The Living Was Easy

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It’s summertime.

Look at those self-satisfied faces.*

They know.

Those girls know, even though the oldest is only 9, they know how lucky they are.

They are lucky to spend their summer days on a farm, a farm where they have the freedom to roam, to sit in the haymow and dream, to chew a stalk of hay.

Four cousins, together for only the summer months. They are lucky to play together with absolutely nothing to worry about except breaking a plastic flip flop or getting sticky drips of Popsicle running down an arm.

School doesn’t start again for a month. Their moms will take them to the “little beach” down the road and their bathing suits will never completely dry out all summer. Their dads will call them away from the TV in the evenings, to help corral cows that have wandered beyond the fence line.

Later they and a dad and a dog or two will make the trip for soft ice cream. The ice cream shop has not yet gotten the technology to make a twist of two flavors so the hardest decision of the day will be chocolate or vanilla.

These girls were so lucky to have this childhood. They knew it then and they are even more convinced now.

Every year, when summer arrives, the scent of new-mown hay or the taste of the first corn off the stalk transports them back to those days, and they smile those self-satisfied smiles and remember how it was summertime and the living was easy.


* I just saw this photo of my sister, my cousins, and me for the first time (that’s me on the left, then cousin Paula, sister Kathy, and cousin Jill). Paula gave it to me a couple days ago and I’m not sure I have a photo I like better! Do you have a photo that sums up your childhood? Shouldn’t you write a blog post about it?!

A couple of bloggers took me up on this!

Deb at SevenCub’s Blog

Deb at A Daily Dose of Fiber

Sugar on Snow

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If my year were converted to hours, this, right now, would be maple o’clock.

It’s been years since I left the farm where my memories of maple were made but, when a hint of spring stirs the air, my thoughts always return to the gathering of sap from stately maples, the hours in the sugar house, with the fires fueling the evaporation, the sweet taste and smell of the air and the syrup itself.

One tradition was the making of a form of maple candy. It’s called maple taffy or, in Quebec, tire d’érable, but we called it “sugar on snow.” It was sweet and warm and sticky. It was the tangible, edible evidence of winter giving way to spring, of cold, dark days that starved the senses giving way to vibrancy and pure sweetness, of the sensory overload that spring brings.

My grandmother made sugar on snow in the farm kitchen. It was an event.

She boiled maple syrup until it reached what candy makers call the “soft ball” stage—that’s about 234 degrees F (112 C). When the syrup was the right temperature, she drizzled it over a pan of clean snow. When the hot syrup hit the cold snow, it firmed up to a taffy consistency. We would take a fork and peel it off the snow and pop it in our mouths. Warm, chewy maple, with cold, crunchy snow crystals!! Heaven on earth for a kid in the northeast!

I can remember a time when my grandparents invited the new church pastor and his family to the farm, to get acquainted with all of us, and our world. They weren’t from “around here” so my grandmother served them sugar on snow, as a proper initiation.

As is traditional, along with the sugar on snow, she also served her homemade doughnuts (don’t get me started, reminiscing about those!), sour pickles, and coffee. This may sound like an odd mix but the pickles and coffee were the perfect foils for the sweetness of the maple and the doughnuts.

The last time I had sugar on snow was at the Winterlude Festival in Ottawa. They pour the syrup in long lines in a trough of snow and use a popsicle stick to wind it up into lollipop form.

I took my first taste . . . all the memories came rushing back. I was a child, the kitchen was steamy, the snow had just been brought in, in a pan. The syrup was super hot—we kids were warned back. It streamed onto the snow. We waited a moment, until it set up a little, and, jostling to get the first bite, we peeled it off the snow with our forks.

And, in my heart, the clock once again struck maple.

Loving Hands at Home: Baked Goods

mixing bowl“What kind of toast do you want with that? White, wheat, rye, sourdough . . . or homemade?”

There’s only one possible answer to this question, right?

I was asked to make just this choice a few days ago in a local diner and, of course, I said, “Homemade!” Then I looked at my companions and asked, “Who would choose anything but homemade?”

But as I thought about it, I remember my younger self, the girl who grew up on the farm. She took for granted home-baked breads and cookies and cakes and loved nothing better than Wonder Bread and Oreos and Hostess Twinkies.

In my memory, there was always something freshly baked sitting on the kitchen counter. My grandmother was the baker and she made everything, but the items I remember best were her loaves of bread, the tender dinner rolls, the sour cream cookies, the deep-fried doughnuts, and the lemon meringue pie.

We had it so good and we didn’t have a clue.

My sister and I ate everything my grandmother baked and enjoyed it. But we thought the biggest treat in the whole, entire world was when we stopped to visit particular friends of my parents.

These friends had a designated drawer for cookies and all the cookies were store bought. They came in crinkly cellophane packages and were crunchy and crispy, while my grandmother’s cookies were soft and chewy.

My grandmother’s cookies were as homey and comforting and real as she was. They were a given in our lives.

The store-bought cookies were exotic and decadent and, what? Cosmopolitan? Sophisticated? I’m not sure but it seemed like an adventure to eat them.

I like a little adventure as much as the next person. I like to take a trip and see the sights and leave my home behind, while I venture out.

But, boy, do I love to come home. Being in that big world always makes me appreciate home more, and recognize that it’s the place for me.

I’ve traveled in the world of store-bought baked goods for a long time now. I’ve gotten over thinking they are exotic and decadent and sophisticated.

Now, of course, I wish I could go home, to that kitchen where you never knew what was coming out of the oven next but you knew it would be warm and chewy and comforting.

I can bake bread. I’ve found recipes for sour cream cookies and made them. I’ve gone so far as to deep fry doughnuts.

You know what I’m going to say—it isn’t the same.

I’ll probably never have baked goods that measure up to my memories but I’ll keep looking. I’ll go to farm stands and order the doughnuts they just fished out of the fryer. I’ll buy old, stained copies of community cookbooks and look for the right sour cream cookie recipe. I’ll always order the homemade bread at the local diners.

Because, even if they don’t take me all the way, they bring me closer to a place I’d love to be.

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