Sunday, July 26, 2009

County Fair

Not even two years ago, after we closed on some of our land and home here in Kentucky in late August 2007, we returned to New Hampshire and went to our state fair held in Hopkinton over Labor Day weekend. The day was clear, warm, and wonderful and it was still a few days before the boys returned to school for what would be their last semester. We knew our time in New Hampshire was waning and what better way to celebrate all things good about summer? We'd never been to our state fair before and it was just right on the midway and attractions while emphasizing 4-H projects and all things agricultural. And yes, I even blogged about it (the above photo of the tall man and our boys, who have grown even taller themselves in the past 23 months, was taken at that fair, and yes, I forgot my camera yesterday–kick, kick!).

So far we've been to two county fairs in Kentucky and I'm sure they are all different. There are also so many counties in this state–too many to name or count on all hands and feet (New Hampshire has seven). I suppose I expected more of an agricultural emphasis at the county fairs we've attended–Casey and Pulaski–especially as there is still so much active farming in our region. But they were both small fairs with few displays of jams, preserves, crafts and produce and no animals in sight. Then I realized that perhaps that is more at the state level.

But nevertheless, yesterday when coming home from the latest Harry Potter movie with the boys, we did something quite spontaneous (which for two middle-aged parents isn't always possible and is increasingly more rare). We saw that it was the last day of the Pulaski County Fair in Somerset and, better still, a sign saying "Tractor and Truck Pull Tonite." Well, that was all we needed. For $10 per Pond we got into the fair and had unlimited access to the rides and attractions (rides alone can be so expensive if on a per-ride basis). The tractor pull (the trucks came out later) was surprisingly exciting and oddly addictive. [And my son Henry and I decided we were in a live-action episode of MTV's "King of the Hill"]

The midway was manageable and not too crowded and there's nothing like a riot of noise, color, lights, action and the occasional giddy scream to put a smile on your face. I rode a few rides with the kids but nothing prepared me for this twisting, spinning up and down thing, rather like one of those black octopus rides that were always my favorite. [However, I'm certain now this operator had this particular ride cranked to the max.] Our boys were game but we couldn't all fit in one car. So I sat near them in the next one in the cluster of three cars. As I was solo, the ride operator decided to put a teenage boy in with me. This boy was far from happy about the idea but his friends thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen. I told him I was a kid at heart and that I promised I wouldn't scream. (He still wasn't really amused or even that friendly.) PHOTO: Our boys at the Cheshire County Fair in New Hampshire, August 2005

Well, the ride started and talk about G-force! Let's just say that if I'd been on it any longer, all of my reproductive parts would have likely centrifuged down into my toes and I would have shape-shifted into some gelatinous goo. Or, perhaps I might have just spun out of time and gone back to the 1970s when roller coaster rides at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio were just a matter of course when my father brought my brothers and I every summer. Needless to say, I am not a youngster any more. Within seconds of take-off I was screaming loudly while trying to watch my boys to make sure they were not getting sick. I could catch a glimpse of my husband's straw hat as we whizzed up and down and all around. When we finally stopped–and I was hoping that moment would come soon–there he was with a big smile on his face. I managed to get out of the car but was rather wobbly for a few minutes. Then, off to the Ferris wheel. That ride was averted as the lightning was returning and a bit too close for wanting to be on the highest point at the fair. PHOTO: The Tilt-A-Whirl, one of the oldest rides on the midway, at the Hopkinton State Fair in New Hampshire, 2007

So home we went: happy, tired and feeling like summer all the way down to our toes.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Kentucky Jaunt

Oh what an adventure this evening. The best kind–errands and a destination but along the way you aren't exactly sure what you might see or who you might find. I have often kicked myself, and I mean right in the road, fist on car kind of "kicking," when I've gone off on errands and have forgotten my camera. I've learned to throw it in the car no matter what. This afternoon I was not disappointed. As my boys and husband are on a trip out west to visit a relative, I thought I'd bring our Aunt Cynthia along, too, who, bless her, made this great trek to Kentucky along with us, and have a "girls' outing" for a change.

Agricultural equipment, like this hay rake, has a beauty as well as purpose.

