Old Home Farm

Every Flower Tells A Story

farm signMy mother loved flowers. When I was a child her yard was her pride and joy. It was filled with flowers and shrubs.

She had no pattern of placement other than knowing which side of the house a particular species would flourish on, and whether it needed full sun, partial shade, or full shade. Her paradise was daddy's nightmare, because often the placement made it hard to mow.

In 1986 they sold the property and moved over here to the original homestead next to me. The people who bought the house brought in 14 hound dogs who promptly destroyed the 26 years of mother's labor of love.

Within a week, the yard was completely dug up, not even leaving hardly any grass to mow. Mother mourned it for the rest of her life.

How thankful we both were that we had brought starts of nearly everything over to the homestead. Now, when I walk round my yard, I can still enjoy those things my mother loved so much.

I ask the pardon of any horticulturists and master gardeners out there who may read this. I only know these flowers by the names my mother called them, and some of them may be incorrect. But they are my old friends and evoke such memories of love and joy every time I look at them.

My parents were married in Modesto, California, in 1959 where my mother was living at the time. On the trip home they stopped at all of the usual tourist views — the Painted Desert, Grand Canyon and crossed the Mojave Desert.

There, mom made daddy stop and dig up a Yucca plant. This was the first item in her new yard. The descendants of this plant run rampant in my back yard today.

beautiful garden flowers yucca

Mom had many bushes around the yard. Three of her favorites were the current bush, which smells exactly like the spice when in bloom; the Fire Bush, which produces fire red flowers; and her March Rose.

The March Rose came from a start at the house where my mother was raised and is one of the few things that we have that actually belonged to my grandmother Mary Eddings. When I was about 9 years old, we made a pilgrimage back to the place mother was born.

The house was gone, but near the foundation was the flower bush. Mom and her sister remembered playing by it when they were small. Each took a start and it still flourishes today in my yard.

beautiful garden flowers

Beside the front porch, mom had a Rose of Sharon bush, which is more like a small tree to me. I spent many hours playing by that bush. It was a tree house for my Barbie dolls, stuffed animals, and many kittens.

At the other end of the porch grew what mom called her "Potato Vine." The seeds it produces look like tiny potatoes. This summer Greg make me an arch over the front gate and the vine is now in the process of covering the arch.

potato vine garden

Many of my flowers come from bulbs. The Day Lilies and Lavender Iris also came from mom's yard.

garden flowers iris lily

One of mom's favorite things in her yard was daddy's most despised. Her Mimosa Tree. Mimosas have roots that spread for literal miles and shoots tend to come up in all sorts of places.

Mom and I stopped by the side of the road and dug up the start out of the ditch, which she put in her yard. When I began my own yard, it was easy to dig up a start from hers. The scent of the flowers are heavenly to me, but my husband shares my daddy's hatred of the roots and shoots.

garden flowers mimosa

Of course, coming back to the homestead meant I inherited some of my granny's flowers that have been growing here for neigh on 100 years now. These heirlooms are very different, some of which I haven't seen anywhere else.

I have double Easter Lilies, White Easter Lilies, purple Hyacinth, a purple Hollyhock, and a Wild Rose bush that gives me tiny pink flowers. My pruning lagged when I was working, so now the Wild Rose is an enormous monster that houses the family of mocking birds, provides a hiding place for the chickens, and even harbored a box turtle for a time.

beautiful garden flowers

Of course, over the years I received my own flowers as gifts. I once knew an older lady who was a great friend of my granny. For a time, I was her "wheels" taking her to doctor appointments, shopping etc. I refused to accept any gas money from her as she always treated me to lunch, so she began to pay me in flower bulbs and starts.

From Leona Miller, I received many heirloom flowers, which she assured me she had gotten as starts from my great grandmother Lucy McEntire who had been her neighbor at one time. She gave me a dark Iris, Lavender bulbs, and my favorite — Surprise Lilies.

In the spring, they come up as just green leaves, which wither and die down and do much better if you mow them over. Then, in early August, the flowers suddenly spring up over night and you awake to a lovely surprise!

beautiful garden flowers

My children have gifted me with flowers over the years as well, most often for Mother's Day. I have Tiger Lilies, Tulips, and a Humming Bird plant to name a few.

beautiful garden flowers

Some of my flowers have just appeared suddenly over the years. The Wild Violets have migrated up from the woods, and the Morning Glory arrived one summer quiet unannounced and decided to stay.

beautiful wild flowers garden

And some I helped myself to, such as the Honeysuckle vine that grows rampant along my garden fence. The former owner of the factory I used to work for decided to eradicate the honeysuckle vine that grew beside our break area.

