for the icebox with the pan that accumulated water underneath that had to be emptied regularly. Eventually the milkman added bread to his supplies. In addition there was a woman who walked from town to town lugging a large suitcase with all sorts of small items for sale. She sold what might be termed “dry goods.” The dictionary definition for dry goods is “textiles, ready made clothing, and sundries.” She always stopped at our house. It was exciting for me when she did.

I can still see her coming into our living room and opening her big suitcase. In it were needles and thread, buttons, handkerchiefs and occasionally something rare in those days: nylons. They had seams, and were shear unlike the cotton stockings that were available. My mother would buy thread, pretty hair ribbons for me, and sometimes cotton socks. In the winter the peddler woman sold woolen gloves and hats. In the summer she might have carried the sun bonnets my mother insisted I wear to protect my fair skin.

How different the world is today. The end of WWII brought in a new era in so many ways. How little understanding children growing up today must have of what it is like to buy from a peddler woman, a strap over her shoulder, clutching the handle of her suitcase as she walked from town to town with her notions and dry goods. I don’t remember when she stopped coming and we went instead to the big stores in Beverly to shop. It could have been around the time we got an electric refrigerator to replace the zinc lined icebox by the kitchen door. When one is small, time dissolves into timelessness, and memory delivers images not dates.

 

 

 

Apples by Tasha Halpert

Apples 2

Apples

When we moved to Grafton in 1989, one of the first joys I discovered was the wonderful apple orchard on Creeper Hill. The owners grew many of the old fashioned apple varieties and I went there each fall to purchase the different kinds they sold. Sometimes they would talk to me about their varieties and I enjoyed learning from them. In the spring I looked forward to seeing the orchard of pink apple blossoms that filled the air with their scent.

Then one year I went to see them, only to discover that the trees had been cut down. Houses were being built where the trees had been. I cried. Part of me grieved the loss of the precious old trees. Another part remembered the orchard I had played in as a child. My great grandfather delighted in planting different varieties of fruit trees. As well as apple, there were several varieties of pear trees. There were also quince trees with hard fuzzy green fruit. They could not be eaten raw but were delicious stewed or made into jelly.

Every year I look forward to the fresh apples of the fall. I love making applesauce, apple crisp, and what I call Sauce of Apples. This is not applesauce. For one thing I peel the apples, cooking them only long enough to be cooked through but still more or less keep their shape. For another I add vanilla for flavor and enough raisins to make them nice and sweet. They can be served over cake, pudding, ice cream or simply as a low calorie dessert.

My old Fanny Farmer Cooking School Cookbook–10th edition 1959 has apple desserts that most may not have ever heard of, let alone eaten. it is rare for these recipes to be found in modern cookbooks: Apple Brown Betty, Apple Gingerbread Upside Down Cake, Apple Cobbler, Apple crisp, Apple Kuchen, Apple Pan Dowdy, and Apple Indian Pudding. There are also several recipes for apple pie, one with cranberries and raisins. I just found a tasty looking bread pudding made with applesauce I want to try.

The apple crisp I made tonight is sitting on the stove for tomorrow’s enjoyment. I think it tastes even better the next day. A food processor simplifies the topping. I peel and slice enough apples to fill an eight inch square pan, pour a little maple syrup over them, sprinkle with cinnamon and stir well. Then I cut up a stick of butter and put it in my food processor with a half cup brown sugar and a half cup flour. Whirl until they are nicely mingled, then add a half cup of old fashioned rolled oats. Whirl briefly to combine then distribute the mixture over the apples and bake for an hour in a 350 degree oven. Yummy!

Hereabouts there are multiple farm stands throughout the area that sell a wide variety of apples. There are also opportunities to pick your own. My great grandfather planted his small orchard with many varieties of apples. I played there often, picking up fallen apples from Late August until November. The trees he planted bore fruit all throughout the fall. It was most likely there that my love affair with apples began.

Fall Reflections by Tasha Halpert

Fall REflections 15 Bright spot   As a child I looked forward to fall. I enjoyed the swish of the leaves as I shuffled through them and the crisp air redolent of the smell of burning from people’s yard clean ups. Each year I collected colorful leaves and treasured them until they dried up and crumbled. When my children were small we collected our favorites and ironed them between sheets of waxed paper. We’d tape them on the glass storm door or onto windowpanes. The wonderful variety of colors and the way the each leaf is uniquely designed by nature has always fascinated me.

