Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Feedsack Childhood

So you wish to create a quilt that reminds you of your childhood on the farm. Well, unless you have a grandma or great grandma with a bulging quilt stash she's willing to pass on, you'll have to use the reproduction fabrics available at any quilt shop. They are called feed sack prints, but I argue with that--having worn the real thing for what seemed like forever.

I've read that during the 1930s, quilt making had a huge resurgence as women hoarded every fabric scrap available in order to keep their family warm. Those bits and pieces of cloth became the stuff of today's greatly prized heirloom quilts which have been long hidden from sight or usefulness simply because they are considered a family legacy.

Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers made quilts. Grandma Wood created colorful blankets filled with flannel. They weren't warm, but they were fun to sleep under. Grandma Legler cast her quilts of worn out coats, woolen trousers, flannel shirts and tattered dresses. The colorful quilts smelled like fresh laundry and sunshine; the ugly ones smelled of an old barn. Foolish child that I was, I preferred the pretty ones--even though I froze beneath them come Minnesota winters.

My mom didn't quilt. She was barely even a seamstress. Yet she gave it her best. It was the time of WWII and with everything needed for life rationed, she looked for fabric anywhere she could find it. The white muslin sugar and flour sacks became washcloths and kitchen towels. Her largest supply of free fabric came from our chicken hatchery where it arrived in 100 pound bags filled with chicken feed. Yes. Chicken feed.

Because my folks owned a hatchery in a small town on the southern Minnesota plains, I grew up surrounded by chickens, eggs, feed, and all the other products geared toward helping the farmers raise healthy hens that would produce eggs aplenty until they grew so old they were strictly stew pot offerings. In the meantime, chicken feed deliveries arrived every two weeks and I tried to be there when the sacks came in. My reason was always the same: to scout out multiple prints. I always hoped there wouldn't be any. To my dismay, there were usually three or four of the same design. When that happened, I knew I was doomed.

Mom always grabbed up the matching sacks. She always told the same story of how the feed was for our own chickens, to make sure they grew plump and meaty so the restaurants and food stores in town would order our chickens rather than someone EElse's. Young as I was, I knew that tale made no sense. If it was strictly the feed she wanted, what would it matter if the printed sacks matched?

She had plans for that fabric. And I knew what they were. Empty sacks were unsewn, washed till every hint of feed smell was gone, and then pinned to the backyard clothesline to flap in the wind. So there they waved, announcing to anyone passing by that one of the Legler girls was about to get new clothes. How embarrassing. That feed sack muslin, with its loose warp and weft weave would soon become a sun top or slacks or shorts or worse yet, if mom had three patching sacks, a dress for church or school.

My two younger sisters, whom I labeled as having no taste in clothes, thought they were cute. To me, anything sewn of  feed sacks was the bottom of the clothing world. Yet with textiles so difficult to obtain, I was forced to wear what was in the closet. Then came the day I put on the light blue sundress with the tiny yellow flowers printed on it and dutifully skipped off to school. That was the day it happened.

It entire school was at recess and I was going about minding my own business when I heard someone call my name. Who would it be but Peggy Gunderson. Now Peggy and I were acquaintances, but not what you'd call close friends. Nevertheless, there she came, running toward me with a big smile. As she grew closer, I heard her bullhorn mouth say "Sandy, we have on the same feed sack dress." I wanted to melt into the grass. As luck would have it, a lot of my friends were standing around close enough to hear and then began the questioning. "What's a feed sack? What do you do with it? Did you buy it at the store?" While I remained mute, Peggy filled in all the details and then more. Do you get the picture?

During the 1970s, quilting had another great resurgence and unwilling to let another generation of non-quilters pass by, I was nearly the first one in line for classes. Since I had no stash of quilt fabric, I asked my mom and grandma if they could spare some scraps. Mom gave me a huge box filled with bits and pieces of raggedy remains, but it was Grandma Wood who had the real treasure. Boxes and boxes of pieces came into my sewing room. I began weeding out, tossing fabric here and there. Then I stopped cold. On the bottom of one box lay the remnants of leftover feed sacks. I recognized an apron grandma had long ago sewn for me. And there was a skirt I'd once had. And there were the leftovers of a blouse she'd made.

With such a memorable stash on hand and quilt class moving at a snail's pace, I decided to teach myself to make a Double Wedding Ring quilt. It was the era of trace, cut, and sew--one tiny piece at a time. I spent nearly a year creating the quilt, which I decided had become a twin-sized masterpiece. I took it to be professionally quilted then brought it home and gently placed it across the back of my couch--the better to admire.

