Thursday, November 1, 2018

Some Truths About the Pilgrims

For me, Thanksgiving has always been my holiday of choice. It’s a time when families come together to eat, rejoice, and celebrate the holiday without the responsibility, and sometimes burden, of foraging into the crowded commercial world to buy presents.

I like the idea of the Pilgrims gathering together to thank the Almighty for their survival and also to invite and thank the Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe who were helpful in their endeavor. Unfortunately, what we believe about the Pilgrims isn’t all facts or truth.

They did not come for religious freedom and liberty. In fact, the Pilgrims were intolerant of other religions and had specific ideas about how to worship God. They were Separatists who thought the church of the Old World was corrupt. When they did decide to set sail for America, after living in the Netherlands for nine years, they were forced to allow strangers to set sail with them because of financial difficulties. These strangers and the strict Pilgrims, although not in favor or fond of each other, banded together to enact the Mayflower Compact, which affirmed in a time of crisis, a monarch’s authority could be set aside, but the consent of the governed never could be. It was a ground-breaking document for future generations.  

Neither were the Pilgrims allies with all the Indian tribes in the area. They did make friends with Samoset, a Wampanoag Indian warrior, and later formed an alliance with his chief, Massasoit. Why? The Pilgrims had lost half their population over the winter from sickness, cold, and lack of proper food. In turn, the Wampanoag tribe had lost most of its population to an epidemic brought by European coastal fisherman. Since both groups were vulnerable to attack or domination by other tribes, the Pilgrims and Wampanoags needed each other for protection and the security in numbers.

Thanksgiving came about when Tisquantum [Squantum] from the Wampanoags helped the settlers planted corn, squash, and beans, using fish for fertilizer, in the spring. The Pilgrims also built more houses, fished the local waters, and traded with the Native Americans. As fall approached, they gathered to rejoice together after their first successful harvest was completed.

According to old records, there is no mention of inviting the Wampanoags to the feast, but Massasoit appeared with ninety men who bagged five deer to add meat to the meal. They stayed for three days and played games.

When we sit down at our tables this year to eat pumpkin pie, turkey, mashed potatoes, and all the many delicious foods, we need to thank these tenacious forefathers for establishing a colony at Providence Harbor, Massachusetts. And let us also give thanks to Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday for all to enjoy.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Hunting Down the Funky Fall Fungi

A Czech adage warns that “every mushroom is edible, but some only once.” Obviously, this translates to the fact that there are both safe edible varieties and ones that are deadly or extremely hazardous when consumed.
Mushrooms are used in many dishes.

Do you like to eat mushrooms?

The other day I found some in our yard, and it reminded me of my childhood days on our farm in Northeastern Pennsylvania when my mother and father would set off on a foggy morning into the woods to collect them. Mushroom hunting is an old Polish tradition that was handed down when my immigrant grandparents came to America and brought their knowledge with them. They are hunted in both the spring and fall.

However, over the years, the popularity of mushroom picking has grown into nationwide celebrations, usually held in September and October. These festivals, honoring these funky little fungi, range across the United States from Boyne City, Michigan down to Madisonville, Texas and as far as Girdwood, Alaska to Kennett Square in Pennsylvania.

Mushrooms are picked in spring and fall.
Of all the things I’ve tried to recall about mushroom foraging, I do remember my mother and father had favorite places to hunt them—around certain conifer trees and rotting stumps. They used paring knives and cut the mushroom from the bottom, allowing for renewed growth from underground. Carefully, they’d place them in wicker baskets. Plastic or metal containers don’t allow for air to circulate around the mushroom and can encourage mold. A wicker basket also allows for the spores to fall out of the container and hopefully land in a perfect environment to reproduce. 

In most cases, mushrooms are cooked. Only those you know for certain should be consumed raw without cooking. Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, and German people use them extensively in many of their dishes including soups, sauces, and pierogis. They also fry them in butter with onions and serve them as a side dish.

Mushrooms around the base of a tree.
Pine mushrooms, chanterelles, morels, and oyster mushroom are among the most popular ones. They can be canned or dried to be used later. I remember one year when my mother pierced the mushrooms’ stems with a needle and string and hung them to dry in our basement. They looked like little upside down umbrellas until they dried into a shriveled state.

