Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Adding a Hint of the Hills to the Holidays : An Appalroot Farm Christmas Home Tour

Appalachia has taken such a hit with all the recent wildfires throughout the region.  It's been hard to watch the footage of those beautiful mountains burning.  Please keep those impacted by the fires in your prayers. This Christmas may be especially challenging for some of the families that have lost homes and possessions.  If you are interested in helping those who have been affected, here are some links for giving.

Dolly Parton's "My People Fund"

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee "Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville Emergency Response Fund"

But despite the devastation, those mountains will one day blossom and bloom again, and our people will endure and stand strong through this, as mountain folk are known to do. The Lord will renew and restore, and faith in His ability to do so will allow a little peace and hope to settle over the mountains this Christmas.

The strength and endurance and faith of our people is certainly inspiring.  It's worth celebrating!  And what better time to celebrate it than Christmas.  Our roots may be humble, but remember that the Lord didn't come into this world with pomp and circumstance.  He entered it humble himself, out in an old barn...makes me think He would appreciate us putting a little humble back into the day we celebrate His birth.

So come join me as I try to add some humble simplicity, and a hint of the hills, to the celebration of our Lord's birth this year.  Welcome to Christmas at Appalroot Farm!

This has to be one of my favorite spots in my house this year.  Just a simple chalkboard saying it all.  Don't you just love that Christmas song?!  The shelf includes an old jar and cup that belonged to my mamaw from Eastern Kentucky, and a doorknob from my papaw's childhood home.  "Go tell it on the mountain, indeed!"

Speaking of old jars from the one of my very first posts, "Jar Flies & Cannin' Jars," I mentioned how I love to fill the canning jars in my kitchen with candy canes at Christmas time.  You can revisit that post here. But this is my mamaw's vintage jar filled with candy canes this year as always.

And while we're mentioning Mamaw, years ago she gave me several old vintage feed sack remnants she had, and oh how I've cherished having those.  Are you familiar with the history of feed sacks and flour sacks...and how they once were printed in patterns that women could use to make clothing and other items?  They were popular for making dresses and such like during the depression and some time after in Appalachia and elsewhere.  And so many of those fabric scraps wound up in quilts that covered the bed on cold winter nights in the hills!  Here is an example of an old quilt made by my granny with a lot of feedsack scraps.  Something so beautiful out of something so humble!  

This year I tucked some of my mamaw's old feed sack fabric scraps into my Christmas decor, and I love how it makes my the house feel like "down home."  

A door wreath with a feed sack scrap bow!

Mistletoe tied with feed sack
To me, this beats any expensive and fancy decor I could buy in a store.  It's meaningful and celebrates mountain heritage perfectly!

More of my mamaw's feedsack adorning a miniature tree!
And a little mountain humor never hurts as well!  I inserted a little of that humor on one of my chalkboards this Christmas.

You've heard that old Appalachian saying..."It's cold as whiz," right?  My Eastern Kentucky born dad has always said, "It's cold as a whiz cat!" We've often asked him what in the world a whiz cat is, and he has no clue!  It's just an old saying he heard growing up.  

And while we're talking mountain humor...I couldn't resist adding a little Christmas touch to the old chamber pot I have!  

Now I'm not old enough to have gone without indoor plumbing, but when I was a really little girl I remember having to use a chamber pot at my mamaw's.  There was indoor plumbing, but when we went down for a visit, we would usually sleep upstairs in the old farmhouse.  The stairs were steep and creaky, and not something you wanted to traverse in the middle of the dark night to the bathroom downstairs, so my grandparents kept a chamber pot upstairs for the "convenience" of guests.  Oh the memories! 

And as for memories, this next little vignette I'll share with you is one that sure stirs a lot of them.  It's my little Christmas tribute to my late Mamaw and Papaw and it sure tugs at my heartstrings.  