Then came the day my daughter and grandkids dropped by and the next thing I knew, Christie was holding the quilt, pointing to a piece here or there and saying aloud how each piece was part of her own life. "Look, mom, there's the dress Grandma Wood made me and there's the apron I had when I was seven and there's the doll clothes you made for my Barbie Doll.

The entire quilt was a combination of three generations. I deemed it a treasure to be passed down so I held it till my daughter's birthday and gave it to her along with instructions to pass on to her children the history of each scrap she recognized. "Be sure your kids know it's a family legacy," I told her, "and not something for the Goodwill Box when it's no longer useful.

Over the years, I've made many quilts yet have none to show for it. All a family member has to do is admire the quilt and it somehow finds its way to them. I figure I had the fun of creating it and that was enough. The joy of passing them on to a son or daughter-in-law or grandchild fulfills my joy. Yet what amazes me the most is how my mind has changed toward the feed sacks. Now that I'm past 70, I look at the years of history I've lived through and the fabrics that accompanied them and I realize I no longer dismay over my feed sack years. In fact, I'm proud of them. I lived in an era when things were kept, just in case someone else could use them. I lived in the time of feed sacks. Few are we who know what I'm talking about and for those of us who walked in those shoes, let it be known that we are the last of a whole breed.

Times like those will never come again. And while it is possible to enter any of today's quilt shops and find feed sack reproductions, few are truly accurate. Today's colors are too bright; the prints too big. My two sisters and I agree that what is passed off as reproductions do not fulfill the true feed sack product. Even so, those chicken feed sacks fabrics remain popular with quilters--most of whom I believe must have been city kids. Farm kids know better. We remember what we wore in those early days and although we know the colors and prints aren't right, we purchase them anyway, cut them into tiny pieces, and then meticulously sew them back together.

I've often thought of forming a club which only those of us who wore genuine feed sack clothes could join. Our goal would be to pass on the history of those years before it is completely forgotten. We can always count on school books to teach our children and grandchildren the history and politics of our nation. But nowhere else will they hear true feed sack stories but from those of us who were there.Now who's with me?

The first quilt I ever made was the Double Wedding Ring. Look closely and you'll find some of the feed sack prints along with other fabrics of the 1940s. Had I kept the quilt, I would have stored it but my daughter chose to use it. I dare say had the electric heating pad not been so toasty, her Persian kitten would probably have been curled up in the quilt. 

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L. Keith, All rights reserved
Photos are the authors and may not be reproduced without permission

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ahh Bella, How I Love Thee....

For me, mushrooms of any kind have always been right up there with tofu as my least desirable edibles.  I've had a real change of heart since I learned how to turn them into burgers. Who knew?

I have been having an affair with portobello mushrooms. I've configured them every way I could imagine and while the food was tasty, it wasn't a winning recipe. Not until I stole Marie Callendar's version of the giant fungus. Now it's worth blogging about. Let me tell you how it came to be.

There was a day when I had a doctor appointment close to Marie Callendar's Restaurant. Considering I hadn't eaten lunch, I stopped by, thinking I'd have some pie and coffee. Before I could mention my desire, a menu was plopped next to me. Thinking I'd just give it a once-over strictly for fun, I opened it up and began looking at the pictures. And there it was. A portobello mushroom burger. The photo set me to drooling. (I hate it when that happens, it's so un-ladylike) and the next thing I knew, I heard myself ordering it.

I was somewhat taken aback when the burger was set in front of me. No kidding, the whole thing had to be more than two inches tall. One bite convinced me it was meaty, juicy, and while it didn't taste anything like a hamburger, it was so good I considered taking another to-go so I could have it for supper. Then along comes the waiter, asking how everything was. I did my ooh and ahh thing and then asked him to see if the chef would give out the recipe. He hesitated a moment, then agreed and off he went. A few minutes later he informed me the mushrooms were oven roasted with a covering of fresh thyme and rosemary. I knew that wasn't the real recipe because I could detect hints of basalmic vinegar and olive oil and chipotle. Chefs are so tricky.

