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A Letter From Kate

Dear Readers,

I must admit, while reading your letters about country stores, I developed an overwhelming craving for pickles. So many of the stories described the joy of choosing dill pickles from barrels that I couldn't stop thinking about them. Even Kathryn Compton, our new editor, commented on how hungry she was for pickles after reading all the stories.

One day while I was reading the letters, I took a short break. I went into the break room near my desk to get a cold drink, and I spotted a large jar of dill pickles in the refrigerator. I was tempted to just take one, but I knew that the right thing to do would be to locate the jar's owner and ask if I could have a pickle. By that point, I was so desperate I would have paid any price for one.

After talking to several people in the building, I learned that the owner of the jar of pickles sat nearby, in the Farm Collectibles department. She very graciously let me have one, and I was satisfied - for a while. After work, I went to the store and bought a big jar of Claussen pickle spears, which I believe are the best, to keep at home so I can enjoy one any time I want.

Anyone who knows me well knows about my obsession with pickles. My in-laws are so thoughtful that they keep their refrigerator stocked with several different kinds of pickles, so when we join them for dinner, we can have a plethora of pickles on the table. For me, it's just one example of the love they have for their family. Because no one else in the family is as fond of pickles as I am, their thoughtfulness is even more special to me.

Kate Marchbanks

Together With God

Jenkins' store was just over the hill from my house, and my friend Cheryl and I would walk the quarter-mile on hot summer evenings to get a fudge bar. We had to pass the old cemetery at the top of the hill, and we usually started running at the crest.

As we ran downhill, we picked up momentum. There were many times that I knew I was going to fall and skin my knees on the pavement. Going home was tougher because we couldn't run uphill, especially when we were eating our fudge bars.

The times of innocence are mostly gone now, and we face a new world with few country stores left for children to seek their riches. It would be great if we could go back to those times, but the best we can do is to carry that innocence with us.

Father, thank You for all that you have given us. May we carry those precious memories of a time when we felt safe so that we can pass them along to our children. Help us to remember that love is a powerful element in producing safe environments for our children. Amen.

D. Susan Rutz

Country store lives on in her memory

During World War II, I was a Crop Corps worker on a farm in upstate New York. We picked string beans, tomatoes, apples and grapes.

For fun, I often went into the quaint country store in the nearby village, Red Hook. Unlike city stores, one could find almost everything there, including farm implements, clothing and food. One could even pick pickles out of a barrel. When fall brought cooler weather, I bought corduroy pants and a colorful flannel shirt there.

I often regret going back to the city, where store clerks are not too friendly sometimes. That country store lives on fondly in my memory.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Looked forward to grocery truck

The country store that has always been in my memory was a grocery truck that came by our house in 1939.

At the time, my family lived close to a small community that had two grocery stores, a school, a gin, a church, and a blacksmith shop. There were four kids in our family, and we lived in a half-dugout with a dirt floor.

One of the grocery stores sent out a truck once a week. The driver was Mr. Bean. The store part of the truck looked like a regular store, with shelves of groceries and meat packed in ice, but the big sticks of bologna and cheese hanging from the ceiling were what caught our eyes. Bologna was a treat for us. Mr. Bean always gave each of us children a sucker.

That truck had the best smell. Even though it's been 65 years, I can still remember how we looked forward to the truck coming.

Muleshoe, Texas

Small store seemed large to a child

As a preschooler in the early 1940s, my family and I lived in rural southern New Jersey. With gasoline rationed during the war years, a trip to the store was a big adventure.

My mother and I would walk the half-mile to the highway to catch the bus. We rode into the small town of Westville, which had the only store for several miles. In my child's mind, it was large. By today's standards, it was tiny.

There were no shopping carts and no self-service. Mother approached the counter with her list and her ration coupons. The grocer retrieved the items from the shelves, set them on the counter and added them up. The most amazing part to me was that Dan the grocer was blind, yet he was still able to go directly to the correct shelf for each item. He had a long-handled hook to reach the high shelves.

I remember the old-fashioned door and the wooden floors, all so different from today's supermarkets.

Columbus, N.C.

Wishes she could go back to general store

There were two gas pumps in front, regular and ethyl, and off to the side was a green pump labeled 'Kerosene.' Just south of the pumps, across a short drive, stood a small, white building that was known as Waggoner's Store, which was located on the south side of 51 Highway, west of Hennessey, Okla.

To the right of the doorway was an old, white Kelvinator. Stored in the refrigerator were cold pop and the best-tasting bulk bologna one could imagine. To the left of the door was my favorite spot. Under the counter holding the antique cash register was a glass case that displayed candy bars. If I were lucky, there would be a Coconut Hut, which was my favorite. If I were really lucky, my dad or brother might buy me one if there was enough money.

