Wednesday, February 2, 2011


by Jesse Halsey

Budget necessity at our house demands modest Christmas expenditures, yet there is a large circle of friends who it is a real satisfaction to remember in some simple and, if possible, unusual way.

Not of necessity, but for the sheer joy of it our household plans, through the year, its simple and [meaningful?] giving. Ingenuity rather than aggregate dictates the procedure. This is abetted by the family use of the automobile. We travel considerably. The boys, with an old car of collegiate appearance, go from the Middle West to New England [ed note: JH struck “one to Central New York”], and Father once a month has a business trip to Philadelphia. His hobbies are history and photography so he often varies the routes, coming and going.

We often buy along the road. For examples, our apples come from Western Maryland, or the Shenandoah Valley, or Northern New York depending on the most recent travel adventure of the family. When in Deerfield, Mass., some fancy onions are added to the cargo. Vermont or Northern Ohio or Western Pennsylvania furnish maple syrup. The list is long, and more or less obvious, as we visit Canada and all the North Eastern seaboard and the south highlands, Green Mountain, NC.

To be more specific, one of our most successful ventures in this ingenious friendly economic game has latterly, been with cereal products. If I were in this business I should assemble some mill producers and sell them in combinations. But we have acted as our own jobbers and this is the line.

Buckwheat comes from Western Maryland, “Friendship” mill, to be exact. The Maple Syrup that went with it last year came from “Confluence” not far from where Lieut. Washington led his troops to safety across the Great Meadows after Braddock’s defeat. This year we had Vermont Syrup, some of it from the Coolidge Farm in Plymouth.

Our corn meal comes from Nettle Carrier Creek in North Central Tennessee Mountains. Here is an old water mill where white corn is ground between mill stones. The whole corn is used with the chit or germ included. In commercial products this is often eliminated as it causes corn meal to turn rancid after a little (unless it is kept in the dark). The slow motion of the cold stones doesn’t “burn” the corn as is done in the high speed burr mills (where steel teeth at a terrific rate turn the corn into powder). When we want yellow meal—not popular in the South—we get it from a water mill on Long Island, where corn bread is known as “Johnny Cake” since Civil War days.

Whole Wheat or Graham flour (there is no difference) comes from the Nettle Carrier Mill as does our Rye flour. We go there once or twice a year to visit a Mountain School and spend some hours at the mill watching the process—and Father is always taking pictures of the mill and the old miller. We have a movie of that mill. As the water is turned on the buckets fill and the wheel begins to turn.

White flour (needed in most recipes), we have not attempted to add; the great mills of the country have perfected this process; we wonder that they don’t feature other things.

Bran we get in quantity from a country mill thirty miles from our city. There are two kinds; one fine for cooking, and another coarser and heavier such is fed to live stock. This we use for baking hams. Finally there is a cracked wheat cereal from another country mill fifty miles away on the Ohio River. This we value highly.

At Christmas, packages of some of our cereals were neatly tied up and marked. Some tested family recipes were typewritten by one of the daughter of the house and added to the collection. Pancakes of several kinds, Indian Pudding, Bran Muffins, Graham Gems, and Johnny Cake, these and others.

Our most ambitious basket was prepared for our family doctor; the others were less ambitious but similar.

To All The Mitchells

The Goose came from Felicity; The Buckwheat from Friendship.
The Maple Syrup came from the Coolidge Farm, Plymouth, Vermont.
The “Injun” Meal, for Johnny Cake, came from Nettle Carrier, Tenn.
So also did the Graham Flour.
            The Recipes were Grandmother’s.
                The Basket was made by a Shinnecock Indian.
                     The Juniper came from Cody, Wyoming.
And the Halls Add Their Good Will.

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