Saturday, October 20, 2012

Apples of Gold

Proverbs 25:11 says, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver."

For seven weeks in the Fall, I assist the Cooking Team as part of a program called "Apples of Gold," where older women mentor younger women. This year, 17 young women signed up to attend the weekly dinners that include teaching designed to help them as wives and mothers with practical cooking skills, entertaining and character development. The church I attend has been doing this for 8 years, and this is my second year to help.

The Cooking Team prepares the meals and each week demos a "how to." This past week, my daughter and I showed how to make Aunt Doshie's pie crust, so I thought I would share with the rest of the cooking world instructions and pictures because Fall is the perfect time to make up this pie mix. The mix does not require refrigeration. And it makes enough for 12 single crust pies, or quiches, cobblers or tarts aplenty. Following these steps makes pie-making a cinch instead of a stomp-that-crust-on-the-floor, as my mother did the first time she tried to make a pie.

Aunt Doshie's Pie Crust, see also Pie-Making 101


5 lb. bag Gold Medal flour (No substitutes)
3lb. can Crisco shortening (No substitutes)
1 ½ T. salt

Making a batch of pie crust all at once

In very large bowl, dump bag of flour. Add salt and mix slightly to disperse the salt. Start adding Crisco in big chunks, but not the whole can at once. Using a pastry blender or two knives (or both) start cutting shortening into flour.


Continue to cut in shortening until entire can is mixed with the flour. Use a spatula or a large spoon to bring flour up from bottom of bowl. Mixture should resemble course meal without large pieces of shortening unmixed. 


To make a single pie crust:

Measure 2 c. mixture into glass or stainless bowl.
Add 2–2½ T. ice cold water, 1 T. at a time, stirring with fork after adding water
Gather dough with hands, gently. Do not handle too much.
Tear 2 sheets of wax paper and place dough ball in center of one, and the other on top.
Flatten slightly and begin to roll out from center to make piecrust to 1/8” thickness.

Carefully lift up wax paper from topside of dough. Take your time because you should only roll out pie dough one time. Handling pie dough too much makes it tough.

Then with wax paper still in place, turn over and lift up underneath side of wax paper. Remove this and then transfer piecrust to 9” pie plate, dough side down. Carefully remove the other wax paper, which was loosened before.

For filling, I used 1 1/2 cans of cherry pie filling, plus 3/4–1 t. almond extract for added flavor.
I usually make pies from scratch, but in this case, I was going for fast and easy.

Dot the top of filling with butter (about 2 tablespoons) …

…and sprinkle on top of filling and butter about 1/4 c. sugar.

To make a lattice top crust, roll out pie mixture the same as for bottom crust, cut in strips and basket-weave the strips. Then flute the edges of crust and again sprinkle with sugar.

Before placing on baking sheet to bake at 375 degrees for 35–45 minutes, tear a sheet of foil to make a square.

Fold that foil square into fourths.

Then cut a semi-circle from the center.

Open the folded foil and place over the edge of pie crust. Remove this foil about half-way through cooking. This keeps the crust from browning too much on the edges. :) Much easier than crimping strips of foil and then burning yourself when you try to remove the foil when it's hot!

Storing Aunt Doshie's Pie Crust

Use empty Crisco can to store some of the mixture. Store the rest in Tupperware or Ziploc storage bags (freezer bags work best, but do not freeze). 

You can, however, make up pie crust as directed and freeze in pie plates or aluminum tins, if you have room in the freezer to store.

This is a baked crust, used for cream pies. Be sure to prick holes with a fork in the unbaked crust before baking in 400 degree over for 15–20 minutes, until lightly browned. You can also use pie weights or dried beans on top of a piece of aluminum foil gently pressed on top of the unbaked pie shell.

Ta-dah! Mama Bear made 3 pies

Fudge pie, the recipe from the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, TX. Yummy!

And I baked a lemon meringue for my son-in-law's birthday this week. Another recipe from Bluebonnet Cafe, this was probably the best-tasting lemon pie I ever made.