When I have my camera with me, I'm on alert. It's as if my inner eye is on overload and sees things in a different light or angle. Here where we have such vistas and changing skies and variable light, and scenes that transport you back to a time before you were even born–but that you know deep down in your soul–you may never pass this way again. I like being a tourist in my own land. Part of it is because even though we've been living here for eighteen months, visiting for well over the past three years, and completely moved (as in our old house sold) for almost a year, I still do feel like a tourist at times. A more settled tourist. Yet, wherever I go lately I feel I need to document my life in photographs. Perhaps it is keeping a blog for over four years: I often think about what I'd like to write and how I'd like to illustrate it. So, let me just say here now, thank you for having come along on the journey with me and here's a big "shout out" and warm welcome to all the new readers here in the pantry. I hope you will continue to visit.

Tonight, in addition to the usual philosophizing, I've included a photo essay with captions for your enjoyment. If I can't be somewhere myself, I'm a contented "armchair traveler." I sometimes feel like Macon, the travel writer in Anne Tyler's 1985 novel, The Accidental Tourist, who preferred the comfort, order and routine of his own home while writing travel guides from the safe sanctum of his study–and whose sister liked to alphabetize her spices and canned goods in her kitchen. I can somewhat relate to both of them:
“As much as (Macon) hated the travel—he loved the writing—the virtuous delights of organizing a disorganized country, stripping away the inessential and the second-rate, classifying all that remained in neat, terse paragraphs..."

"Maybe he couldn't get his guidebook organized, but organizing the household was another matter entirely. There was something fulfilling about that, something consoling–or more than consoling, it gave him the sense of warding off a danger. Over the next week or so, he traveled through the rooms setting up new systems. He radically rearranged all the kitchen cupboards, tossing out the little bits of things in sticky, dusty bottles that Sarah hadn't opened in years."

–Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist
I don't hate to travel or to visit in the world, whether near or far, but sometimes I dislike it. I have to be in the mood to leave my home, my nest, my familiar. I believe many women can understand that feeling. However, I so enjoy writing about the world around me from this new place where I am now–"organizing a disorganized" layering of thought–here at this point of midlife, betwixt and between my former home and settling into the new, where I am both comfortable and on a new cusp of something exciting and also something so comfortably ordinary. I'm not certain what, but I'm enjoying the journey just as I'm planning on "travel(ing) through (my) rooms setting up new systems."

Aunt Cynthia and I started our late afternoon journey on an infrequent drive down to our creek farm and over to the next ridge. It's a short cut, but steep and treacherous at times so it is "weather-depending." I saw a heron (Great Blue? I'm not certain as he was rather gray) and was able to get within fifteen feet of him by walking quietly. He didn't seem to be bothered that I was taking a lot of photographs, either. We finally left him alone to fish and went along our way.

Baldock Chapel, constructed in 1895 in Casey County, has seen better days. It hasn't been used as a sanctuary for many years and, until recently, much of its contents remained inside, as if the "Rapture" had come and taken everyone away during a Sunday morning service. Now the only ones who worship there are the pigeons in the belfry.

Two rabbits were playing together in a ditch and paused long enough to let me take their photos from my car window.

This big old Brahma bull had enough posing for one sitting. He is standing in front of Green River Knob that straddles Casey and Pulaski Counties and is the tallest point in Kentucky west of the higher Appalachians in the eastern part of the state. And yes, just like Babe the Blue Ox, he is bigger than Green River Knob!

We stopped at Middleburg Dairy Freeze for supper and then Aunt Cynthia had a butterscotch sundae. While there, by chance, we met up with a new friend (and "In the Pantry" reader) and her husband. We both discovered Shelley's Middleburg Dairy Freeze, and her delicious "Middleburgers," on our friend Teresa's blog. A few weeks ago, Teresa wrote about the place in such glowing terms that I surprised my husband and boys with supper out on the very day she wrote it (July 3).

Summer fun and smiles all around at our first visit to the Middleburg Dairy Freeze on July 3: excellent cheeseburgers, onion rings, French fries, soft serve ice cream, even corn dogs and real old-fashioned lemonade. Who needs the fair?

