Monthly Archives: January 2023

Buttermilk and Cornbread

Most of my children make a sour face at the very mention of buttermilk. Some people give me the impression they would rather die of thirst and/or hunger before they would take even a sip of buttermilk.

But to those of us raised on buttermilk and cornbread, those two were a mainstay, a delight, and even now they’re a tasty treat. So when someone asked me recently what exactly buttermilk is I was happy to explain, probably more fully than they wanted!

Basically, buttermilk is a byproduct of the production of butter. The process involves the fermentation of whole milk to the point that it clabbers. Then it’s a matter of moving, shaking, churning the milk until butter forms. This can be done with milk in a large jar as we did in nursery school, allowing each child a chance to shake. Or the process might be implemented in a glass churn with a crank. I guess the commercial process uses a huge vat or cylinder. But the most interesting way to make buttermilk is with a simple old crockery churn.

Mamma’s method of making buttermilk when we had a milk cow was to let each day’s supply of milk set until the cream rose. She would skim that cream off and save it for churning day. On churning day she put whole milk soured to a clabber in the churn, added the reserved cream, and let it all warm to room temperature sitting by the wood stove. The milk needs to be warm enough that butter will form but not too warm or the butter will not hold together. Mamma knew just when it was right. The churn had a wooden disc top with a hole in it so a rod with paddle at the bottom could move up and down. Once the milk was ready Mamma assigned a child to churn if she needed to be doing something else. In about an hour the paddle hitting the milk changed its sound. Mamma would lift the lid to see if butter had formed. If it wasn’t ready, then churning resumed until yellow islands of butter floated in the milk. Mamma scooped out the butter, rinsed it in cold water, packed it in a mold to make beautiful cakes of butter. She took pride in the perfect cakes with a flower imprint on the top. Naturally, the milk left in the churn is buttermilk.

Buttermilk purchased from the store is apt to taste pretty horrible compared to the fresh lively taste of home churned buttermilk. But often we find brands that are really good. The taste takes me back to Mamma’s kitchen, the churn sitting by the warm stove, the cat nearby hoping for a splattered drop. It seems Mamma’s weekly churning day often coincided with her wheat bread baking day so we could have hot bread and fresh butter.

But sometimes when she didn’t have time for the long process of making yeast bread Mamma made quick thin cornbread in shallow iron pans on top of the stove. The smell of that bread cooking could bring us out of our books or in from chores in a hurry.

One of the very good things about buttermilk and cornbread is how tasty they are together as leftovers. I can see us now, a line of hungry children sitting on a long bench. Mamma and one of the older girls would pour buttermilk (or sweet milk sometimes) into peanut butter mugs (remember those glass mugs?) and give one to each of us along with a generous piece of cornbread. We had the option of crumbling the bread into our mugs and eating with a spoon or eating/drinking them separately. I always took the crumbling option. It was filling and so good. That was our supper.

Buttermilk is a fantastic ingredient in many recipes. For instance, I don’t think I can make cornbread without buttermilk. As I said, not all commercially made buttermilk is really good. But it does just fine for cooking. You can even make a form of buttermilk instantly if you’re out of the real thing. Pour a cup of sweet milk, add a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice and voila! you have buttermilk for your cornbread baking.

Buttermilk, paired usually with a teaspoon of soda, makes for other delicious bakery products like muffins, coffee cake, pancakes, biscuits and more. There’s even a good recipe for buttermilk pie. It’s one of those desperation recipes that turn out surprisingly delicious.

I always get a sour look when I recommend buttermilk or yogurt to a kid with mouth ulcers. I only know it heals because I’ve tried it. Then again, I just like buttermilk. I’d far rather have my sister Suzanne’s freshly churned buttermilk but I’m happy with com-mercial also. Cornbread (made with buttermilk) makes it even better!

I confess we don’t now usually have cornbread crumbled in buttermilk. But last night we did and it was ever so good! Whether beans and squash, meatloaf and potatoes, or buttermilk and cornbread, it’s good to give thanks to God, our provider.