Recently, driving down the highway I gazed with pleasure at the vista of the changing leaves. In some places they had already turned, and the autumn colors had emerged in a blanket of bright hues. However, in a few places summer’s green still predominated. Then I noticed an outstanding patch of red in the midst of a section of green leaves. It stood out so strongly that my eyes were drawn to it and lingered until I had driven past it. That particular section of leaves seemed so vivid compared with the usual display of roadside color.

The patch of brilliantly red leaves I had just passed wasn’t especially large, yet it overpowered my attention in a way that the conglomeration of greater color had not. As I drove I thought about the difference between it and the other colorful leaves that lined the roadside. I realized it was the contrast that made it so strong. I was reminded of how Shakespeare spoke of the light of a candle in the darkness saying: “So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” There is something about contrast that enhances the presence of what is outstandingly lovely to experience. The same is true of scarcity or of specialness; these enhance the way something is experienced.

I realized that my attention had been drawn to the brightness of the red against the darkness of the green. A hillside of lovely fall leaves is a beautiful sight to behold, yet without contrast my eyes soon grow used to it; I don’t see the view with as much interest or delight. The same thing applies to taste. If all the food on my plate is bland, it all begins to taste the same. If it is either entirely crunchy or entirely smooth I don’t enjoy it as much. With what I hear, the same applies: What makes Beethoven’s music so special to me is the interplay of loud and soft, thunderous and sweet.

This is also true with regard to life in general. I enjoy it when things go smoothly, when everything falls into place, when people show up when they’re supposed to. I am grateful for the excitement of winning, the feelings of accomplishment when I am praised. Yet without at least temporary failure, without glitches, without the serendipity of strange twists and turns, life would not be nearly as interesting or as vital. While I may lament a loss or mourn a missed opportunity, because of that contrast I am even more grateful for my gains and my successes.

Fatherhood, by Tasha Halpert

Dad fishing in fla.We didn’t celebrate Fathers’ Day with a cookout when I was growing up. I don’t remember any cookouts at all. My dad didn’t cook anything much because my mother wouldn’t let him. She said he burnt things. Nor did he help much around the house except to polish the silver. He did that because it was the only way my mother would allow it to be displayed. She felt she had enough to do without polishing it. However for Fathers’ day we usually had a nice roast or some other kind of meat my dad enjoyed.

On the third Sunday in June we celebrate Fathers and acknowledge their importance to us. Since 1908, when the first Fathers’ Day was declared their role in the lives of families has greatly changed. While there were exceptions, most fathers then had little to do with raising their young children. Even in the 50’s it was rare for one to change a diaper, bathe or feed a baby unless mom was not available. Today many young fathers can be seen carrying, cuddling, and playing with their toddlers.

According to Celebrations, The Complete Book of American Holidays by Robert J. Myers, the closest ancestor for Fathers’ Day is an ancient Roman festival called Parentalia. It lasted from the 13th of February to the 22nd. Not for living fathers it was a time for the remembrance of departed parents and kinsfolk. It was celebrated with a family reunion that began at the cemetery with offerings of milk, honey, oil and water at flower decorated graves. Afterward people went home, feasted and visited.

The first observance of both Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day in the US were in 1908. Both took place in churches in West Virginia, one in May and one in June, in two different towns. They were held to honor the fathers of the women who arranged for them. Over time, and with the efforts of a number of different people, the day finally became established. However Fathers’ Day took longer than Mothers’ Day to become official.

By 1911 there was no a state without a Mothers’ day observance. It was even celebrated in many other countries. Fathers’ Day, though celebrated on the third Sunday in June in a number of states did not become officially observed until President Richard Nixon signed a congressional resolution. Prior to that an annual proclamation was required by any state to have one.

Not every parent is able to fulfill his or her role perfectly, yet all do the best they can. Setting a good example is paramount. Young boys need to know that it is just as manly to change a diaper as it is to throw a baseball. The nurturing that comes from a father’s heart is as precious as that from a mother’s. Many young male children today will grow up with a better understanding of what it is to be a parent than they might have in prior generations. More than ever today, fatherhood and fathers deserve celebration.