It includes a pincushion in the likeness of a chair that belonged to my dear mamaw.  She was awfully handy with a needle and thread of any kind.  And right next to that is an old handmade bootliner (turned old timey stocking by me) that my papaw used to wear to keep his feet warm when he worked in the oilfields.  He had to walk quite a ways at that job checking on the oil pumps and all, and those liners likely kept him from near frostbite on many a cold mountain morning.  I filled the liner with a pinecone and artificial pine sprig.  There's a portion of one of the old hills on my papaw's farm so filled with pines that Papaw dubbed it the Piney Point, so this sprig is a reminder of that.  Of course, Papaw had a huge sweet tooth, so I inserted a candy cane.  And he was fond of apples, so I placed one in the liner as well.  You might remember reading about my papaw and apple dumplings in one of my previous posts. You can revisit "Papaw's Eastern Kentucky Mountain Style Apple Dumplings" here

The final portion of this little vignette harkens back to my papaw's boyhood home, and also the first homeplace of my mamaw and papaw right after they married.  Papaw grew up on an Eastern Kentucky farm on a tributary named Coon Creek, and when he married, Coon Creek was also the place where he brought his new bride, my mamaw, to a little log house not far from his childhood home.  

The rock on which I've painted "A Coon Creek Christmas," actually came from the real Coon Creek just outside my papaw's old homeplace.  I gathered a few of them on a trip back there several years ago.  

Who ever dreamed rocks could become family heirlooms? But I'll tell you, it's the memories and meaning behind something that make it special, not its monetary worth.  It certainly is humble, but an old rock from the hills sure can hold a lot of Christmas love.  

I even took the other rocks I had gathered from Coon Creek to line the base of my outdoor nativity.  Love the extra rustic look they lend to it.  

Finally, I've got one more tidbit of Appalachian inspired Christmas decor to share with you all.  I've paid tribute to my mamaw and papaw...and now this last idea is a tribute to my grandparents on the other side.  

My late grandad and granny loved Christmas...and they celebrated it as enthusiastically as their meager mountain means would allow them.  Every year they would have a Christmas tree, and as store bought decorations were awfully pricey, they needed to resort to some good old fashioned handmade ingenuity to grace the branches of the tree.  Many Christmases they would use crepe paper to make simple ornaments and decor. They might not have had a holiday filled with glitz and glamour...but every one of their eleven children grew up with absolutely wonderful and happy memories of Christmas in my grandad and granny's home.  You see, excess money can't buy happiness, it can rarely buy sincerely fond memories, and it certainly isn't the key to creating a wonderful and meaningful Christmas. 

Grandad at Christmas
Granny at Christmas
So in honor of Grandad and Granny, this Christmas I've decorated one of my own trees primarily in crepe paper ornaments. I had so much fun cutting out gingerbread, candy cane, and star shapes for this simple little tree.

 I love how it turned out, with a real old timey feel...but the best part about it is the pride I feel in my roots when I see it.  

I feel beyond blessed that my roots run deep through Appalachia and that I descend from humble mountain folk with such strength, and faith, and absolute joy...folks that knew how to keep the true spirit and meaning of Christmas.  

My hope is that this post has inspired you to reach back to your roots and add a bit of your own mountain heritage to Christmas...leaving behind the pomp and circumstance that much of the world indulges in this time of year for something simpler and more beautiful. And my prayer is that the true meaning of this holiday, the birth of our Saviour, will fill your hearts with peace and joy this season and always.  Merry Christmas from Appalroot Farm!  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Great Granny E.'s Twice Roasted Sweet Taters

My absolute favorite holiday is almost upon us!  Don't we all need a day where the only requirements are to feast, and be thankful, and to love on our families?  Well, okay, I did forget to mention that somebody's got to be responsible for cooking the feast!

If you'll be the one cooking this year's Thanksgiving meal...or if you are just looking for a great side dish for any day...I've got an old fashioned mountain recipe that will make all true sweet potato lovers swoon!