The meringue, however, split because I debated between 2 recipes. One said to spread the meringue over hot filling and the other said to spread over cooled filling. I chose poorly.

Leave a comment and I will tell which way works best.

But I was ecstatic that my meringue did not "weep." That comes from under-beating meringue. I read in the cookbook from the Peachtree Tea Room in Fredericksburg, TX that the test for whether you have beaten the egg white/sugar mixture enough is to hold the bowl over your head. If the meringue doesn't plop out, it's just right.

Baby Bear porridge

Pies don't have to be perfect-looking. Aunt Doshie's pie crust recipe, besides being almost fool-proof, is light and flaky.

Although not as sturdy as crusts made with butter, refrigerated before rolling and about a half-dozen other things you need to learn by doing, heading into the holidays, Aunt Doshie's is the one to have on hand. I use a couple of other recipes when I need only to make 1 or 2 pies.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Love Lost and Found in 1913

The girl, Bessie Smith
Since Aunt Bessie was 18 when she married DeWitt Brown, the year would have been 1913. But that first marriage lasted only so far as Dallas, TX where Bessie got off the train bound for California and returned east to Marshall, TX. DeWitt journeyed on, the marriage later annulled.

Here follows the rest of the story, as I know it, that I called "The Ballad of Bessie Brown."

A poem that the second Mrs. Brown, Lillie, sent to Bessie is not dated. The envelope is lost and so too the picture she enclosed to show and tell my mother's Aunt Bessie about the life that Bessie could have had in sunny California.

It astonishes me, however, that Lillie spent the time, the creative trouble and the postage to tell Aunt Bessie, Who's Sorry Now? Only Lillie titled her poem "The Cord That Bound Three Hearts, The Will That Severed Two––To Miss Bessie Smith" [sic]. Or rather sick? Or syrupy sweet?

Page 1 of 6



Girl Meets Boy

Thou once wert young and fair,
As sweet as girl could be, 

Thine eyes were like the summer skies,
Or like the deep blue sea …

The man was young and brave, 
A noble man was he;
His face was sweet, his heart was true,
As honest as could be.

Page 2 of 6
Thou sat'st his heart aflame
With love's bright glowing blaze;
For hearts like his will melt so soon
Beneath his lover's gaze.

The cord of love soon spun
Her web around each heart;
And verry [sic] soon the tie was made, 
Until death doth us part …

On page 3, the story heats up. How Bessie's heart turned to stone, stone De Witt's love could not penetrate.

He pled with thee, my child, 
to turn and do the right; 
But thou wouldest not, and so soon 
Despised him in thy sight…

… But hardened in thy ways, 
Thy proud heart harder still;
E'ne tears of grief and words of love
Could never break thy will.

 Boy Loses Girl

 On page 4, God enters the picture:

And God in heaven knows
The day the deed was done, 
When in thy wrath the cord was cut
Which bound thee to this one. 

Alas poor man he wept, 
Thy love had proved untrue;
When this one hasty step ye took, 
Which many others do …

Looks like Lillie means to curse Bessie:

God grant you may escape
The awful pain he bore;
But Bessie, I'm afraid, my girl
It's coming to your door. 

Boy Gets Better Girl

 Page 5 recounts the truer love heartbroken Dewitt found in Lillie.

This love will ne'er be quenched
As God is on his throne;
'Tis burned so deep within two hearts, 
It never can be known. 

That's stickin' it to her, Lillie. Turn that knife and make her bleed. The letter is tattered, suggesting that Aunt Bessie read this tome many times.

Page 6, a summary: He's mine now.

… The love thou shouldst have known,  
The joy that should be thine, 
A darling husband's tender care
Has turned and now is mine …

… May God forgive you, Dear
The mistake of your life;
For He was merciful and kind, 
And gave DeWitt a wife.  ––Mrs. Lillie Brown


Although Bessie married again, three more times in fact, I wonder if she wondered what her life would have looked like had she gotten on that train to California in 1913.