Give us day by day our daily bread. Luke 11:3

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The Braided Rug

It’s not a magic carpet like Aladdin’s. But magical moments do occur on this center stage rug.

We arrived at my brother-in-law’s apartment to find him standing with his walker in the midst of chaos. David and my sister Pat, who had died about a year before, were both extremely neat and orderly. So the chaos was unusual. But then everything was unusual. David’s health had gone down sharply and he wanted to downsize. We had offered to help.

The first thing we noticed was the long stretch of rolled up braided rug, so long it was hard to walk around in that small apartment.

“I need to get rid of this rug,” said David coming right to the point. “You think you can take it to Goodwill?”

It was a big rug for that small apartment, a study in greens. I immediately felt sad that we wouldn’t see it there at David’s any longer. It was an important part of the apartment he and Pat had occupied for years. Many family occasions we’d enjoyed in that home with the rug a center of our seating area–birthday parties, 4th of July gatherings, unplanned visits. I could picture so well Pat almost dancing across the rug with arms wide open to welcome us. It had been part of the furnishing in their big beautiful North Carolina house as well, maybe even their West Virginia house. It wasn’t just part of their house, it was part of their home.

Charles and I looked at each other. We’d been looking for the right rug for our living room in the house where we’d recently moved, a rug with shades of green, a touch of red mingled with tan and gold. Just like this one. I’d always held an affection for braided rugs.

“David, would you mind very much if we took this rug home instead of to Goodwill?” I asked.

Somehow we hauled that van home in our modest van.

The rug took on new life.

Three young teenagers from Uganda spent several days with us not long after we laid the rug down. They were part of a group our church helped sponsor called the Daraja Choir. The program took elementary age children for a year, traveling over much of the U.S. performing at churches and staying in homes. They had lessons each morning at the church with their teacher and performed at the church one night. Their leader, Kaws, prompted them to put on a private show for us–on the rug. It was a memorable occasion for all of us, including several of our grandchildren. I can still see the expressive bright faces of those little boys as they danced and sang Christian songs in their language and in ours.

Our little Charli began taking gymnastics lessons. She practiced and put on shows on the rug almost every day. When her cousin Mattie came to visit they both worked out routines based on movements they had learned and a lot of imagination–and energy! There is a favorite area on the back lawn where they also so their tricks. But the rug is more often the chosen stage.

Then Mattie started dance lessons–pop, tap, and ballet. I love it when she shows us her solo for a recital or when she and Charli use the rug for their various, sometimes unbelievable, activities. They can bend themselves into such wild shapes, I think even a pretzel maker couldn’t compete.

We enjoyed hosting a Bible study in our home for six weeks one year. The rug made our circle cozy and casual for sharing.

At Christmas we all gather around the rug by the Christmas tree after dinner. Charles reads the Christmas story, usually from Luke, but this year he read prophecies of the Messiah from Isaiah. This year Charli read “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” before we began opening gifts. The grandchildren arranged themselves on the rug for digging into their stockings.

The rug gives nice space for working puzzles. It’s a good place for amateur chiropractors to do their cracking. It’s an ideal place, too, to test out a new robot or lie down and read a book, or practice for a school drama.

The rug has had several houses before ours. Like us, it’s no spring chicken and is somewhat faded. It’s not a magic carpet. But it’s seen many a magical moment as the center of our family and friend gatherings. And as a stage for some wonderful performances.

David came to see us a few months after the rug moved to our house. I gleefully pointed out how his rug fitted so nicely in our living room, how appreciative we were for it. David, not a sentimental person, only shrugged and said something like “That’s good.” To him it was just a rug. To me it is a magical center stage.

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Images at Dawn

It was dark outside my window at 5:00 in the morning. Charles’s truck was parked at the back but I couldn’t see it. There were lawn chairs, arranged in a friendly circle around a table, but they weren’t visible. I couldn’t see the outline of the barn roof or the loom of the cherry tree or the perky little “See Rock City” bird house. I couldn’t see the basketball goal or the bird bath huddling under a crepe myrtle tree. It was so dark I could hardly even see the sky. My own reflection stared back at me from my window.

