Thursday, April 27, 2006

Simple Gifts

Abandoned Schoolhouse, Holmes County, Ohio

I have been a bit overwhelmed by the idea of writing lately, having spent so much time finishing my manuscript for IN THE PANTRY and keying photographs, etc. Now it is in the hands of my editor and the fun begins with the editing process and design. It will be fun to watch it come to life, so to speak.

My husband, two boys and myself have been on a trip since Wednesday, April 20. It has been our first since last summer and, as usual, we like to drive. I'm calling it our "Appalachian Spring Odyssey". Of course where we live in New England is technically "Appalachia" but spring is slow to come up there, especially in our cold hilly pockets. Down here we have watched the diverse palette of green change as we made our way across Pennsylvania, into eastern and southeastern Ohio, down into central and southern Kentucky, with a dip into northern Tennessee to see my uncle, then out into eastern Kentucky and down into the Smoky Mountains where we stopped in Asheville. Tonight we've landed in Virginia and plan to see one of my dear friends and her family in West Virginia (the panhandle) tomorrow night--we have known each other for almost 40 years having met as four year olds in kindergarten in 1967 in Akron, Ohio. On Saturday night we will be in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania at a favorite small hotel we like off the beaten track (right next to an Amish farm and run by Mennonites), Sunday we will be in upstate New York and Monday afternoon--MAY DAY--we will be home!

I do like to travel but I don't make a very good nomad--perhaps it is the exhaustion of point-to-point driving each day but there has been some consistency (like our favorite brand of hotel, for the most part) and the ever-changing scenery makes it all worthwhile.

Amish Pantry at Yoder Farm

We met an Amish family in southeastern Ohio who are selling their farm--they are "old order" Amish and do not wear pastel colors and their homes are built very much like the traditional style Amish dwelling (white with a whiff of plain Georgian) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It was amazing to see their place: 100 acres of rolling farm land with a house and some barns--all for $180,000. They pay less than $1000 in property taxes. The house, and meeting the family--and husband and wife about my age--and their twelve children (the newest born two weeks ago), was an experience in itself. As it had been a warm early spring everyone was in bare muddy feet. The house smelled of cookstove and foods that had been sitting in the pantry and I was reminded of the many descriptions of early American kitchens--even those into the nineteenth-century--that smelled of all kinds of things. This, afterall, is a working farmhouse kitchen with no bunches of herbs or baskets hanging about. The only adornment on any wall was a simple calendar.

I even managed to see three Amish pantries--one was actually the summer kitchen of a preserved Amish farmhouse (now operated as a museum home--Yoder's Amish Home in Holmes County, Ohio) where canning was done and where now baked goods are sold, prepared by an Amish woman in the adjacent kitchen. It was an authentic space, complete with a Hoosier cabinet selling preserves. The other pantries were recently built and full of different kinds of food, all comingling into the kind of odors that pantries used to have before foodstuffs were refrigerated. They were not photogenic by any stretch because of the large plastic tubs of ingredients that they buy in bulk or used to store dried goods. But it was a treat to see them and they, as well as the vast storerooms of canned goods in the cellar, are clearly the pride of the Amish farmwife.

Hoosier at Yoder Farm

Several days later we had a chance to tour around Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, one of the largest and best preserved Shaker communities in the country (the only Shakers left are in Sabbathday Lake, Maine and there are only four). It was a beautiful sunny and cool April Sunday and few others were there. We were able to tour the great stone dwellinghouse and other structures at our leisure and even had a delicious lunch in the Shaker tavern. Several days later we would explore three farm sites (two just land, one with a surprisingly tidy and efficient "double wide"--or "double WAHDE" as they say down south) south of there in a hilly county populated by Amish, Mennonites, and just plain country folk. It was incredibly beautiful and hilly country and within ninety minutes of Lexington and about forty-five minutes from a major north-south highway. So I suppose it might work for part of our year (if I were to homeschool our children for the time we were there). It is much like our area of New England but the soil is less rocky, there is more open farmland, the area is unspoiled by any major changes, and the winters are short--really only January and February. And oddly, it is on the very western edge of the Eastern time zone that skirts its way through Kentucky.