This picture tells more than a thousand words for it looks as if Lillie continued to rub it in. Lillie sent Bessie several such pictures of the happy couple. 

I wonder if the Browns ever had kids. Aunt Bessie didn't.
Bringing in the sheaves

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Ballad of Bessie Brown

Aunt Bessie’s death stunned the family when she died at age 79, 3 weeks short of her 80th birthday. Not that she wasn’t old—she had always seemed old to me—but she insisted she would live until the Rapture. “Jesus is going to come back while I’m alive,” I must have heard Aunt Bessie say so a hundred times. But He didn’t, and the house where she lived in East Texas, where she had perched herself high on the pillared porch to look down on passersby, that house burned down. Only the slab sits to recollect the years of her life––so exalted, settled and secure.

 A Woman of Influence

My mother's Aunt Bessie in Galveston
Aunt Bessie––the eldest of eight children, the progeny of Ma and Papa, who had until she died lived the longest––weaved a tangling web of influence on all her siblings and demanded strict adherence to standards she herself did not keep. 
My mother's mother, Prudie, died from a ruptured appendix at age 26, when my mom was 7-years-old, her younger sister, Joyce, was 5, and "the baby"––as they called her until she died at age 43––Syble was 16-months-old.
Aunt Bessie's funeral in Marshall marked the last time my mother and her sisters would ever spend together. They all got drunk.
Aunt Bessie, despite multiple marriages had no children, so instead she manipulated and shaped her nieces to fit her own design. 

A Bundle of Inconsistencies

Aunt Bessie smelled of talcum and splashed rosewater on her neck before putting on her pearls. She stuffed her bulging body into a corset with drawstrings in back, her bosom inflated but soft like a roasted marshmallow. I might never have known how she managed such a shape but for seeing her get ready for bed the times I slept on a pallet in her bedroom. 
It surprised me every time I saw her let down her hair—thin, silver-gray tresses that reached to her waist got bound and pinned each day in a bun, her crowning glory. Before bed, Bessie would sit on a bench facing the dresser mirror, count aloud 100 strokes using a tarnished silver brush. A rigorous routine. Religious.
Sitting down at the dining table, Aunt Bessie prayed, her eyes closed but her left hand raised, sputtering unintelligible words sprinkled with "Thank you, Jesus," words that passed her lips before the food got passed to eat. And when the noon meal was over, Aunt Bessie put a cloth over the table, covering the leftovers that would serve as supper. 
After the last meal I ever ate at Aunt Bessie's, I slept in the small room off of her bedroom––suffocating without a fan or windows––and I had nightmares that night, visions that danced on the ceiling, made me afraid to be in that place, afraid that demons had in this house found a host. 
Aunt Bessie's religious beliefs allowed her to impose a self-righteous pietism that “’llowed a little” for her indiscretions but drew sharp distinctions around the sins of others. My mother baulked at the incongruities. My mother's experiences colored my own impressions of Aunt Bessie.
When my mother was a young girl, she got to sew stitches in a quilt stretched over a frame suspended from the ceiling in Aunt Bessie’s parlor. The frame hung ready for the weekly quilting circle where other women encouraged my mother to learn to quilt and imparted a lifelong love for handmade quilts. But Aunt Bessie removed Loretta's stitches right after she got sent to bed. 
This is me with my great-aunt Bessie and Aunt Syble's Yorkie, Cindy

Marriages not made in heaven

Aunt Bessie reigned over three husbands; all died leaving her more property than she had had before they married—a farm, a grocery store and a house in town. Except her second husband, 20-years younger than she, married her for her money and they divorced in 1946. Divorce was a scandal for everyone except Aunt Bessie.
A ledger would fail to account for the difficulty I have imagining Bessie as the object of anyone’s passion, her breasts heaving beneath any man’s head, let alone three or four or more different men. I knew her only when she was old, wearing print dresses she had made for herself where she ‘llowed a little on account of the “little dab of leftovers, not enough to keep,” which Aunt Bessie would rather eat than save.    
 Aunt Bessie sewed dresses and skirts for me, too, ones that she 'llowed a little too much fabric––ill-fitting, so that I felt tacky wearing these creations that she boasted about making without a pattern. As they say in East Texas, I looked like something the cat dragged in. 
But in deference to my mother's Aunt Bessie, who made an annual trek from East Texas by train or bus to visit us in Las Vegas, I wore these dresses to school and to church. Like it or not.