So several of us made sure we got starts before the massacre. Now the wonderful plant has a secure home with me.

beautiful garden flowers honeysuckle

I end now with two plants that bring back memories of my daddy. Mother drove him crazy with all of her flowers, putting them too close to mow between and choosing ones that were very evasive. But daddy did have a soft spot for two plants.

He always had a catnip plant in the corner of the barn lot for the barn cats, and he never mowed over Dandelions. So I brought a start of his catnip down for my own tabbies, and Greg never mows the Dandelions until the flowers are gone. He knows how sentimental I am, and I think he enjoys all of my memories as well.

beautiful garden flowers


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

You're My Best Friend

farm signIn the beginning of time when God created the animals, He gave to them a "herd" instinct that drew them together. Sheep and birds "flock" together. Other animals form a herd or colony or pack. Baboons even come together as a "congress." (That gives food for thought...) Sometimes, animals form bonds with others outside their species. And a farm is the perfect place to find such odd friendships.

My first experience of this was as a teenager. I've mentioned my horse, El Blanca, who was my dearest companion for many years. Shortly after he came to live on our farm, a small black kitten was dropped off at our barn.

Farms are the perfect place for people to "dump" unwanted animals because they know that they will probably be adopted and cared for and a barn is a magnate for stray cats. El Blanca discovered the kitten first and was nosing him around when I arrived.

I am a cat person so I immediately took in the little stray and named him Shandar after a character in a Disney nature documentary about black leopards. Shandar lived at the barn and he and El Blanca formed a fast friendship. At first I would carry the kitten around on my shoulders, but one day he jumped from me to El Blanca's back. The horse didn't seem to mind, so Shandar settled down in the middle of his back and went to sleep.

From then on, you would find him curled up there at all times of day or night while El Blanca grazed or rested. When I would take a ride, Shandar was right there riding along too. He even went when we took the cows from pasture to pasture.

After a few years, the hazards of living by a road won out and Shandar was hit by a car. I was grieved, but didn't realize how this would effect El Blanca. Soon I noticed him searching around the barn and making whinnying noises. Finally I realized he was searching for his friend.

I hadn't even considered showing him the dead cat, so I had no way to explain what had happened. For the rest of his life, I would notice El Blanca inspecting every new cat that came to the barn. I don't think he ever forgot his best friend.

el blonca horse
Camera film was expensive when I was young so only special pictures were ever taken, and then only by my mother. So I have no picture of my dear cat. This was taken much later of El Blanca and my children.

My next experience of farmyard buddies came in the from of another cat and a Donkey. My dad's donkey Kate had foundered under the care of her previous owner, so she was limited to her grazing area and not always with El Blanca. Most of her time was spent alone in the barn lot and side pasture, so I'm sure she got lonely.

One day dad came to my house chuckling. "Get your camera and come see this," he said. So off we went to the barn, and there was Duchess, the matriarch of the barn, sitting on Kate's back washing her face. After that we saw the two of them together continually. When Duchess had kittens, Kate would lay down and the kittens would climb all over her. And Kate never seemed lonely again.

cat donkey

Barn cats seem to love the companionship of large four-legged beasts. When we first got our sheep, the ram Gregory was a particular pet. Rams are not usually known for their gentle disposition, but Gregory was an exception to the rule.

Sid was one of Duchess's kittens and he discovered that sheep are soft and good to sleep on. They became friends, and we would often see Gregory grazing contentedly in the field with the rest of the flock, with Sid along for the ride.

ram and cat

Dogs are pack animals, and very social. We've had many dog "buddies" in my life time, but never two quite like the dogs I have now – Huckleberry and Beauregard. Beau was a little over a year old when we got Huckleberry. Beau took to him instantly and they have been inseparable ever since.

two dogs

Of course, Beau does have other friends. You all know the story of Beatrice the bum lamb. She is now out with the rest of the flock, and every day she goes for our walk, tagging along right behind her best buddy Beauregard.

dog lamb

One of the most endearing friendships I have ever seen was between my two Siamese cats. Aside from El Blanca, Murphy was the best animal friend I've ever had. He was a Siamese that lived to be 20 years old. The last few years of his life, his eyesight failed and he was basically blind and the only time he would venture outside was with me, and then we would just sit on the porch.

DC started out as my granddaughter's kitten, but when he was about six months old, he wondered down to my house, discovered the cat door, and just moved in. He and Murphy took to each other, and he became Murphy's eyes. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it, but DC would walk shoulder to shoulder with Murphy and lead him around the back yard.