I made a cup of coffee and sat down at the breakfast table. Outside that window, too, all was dark. I knew the Japanese magnolia was about to bloom in spite of the recent freeze. The hydrangea with browned blossoms was nearby. I knew that right outside the window a bird bath and feeder waited for the cardinals, titmouse, finches, and mourning doves. But right now, except for a car’s lights passing on the street, it was as if nothing was there.

In short minutes I began to notice the shape of the bird bath. The magnolia laced limbs against the lightening sky. A bird flew in making the bird feeder swing. Another sip of coffee and azaleas appeared, a corner of the carport angled out of the dimness. Heading to the porch, I could now see lawn chairs outside, the basketball goal, the gray driveway circling around azaleas and the mulberry tree.

The sky stained with rose and pearl became brighter and brighter beyond the reeds swaying gently in a breeze like dancers in total sync. Everything came into full color as if a black and white negative had been developed in a darkroom to become a vivid picture.

Everything–bird bath, basketball goal, trees and shrubs–had been there all the time. I knew they were there, but I couldn’t see them. They were all very much there, very real. But I couldn’t see them. Until daylight came.

This thought came to me: if everything were solidly there even though I couldn’t see the images, how much more the Lord is with me at every turn through the darkest nights and most confusing days. He is always working even when I grow impatient and feel as if He’s forgotten me.

Take courage, you who are walking through a dark time. God knows exactly where you are, whether or not you can see Him. He is at work all around us.

If I say surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. Psalm 139:11-12

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The Old Ford

Life’s curves and adventures– challenges, bad days, good days–are never flat like a dime. They’re like prisms with many different facets. Those involved each have a different perspective about any particular event. As Charles and I traveled on an afternoon excursion I was reminded of how differently people consider circumstances.

I knew I had been on this road before but I didn’t know where in Habersham County we were. Many curves in the road and glimpses of mountains or views into the forest struck a chord of memory. Then we came upon the ford and I exclaimed with pleasure “I remember this ford!” I asked Charles to stop so I could take a picture. Okay, it’s not really a ford any longer except when the creek swells high. But back before the road was paved the water literally did flow across the road and the car tires splashed as we rode through.

But sometimes, after a heavy rain, the car tires did not splash on through.

On one such occasion my brother John was driving several family members on a ride in the hills. I’m not sure whether we were riding towards a destination or just taking a scenic jaunt. Daddy may have needed to visit someone and allowed the rest of us to tag along. I must have been pretty small so I don’t remember all the details. But I do remember that we became stuck in the mud at the edge of the ford.

When I related the memory to Charles he, being an all-time fixer, wanted to know how we got out. I remember a lot of pushing and grunting and spinning. I don’t think there were any boards to put under the tires, although maybe a log or two were retrieved from the woods. There certainly was no tractor with a chain. The good part about our being stuck was that we kids played in the water the whole time the men worked to budge the car.

It must have been an hour before the car was freed. It was long enough for us to wade and splash and chase each other with water lizards. Mamma must not have been part of that adventure because she would have probably stopped us from getting wet and muddy. The way I remember it, all attention of adults was on getting the car out and we kids were allowed to have a wonderful time playing in the cool water.

As Charles and I drove on up the road and came to the tiny community that calls itself “City of Batesville, unincorporated”, I kept thinking about that day when our car was stuck in the mud. To Daddy and John it was a very unwelcome event. I think it was John’s car and I’m sure he was pretty unhappy about the mess he was in. Daddy would have been anxious to move on. He was not a patient man. But to us kids it was a fantastic, joyous time.

Different perspectives make for sparkling rainbow colors from a prism. Let’s be conscious this year of recognizing and respecting those who have an entirely different perspective from our own. And if you are blessed to find a real ford, a stream sparkling in the sunlight as it crosses the road–pause and enjoy it!

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