First chance I got, I cooked up the biggest portobello I could find, using my Marie Callendar knock-off recipe. Can I say it was delicious? Or even outstanding? Or simply the best mushroom burger I'd eaten since the restaurant one? The other portobello burgers I'd tried paled in light of this new find. I hope you'll give it a try and then write and tell me what you think. After all, you know what Shakesphere wrote  in Romeo and Juliet. "A portobella by any other name would taste as good." At least I think that's how it went.

The roasted portobello looks enough like meat to fool the eye. It won't fool the palette, but the whole package is so juicy good, you won't care. I served my burger with corn on the cob, oven roasted in its husk. Can I say delicioso?

PORTOBELLO BURGER---My Restaurant Knockoff 
Portobello mushrooms, 1 per serving. Remove the tough, woody stems. Place the mushroom caps in a zip lock bag for marinating.
1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 cloves of garlic, chopped

Allow the mushrooms to marinate at least 30 minutes. An hour is better.

Set the oven to 400 degrees. Lay the mushrooms on a cookie sheet lined with foil (easy cleanup), with the top facing up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for approximately 20 minutes. Fewer mushrooms will take less time. Gigantic ones will take more time. You will know they are done when they look like a hamburger, all brown and toasty. Save the marinade for another use. Most recipes I've tried say to cook the mushrooms only a few minutes on each side. For me, it wasn't enough, as they still looked and tasted like mushrooms. I wanted a beefy taste and that's what I got via roasting for a length of time.

Make the mayo for the buns. I used 1/4 cup vegan mayo and 1/4 tsp. chipotle powder. Stir together. If you like things spicier, add more. This ratio was fine for me.

Warm the buns. I purchased extra large buns because the bella's were so big. Smaller bella's, use smaller buns.

I put my mushroom burger together the old fashioned way with generous portions of tomatoes, onions, and lettuce. I left off the ketchup, mustard and pickles because the bella was zingy enough having been marinated in the vinegar. You do as tastes best to you.

If you can't find chipotle powder at your grocery store, you can purchase it from is what I did.

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L. Keith, All rights reserved
Top photo is courtesy of MS Word Clip Art
Middle photo is the property of the author and may not be reproduced without permission.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Family Picnics and Watermelon Rinds

This photo is so old it was hard to get a visible scan. Mom lived to be 82 and would have lived longer had Alzheimer's not taken her. All the sisters are gone now but memories of them and how much fun they always had when they were together is something that lives on in all of we cousins'  memories. Our families had such fun together, that every one of we five oldest kids bounced from home to home all summer long--a week here, then there. Lined up behind us were about a dozen more, waiting to grow big enough to take their turns playing with sibling-like cousins all summer long. 
My mom was the oldest of four sisters. Because they grew up during The Depression, the girls passed down clothes, shoes, and maybe even undies as far as I know. Absolutely nothing ever went to waste. It was a lesson the sisters learned well, though I wouldn't really understand the depths that "waste not, want not" had been driven into their souls by my frugal grandparents until I was around eight. That's when the light dawned on just how thrifty they were.  What I discovered at that tender age made my stomach lurch. Unfortunately, I carry that image in my mind to this day and even a fleeting remembrance still makes me cringe.

Mom and her sisters were  extremely close and since they all lived within 60 miles of one another, the four families were always together, especially during holidays and summer vacations. One of my aunts lived on a big farm in a large rambling house that accommodated a horde of people. And a horde was what our family was, what with so many of us cousins running here and there and everywhere. I was the oldest of the bunch and pretty much the instigator of mischief--though I did have a couple cousins who were part of my think-tank.

For some reason I've never understood, we liked to pester the pigs, chase the chickens, and go into the red barn's dim reaches to check out the bull. He was always agitated when we came around, but we weren't afraid since he was behind double steel bars, caged up like the vicious animal our cousin claimed him to be. We all believed her. And when she'd yell, "Oh no, the bull's cage is unlocked," we'd make a dash for the house as fast as our short legs could carry us. She had us in absolute fear of that critter and we had no reason to dispute her knowledge. After all, she lived on the farm.

All summer long, there were picnics and get togethers that involved setting up long tables across the home's grassy backyard which was bordered by my aunt's portentous pink peonies. I never quite understood why she loved those particular flowers so much, but she guarded them like they were prizes waiting for a medal. All I know is that we oldest cousins would pick large bouquets and present them to her with much love and tenderness--only to be scolded up one side and down the other for even touching them. It took me years to understand her madness.

