Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Persimmons and my Grandma's Pudding

My Grandma's backyard, April 2010

There are three things I will always associate with my Grandma’s kitchen: homemade biscuits, chicken and dumplings, and persimmon pudding.   Thankfully she taught me to make the first two items and I have the recipe for persimmon pudding and once did make some (but I had imported a bag of persimmons from Grandma’s house).  Persimmons grew wild along the back edge of the field where my grandma had her garden.  In the fall, after the first frost, she’d collect the persimmons and squeeze out the pulp and freeze it for persimmon pudding.  Whenever I would arrive at Grandma’s house, she’d always have a pan of pudding waiting.  It didn’t last two long.

Persimmons are a weird fruit.  If you eat them too early, they are sour and will turn your mouth inside out.  I’ve heard old jokes about the juice from green persimmons being mistaken for communion wine (or grape juice) and it not being a pretty thing with a congregation of sour looking faces.  The preacher, his lips all puckered up, suggested with a lisp that everyone stand and whistle the Doxology.  I wondered for a long time why anyone would even have such a thing as juice made from green persimmons, but somewhere I read or was told that the juice was used to make jelly (today, if anyone still makes jelly, they buy a package of sure-jell from the grocery store).  I don’t know if the story of persimmon juice served during communion is true, but considering the stern faces of the church’s elders who served communion when I was a kid, I could imagine that a shot of persimmon juice would have enlivened the congregation a bit without bring any smiles to the elders. 

As a kid, my uncle and older cousins use to dare me to bite into a green persimmon, a mistake one only makes once.  However, once the frost hits, the persimmon will undergo a dramatic conversion and become sweet and delicious.  It is then that one collects persimmons for pudding.  There is a problem; persimmon trees don’t grow this far north.  But lately, especially after reading a post at "The Ordinary and the Wild" blog on persimmons, I found myself wanting some persimmon pudding.  Unfortunately, my grandma has been in an assisted living facility for the past few years and I am pretty sure her persimmon pudding days are over.  But just so the tradition (and the recipe came from my grandmother’s grandma, so it goes back a ways) doesn’t die, I’ll post her recipe here and if anyone can get me a quart of persimmons, we’ll have ourselves a great feast.  And I wonder how those huge persimmons that come from Asia would do in this recipe?

Grandma’s Persimmon Pudding

1 quart persimmons
2 eggs beaten
3 tablespoons butter
1 pint flour
3 tablespoons meal  (I assume this is cornmeal)
1 teaspoon soda
1 ½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup buttermilk
Raisins (the more the better, I’d start with a ½ cup)

Mix ingredients and pour into a 9x13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Miss me yet?

Lake of the Clouds
Porcupine Mountains State Park, Michigan
I hate those bumper stickers with a smiling Georgie Boy asking that question...  Every time I see one, I get a desire to rear end the car or puke or both.  No, Georgie, I don't miss you or your wars or you lack of a basic grasp in economics.  I miss your dad, I even miss Bill, but not you!  But that's not why I am posting, except that I saw one of those bumper stickers today as I was driving across Michigan (this is a long state, especially when you come from the far ends of the Upper Peninsula).  I've not been around (so have you miss me yet?), having just returned from some backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains and a day hike along Picture Rocks just to break up the drive back.  More photos and stories to come, but here is a teaser...

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Wednesday Wars

After a hot and dry summer, it is feeling like early October.  The high temperature today is only in the low 60s and it is raining.  We need the good soaking rain we're receiving, but it isn't exactly sailing weather!  This is a book review I wrote last month but haven't gotten around to posting.

Gary D Schmidt, The Wednesday Wars (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007), 264 pages.

It’s 1967 and Holling Hoodhood lives on Long Island and is entering the 7th Grade.  The world is in turmoil.   His classmates are all Jewish or Catholic.  Holling, a Presbyterian, is left as the only remnant of the Protestant Reformation, his other two Protestant friends having moved during the summer.  The religious differences aren't really a problem except on Wednesday afternoon, when the Catholic kids attend catechism and the Jewish kids go to study with the Rabbi.  Holling is left to the care of Mrs. Baker, his English teacher whose husband is an officer in the Marine Corp and deployed to Vietnam.  Holling is sure Mrs. Baker hates his guts.  This feeling is strengthened when she decided they should spend their Wednesday afternoon reading Shakespeare.   Mixed into all this are two escaped rats, the problem of eighth graders, a principal whose goal is to become a dictator of a small country, an older sister who is a flower child desiring love and peace for everybody but Holling, and his father’s drive to be the top architect in the community, a business he says he’s building for his son.  His dad isn’t very supportive of his son; instead he fears his son misdeeds in Mrs. Baker’s class might sabotage is firm bid for the new Baker Sporting Good Company and later for a new Junior High School.   As the story unfolds, Water Cronkite is reporting on the escalating war in Vietnam and the parallel rise in the peace movement and the music of a generation is heard (mostly coming from Holling’s sister’s room). 

The book is separated in monthly chapters.   The reader feels the insecurity and embarrassment of a seventh grade boy as he straddles that strange territory between being a child and becoming a man.  Hollings finds himself in a community Shakespeare play in which he’s required to wear tights with feathers on his butt.  This results in great humiliation when his picture appears in the local paper.  Hollings also becomes the strongest runner on the school’s cross-country team, a source of pride that results in his winning a savings bond and also causes problems with the 8th graders whom he beat in the race.   As the school year moves into spring, he begins to likes Mrs. Baker (she even takes him to a Yankee game when his father reneges).  Sadly, she also learns that her husband is missing in action in Vietnam, but continues on teaching.   Hollings father is controlling.  When Hollings sister speaks favorably of the large crowds gathering to protest the war, his father says it’s good that right and wrong isn’t determined by math.   Shortly afterwards she runs away, heading to California with her boyfriend.  He is also tough on Hollings, always holding out the carrot that he will one day lead his architecture firm.  Finally, in Holling’s circle of friends, there is the girl he likes (whose father has the competing architecture firm) and a Vietnamese refugee.      