We had just been saying that we missed a good place to get burgers and soft serve ice cream when Teresa blogged about it. "Ask and ye shall receive..." Sometimes, yes, it's that simple, isn't it?

A rare photo with my boys as I'm usually the family photographer.

Heirloom tomatoes on an Old Order Mennonite porch in Casey County–I stopped to get some goat milk on our way home and they offered some to me along with a large, ripe canteloupe. Just before that, I dropped some tomato plants, a New Hampshire rhubarb root, and some Kentucky strawberry plants from our garden at my friend Teresa's house. In September, I'll hopefully have tomatoes like these!

Warning! I break for root cellars...more on these very soon. I've had a blog rooting around in here for a while now...and on that note, I bid you goodnight!

Blackberries: "...there is this happy tongue."

This being our first full summer in Kentucky, we are enjoying the wild blackberries of July and how they are as abundant here as wild blueberries are back in New Hampshire. Spilling over hedgerows, coming up in brambly places in abandoned fields, lining old roads, blackberries are a Kentucky gem and it's no wonder one of its famous country cakes has to do with blackberry jam: Blackberry Jam Cake with Caramel icing–yum!). PHOTO: Multitudes of blackberries grow along hedgerows on our ridge.

Of course you have to contend with briers, chiggers, and the occasional lurking snake but it is worth it–especially when your husband and boys go off to pick for several hours, giving you a quiet house, and after you offer to clean and freeze the berries upon their return! [Besides, the promise of blackberry jam slathered on a buttered biscuit or a winter-time blackberry pie or cobbler is enough to send them running for the hills in pursuit...] PHOTO: Blackberries in an old tin lard pail, one that my husband used as a lunch pail for several decades.

Well, pantry friends, this is my third blackberry-related post at In the Pantry in the past four years. All week I've been wanting to blog about blackberries and I had this subsurface feeling that I'd written about them before. My old way to find that out was to "Google" the subject and my own blog name and see if I got any hits on my blog. Now I'm delighted to have discovered a new Blogspot feature so I've just added a "Google" search of my blog (with related links that have been included in blog entries) that you will find on the left column of In the Pantry. You can use it to discover things for yourself if you don't want to troll through the archives: just enter a name, favorite author, subject or any word you want and it will come up in a separate box as to how many entries at In the Pantry there are related to it. How cool is that? PHOTO: Pure leaf lard is a perfect compliment to a blackberry pie so it is fitting that the berries were picked in old lard tins.

So this morning it was handy to discover two other blogs that I'd written before on this topic –Berry Season (written about wild black raspberries in our last full New Hampshire summer) and Blackberry Winter (written during our first Kentucky spring)–which means that, technically, I can keep this one much shorter. Yeah, right... [I've rediscovered, also, that earlier blogs have a different format and I need to go back and edit them, especially to include links, now one of many handy design and functional features that were lacking in early blog days.] We'll see...brevity is not always my strong point unless assigned an article that can be no more than 700 words, for example. Then that is a delightful challenge for this writer.

I made blackberry jam yesterday and I am so embarrassed. My Mennonite friends told me that the reason jams and jellies don't often gel is that you must use cane sugar, even if you are also using pectin (I was using Dutch Gel, something I've not tried before, in fact, I've never used any pectin in my grape jam). Who knew that plain old "sugar" is usually beet sugar? So look for sugar bags that specifically say "cane sugar." [Although it may just be the jam-maker in this case.] So I bought cane sugar just for that purpose and of course when I went to get sugar I went directly to my sugar tin by habit. Well, needless to say, from 2 quarts of blackberries, now I have three pints of blackberry "sauce" (oh well, it might be good on lemon cake or poured on pancakes this winter). I am a stubborn one and will try again and post my results. For now I am thankful that my husband and I froze the other several gallons of their picking efforts. [Grape jam I have made many times but it also has a lot of natural pectin: here is my blog about that process.]