The family picnics were huge events, even for us. With my aunt and uncle's kitchen garden being so large, we had an abundance of corn on the cob, green beans, peas, carrots, and watermelon. Someone usually brought chicken to the party and sometimes there was beef--but not farm beef as all my uncle's cows were milkers. I never knew him to butcher any of them. My mom usually made potato salad. It was the best in the world as far as I was concerned. It's still the best recipe I have in my files. Actually, there is no written recipe. I just watched mom make the dish so many times I memorized the ingredients. Jim always claimed it was the best potato salad he'd ever eaten and I always agreed.

As we cousins grew older, we were put to work following every Great Pig Out. Dozens of dirty dishes lined the tables, each one gunked up with uneaten food and who knew what. Then dawned the summer it became the oldest kids' job to bus the tables, throwing all the leftovers into the pigs' slop bucket (an entity unto itself). I told you, nothing ever went to waste in my mom's family. Somewhere around the age of eight, I was busy cleaning up, throwing everything into the bucket. I'd not noticed my mom going around gathering up all the watermelon rinds until she pounced on me for tossing some in the garbage. Faster than the eye can blink, she grabbed the rinds and put them into her big bowl.

"Why can't the pigs have the rinds?" I asked. "Will they make them sick?" She answered with a no, and kept going around the tables, collecting the ugly green garbage.  It made no sense and since I've always been one who's curiosity often led to trouble, I couldn't just let the subject drop. So I asked again. "Why do you want the rinds?" Even now, the horror of what she told me rumbles my tummy. "Because I'm going to make pickles out of them," she said.

"Mom, you mean all those pickles you've made were from already eaten watermelon?" She told me it wasn't as bad as I imagined. She washed the rinds, cleaned them carefully, and the hot pickling juice would kill anything she'd missed. I told her I thought that was disgusting and that I'd never eat another watermelon pickle as long as I lived. She gave a chuckle and went about her business. I'm sure she told all her sisters and they had a good laugh over it because throughout the coming years, I was constantly being offered watermelon pickles at nearly every family meal I attended.

As many years as I'd watched mom put up those bite-sized pickles, scraping the rinds, etc, it had never occured to me to put two and two together, noting that the abundant rinds always showed up following a family party. And while I understood the waste not, want not way of living due to growing up during WWII with its rationing, I could never get my mind around canning garbage. Those pickles may have looked inviting sitting there in their jars, but they never tempted me again. I knew their history. That was enough for me.

After our picnics were over, all the kids would sit on long benches and participate in seed spitting. There were never any prizes, but the aunts and uncles all kept track of where each seed landed. To this day, I do not remember one time when I won. Being the oldest does not a good seed spitter make.

Copyright by Sandra L. Keith 2011. All rights reserved.
Family photo is the property of the author and may not be reproduced without permission. Bottom photo is courtesy of Microsoft Publisher Clipart..

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Grandkids Are So Much Fun I Should Have Had Them First

Our oldest grandson revelled in helping gramps anytime he could. When the new backyard sidewalk needed to be built, it was Donny to the rescue. Notice he even has his own toolbelt. He worked alongside Jim for hours and finally got the hang of measuring and laying the stone. When Jim announced that he'd like to take a rest, Donny just kept going. Young as he was, he came through with a perfect job. Today, Donny is 25, a mechanical engineer, and that sidewalk is still perfect. Honest.

My husband Jim and I thoroughly enjoyed raising our two children. I was a stay at home mom and for me, it was perfect. Then one day I blinked and they were grown, married, and had children of their own. Oh my gosh, I was a 40 year-old grandma who didn't feel grandmotherly. Little did I know that the fun was just beginning. You know what made the difference? I wasn't responsible for how they turned out. I didn't care if they ate their vegetables. No big deal if they got to bed a little late. What would it hurt if they ate dessert first? Would the stars fall from the sky if they went to bed without a bath?

Grandkids are relaxing, soothing, and just plain fun. Because all their parents worked full time, who taught the girls to knit, sew, and make biscuits? Me. Who taught our oldest grandson to build a birdhouse? Jim. When our oldest granddaughter was five, she and I went off to Zoo School at the San Diego Zoo. When our oldest grandson was eight, we took the Amtrack to Oceanside, just because he wanted to ride on a train. Another granddaughter's first plane trip was a short hop we took to a fancy Arizona waterpark and its adjoining hotel. Another granddaughter's first glimpse of the Grand Canyon came while she trailered the Southwest with us.