Sweet potatoes have traditionally been a popular food throughout Appalachia.  They keep fairly well if stored properly throughout the winter, and it doesn't hurt that they're pretty tasty too!  They certainly were a common sight on my family's table when I was growing up! Some years my mamaw and papaw raised so many sweet potatoes on their Eastern Kentucky farm that Mamaw would store them in boxes in the upstairs rooms of their house.  So I found myself on a few trips to Mamaw's house sharing the bedroom with sweet taters!  

I apparently come from a long line of sweet potato this sweet potato dish I'm going to share with you is an heirloom recipe (tweaked slightly) that was passed down to my mother by her grandmother (my Great Granny E.) decades ago in Eastern Kentucky.

Great Granny E.
When my mother was growing up, Great Granny E. lived with my mother's family.  Great Granny E.'s daughter was my mamaw, and Mamaw cared for Great Granny E. when she became too frail to live on her own.  So my mother had a glorious opportunity to glean a lot of old fashioned mountain wisdom and know-how from Great Granny E., including some killer old timey kitchen skills!  

Great Granny E. raised 9 children in the hills of Kentucky...and 8 of them were boys, so you can imagine that she knew a thing or two about feeding people.  You all know how boys like to eat!

Great Granny E (far left) with my great grandpa and their 9 children. Mamaw is the lone girl in the middle. Bless her heart!
With that many mouths, she sure had to be an expert at not letting things go to waste, and this recipe was likely a product of her ingenious frugality.

Great Granny E. with my great grandpa and their oldest son. 
But don't let that fool you...this dish isn't just your run of the mill leftover sweet potatoes.  This is a "let's roast some sweet potatoes just so we have some left to make this dish" type of recipe!  It's that good, folks....simple, but oh so good!

So without further's how you can impress your guests with my "Great Granny E.'s Twice Roasted Sweet Taters"...

When Great Granny E. made this dish, she started by boiling her sweet potatoes whole, and in the skins, in a pot on an old cook stove.  You can start with boiling the potatoes first like her, or go the route my mother takes with the recipe and bake your sweet potatoes in the oven first.  Personally, I'd rather bake something than boil it any that's how I made the recipe.  

So bake 2 large whole, unpeeled sweet potatoes on a sheet pan in the oven at about 425 degrees for around an hour, or until soft.

Don't forget to pierce the potatoes with a fork a few times before baking.

And if you would like easy cleanup, you can cover your pan with foil first.  

When the potatoes are tender, remove from the oven and allow to cool.

 If you will be making this dish right away, carefully peel away the skins once cooled.  If you will be making the dish much later, or even the next day, refrigerate the baked sweet potatoes in their skins until ready to use.  Then remove them from the fridge and peel right before completing the recipe.  I love how you can do half the prep of this recipe in advance....that helps to make it a pretty Thanksgiving friendly sort of dish!  And you can easily double, or even triple, the recipe for a crowd!

So, when your potatoes are cooled and you are ready to complete the final dish...carefully peel away the skins while the potatoes are still whole.

Once peeled, slice each potato in half lengthwise with a knife (or better yet, slice in quarters they will brown really well) and lay cut side up in a greased or sprayed foil covered baking dish.

Next, dot the tops of the sweet potatoes with butter.

Then follow that up with a layer of brown sugar.

Finally, give a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.

Roast uncovered in a 400 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are deeply browned on the edges, and caramelized to pure perfection!  (You will have to look carefully, as the cinnamon darkens these a lot, giving the illusion that they're done before they truly are.)

Yes, caramelized to can't go wrong with that!

The edges of the sweet potatoes will have a slight chewy crispness to them...contrasting beautifully with the tender creaminess of the insides.

And did I mention the caramelization?

Great Granny E. knew what she was doing by cooking these potatoes brings out the best in them. Drool worthy!!

The full recipe is listed at the end of this post and a printable version can be found here.

My prayer is that you have a truly blessed Thanksgiving, surrounded by loved ones and gratitude.  And may your table be filled with delicious reminders of your Appalachian heritage, sparking fond memories of the mountains and thankfulness in your heart.  God bless!