For all of you history and farm foodies out there, I can’t say enough good things about a book I discovered last year, Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms–1920-1950 by John Van Willigen and Anne Van Willigen [University Press of Kentucky: 2006]. Here they talk about the origins of blackberry jam cake, something I have yet to make myself: “A classic rural Kentucky dessert was jam cake with caramel frosting. These dense, flavorful cakes were associated with Christmas and were often given as gifts. Some women even baked them in order to sell them.” [p.30] Towards the holidays, when I’m baking again, I will post the recipe from this book and more about its history, as well as my own attempts. [Our family is taking a “low carb” hiatus for a time and while it is paying off, I miss baking! Perhaps, too, this is why berries have become such a treasure for us now as they are healthy, delicious and naturally sweet.]

I have included, also for a third time here at In the Pantry, a favorite poem about picking blackberries by belated poet Mary Oliver. It is from her 1984 Pulitzer-prize winning book of poetry, American Primitive. If you have a chance to read that collection or any of her other poems, you will revel, as I do, in her words and descriptions of the natural rhythm of her days, mostly from her own rural experiences. They are spare and luminous poems. Just as with many pantries, I want to live in them.


When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.
~ Mary Oliver

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bookshop Finds

Farm memoirs or farm novels, usually by women, are among the kinds of books I collect, as well as the back-t0-the-land genre. And always just when I thought I had them all...three more are found.

It's a tough time economically for used bookshops, too, and on a recent trip back to New Hampshire and returning through Ohio I went to too many bookshops doing my best to stimulate the economy. And alright, I admit it, I trolled a few antique malls in Medina and Holmes County, Ohio, too...but more about some good affordable antique finds in another blog. I can't resist a used bookshop (and I'm calling them so here because I think of a "bookshop" as something old and slightly rumply with a certain character–and a "bookstore" as an overlit book place you'd find in a mall or "big box" type megabookstore in the homogeneous suburbs).

A particular favorite back in New Hampshire is Old Number Six Book Depot owned by Ian and Helen Morison in Henniker as well as Books by the Lake, just up the road in Bradford. I've found a lot of Tasha Tudor books there, and other New England regional books and cookbooks, especially. [If there is a particular Tasha Tudor you are looking for it is worthwhile to call them.] Another is the used book section of The Toadstool, a fabulous independent bookshop (and yes, they still exist) in several locations in the Monadnock region where we lived. Of course, their new book section is always alluring, too.

Cookbooks–a woman can never have enough cookbooks! (No matter what her husband says...) Although that book on the Pennsylvania Dutch? A history for my husband (and I picked up loads of books for he and the children, too!).

There was a lovely book written in the 1970s called 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff, about the actual correspondence between a woman in the United States and a very respectable bookshop owner in London. There is a certain romance about an old bookshop and as a student in London many years ago, I enjoyed browsing in shops there, too. [Here is a blog entry that I posted last September over at Cupcake Chronicles about "English Bookshops"] And who hasn't seen the movie Crossing Delancey, based on a play, from 1988 (with a great soundtrack by the Roches)? You will enjoy a romance between a woman who works in a New York bookshop in Greenwich Village and a pickle vendor who, after he cleans his hands of the pickle juice each night, smoothes them with vanilla. It is a lovely movie.

Janice Holt Giles, a Kentucky author, is hard to find in local bookshops so I was pleased to find an early edition of her second novel, Miss Willie, for only a few dollars back in New England. The Soujourner, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, is a later novel about a farmer and his estranged brother. Hal Borland wrote a lot of back-to-the-land books, like another favored author, Lois Bromfield.

Here in Kentucky, whenever I'm in Berea, I go to Robie & Robie Fine Books. College towns are often great places to find good used bookshops and Berea is no exception. The Casey County Library in Kentucky, and many other libraries across the country, have "Friends of the Library" groups that often maintain excellent used bookshops or have annual book sales.

I'm a Barbara Pym fan and discovered this biography by her friend and executor, Hazel Holt, that I had not read before. Jane Kenyon is a favorite poet and Red House, a memoir about an historic New England house in the same family since it was built, is a book I've been wanting to read since it came out.

The good thing about buying a used book is that you are recycling. The "bad" thing, I guess, is that the original author does not get a share of a resale–just like if an artist were to sell a painting for $1,000 and then it gets resold years later for $1 million. The artist gets none of that inflation. I've read that eBay sales are down or that vendors are increasingly dissatisfied. Maybe it is the economy but perhaps, also, people just missed getting out there and hunting for stuff in shops, picking it up and savoring it. There are some things that the computer will never quite replicate. In this era of Amazon "Kindle" I can not even imagine doing without a book, new or old, to linger over in a shop, to treasure in my hands and perhaps later on my bookshelves.