When Murphy would stop to rest, or just to smell the flowers DC would sit and wait until Murphy was ready to move on. Eventually he would bring Murph to the steps and yowl for me to come get him. When Murphy died of old age, DC decided he would tolerate no other cats. I had Ginger at the time, so DC grudgingly allowed Ginger to stay. But once Ginger passed on, DC declared his territory and there have been no other cats since.

two cats asleep

Bea has tried to befriend DC, but to no avail. Sometimes there is only one true friend, and no one can ever take their place.

lamb cat playing


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

The Basics of Butchering Chickens

farm signThe spring and summer months are always busy on a farm. First there are new lambs, new piglets, planting garden, and raising chicks. Then comes the harvest and butcher time.

This week, we harvested carrots and replanted the bed for fall. I also harvested my onions and laid them out in the sun for the required three days to cure. They are now hanging on the back porch in a mesh bag.

carrots onions

We take our pigs and the occasional lamb to our local butcher shop, which is family owned and operated. The owner now is of my generation and still does the same excellent job as his father and grandfather before him. But when it comes to the chickens, we butcher them ourselves.

I've been butchering chickens all of my life. I started helping when I was about six or seven because my small hands could reach inside and remove the guts easier than mom's. I didn't mind. Life and death on a farm is all part of the process, and I quickly learned which animals to name and have for pets, and which ones would become food.

butchering chickens

Shortly after we came back to the farm I started raising chickens for food. Greg had never butchered chickens, but he has become quite adapt at it over the years. Daddy always used an ax to behead them, but Greg uses a pair of 'dehorners' left over from the days of raising cows. Its a bit like a guillotine and is quick and clean.

While Greg is doing the actual killing, I lay out my work area. Greg made me a lovely table for the back porch, and I place a cutting board covered by newspaper on it with my knives and a pan for the chicken parts.

work table

Once the beheading is over, we dip the body in scalding water to make removal of the feathers easier. We use a turkey deep fryer to heat the water as opposed to the big cast iron kettle of my youth. A lot of people now use a chicken plucker, but I never have enough chickens to butcher to make the expense worth while for us. We just hang the wet bird up by its feet and strip the feather off into a wheel barrow below. Greg always take care of this and leaves the actual cutting up of the carcass to me.

scalding and plucking

Did you ever play the game 'Feely Meely' when you were a kid? Its a square box with holes in the side that you put your hand into and feel around inside trying to find and remove specific objects according to the card you've drawn. Gutting a chicken is a lot like this. You learn by feel the heart, liver, lungs, etc. These must be carefully removed in mass once the abdominal cavity has been opened.

If you intend to keep the liver for frying, you have to be very careful not to damage the gall. This is a long green organ attached to the liver and assists with its function. If damaged, it releases a bitter bile that will ruin the liver, or any chicken meat it contaminates. It takes lots of practice to learn how to cut around this to remove the liver. My son loves the gizzards, which must be partially cut open so that the lining filled with corn and gravel can be removed. The gizzard acts as a grist mill to grind the corn into something digestible for the chicken as it cannot chew its food.

butchering chickens

Once the guts have been removed, you have to work on the upper end of the chicken before you can start to cut it up. A chicken has a craw which is a sack below the throat that is used for food storage. The grain here passes into the gizzard, then into the stomach for digestion. If the craw gets damaged, grain will spill into the body cavity and make cleaning the chicken every difficult.

Now, here's where the newspaper comes in. Mother taught me to work on a stack of unfolded newspapers so that once the messy part is over, you simply lift up the hollow carcass, roll the organs into a couple of newspaper sheets, and your area is once more clean. We keep an empty paper feed sack to toss these bundles in and once we are finished, Greg can easily burn everything, sack and all.

butchering chickens

Once the cutting up is done, I move into the house to wrap the parts in butcher paper, put them into freezer bags, and we have fresh meat for future meals. Believe me, there is nothing so good as homegrown chicken without the GMO or chemicals. Butchering yourself is hard work, but well worth it in the long run.


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

The Love in A Cookbook

farm signAs I've said before I love to cook. For eons, family life has revolved around food, all the way from Abraham and Sarah sitting by the cooking fires, to the advent of the dining table.

When I was growing up, all families around here sat down to each meal together at the table and visited, laughed, and enjoyed food that was home grown and nourishing. That sort of family life is fast disappearing now, and we are a poorer nation for it.

Collecting cookbooks is a real weakness of mine. Recently, I forced myself to go through my stash and pass on the cookbooks I knew I would rarely refer back to. My daughter, daughter-in-law, and the local Good Will benefited from my purge. But there are certain cookbooks I will never part with. And just yesterday, I received a new one that will join these special cookbooks in a place of honor.