Yesterday we drove through the Smoky Mountains and landed in Asheville, North Carolina for the night where we saw Biltmore Estate. My husband and I had been there twice before--this time we wowed and delighted our two boys, one of whom turned six yesterday. They both loved their tour of the nation's largest private home as did we (and I have to add that they have been incredibly good on this trip considering the amount of driving and activity we've had). We also took a special "behind the scenes" tour which included the two-story butler's pantry. The house is so vast that you could get your exercise just walking across it every day or up and down the many stairs. Their servants must have been in incredible shape!

The house, despite its grandeur (if you've never been, rent "BEING THERE" with Peter Sellers, one of my favorite movies), is not really a cozy place. But what a lifestyle for the Vanderbilts and others "back in the day" of the charmed and gilded age for the privileged few at the turn of the last century. Visiting all of these homes--some simple, some grand--has had me thinking about our own. It is great to tour our magnificent country (especially by car) but it is even better to drive back in the driveway of home. A woman home economist who, at the turn of the last century traveled and lectured widely encouraging the housewife in all women had this to say:

"I tell you what. Nothing gives me the marvelous satisfaction of feeling my own kitchen floor under my two feet!" The description says that she then "emphasized the remark by bringing one foot and then the other foot down emphatically.” [from "Come On Out Into the Kitchen,” by Emma Gary Wallace, AMERICAN COOKERY, June-July 1935, Vol. XL, No. 1]

That is exactly how I feel. So take me home, country roads.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A Year In the Pantry

THE OLD PANTRY by Catherine Seiberling Pond
THE PANTRY at THERON BOYD's HOUSE in VERMONT (perhaps the oldest untouched and intact pantry in the country)

Today at Easter dinner, which because of the pantry book deadline (yesterday, but because like tax day it fell on a Saturday, it will be to my editor next week) we had a very low-key immediate family affair (and I have to say I've all but perfected the art of slow-roasting a leg of lamb with oven-roasted potatoes and creamed spinach--a side of mint jelly, some hot cross buns from the Kernel Bakery, a fresh fruit tart from a local market, and voila!), our neighbor and friend Dot asked me: "When is your book going to be done, Catherine?" and I answered "It's almost out..." To my editor, I meant, not from my hands or computer, but almost. [Sounds like birthing a baby, doesn't it? Well, it is a bit like that in the metaphorical sense of things.]

"The reason I ask," she said, "is because you haven't written in your blog lately!" I realized it had been a while as I've been in the home stretch with "the book", and yes, largely in fleece pants and T-shirt (it's getting kind of warm for Lanz flannels), and generally without benefit of shower (ok, so I haven't been out much!).

And here, while entering this very quick blog as I promised Dot I would do for the sake of keeping you interested or hoping to hold on to those who do visit here, I realize I have had this blogspot now for almost a year: April 21st will be the end of year one and coincidentally (my new hobby--the art of coincidence!), my editor will have my IN THE PANTRY manuscript and photos and all of that hard work in her hands just before then (well, by a few days!).

My sentence structure is long and rambling in this post. It shows you the state of my mind! A bit frazzled. In my pantry research I unearthed a treasure trove of sources--too many for one book. So in the past few weeks I have been cutting and rewriting and rethinking certain things (this sidebar or that sidebar?) and choosing final images and photographs. It has been a wonderful process but an all engrossing one with lots of time outs to address some pressing health issues--even my computer got into the act with a "red screen of death" (thankfully my Powerbook G4 and I have been bonding and I'm tempted just to stay married to it and not stray with the latest iMac for the office but I have to say it is faster and bigger--but don't worry little iBook I won't forget you!).

The good news about all of that research? I easily have enough material for several more book ideas and a series of related lectures on domestic life. In fact, I was just asked to speak on Emily Dickinson (briefly, I said, as I am no Dickinson scholar) at a local library event in honor of the 120th anniversary of her death on May 15. So I am going to speak about her interior life and how it applied to her writing time and her "domestic activities" around the household. My friend Rosemary, who is organizing the event, is making some of Emily's "black cake" and gingerbread for the occasion and we, including our friend Edie (who first brought me to Rosemary and her pantries--and her wonderful baked goods--which will be in my book!), are going to be going to the Dickinson "Homestead" on May 12 to get a sense of her home and environment and to see if, perhaps, her pantry is still there. [For more on Emily and her pantry, see archived blog: "Emily Dickinson's Pantry", from April 22, 2005.] I promise another blog on her home, her 'interior" writing, and her pantry life.

So all of this is a way of saying thank you for stopping by the pantry and stay tuned for future installments on life, the universe, and canned goods. And thanks, Dot, for asking.