PS Maybe Amazon is hurting, too. On my splash page just now for publishing my blog, there was a usable $20 off at Amazon coupon. But don't worry, I'm not at all tempted. Well, maybe just a smidge...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Wash Day

For once I am actually doing laundry on a Monday and it has been productive in others ways as well. Multi-tasking up a storm here on the ridge, although, alas, not outside much on this glorious day (hopefully a bit of time in the garden after supper–people tend to garden here in summer during the longer, cooler hours "of an evening," as they say). I got caught up with most of our laundry on the weekend but today I washed those things I wanted to hang outside on my old Victorian drying rack, a precursor to the modern ones. The day is just hot–and not humid–and perfect for drying clothes.

I have been in touch with Project Laundry List and they've invited me to contribute as a "Clothes Pegger" to their blog [For my first contribution, today, click here.] I have also been assigned two clothesline-related articles for Old-House Interiors and Early Homes about the subject and history of laundry–and the mighty clothesline in our domestic past and present (more about those articles when published in the next month and later this year, with links). It's been a productive "wash day"!

In the meantime, I have been gathering clothesline and laundry-related quotes and, horrors, just realized that I blogged about Wash Day already on my other blog, Cupcake Chronicles, way back in March 2008. [I was either having a "senior moment" yesterday or a complete brain freeze but you will find on that blog some more illuminations on the subject of laundry and all things good.]

Along with "several" wonderful friends in New Hampshire, I contribute the occasional blog posting to Cupcake Chronicles. Our blog started two years ago this August as an off-shoot to our newly-formed book group that is now virtual (although we are privileged to meet in person from time to time). If you enjoy the posts here at In the Pantry you might also enjoy what we talk about at Cupcake Chronicles–not just books but all manner of topics: food, home, recipes, the odd musing or rant, and well, yes, most blog entries usually integrate books in some way. It is a welcome conversation and one way to stay connected with dear friends through the miles. [I post both as Catherine, my alter ego "Della T. Lutes"–who likes home-related discussions–and a few others, and you can click directly on most of my archived posts (some may not be) here or if you go to the right sidebar on the Cupcake page and just click on "Della." I know that you will also enjoy the blogs of Peaches LaRue, Edie and Queenie.]

I will be back soon this week with "more blogs about pantries and food" (to paraphrase Talking Heads), root cellars, and even pie–oh yes, pie. I also have some new monthly mini-columns–"Pantry Cupboards" and another one I wish to introduce–on similar topics and will invite your participation. Right now, I'm on deadline for an article (tomorrow) and must also go start something for supper!

However, I will leave you with this wonderful quote from Mildred Armstrong Kalish's book, Little Heathens–Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression [Bantam: 2008] The Cupcakes read it this past spring and there were moments I was reading it it in bed and laughing so hard my husband thought I was really losing it. This memoir has detailed descriptions of farm life growing up in the Great Depression as well as many memorable stories. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

From the chapter, "Wash Day" (which was always on Monday):
Is there any sense in trying to make the modern-day reader understand the immense satisfaction we experienced in viewing our bright, clean wash arranged in such a meticulous fashion on the clothesline? Heaven knows we had more than enough to do without this added display of superhousewifery. But the whole ritual was a matter of pride.

There was a rumor in Garrison that a wily housewife, whose husband drove a long-haul semi truck, resulting in frequent and erratic absences, chose the clothesline method for signaling her handsome, blond lover. When her husband was in residence, she pinned the belt of his pants to the line; when he was absent, she pinned the legs of the pants to the line so they hung upside down. I never knew whether this was true or not, but it did make for good gossip.

There were a few years when the women in Garrison hung their panties and bras inside a pillowcase to conceal them from the eyes of any lascivious males who happened to pass by while these unmentionables were drying. But people made fun of the practice and it was soon abandoned. I don’t recall that we ever engaged in that bit of silly primness on the farm.