This is a fast moving book that is written for middle schoolers.  In a way, everything gets tied together too neat (Mr. Baker is rescued and reunited with Mrs. Baker, Hollings uses his saving bond to send his sister money to get home, although etc).    The book has lots of good values.  Hollings learns what true friendship is when he equates it to the willingness to take a black eye for someone. (103)

 Even though the book was written for middle school students, I found it enjoyable as it often took me back to my 5th grade school year (1967-1968).  

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Queen Anne's Lace and the waning of summer

Long legs, capped in lace
gracefully swaying at the edge of the field
as it soaks up the last of the sun
Clouds darken the western horizon
threatening chaos in their approach
but will also provide a welcomed break in the heat
and a nourishing drink for a parched land.

There is something about Queen Anne’s Lace that I find myself trying, year after year, to capture in words.  The flower appears in mid-summer.  By late summer, the blossoms are knotted up into seeds.  The long stems and the lacey flowers certainly bring up thoughts of long-legged girls…  The flowers also remind me that the summer is waning.   This has been an unusually hot and dry summer.  Last week, we did get a few showers, but not as much as we need as the lakes are down and the grain crops are withering.   For previous attempts at Queen Anne Lace poetry, check out these older posts: Chicory and Lace" and Queen Anne's Revenge

Friday, August 03, 2012

Olympics Sailing and Taxes

Heading out

 The Olympics have been going strong for a week now and some of my neighbors in a small town just south of here are anxiously waiting for tomorrow’s sailboat race in the Star Class.  Going into the medal round, the North American sailing center seemed positioned to crews from their boats on each of the podiums.  Out of the sixteen boats in competition, thirteen were built in Richland, MI.   Right now, the top five boats were built by the center.  These boats sailed by crews from Great Britain, Brazil, Sweden, Norway and Portugal. Ironically, the boat in the sixth position, flying the American flag, was built by an Italian boat maker.  That’s right, the United States didn’t want to pony up the extra $25,000 that the North American Sailing Center asks for their boats.  The price range for these 22 ½ foot long keel boats are between $85,000 and $90,000!    It will be interesting to watch the finals and see some local fiberglass craftsmanship at work on the water.

Marco Rubio, a Senator from Florida who wants to been seen as the savior of athletes, is proposing that Olympic medal winners not be taxed.  All over my Facebook feed, folks are “Liking” advertisements for anti-tax groups trying to jump on the bandwagon and make political hay out of the issue.  These ads suggest that a gold medalist could pay nearly $9000 in taxes just for winning the gold.  That is nonsense.  First of all, the ads make it appear they have to pay that much just because they got a gold medal.  According to one account, there’s only $644 in gold and silver in the gold medals, much less in the silver and bronze.  What these ads are not saying is that the winners of the gold medals receive a $25,000 bonus from the U. S. Olympic committee and that is taxable.  Furthermore, the $9000 tax bill, even for $25,000 in extra income, seems a little out of line.  Not only would the athletic have to be in the top earnings bracket to receive this amount (which a few are as their endorsements are significant), but that they had no deductions to offset the tax bill.  As I said, this is some organizations trying to make political hay.  There needs to be a barn fire under such nonsense.  At least we should demand they honest  and clearly state that they are not taking about the value of the medal…  but then who would “like” their ad, especially for those who get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars or more for endorsements? 

While I am on my rant against the anti-tax folks, I have a compromise to suggest about the Bush-era tax cuts.  The Republicans want to keep them all and the Democrats want to keep them only for those earning less than $250,000 a year.  My suggestions, let’s end all those tax breaks.  We can all sacrifice a little for the well-being of the Republic and at some point we are going to have to pay off our borrowing for that Bush-era war in Iraq.

Okay, enough about politics and taxes. It’s time for me to get back on the water!  

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Sailing and Chick-Fil-A

Launching the boat
Yesterday, according to my Facebook news feed, half of my friends were stuffing themselves with buttery chicken sandwiches and funky waffle fries at Chick-Fil-A, showing appreciation and support to the company and it's founder/CEO.  The other half of my friends were as boycotting Chick-Fil-A, and a few even protesting, because of some comments the founder of the company made about marriage.  Since there isn’t a Chick-Fil-A within a hundred or more miles, I was able to remain above the fray and went sailing.   It wasn’t the best wind day (probably because the best wind was being released in close proximity to certain chicken restaurants), but it there were some nice breezes and it’s always better to first test out the boat in a light wind.  I spent nearly eight hours on the water, sailing with others and by myself. When I was by myself and the wind died, I pulled out a book and read, napped, soaked up some son, and dropped anchor for a swim.  The sun was setting when I pulled the boat up to where it is moored for the next two weeks.   I am sure I’ll be out again soon, like maybe tomorrow evening. 

Getting underway

Sailing solo
Voyeuristically observing dragonflies
At one point, there were a dozen or so dragonflies fornicating on my boat.  Two of them did the deed at the same time on my hat, but I disturbed them getting the camera from around my neck so that we could get a picture.  Maybe I should refer to the boat as "the Love Boat?"

If we support those who say things we like and boycott those who say things we don’t like, it seems as if we’re just encouraging more divisions within our already divided society. Just saying…