There were canned goods, sugar, flour and a small variety of other groceries, some medicines, soap, batteries, matches, mousetraps, motor oil and other items that a traveler might need. Wilbur, the owner, also repaired flat tires.

There were times that no one was attending the store, but in a few minutes, Wilbur or his wife, Emma, would appear from a path that led to their home. They knew everyone in the area and granted credit when it was needed. Many times, they were known to open after hours for someone out of gas, needing an item for a recipe or for medicine for a sick neighbor.

In later years, Wilbur lost his eyesight, but he still attended the store every day. Most of the time, Emma or his son would come with him. If he was by himself, he would depend on his customers to tell him the denomination of a bill.

In the hustle and bustle of life today, sometimes I wish I could go back in time to when everything was less complicated and relax in the old rocker at Waggoner's, munch on a Coconut Hut and wash it down with a Nehi soda, while listening to Wilbur spin a delightful story.

Versailles, Mo.

Favorite toys

Whether it was a special doll, a train set or something else, most people remember their favorite toy.

What was your favorite toy when you were a child? What made that toy special to you? Do you still have it? Tell us about your memorable playthings.

Send your letters to Kate Marchbanks, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.

Fresh, vibrant berries make simple dishes extraordinary

The vibrant color of fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries is so appealing. Did you know their rich color is also an indicator that they are one of the healthiest food choices you can make?

Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are great sources of vitamin C, fiber, folic acid, phytonutrients and antioxidants. The colorful pigments in the bright red, blue and purple skins of berries, called anthocyanins, contain the highest concentrations of these disease-fighting antioxidants - helpful in the fight against certain cancers, heart disease and the effects of aging. Incorporating fresh berries into your diet is a delicious way to stay healthy.

These tasty wedges are perfect for breakfast or brunch.

Triple Berry Oatmeal Scones

2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon lemon OR orange zest, optional
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups any combination fresh raspberries, blackberries,
    blueberries and chopped strawberries, rinsed

Heat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, salt, baking soda, 2 tablespoons sugar and lemon zest. Stir together briefly. Using an electric mixer on low speed, add butter; mix until crumbly. Slowly add buttermilk; fold in berries, mixing gently.

On a well-floured work surface, turn out dough and knead together gently 8 to 10 times, with floured hands. Pat into an 8-inch circle about 3/4-inch thick. Using a floured spatula, cut straight down through dough to make 8 wedges. Sprinkle with remaining sugar.

Transfer wedges to baking sheet, keeping them separate. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until just starting to brown evenly. Remove and cool on wire racks. Yields 8 scones.

Everyone will enjoy the fresh, sweet taste of this dish.

Berry Brunch Strata

- Driscoll's
SWEET: Berry Brunch Strata is a delightful treat.

4 to 5 slices buttermilk- OR country-style bread, divided
1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups (about 1 lb.) fresh strawberries, halved and divided
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, divided
2 cups milk
5 large eggs
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray or butter a 2-quart casserole dish.

Fit 2 to 3 slices of bread into prepared dish, cutting them to fill any holes.

Mix ricotta and cinnamon together. Dollop over bread layer without smoothing. Layer on half of berries and half of mint. Put another layer of bread on top, then remaining berries and mint.

Whisk together milk, eggs, orange juice, brown sugar and salt. Pour over layers; let sit for 15 minutes (or overnight, covered in the refrigerator).

Sprinkle almonds over the top; bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until puffy, golden and firm in the center. Remove strata from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Refrigerate leftovers. Yields 6 to 8 servings.

A tangy blackberry glaze adds color to grilled salmon.

Grilled Salmon with Blackberry-Mustard Glaze

- Driscoll's
FRESH TASTE: Grilled Salmon with Blackberry-Mustard Glaze is full of rich, gourmet flavor.

6 ounces fresh blackberries, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for grilling
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds fresh salmon fillets

Heat grill to high heat. Set aside 1/2 cup blackberries.

In a blender, combine remaining berries with oil, honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. Pour mixture into a shallow baking pan or casserole dish.

Brush flame-free area of grilling grate with additional oil. Coat salmon with glaze and place skinless-side down on grill. Grill for 8 minutes. Flip salmon and brush with glaze. (If salmon doesn't easily peel off grill, leave for 1 to 2 more minutes before flipping.) Cook until middle is just barely cooked, about 8 to 10 minutes per side, for a total of 16 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately with reserved blackberries. Yields 4 to 6 servings.

Bursting with light, citrus flavor, this salad is easy to prepare.

Blueberry Rice Chicken Salad

2 cups brown rice, uncooked
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup (6 oz.) fresh blueberries
2/3 cup chopped green onion
1/4 cup packed chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon orange zest, optional
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped roasted red pepper

Cook rice as directed on package. It should make 6 cups cooked rice.