In the summertime the clothes would sometimes dry so fast that by the time we got the second basket out to the line, the first batch was already dry. We removed the clothes from the line as soon as they dried, being careful not to wrinkle the sweet-smelling, deliciously warm, sun-dried garments. We, meaning Grandma, Mama, my little sister, and I, would immediately put the sheets and pillowcases back on the beds, looking forward to the time when we could lie down on them...

To crawl between crisp sheets, warm and fresh from the sun and air, at the end of a bone-wearying day, is one of the true soul-restoring luxuries of life, which hardly anyone of the current generation will ever know.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Right to Dry

Dresses hang at an Old Order Mennonite farm in Casey County, Kentucky.

I was going to blog about root cellars today (very soon!) but instead find myself on this humid Sunday, with the laundry more or less caught up, thinking about clotheslines. The "Right to Dry" movement is not new, a few years old now, and is probably not news to many readers. But this morning it was news to me. [Photo by an unknown photographer, taken during the 1930s, perhaps WPA sponsored.]

While watching some of CBS Sunday Morning with my coffee I learned that there is actually a movement out there to banish clotheslines from suburban developments and other areas. Project Laundry List is an entire "green" movement (and there is even a blog for "clothes peggers"). I was surprised that there even needed to be a movement lobbying for "the right to dry" and hang up clotheslines, especially in this new era of conserving our resources and dollars.

Alexander Lee, director of Project Landry List, which is based in Concord, New Hampshire (another reason I'm surprised I didn't know before, as Concord is about an hour from our former home), told The Boston Globe in an article written in 2008 that, in America, the oft-considered offensive clothesline has an image problem that is not shared in other parts of the world. "We want Martha [Stewart] and Oprah [Winfrey] to make the clothesline into a pennant of eco-chic," he said, "instead of a flag of poverty."

Curtains flap in the breeze at a farm outside of Hancock, New Hampshire.

I've always seen the beauty in laundry hanging and billowing on a clothesline (in fact, an old-fashioned laundry room is as near and dear to me as a pantry). Years ago, at a farm where I lived for a while (not the farm where I grew up) in the former servants' quarters at this sprawling Victorian farmstead, there was a clothes drying yard on the northwest side of the house between the kitchen ell of the main house and large barn (and just behind the connected annex/woodshed of which my apartment was atop). I loved hanging my laundry out whenever I could and would bring it home from the laundromat in town just to do so. The splendid, seemingly private, view of Mount Monadnock sprawling before me to the northwest was only part of that experience for me. The yard was also private, as so many laundry yards once were. [And yes, somewhere there are a box...someday!]

One of the highlights of writing and styling The Pantry was finding great spaces like this early 1900s farmhouse laundry room, still in use, which we included in the book even thought it isn't technically a pantry (a "laundry pantry," if you will). I styled it using what was already on hand and still in use there. [And I want one!]

A few years before that I lived and worked at the Gibson House, a Victorian house museum in Boston's Back Bay, where I was resident guide (and lived in the old fifth floor servant's quarters, up five svelte-inducing flights of stairs–and yes, I guess I have a thing for living in former servants' quarters!) for a few years in the 1980s. Some laundry may have been hung to dry in the service courtyard behind the kitchen near the back alley. Imagine laundry hanging in downtown Boston or any urban area today!

The laundry room at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, Kentucky (as above right, also).

But as for people seeing my laundry? Why not? I've peppered this blog entry today with other people's laundry that I have taken in recent years with my digital camera, like this photo, right, of laundry drying in front of the Sawyer Farm in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. The farm is near to the farm where I grew up and we've always been family friends–a place near and dear and still in the same family for five generations. [Their pantries are described in The Pantry.]

I also like to hang up duvets and air out bedding. There is nothing like a line-dried sheet: it has a certain smell and crispness to it and I liken it to having a field grown tomato ripened by the sun versus one in a hot house. They are not the same thing. That said, does anyone like towels hung on the line? I certainly don't but maybe it was a lack-of-using-fabric-softener kind of a thing.

