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Thursday, July 19, 2018

The store beneath the stairs

When I was at Toms Brook Elementary, the downstairs was 1st through 4th grade and the upstairs was like Jr. High with 5th through 7th grade. We didn't mix the two much unless we had to go to the gym, cafeteria, or the principal's office. When we got to go upstairs we felt like we were really something. Tom's Brook Elementary was built in the 1930's as a high school and it closed in the early 1990's. It was later converted into apartments.

Picture credit: Shenandoah County Library Archives

When I was downstairs we used to man the school store. It was a very tiny store that was located in an old closet underneath the front stairway, off the main lobby. There you could buy pencils, erasers, paper, folders, and all sorts of school supply stuff. If we worked the store, we got credit to spend and sometimes the teachers would give you credit you could spend, for extra work or something. Everything was cheap, well cheap if you had any money at all, which I rarely did.

The school store was located just behind that post, under the stairs in the main lobby.

I still remember how it smelled. If you've ever emptied an old pencil sharpener that hung on the wall then you know the smell. It was of wood shavings and lead dust, with a touch of the scent from a big gum eraser. I wouldn't have thought much about the store, but on a recent trip, I walked into a store that brought that memory back by just the smell. I was in New York for work and we checked out CW Pencil Enterprise. Who knew someone could open a store for the same thing we did all those years ago. But, immediately upon walking in, a flood of memories of that little store came rushing in with me.

I remember the kids who had the fancy folders and those of us who had the basic ones. Those that could afford the biggest eraser available and those of us who just relied on the one at the end of the pencil we could afford. At one time I think we even sold little troll doll pencil tops. My neighbor had those, along with the fancy folders and big erasers. I was the closest thing she had to a sibling. Her mom always made sure the had everything. Well, it looked like everything at the time. Looking back it's a minute detail in my memories unless I begin to feel like that 4th grader who carried a little bit of envy. Not for the troll doll though, I think I carried a little bit of pity for her that she thought it was cool. I thought they were kinda stupid, so then I could think she was kinda stupid and I was kinda smart for not wanting one. I know it was wrong, but how else was I going to feel superior to her when she had all that flashy stuff.

This sign was behind the counter at the store. So, I knew I had to write a Tale.
Anyway, I walked around the store and looked at the simplicity of it all. It was just pencils, pens and erasers. You could spend a fortune on a pencil in there if you wanted to, or spend just a couple of dollars and get a few things. I found an old pencil vending machine in the back of the store. For just two quarters I could turn back time. You laid the quarters into the slots, pushed the tray in and out came a new vintage pencil from the 1940's and 50's. They are promotional pencils from various businesses. Nothing like what we had in the school store, but exactly like what I would find in the catchall drawer at grandmaw's house. And right next to the vending machine was one of those old wall pencil sharpeners, so of course, I had to sharpen my new old pencil. It just added to the familiar scent.


Friday, July 13, 2018

The mighty blueberry bush

When I bought my first house there were a few fruit trees, wild blackberries and a blueberry bush on the property. I got a couple of pears the first year, but the apple trees were still too young to produce. The peach tree died of something and fell over onto the back walkway. I picked enough blackberries to make a cobbler once, but I'm not as big a fan of blackberries, so I let the birds eat them. I also saw a snake go into the blackberry patch, so I wasn't keen on venturing into them again.

My blueberry bush, however, did very well. I covered it up with some fencing and netting to keep the birds out. The blueberries were huge and sweet. I would go out some mornings and find just enough ripe ones, in the beginning, to add to cereal or something. Then when they all began to ripen, I picked from it for days. I always loved blueberry muffins, but not a dozen at a time! We couldn't eat them before they would go bad. I could have frozen the muffins, but I decided to freeze the blueberries instead. Then I had them for ice cream or to mix into a smoothie and help keep it frozen.



My first house was an old farmhouse that was built about 1855. I joked about being on the 1855 diet because the house needed so much work that I didn't have time or money to eat. I did look pretty skinny that first summer. Having something free to eat was an extra treat. I sold the house about 3 years later, after I had done all the repairs that I could handle, physically and financially. I figured it looked the best it was going to look and I put it on the market. I loved the house, but it was time. The housing market was taking a big dive, but after being listed for six months, it sold and I moved on. I tried growing more blueberries over the last few years, but every bush I bought either didn't produce or it died. Someone told me that I needed several bushes so the bees could pollinate them and I would have a great harvest. That didn't work. I think that little bush was just a trooper and I guess the bees still did their work, but it must have been the fruit trees that helped it along. I don't know. But, now I just buy them when I see some at a farmer's market or at the grocery store that I like.