It seemed that while we raised our own kids, money was so tight that we were thankful just to have an old tent to camp in and in order to vacation at all, Jim sold his holidays at work so we'd have the funds. But once our kids were out on their own, we discovered something wonderful. We now had the money to take off and travel. And even better, the grandkids could come with us.

Even though they enjoyed seeing new places, each one still loved coming to our home and just hanging out.  When our backyard needed a new brick sidewalk, who wanted to help lay it? The oldest grandson. When he wanted to learn to play golf, who taught him? Jim. Years of intertwined love and togetherness have reaped their own rewards. We are rich in that our own children love and respect us; richer still because all seven grandkids do the same. And all it took was time. A little here, a little there. A nail to pound; a brick to lay; a stitch to sew; a biscuit to drool over.

The backyard as it is today. I do wish I'd moved the hose before snapping the shutter, but you can still see how well the sidewalk has held up over all these years.
Today, the grandkids ages range from 29 to 13. They are all still fun. Still relaxing. Still soothing to be around. And you know what? I still don't care if they clean their plates--although it would be nice if the minute they entered my home their cell phones somehow managed to bite the dust.

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L. Keith, All Rights Reserved
Photos are the property of the author and may not be reproduced without permission

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Weed Flower Memories

While this canvas I finally finished needlepointing isn't a replication of the flowers my son brought me so many years ago, it is as close as I could come to putting my weed flower memory into a picture. 

 Mother's Day is upon us. Funny, isn't it, how certain times of the year flood our conscious with memories of the past. So it has been with me. As I reclined in my rocker last evening, I thought of other Mother's Days when the kids were young and happily bounded out of bed that particular Sunday  morning to hand me their highly decorated construction paper cards fashioned in school. There was always a gift to go with them--and while my husband had chosen and paid for it, the children always grinned and danced about as though it had cost them every last coin in their piggy banks.

The gifts were never huge or splendid. Usually they consisted of a new housecoat or a sweater or a tool I had requested for the kitchen or all the sewing projects I had going. Each year I suggested Jim just buy me flowers. I loved getting flowers and I cared not what kind they were. Every year Jim said the same exact thing: flowers are a waste of money; they die and then you have nothing. How little did I realize that the kids were collecting information about me. To my surprise, I would find out the year my son turned six.

It was a lovely spring that year. Plenty of rain had fed the hills and valleys, bringing the wildflowers out of their seculsion and painting the land with their lovely yellows, blues, whites, and pinks. My son had been out playing with his two best friends from school and as I looked at the clock, I realized they'd been gone entirely too long. Calling his name at the top of my lungs hadn't brought him home. I was irritated more than scared--but only because we live in such a safe part of the city. I started supper, chopping, dicing, and mincing the vegetables and herbs that would go in the stew pot. I kept glancing at the clock, my irritation growing.

By the time he was 30 minutes late, I had a loud reprimand on the edge of my tongue, along with a plan to restrict him from playing with anymore friends till he turned thirty. Well, maybe only twenty-one. When he finally appeared, his blonde hair touseled, his clothes filthy, a mysterious grin on his young face and both hands held behind his back, my imagination ramped up. How grateful I am to this day that he spoke before I could open my mouth.

Excitedly, he thrust his hands toward me. Clutched in them was the saddest, most beautiful collection of weed flowers I'd ever seen. "I picked these for you, mommy," he grinned. "I love you." I held back tears, knowing he wouldn't understand.

"Oh, thank you, honey. They're beautiful," I said. He squirmed  about with such pleasure it was hard not to smile. "I went all the way down into the canyon to get them for you because I know how much you like flowers and daddy always forgets to buy you any."

The canyon! He wasn't allowed in the canyon. And he knew it. Not only is it two blocks from our home, but it runs nearly the whole width of the mesa we live on. It is filled with all manner of cacti and thistles and prickly things that stick to your clothes and sometimes penetrate your skin. Add to that the many wild critters who reside there--most of whom are not friendly--and it becomes the forbidden land. Not a good place for six year olds. Or adults either.

I held my tongue. We'd talk about the canyon later. For now I whispered a secret prayer to God. "Oh Lord, teach me to be quick to listen and slow to speak, lest in my own foolishness I somehow ruin a precious weed flower moment with those I love more than life itself."

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord."  Psalms 127:3

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L. Keith. All rights reserved.
Photo by Sandra L. Keith. Do not reproduce without permission of the author.