Great Granny E.'s Twice Roasted Sweet Taters
(serves 4-6)

2 large sweet potatoes
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Clean the potatoes and pierce several times each with a fork.  Place on a foil covered baking pan and roast for about an hour, or until soft.  Allow to cool and refrigerate until the next day, or use right away after the potatoes have cooled down.  When ready to use, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and carefully peel the potatoes while whole.  Then slice each potato lengthwise in half or in quarters depending on thickness desired.  Place in a greased or sprayed, foil lined baking dish, cut sides up.  Dot evenly with butter, then sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon.  Roast for 40-45 minutes, or until edges are nicely browned.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Scream on the Hill : A True Tale of Fright from Eastern Kentucky

Appalroot Farm is back!  Thanks so much for being patient with me while I took a little late summer break from blogging.  ...and just like that, fall has arrived!  The leaves are slowly starting to take on that tell-tale hue of cooler days to come, there's a nip to the mornings, and Halloween is right around the corner.

While all those little ghosts and goblins are beginning to plot and plan for trick or's a bit of a "haint" tale to get you in the mood.

This here story comes from my daddy, who was born and raised a country boy in the hills and hollers of Eastern Kentucky.

My daddy, raised a country boy in Eastern Kentucky.
Now before the tale is told...there's a thing or two you need to know about my dad.  First off, the man is dead set against the idea of "haints" of any sort.  He just doesn't believe they exist.  And furthermore, growing up, my dad was no stranger to the hills and mountains of Appalachia at night.  As a teenager, he would often be out long after dark visiting relatives and folks...with nothing but his own two feet to get himself back home.

Many a time he found himself out on such dark and moonless nights that he'd have to have one foot on the road and one foot in the roadside grass and weeds to stay on track walking back home.  I've even heard him comment that about the only thing that ever worried him when he was out at night was passing people's houses where they kept dogs.  He said some folks' dogs were mean, so he'd often be leary enough that he'd hit the hills and woods to avoid a run in with a dog if he was passing a place where he knew they kept an unfriendly one.

But despite how accustomed and unafraid of the dark hills my daddy was...there was still one night all of that changed...  I''ll let my daddy tell you about this one in his own words...

"I got scared one time. I was comin' home one night. I don't know exactly where I was at. I'd walked a long ways. I guess I was probably down at my brother-in-law's. He run a store.  And they would gather up there, a bunch of people, and they'd play Rook you know, or somethin' like that of a night..."

Rook cards
"And I was walkin' home one dark night. And I got down there to just a holler below the house where we lived, and I heard this scream up on the hill. Screamin' like a woman screamin'.  And it kept gettin' closer. I stood and listened...tried to figure out what it was. It got close, and this road was cut down and they was a high place to get up to the hill you know. And it got right up to there to where that was. Why, I said, 'Hey!' It was on me! It screamed and it made the hair raise on my head. You believe that I had hair back then?!"

Daddy, young and with hair, growing up in Eastern Kentucky!
"And buddy, my feet, I don't know. I's probably jumpin' ten feet high as I went up that road. When I got up there just before I got to the house, the road went up into the creek. But we had a path that went around the hill and you had to go up this hill to get up to the top of that path. Buddy, I jumped it! I bet I didn't make over two jumps if I made one! And I's a knockin' on the door. And they didn't know what in the world was goin' on. They thought I's crazy, I guess. I told 'em what happened when I got in."

The house my daddy and his family lived in when he heard the scream on the hill.
"Never did know what it was. But it was scary. It was actin' like it was comin' to get me! I been out of a night all over them hills down there in Kentucky." 

To this day, Daddy never has figured out what screamed and chased him from the hill that pitch dark Eastern Kentucky night.  Some might pass it off as a prank, others might say it was a remnant mountain lion despite the authorities that be saying those were long wiped out...or a few might claim it was something far more ominous and sinister that screamed at him from the hilltop that night.  Perhaps we'll never know...but the story of the one and only night that Daddy got scared in the hills has become a legendary tale in our family.  I sure hope you've enjoyed hearing it as much as I have over the years.  

Happy fall and Happy Halloween!  Until next time, blessings to you and yours!