Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 2013 Reads

Tom Wright's What Dies In Summer is purportedly a coming of age, loss of innocence novel. Two young cousins find the body of a murdered girl in 1970's Texas. There were just too many bad things happening in this debut novel to make it believable. I gave it a 2.5.

Two Ian Rutledge mysteries from the mother/son writing team of Charles Todd this month - A Matter of Justice and A Pale Horse. Scotland Yard Inspector Rutledge, still haunted by his service in 'The Great War', solves murders in 1920 England. I don't know how these two writers collaborate - one in Delaware the other in North Carolina - but they turn out some great mysteries. I rated both of these 3.5.

William Kent Krueger is a new author for me. His protagonist is Cork O'Conner, part Ojibwe, part Irish, sometime northern Minnesota reservation sheriff. Mercy Falls is number six in the series. I really like reading books that involve native lore and practices. What I didn't like was the cliff-hanger in this book - I didn't realize it was continued in the next book in the series - which our library doesn't have - but I read enough of that book online to understand what happened.
Trickster's Point is number 12 in the Cork O'Conner series and the only other of Krueger's novels our library has. I gave both these books a 3.5. I would read more of the series if it was available.

Dana Stabenow, Dana Stabenow, Dana Stabenow. I am so sorry to come to the end of the Kate Shugak series available in our library. This native Alaskan has become one of my favorite detectives. I'm so glad a friend recommended the series. I never thought I would enjoy reading about our 49th state as much as I have. Stabenow really makes it come alive and her writing and plot lines are great. I'm giving A Deeper Sleep and A Night Too Dark both 4.0 and A Taint In The Blood as well as Though Not Dead both 4.5's. Why they rate slightly higher, I'm not sure - maybe it is the subject matter or maybe I thought the mysteries were a little harder to solve. Maybe they were just slightly better written. Though Not Dead is the 18th Kate Shugak novel, my favorite one so far.

Habits of the House by Fay Weldon is one of those "If you like Downton Abbey....." books. Written by a well known British playwright, author and essayist, this book just didn't do it for me. It is set in 1900 England at a time when changes in the big houses were beginning to occur. The subject matter was interesting for me; I think it was the writing style that made it objectionable. This is the first book in a trilogy. I gave it a 2.0. I don't plan to read books two and three even if our library does get them.

See that little blue book on the top of the pile? It is a 5.0 read. Alan Bradley's fifth Flavia de Luce novel is Speaking From Among The Bones. I love the delightful little chemist/detective so much that Bradley is now one of my "Adopt an Author(s)" at the library. After purchasing and reading the first four books in this series, I asked the library if they would like to have them. They said yes and when number five came out, the acquisitions librarian called me to see if I would like to buy it for the library. I said yes.

When you get an opportunity, say yes to Flavia, too. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"I'll Never Be Hungry Again"

If you've ever read Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind or seen the movie, you might recognize 'Scarlett' swearing at the end, "I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill, As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!" (Number 59 in AFI's top 100 movie quotes.)

In my last post, I talked about rendering lard. I mentioned that I had read about using lard as a spread on bread and said I'd never been hungry enough to do that. One of the things I remember my Mom saying when we were kids was that we might not have much money, but we would never go hungry because we lived on a farm. We had our own meat, eggs, milk, vegetables and fruit.
Once when Grandpa Ridnour was going to butcher a cow, we went down to help. Well, Dad and Ron were going to help, I was told not to go near where they were doing the butchering. Might as well have told me to head right up the hill behind the hedge where the hoist was set up, because sneaky me had already decided I was going to see what was going on.
 I told Mom I had to go to the toilet, which was on the side of the hedge opposite the butchering site. I went around behind the outhouse and peaked through the hedge. Yuck! Ew-w! Good grief, why did I think I wanted to see that? Why couldn't I have recognized that Mom knew best? It was a long time before I could get the sight of that strung up cow out of my head.

Mom always had a big garden. Every year she canned or froze enough vegetables to easily see the family through the winter. When I grew up and had a family of my own, I dreamed of having a garden like Mom's and canning and freezing plenty of food, just as she had done.
Over the years I planted many a garden. They would start out looking good - something like the perfect dream garden pictured above.

But by the middle of the summer, all my gardens looked like this one - full of weeds, hardly a vegetable in sight.

And while I did once in a while can a few jars of food, that dream of having my own shelves look like this just never happened. Now, with the price of food getting higher every week, and the appeal of knowing how and where our food comes from, I find myself once again dreaming of raising the perfect garden; preserving healthy food grown organically.

But even if I had the space for a garden, I know myself well enough to know I still wouldn't have that perfect garden. It would still be full of weeds because instead of weeding I would tell myself I would do it tomorrow. Like Scarlett, "After all....tomorrow is another day!" (Number 31 in the list of the top 100 American Film Institute's quotes.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Use Lard as a Household Fat

In some ways this is a continuation of the previous blog about Grandma R and her patterns, as you will see.
The little 32-page booklet pictured above was among Grandma's things. Published by Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, Extension Service, Ames, Iowa in 1932, it is chock full of everything you could wish to know about lard - how to choose the fat to render, how to render, how to store, how to make soap from the non-edible fats, even the number of hogs marketed in Iowa from 1926-1930 (12,100,000).

