My Aunt Myrtle lived in West Virginia, had five children, ran a small farm and still made time for family, friends and church. Of all her ten siblings, she laughed the most. I don’t ever remember her getting upset over things. When her oldest son, Donald, went to Viet Nam people asked her if she was worried but her answer would always be the same,”God can take care of him there as well as He can here !” My, what faith and courage I felt in those words. Donald did come home safely after each tour of duty. Aunt Myrtle’s kitchen was definitely the center of her home. When you look at the picture above you will see the large coffee pot sitting on her black wood-burning stove. It was always ready for a pick me up cup any time of day. You could see her garden in the spring and summer outside the kitchen window. But my favorite part of her kitchen was the pantry. This is where she kept her freshly baked breads, cakes or cookies and canned goods. It was a place for secrets to be told and secrets to be kept! Uncle Craig and his three sons went hunting a lot so there was also canned meats. There was always room for one more at her kitchen table and I sat there many times eating her wonderful homemade foods. The back porch was just off the kitchen. The men kept their hunting boots and coats out there. And the guns would be standing in the corner. Unloaded, I’m sure!! The cats would come to the back yard to be feed. And since cats are very necessary for a farmhouse to keep the mice under control, they were treated very well. They could drink all the milk they wanted since the milk came straight from their own cows. When you came in the front door you were greeted with deer heads hanging on the living room walls. The men were very proud of their hunting prizes and I had grown up seeing them but to see the looks on my children and their cousins’ faces when they first saw them was priceless. But before long the heads would be adorned with jewelry and hats and each given a name to be more apart of the family. When evening came it was a treat to get to crawl up onto her high bed covered with handmade quilts. It took quite some strength in the winter to lift those blankets to turn over, so once you got settled you stayed put till morning. But, oh what a good nights sleep you’d have especially when you left the window slightly open and hear the sounds of nature off in the distance and smell the good mountain air. No matter what time of the morning you awoke the smell of coffee was coming from that happy kitchen. I often wondered if Aunt Myrtle ever slept! The kitchen would always have the smell of the season.
In the early spring we would smell rhubarb cooking. The leaves are poison so you throw them away and cut the stalks. This is a sign that winter is over and warmer weather is just around the counter. I never knew anyone who cooked rhubarb so it was a nice treat. It can be real tart so like the Mary Poppins song goes “a spoon full of sugar” is always a good idea to have on hand.
In the summer Aunt Myrtle and anyone lucky enough to get to go with her would gather fresh vegetables from her garden, already organic . Red radishes and little lettuce leaves are especially important for this wilted lettuce salad. She would use some of the left over bacon grease from breakfast to make the dressing. So good! So fresh!!
Then comes fall with all the squash, pumpkins and tons of apples. This is probably the best the kitchen ever smells. The families all get together and peel, cut and cook. The apples are what the do the most with. Apple pies, cakes. applesauce and apple butter have ever been better. It takes a very strong woman to do all these things, but like Reese Witherspoon said of her ancestors, I don’t know of any weak women either!!
We didn’t get to travel to West Virginia in the winter as much because of the snow and bad weather. But when we did it was much more relaxing. There wasn’t as much work outside to do so Aunt Myrtle would bake chickens or make a pot roast using the potatoes and onions kept in her cellar under the front porch. We would sit around the pot belly stove and our family would sing and visit together. It was nice. Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Craig had a beautiful oak player piano that we would get to play, some sounded better than others I’m afraid. Enjoy these recipes and remember to keep in touch with your relatives. Memories are made everyday even if you’re not noticing!