A very dear friend of mine who grew up near me, and now lives in Washington state, published a family cookbook and sent me a copy. Family cookbooks are priceless to me. They are a way of preserving the best memories of childhood.

Meals that mom prepared with her own hands and put on the table, each item carefully composed and cooked in a way that only Mom could do. To this day I can not replicate mom's brown beans, cornbread, or soda biscuits, even though I follow her recipes faithfully to the letter.

Donna Couch, her sister Charlotte, and a cousin gathered family recipes for months, and Donna edited them into a beautiful keepsake that she was kind enough to share with me. It is filled with so many good things I remember from childhood. Dishes I ate at potlucks, or were brought to our house on a special occasion such as a birthday, open house, or even a funeral. Some dishes I had been searching for and thought the recipes must have been lost in the passage of time. Each page made my mouth water. This is one cookbook I will be using a lot.

cookbook

When I was 12, I read about a girl starting a "Hope Chest." This was usually a cedar chest, or an old trunk filled with things a young bride might need. I started one that very year, and mom bought me something for it every Christmas until I married in 1979.

That first Christmas, granny gave to me the first item to go into my new "Hope Chest." Cookbooks were hard to come by in her day. Mostly recipes were handed down by word of mouth, or by mom's example.

But somewhere, granny had obtained a real cookbook, and as you can see by the cover, she used it most of her life. She wrote on the inside of it for me, which makes it even more of a treasure to me, "Bought May 2, 1949, from Coy Taylor. Given to Beth by Grandmother Dec 24th, 1972.

This was the cookbook I took with me to my new home. It traveled with me to England, UK; Denver, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; and finally back home to the original homestead it came from.

cookbook

When mother passed away in 1990, daddy handed me her only cookbook. It was a wedding gift to her on Oct 16th, 1959. It is the only cookbook she ever used. It is filled with warm memories for me of all the yummy things she used to set on the table.

But as I've said, though I follow it faithfully, I can not get anything to taste the same as she did. There always seems to be one ingredient missing. Maybe it is just her special "magic" she used when cooking.

cookbook

Another honored cookbook I have was also a gift. A very special friend of mine who has no children of her own gave me this book one day. It belonged to her mother and as you can see, there are many pages marked so she could find favorite recipes quickly.

Christine Farmer's mother was from "high society," so her cookbook is a world apart from my own family recipes. Growing up, I had never heard of the New York Times newspaper. To me, the Arkansas Democrat was the really big newspaper. Christine said that this was her mother's favorite cookbook and I have found many terrific gourmet recipes in it.

cookbook

As for myself, my personal cookbook is a recipe card binder. I have three of them now, with different categories in them, but my mainstay is always to be seen in the recipe book holder my daughter Aubry gave to me on Mother's Day. All my favorites are written down here so I don't have to scour pages of my treasures when I am in a hurry. It's quick, easy, and something that will one day be passed down to my daughter Aubry and her two girls.

cookbook

But that doesn't mean my other books just set on the shelf and collect dust. One of my favorite past times is just to sit down with one of these and pursue the many mouth watering recipes and find something special to surprise Greg with. There is so much to choose from it never gets old.

And each of these books has become an heirloom to pass along to my family. There is something so special about the fact that the same meals are passed down to each generation. Its a sort of unity that we share, even when those wonderful cooks of old have gone on before. They are still with us, in every bite we take.


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

A Nocturnal Visit From An Old Friend

farm signThere is nothing quite so eerie as the cry of a screech owl. My ancestors are Irish, and Granny used to tell of her grandmother swearing that every time she heard a screech owl, it was really a banshee crying out for the soul of someone destined to die. When Granny was little, the sound would cause her to hide under the covers and tremble. But when she grew older and found out what it really was, she became rather fond of the unearthly cry.

For several generations now, a family of screech owls have lived deep in our woods. Granny taught me at a very early age what the cry was, so I would not live the terrors of her childhood. And Daddy passed on his love of all nature, so I have loved this wild sound all my life. When I lived away from here in the many different cities where Greg was stationed, I missed three things most of all. The call of the whip-o-wheel, the sound of cicadas (i.e. jar flies) and the scream of the screech owl.

the woods

Until tonight, I had only seen pictures of the screech owl in books, or on nature shows. I've been privileged to see a 'hoot' owl close up (actually trying to get into the chicken pen), a great horned owl in the zoo, and a beautiful little barn owl who visited my yard one wintry day and sat shivering in the tree closest to the house. Daddy put on gloves and took him to the barn where he lived for quite a long time.