The clothesline industry is big business, too. Lyman Orton, owner of one of my favorite stores in Vermont (and via catalogue), The Vermont Country Store, has seized upon the "Right to Dry" movement and sells many laundry products for outdoor drying and old-style care and washing. Also Lehman's in Kidron, Ohio (where I stopped on my way back from Akron, Ohio last month–Holmes County and environs, although increasingly more touristy in recent years, has been a favorite destination for us for the past two decades) has been selling clothesline and laundry-related products as long as they've been in business. ABOVE: Old Order Mennonite laundry hangs near a bell used to call in the troops for meals.

My friend Norma on wash day. Many Amish and Mennonites have large attached rooms to their kitchens that they use for washing and canning.

Many people I know in Kentucky–"plain people" and others–have a clothesline and some still wash their clothes by hand on their back porches. Double washtubs, galvanized tin tubs and washboards–and clotheslines of all varieties–are put to good use here and don't just serve as old-timey porch ornaments. There is a beauty to driving by a farmhouse and seeing a load of laundry on the line, even though there is little romance in actually doing laundry (but there is a calming purposefulness in the task, I will admit). Those who don't see that not only don't "get it," they clearly aren't farm girls or guys, now, are they?

"Monday is Wash Day." I don't recall when every day had a designated chore but what a great idea. Here are some laundry-related items in my laundry room.

I have collected clothesline and laundry paraphernalia for years: old wicker laundry baskets (one an old Shaker one given to me by a dear writer friend who even had her name penciled on it, perhaps for laundry sent out), clothespin bags in the style of dresses and pantaloons (back when they were affordable on eBay and still an occasionally affordable find when trolling in an antique shop), clothespins, laundry "stuff." You are probably wondering, as I am: does she have a clothesline now? The short answer is 'no' – we are waiting to put one in "when we build our new house" (a chorus of late). Right now, I am happy and grateful for my chicken house (which we designed to go onto a roll top and move up the hill when we do build...). Most available land around our place will soon be used for pasturing cattle. However, I might just have to put up a makeshift clothesline this year, maybe to the north of the chicken house on the island in the middle of our driveway loop. Already my porch rails are generally covered with things and I use several old clothes racks, too.

Here is a beautiful, spare poem by the belated poet, Jane Kenyon, who was married to former poet laureate Donald Hall. They lived for several decades in the old New Hampshire farmhouse that was his family home and are two of my favorite modern poets. Hall has also penned several memoirs and children's books, especially Ox-Cart Man and Lucy's Summer. [His current memoir is on my "books to read" list.] "Wash" is followed by the first and last stanzas of another of Kenyon's poems, "Wash Day." Like a true poet, she saw the beauty in the domestic and the every day. ABOVE: The preserved kitchen at the New Hampshire Farm Museum in Milton.


All day the blanket snapped and swelled
on the line, roused by a hot spring wind....
From there it witnessed the first sparrow,
early flies lifting their sticky feet,
and a green haze on the south-sloping hills.
Clouds rose over the mountain....At dusk
I took the blanket in, and we slept,
restless, under its fragrant weight.

Two vintage Old Order Mennonite quilts at a 2008 auction ~ wish I had bid!

Wash Day (first and last stanzas)

How it rained while you slept! Wakeful,
I wandered around feeling the sills,
followed closely by the dog and the cat.
We conferred, and left a few windows
open a crack.
Now the morning is clear
and bright, the wooden clothespins
swollen after the wet night.

How is it that every object in this basket
got to be inside out? There must be
a trickster in the hamper, a backward,
unclean spirit.
The clothes–the thicker
things–may not get dry by dusk.
The days are getting shorter....
You'll laugh, but I feel it–
some power has gone from the sun.

[For more laundry-related writings, click here.]

POSTSCRIPT ~ When The Pantry was accepted for publication by Gibbs Smith, Publishers, they sent me a lovely little book that they wanted me to use as reference for size, design and "look" for my book design and format. It is called The Clothesline by Irene Rawlings and Andrea Vansteenhouse (and is still available here). It captures the bliss and vintage nostalgia that many feel towards clotheslines and laundry things. It is one of many favorite domestic-themed books in my collection. ABOVE: Vintage photo of two girls in front of a clothesline from eBay (available for sale now).