Most of the recipes in it are for cakes, cookies, breads and pies. Mom always said the only way to get really good pie crust was to use lard. And she made the best pie crusts, ever. The caption under this photo from the booklet reads: "Potato chips appeal not only to the palate but to the eye. You will like the flavor, the color and crispness obtained by soaking in salt water and frying in lard."
As popular as cheese straws have become, I thought they were something relatively new but there's even a recipe for them made from either puff or plain pastries - using lard, of course.

Rendering lard was just one more task performed any time a hog was butchered. The trend toward lean pork did not begin until at the end of my Mom's & Grandma's hog raising days. Hogs were fatter then and provided up to 40 pounds of lard per 250 pound hog. A by-product of rendering was cracklings (pork rinds) which my Mom loved. I never cared for them, myself. The picture above is of Grandma Delphia and her sows. (Around 1964) By the way, only fat from the hog is called lard. Beef fat is suet and sheep is tallow. 
I've read many books set in the depression (or about poor immigrants) where lard was eaten as a spread on bread - just like we use butter or margarine now. I can't even imagine eating that - guess I've never been hungry enough.

Cooking with lard began to be considered less healthy around the time I became a wife and mother, so much so that even when I raised my own pigs for butchering, I never rendered the fat into lard. I only ever used different kinds of oils, margarine or Crisco.
Fast forward fifty years and the use of lard is once again acceptable - even desirable for some foodies. There is a new cook book focused on the use of lard (pictured above) from the Editors of Grit Magazine: Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother's Secret Ingredient."

Grit Magazine began as a weekly newspaper and has been around more than 130 years. My parents did not subscribe to it - being Capper's Weekly regulars - but Grandpa & Grandma Ridnour did. When they had read their Grit papers, they would pass them on to us. You can still get a subscription to Grit, though now it is only published bi-monthly. It still offers practical advice geared toward a rural lifestyle.

As soon as I saw the Grit cookbook, it jogged another memory - Grit patterns. Grandma often sent for Grit patterns. How could I have forgotten that?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Grandma R and Patterns

 My Grandma Delphia Ridnour was a good seamstress - good thing since she had three daughters to sew for. I surmise she inherited her sewing ability from her Mother, Matilda, as my Aunt Evelyn told me her Grandma Means was the one who taught her (Evelyn) to sew. Shown above are Grandma Delphia (middle) and her brother, Orphas (in front with dog) and their parents, George and Matilda (Lippincott) Means. No date on back, but I would say in the 30's. (Orphas died in 1943, aged 59.)

Mom once told me that her Mom often made her own patterns. She could look at a garment, figure out how to make it, draw out a pattern on newspaper and then use that to cut out material for her rendition of the original garment.
Sorting through boxes turned up one of Grandma's homemade patterns. The pieces were pinned together with a straight pin.

I was anxious to unpin them - see what she might have made so many years ago. This is what I found - three very similar shapes. I'm wondering if they were for pockets. The paper on the left has 46 and 64 written in red ink. The middle one has pie piece shaped wedges sketched in two different patterns. Those notations may or may not have anything to do with the pattern pieces.
The paper they were cut from was the Omaha World Herald. They had to have been cut out later than 1967-68 because zip codes - mandatory use after 1967 - and job openings at JC Penney in Westroads Mall which opened in 1968, are in the ads. Manpower ("Highest paying temporary help service in Omaha") was advertising for immediate temporary help at $1.70 per hour.

Here is a picture from August, 1964. Aunt Lois Mitchell (Grandma's youngest daughter), Illinois cousin Nellie Gray, Grandma Delphia and her sister-in-law, Aunt Florence Ridnour Haley. Lois' youngest, 4-yr-old Joe in front. I'll betcha' anything that Grandma made the dress she has on.

Grandma's talents extended to fancy work. Above is a doily she crocheted - R for Ridnour - which now, of course, is R for Ramona - and some of her tatting around the edge of another doily. I wonder if she figured out on her own how to execute that R, or if she used a pattern.

And for fun, one final picture of my Grandma as she is arriving at cousin Frank and Nellie Anderson's in Quincy, Illinois. Grandpa is getting a suitcase out of the trunk and looking toward Frank, Jo and Rae Jane. This was either '52 or '53 judging by what I can see of Grandpa's Plymouth.

The home sewing pattern industry began in the early 1860's. By 1866 The Butterick Company (one of four historic American pattern companies which still exist) was manufacturing patterns for women's clothing. When Grandma did use a purchased pattern, I remember her using table knives to hold the tissue pattern in place to cut around rather than pinning it to the material which is how I learned. This makes me want to sew something - a good past-time on a winter day. Except - Grandma had a strict rule against sewing on Sunday!