The deadly fly agaric
Although I’ve never tried hunting them myself, I know there are important things to remember if you plan to pursue the sport. The first rule is very simple. Make sure you know which ones to pick. Your first forage should be with someone who is experienced about identifying them since there are look-alikes among the many existing types. Remember, there are poisonous varieties like the false morels which are deadly or the red fly agaric with its large white-gilled, white-spotted top. I remember my father chopping the fly agaric up in a shallow metal pan and sprinkling sugar on it to attract the barn flies which died after munching on it.

Additionally, you need to wear protective clothing. There are insects, ticks, and snakes in the wooded areas and forging sites. You also need to check with the property owner to determine whether you are allowed to hunt on their land. Many state and national parks not only issue permits, but also have certain rules about the amount of mushrooms that can be harvested per person.

I’m told there are many mushroom clubs throughout the United States where you can join and go in groups to forage for mushrooms. I, myself, am content to use the grocery store's whites or portabella ones when I sit down with my steak topped with the delicious, funky, little fungi.  

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

BOOK REVIEWS - Love Them or Hate Them

"Every human being is entitled to courtesy and consideration. 
Constructive criticism is not only to be expected but sought.” 
~ Mary Chase Smith

As much as we writers hate to admit it, we often read positive reviews of our work with smiles and enthusiastic enjoyment. On the other hand, when we receive a critical objective review, we too often get annoyed or depressed, instead of looking for value and constructive advice from it. That’s when it’s time for us to pause, consider the advice, sort out the positive, and hopefully apply the knowledge we’ve gained to our next creative works.

Let’s face it, we all want to hear how wonderful we are. But how does hearing only the good things help us to improve? Sure it builds our ego and makes us feel good. But what does it do to help us grow? How does it help us to face new challenges? To correct unknown mistakes? To set higher goals?

Sometimes we need to step back and ask some tough questions from our critics, friends, and associates. So how do you really feel about my work? What worked for you? What didn’t you like? Please be honest.

Only when we use criticism to learn something about ourselves, do we learn to make changes, grow, and better develop our work. 

Margaret Chase Smith served 32 years in Congress and was the first woman elected to both the House and Senate.  Although a champion for women’s issues, she was always clear about being seen as a U.S. Senator and not a woman Senator.  In 1964, she became the first credible female candidate for president.

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Friday, September 7, 2018

A Salute to Johnny Appleseed!

Sunday, September 23rd is the first day of autumn this year. When we think of autumn or fall, images of colorful maple leaves, cool crisp air, smoky fires, cornstalks, hay bales, chrysanthemums, and pumpkins come to mind. But it’s also harvest time for many varieties of apples that will be eaten as fresh fruit or made into cider, applesauce, strudel, dumplings, cakes, pies and more.

Every time I think of apples, my childhood memories invoke the tales of John Chapman, a barefoot man with a pot on his head who traveled the land sowing apple seeds along his travels and who became an American legend.

Better known as Johnny Appleseed, he was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois as well as the northern counties of present day West Virginia.

The second child of ten children, John Chapman was born on September 26th, 1774, to Nathanial Chapman and Lucy Cooley Chapman of Massachusetts.

The popular image is of Johnny Appleseed spreading apple seeds randomly everywhere he went. In fact, he planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock and wild animals, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery. His first nursery was planted on the bank of Brokenstraw Creek, south of Warren Pennsylvania.

According to some accounts, 18-year-old John persuaded his 11-year-old brother, Nathaniel, to go west with him in 1792. They lived a nomadic life until their father brought his family west in 1805 and met up his sons in Ohio. Sometime later, when Nathaniel decided to stay and help his father on their farm, John began his apprenticeship as an orchardist under Mr. Crawford, an owner of apple orchards, inspiring Johnny Appleseed’s life’s journey of planting apple trees. 

John Chapman was also a missionary for the New Church (Swedenborgian), preached the gospel as he traveled, and converted Native Americans, whom he admired. In return for telling stories to children and spreading The New Church gospel to the adults, he was often given a floor to sleep on for the night and sometimes supper.

John Chapman died on March 18, 1845.

Supposedly, the only surviving tree planted by Johnny Appleseed is on the farm of Richard and Phyllis Algeo of Nova, Ohio, and is a variety that ironically ripens in September and is used for baking and making applesauce. 

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I'm thrilled to announce that FOUR WHITE ROSES was a finalist in the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Awards with winners to be announced this fall: It was also a finalist in the Book Excellence Awards earlier this year.

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