A Marriage Annulled

At age 18, Aunt Bessie married DeWitt Brown who took her by train to live in California. The couple got as far as Dallas and Aunt Bessie turned back, went home to Marshall where that marriage was annulled. A record of this scandal––for it truly was scandalous at the time––might not have survived but for the letter the second Mrs. Brown wrote to Aunt Bessie. 
A gloating letter––thank you very much for breaking his heart but now he has me and we’re rich. The new Mrs. Brown enclosed a picture of Dewitt and herself wearing a mink coat and a wide-brimmed hat like those worn by First Class passengers on the Titanic. She also wrote a poem capturing in curly cursive, rhyming stanzas this romantic saga which she titled “The Cord That Bound Three Hearts––The Will That Severed Two.” I call it “The Ballad of Bessie Brown.” 
I also call it an act of vengeance. But that Aunt Bessie kept the letter that told the tale tells me that she did, after all, have a heart. 

Next time, excerpts from the letter.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Time of My Life

A Fall Retreat

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, "There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven." But I never know for sure when I put something on my calendar whether that planned time and activity will come to pass.

In December, when invited to speak at the Melonie Park Women's Retreat scheduled the last weekend in September, those dates seemed like a mirage––the kind I used to see when walking across the Las Vegas, NV desert between grade school and home. Now that far off weekend has come and gone. And now I can give thanks for both the invitation and every provision along the way that made this special experience a part of my story.

As promised, because I got so many requests for the song lyrics I "sang" (to the tune of "My Favorite Things") and wrote to go along with an emphasis on reading, here you go. Thank you for the cheers and applause. I had no idea I'd written a hit.

My Favorite Books
Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina
Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia
To Kill a Mockingbird has what it took:
These are a few of my favorite books.

Gone with the Wind and A Room With a View
All of Jane Austen, What else could I do?
Look Homeward Angel, End of the Affair
Brideshead Revisited at least once a year.

Seabiscuit, Lindbergh, and Gift from the Sea
Gilead and Home and Cold Sassy Tree
Wuthering Heights and Angle of Repose
These are just some of my favorite prose.

When the rain comes
When the day’s long
When I’m feeling blue
I simply remember my favorite books
And then I know what to do.

At the retreat, I talked about time, and story and creativity. Soon, look for postings on my website, Footnotes to Stories, summaries of the 3 sessions covered in the workbook. "The Time of My Life––Ecclesiastes as Story," will continue to benefit from the comments and feedback I receive.


Thank you, Melonie Park Church, for the privilege of sharing with you at this annual event. And thanks too for the gracious hospitality extended to others who came from beyond Lubbock. Wonder if anyone got more sleep in the cabins than they would have at home?


The conference center at Ceta Canyon made a wonderful backdrop for a weekend getaway. It even rained, giving us cooler temperatures and that first bite of fall.

Things to Do

A Minute-to-win-it: Empty a box of Kleenex with one hand.
Creative method: hold the box down with body parts, but not the other hand. Clever girl.

Another Minute-to-Win-It

I'm forever blowing bubbles …
 … first person to empty the bottle wins.

These girls had to bounce out 8 ping pong balls from the box tied to their hips. Wiggle, wiggle, hop, hop.
Because women have to keep so many balls in the air, here, try this.

That's my girl, daughter Erin. So competitive.

Of course, I wasn't surprised that Erin won.

Retreat is a Treat

And beside quiet times and hikes and meals and snacks and crafts, hours of conversation filled every free moment. So much scope for the imagination. So many stories to tell. And hear.

Time, the way we spend it, reveals what we value.