Yesterday, however, someone gave me some at work so when I got home, I got to baking. A couple of years ago, when I started this blog, I looked for recipes using blueberries and came across several recipes for cornbread. Since I have a great source for cornmeal, I thought that sounded perfect. I played with the recipes, as I tend to do, and came up with my own. I call it Blueberry Lemon Cornbread. It's a little sweet, so I think it's great for breakfast, a snack or a dessert. It is also very tender, so it's a little like a cake, but not quite. These blueberries were probably some of the prettiest I have ever seen. The color was so vibrant and they were all perfectly ripe.

I am hoping to get some more and freeze them, so I can use them later in the summer and maybe come up with something for Christmas with them. What would you do?

Blueberry Lemon Cornbread


Ingredients:
1 cup plain cornmeal
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup white sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/2 vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups fresh blueberries, cleaned and stems removed
2 tablespoons butter

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the 2 tablespoons of butter into an 8x8 baking pan or skillet, whichever you plan to bake in, and place it in the oven while it heats up and the butter melts.

In a small bowl, dust the blueberries with a little bit of flour and gently turn them until coated. This will help keep them from sinking to the bottom of the cornbread while it bakes.




Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs slightly and add the milk, lemon juice, lemon zest and oil.

Combine the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Gently fold in the blueberries, being careful not to crush them.



Remove the pan from the oven when it reaches temperature and pour the batter into the hot pan.
The butter will rise to the top some.



Bake for 30-35 (depending on which pan you use) minutes or until done and golden. Serve warm with a little butter on top.



Sunday, July 8, 2018

Appalachians are the salt of the earth

Last week I went to New York City for work. It was the first time I had been and it was a bit overwhelming at first. I had always wanted to go and am very grateful for the opportunity. We went for a food show, one of the biggest it seems. One of the things I was doing, besides tasting samples of foods from all over the world, was looking at their branding. How did their logo represent them? What did their representatives say about their products? As you know, I am all about some food, though. So the opportunity to try different things was lots of fun, and a bit sickening at times.

We ran into a few people and businesses that we knew. There were the Bush's Beans folks, which have their plant right down the road from us. And, I stopped at the booth for Route 11 Potato Chips, which began in Middletown, VA in an old feed store when I was going to Lord Fairfax Community College. I remember people stopping by their place just to buy potato chips. You know it's good when you make one thing and people are stopping to buy just that.

Well, it seems they were introducing a new flavor that was right up my alley! I was talking to one of their owners, Sarah, and she told me about the new flavor. It's not even on the shelves yet, but it was making its debut at the show. They call it Appalachian Salt & Cracked Pepper. Well, I immediately took out my business card, yes I have business cards for The Appalachian Tale, and showed her who I was. It seems my reputation don't precede me, but that's ok. I told her that I worked in Pigeon Forge, TN, but grew up in Maurertown, VA. She did know where that was. And, I told her that I went to LFCC, not far from where they started. As we talked, the conversation turned to families living in the Shenandoah Valley and I told her that my mom's family and the family that built the Old Mill where I worked were in the Valley at the same time and the family that built the Mill had settled around Middletown somewhere. She told me that they had moved to Mt. Jackson and her brother lived in Woodstock, just a few miles away from where I grew up. I told her that the man who was considered to be the first Governor of TN grew up in Woodstock and after the Revolutionary War, made his way down to East TN and that his name was John Sevier, and that although he was from VA, a statue of him was in the Capitol to represent TN. She said her brother lived on John Sevier Way and they never knew who he was or why there was a street named after him. So after my little history lesson and the fact that we both were so happy about Appalachia, she gave me a bag! I told her that I would post the pic on my social pages, which I did. By the way, if you don't follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, I would appreciate it if you did! You can find links above, respectively, or to the right of this post.



The salt they use comes from West Virginia in the salt mines under the Appalachian Mountains. I had heard of the salt mines and we actually carry the salt in one of our shops at work. I held onto them the rest of the week and they were in my carry-on bag on the flight home. Once I opened them, I couldn't stop eating them.

I looked them up and you can find them here. They even have a jingle. Who has a jingle anymore? Now, this is not a paid endorsement, unless you count that bag of chips, which I kinda do. But I have always liked them. Their Chesapeake Crab chips are my other favorite. My friends, who came down from VA a couple of weeks ago to help with the carport project, brought me a bag. They didn't last long either. It was so nice to have a treat from home.

When we weren't at the food show, we checked out the city by way of looking at other businesses that were similar to those we have at work or those that specialized in something. Sometimes that was trying a restaurant and getting their version of Fried Green Tomatoes with Ramp Aioli. Turns out, they taste a lot like Fried Green Tomatoes with a thin mayonnaise on them. Which is pretty good since there's nothing like a mater sandwich with mayo!

One of the things I learned most about going was that people are the same wherever you go. There were people who kept to themselves and get through their day and those that were sincerely wanting to speak to you and have a connection. So even though I was far from home, that part did not make me homesick.