So you can imagine my delight when Greg called me to "Come see!" after going out to fasten the chicken house. I ran out barefooted, and looked up into the cedar to see a tiny little owl gazing at us with his huge eyes. Of course I knew right away what it was and sent Greg for the camera.

I am one of those people who talk to everything, so I said, "Well, hello there! I've known your family all my life. It's so nice to finally meet you."

The little guy swiveled his head as only owls can and replied with a sound very much like my hens when they are content and puttering about. Greg arrived and my little owl sat very still while he took a picture. When it flashed, I expected him to fly away, but he simply blinked and turned his back on us. So Greg took a second shot for good measure. Then we said good night and left him perched above my bird feeder, which he was eyeing with great interest. It makes me wonder if perhaps he comes here sometimes for a snack on his usual rounds as he looks for mice and insects. I hope so. I'd like to think he will become a friend and visit more often.

owl at night

I have always loved this farm of ours. And with every passing year, and each new adventure, it becomes even more dear to me. There is nothing like being a country girl and living on the land of your ancestors. And there is nothing quite like meeting old friends for the first time.


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

It's a Southern Thing

farm signEvery year I succumb to a certain malady. Actually, it's more of an addiction that only another Southern can understand. Just when my tomatoes begin to bare fruit, I am overcome with an uncontrollable urge to pick them. I can never wait for the first fruit to ripen, no matter hard I try. I just have to pick them. Because one of the best things about growing tomatoes is fried green tomatoes!

There is an old adage — "I'm Southern, therefore I fry." And that pretty much sums up the southern food experience. We fry everything! From chicken to pickles, it gets floured, batter dipped, or just plain dropped into the grease. There really isn't much you can't fry.

southern cooking

Growing up, there was always at least one fried item on the table for every meal. As I became older and discovered a love of cooking, my frying became less and less. I discovered Gourmet magazine, Savor, and The Great British Baking Show just to name a few. I experienced new foods such as Indian Curry, Gyros, Greek Salads, and Italian cuisine. But I never lost my love for the basics — crispy fried chicken, fried potatoes, fried pork chops, fried cabbage and best of all the fried green tomatoes.

So yesterday when Greg came in to tell me that we have "Green tomatoes the size of your fist," I ran out to see. I told myself that if I would just wait I could enjoy sweet ripe tomatoes by the weekend. But the temptation was just too great and I picked the four biggest green ones. Out came the cast iron skillets and dinner was underway.

tomatoes on vine

A lot of people dip their green tomatoes in an egg wash, then into flour or a batter, but we have always just put them into a bag of dry flour/cornmeal and shook them up good to cover evenly. I used my home rendered lard and laid them down in batches to fry.

southern cooking

Out they came, crispy and golden. With them I served our home grown pork chops (fried) and fried a head of our home grown cabbage.

southern cooking

The 4th of July is a celebration of our nation's independence. What better way to celebrate this than with a show of our individual independence? Home grown food independent of chemicals and big Agri. Thank you to those "freedom fighters" then and now for the freedom to own my farm and grow my own food.


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Harvest Time!

farm signThere is nothing so satisfying as setting a plate on the table consisting of all of your own food. Food you have grown yourself — carefully planned for, tended, harvested, and "put by," as my mother used to say.

garden

I recently started my harvest. Greg and I only plant small beds as there is just the two of us. It usually produces enough for us as well as sharing some with family and friends. Cabbages, peppers and squash get eaten right away. We used to make jars and jars of sauerkraut when I was a child, but Greg isn't really fond of it, so this is not something I "put by." But cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, onion, and okra all get processed for future meals.

harvest

This year I made refrigerator pickles. I usually can both sour and bread and butter, but this year I planted fewer cucumber vines. So when a recipe popped up on Facebook for refrigerator pickles, I decided to try them. I had enough for two large jars of bread and butter pickles. Greg eats some every day when he gets home from work. He says they are a nice refreshing snack.

cucumber pickles

My beans turned out great! Last year I only planted a half dozen plants just to see if they did well. This year I planted to full rows and harvested enough for six bags in the freezer. The secret to freezing green beans is to shock them. So you boil them for three minutes, then plunge them into an ice water bath. Once they are cold, you can let them drain and freeze them.

The peas I planted near them did not do so well. This is my second year to try peas, so I will enlarge the bed next year for all green beans. There are so many ways you can cook green beans — broil with garlic, boil with bacon and onions, micro wave with butter and lemon juice. It all makes my mouth water.

green beans

So, now I am waiting eagerly for the rest of my garden to "come on." Onions will be harvested next month, followed by tomatoes and okra. And all the lovely squash and peppers in between. Add any of those to our fresh pork, and you have a meal fit for a king!


Photos property of Leah McAllister.