Meanwhile, heat a pan of water to simmering. Add chicken and simmer until cooked, about 30 minutes. Drain, cool slightly, and chop into bite-size pieces.

In a large bowl, combine rice, diced chicken and remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Yields 4 to 6 servings.

Breakfast dishes for dinner are
welcome change of pace

Breakfast for dinner is comfort food for the harried. Everyone in the family loves the heartiness of breakfast dinners, and they're a lot easier to make than you might think.

Starting with basic ingredients such as sausage and eggs, you'll have a meal that your family will love, with time left over for you to enjoy the meal, too. Whether you enjoy a casserole, pizza or quiche, making breakfast dishes for dinner is a great idea. Gather your family at the dinner table, breathe a sigh of relief, and dig in.

Here's a deliciously different pizza to serve for dinner.

Sausage Breakfast Pizza

- Jimmy Dean Foods and
United Egg Producers
QUICK FIX: Your whole family will enjoy having Sausage Breakfast Pizza, Breakfast Casserole or Quick Breakfast Skillet as dinner for a change of pace.

1 package (16 oz.) pork sausage
1 can (8.5 oz.) refrigerated crescent rolls
1 cup frozen hash brown potato cubes, thawed
1/8 cup each diced green, red and yellow bell peppers, optional
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions, optional
4 ounces (1 cup) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/8 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375°F.

In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until thoroughly cooked and no longer pink.

Separate crescent rolls into 8 triangles. Place on an ungreased, 12-inch rimmed pizza pan with points toward center. Press together, seal perforations and form a circle 1 inch larger in diameter than bottom of pan. Turn edges under to make a slight rim.

Sprinkle cooked sausage evenly over crust. Top with potatoes; add peppers and/or green onions if desired. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese.

Combine eggs, milk, salt and black pepper in a small bowl; stir well. Pour evenly over pizza. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until eggs are set and crust is golden brown. Yields 1 pizza.

This layered dish can be assembled the night before.

Breakfast Casserole

1 package (16 oz.) pork sausage, divided
10 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups cubed bread, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, divided, optional
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped, divided, optional
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, divided, optional

Heat oven to 325°F.

In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until thoroughly cooked and no longer pink.

In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, mustard and salt; stir well. Distribute half of bread evenly in a buttered 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of pepper, half of cheese, half of sausage and half of each optional ingredient.

Repeat layers using remaining bread, pepper, cheese, sausage and optional ingredients. Pour egg mixture evenly over casserole. Bake, uncovered, for 55 to 60 minutes, or until eggs are set. Tent with foil if top begins to brown too quickly. Yields 6 servings.

Editor's note: Casserole may be assembled ahead and refrigerated for up to 12 hours before baking.

Apple-topped waffles are sure to please hungry appetites.

Maple Sausage Waffles with Cinnamon Apples

2 cups pancake mix
1 1/3 cups milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound maple-flavored sausage, cooked, crumbled and drained
1 can (20 oz.) cinnamon apple fruit filling

Preheat waffle iron; grease with vegetable oil or shortening.

In a large mixing bowl, combine pancake mix, milk, egg, vegetable oil and sausage, stirring until well-blended. For each waffle, pour 1/2 cup of batter onto the center of the waffle iron; close lid. Bake for 5 minutes. Top with fruit filling. Yields 4 waffles.

In just minutes, you can prepare this hearty dish.

Quick Breakfast Skillet

6 eggs
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 pouch frozen sausage and vegetable mixture,
    such as Jimmy Dean Breakfast Skillets (any variety)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups salsa
1 1/4 cups sour cream, optional
6 flour tortillas, optional

Beat eggs in a small bowl; set aside.

Heat a large, nonstick skillet with oil over medium heat; pour in pouch contents. Heat, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes. Push mixture to one side of skillet; pour beaten eggs into other side. Scramble eggs until cooked, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir scrambled eggs and pouch mixture together until evenly blended; remove from heat.

Divide mixture evenly among 6 plates. Top each portion with cheese, salsa and sour cream. Serve with warmed flour tortillas, if desired. Yields 6 servings.

This light quiche tastes great any time of the day.

Sausage Quiche

1 pound sausage, cooked, crumbled and drained
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
4 ounces (1 cup) shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup pie crust mix
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Heat oven to 325°F.

Allow sausage to cool for 5 minutes after cooking.

In a large bowl, combine eggs with sausage and remaining ingredients; stir to blend well. Transfer to a lightly greased 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish; bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden-brown. Cool in baking dish for 5 minutes before cutting. Serve warm. Yields 6 servings.