It is spring on the calendar, but a cold March wind sways the green fronds on the weeping willow tree. Red bloom on the maple tree in the front yard vows that spring is here, but the warmth is yet to come.
Spring is reaching a tentative hand toward the earth with feather light touches here and there. The magnolia blossoms got so anxious that they bloomed too early and have frozen to a brown crisp. The robins that had migrated south have come back in flocks, and are swarming the gardens and fields. While they search with beady eyes for earthworms, they are comical with their cocked heads and jerky movements.
The songbirds burst forth in melody each morning now; they are choosing mates and getting ready to build nests for the eggs that will bring forth the fledglings. The chickadees and juncos still throng the bird feeder, as does the bright red cardinals. Soon they will desert the feeder in order to prepare for their own young. Blue jays quarrel and jeer from the pine thicket, while crows caw in derision overhead. Large blackbirds (they must be ravens) stalk the yard and hunt for the fallen birdseed. There is much activity among the feathered kingdom at this time of year.
The aromatic fragrance of sassafras permeates every corner of the house, as the rich flavored brew bubbles on the stove. We have been drinking this this heady brew for the past few weeks, and it gets better and better. Mom always contended that it was a great spring tonic, and it thinned your blood. I don’t know about that, but it is a lot more flavorful than castor oil, which old folks used for a spring tonic. My parents didn’t use it for that, but have a belly ache, or look cross-eyed, and you got a dose.
Do you remember Jayne’s PW (pin worm) medicine?—those little pink pills that were annually given to every child? I remember a friend telling me that she hated them so much that she secretly stuffed hers in roots of an old tree. She said that she didn’t know if she still had pin worms or not, but the old tree was stone dead! Some things I didn’t inflict on my own children, except the sassafras tea.
As kids at home, we were always eager for spring. The milk cow would produce a new calf, and begin to give floods of milk. After a winter of canned and dried vegetables, our appetites were whetted for fresh greens. We hunted for subtle signs of spring reappearing. We are still heartened by each faint signal that winter is on its way out.
Oh, I remember well how Mom used the fresh milk – the cottage cheese she made was heavenly. There is no comparison between the store-bought cottage cheese, with its light, fluffy texture and bland taste, to the real down-to-earth goodness of the cottage cheese that Mom made. I have made it myself many times, using the time-honored technique taught by my mother. A lot of it is going “by feel” and “by taste.” Fresh milk is set out to “clabber”— that is, to sour and become solid. The sour cream is then skimmed off, and the remainder is heated to a point just above lukewarm. I am sure the scientific method is to bring it to a certain temperature, but this is where the “by feel” method comes in.
It is best to set the pan of milk down inside a larger cooker of water to heat, so the fire is not directly on the pan of milk. Heat slowly without stirring; gently break the curds into smaller chunks as the milk heats. Use a spatula and lift occasionally from the bottom. When the milk reaches the right temperature, and the curds are smaller, remove from heat and pour into a strainer that has been lined with cheese cloth. Let it drip until the whey has all drained off, place the solids in a bowl and add as much of the sour cream as desired. (There are various recipes on the internet for using whey.)
Sprinkle with salt and pepper (the “by taste”) method and serve warm. Mom used to fix this in the spring and serve it with wilted garden lettuce and green onions (and creamed new potatoes, after the garden started producing). A neighbor of mine still laughs when she recalls asking a new sister-in-law if she liked wilted lettuce, and the bewildered lady replied. “No, I like mine fresh!” I was cooking supper once for a southern family, and had prepared wilted lettuce, when she called her to grandson,“Come to supper, Clay—we’ve got “killed” lettuce!” I guess after you pour hot bacon grease and vinegar over it, you’d kill it dead! Wilted lettuce is merely fresh garden lettuce, with chopped green onions, fixed with a dressing of hot bacon grease, vinegar, sugar and salt. This is another “by taste” recipe.
The funniest lettuce tale consisted of our daughter Crystal visiting her in-laws before she and Jeff were married. Her future mother-in-law served fresh lettuce at the evening meal, and she asked Crystal if she liked wilted lettuce. Of course she did, and Jeff’s mother piled it high on Crystal’s plate. To her horror, it was wilted with just bacon grease, and after the first bite, she whispered to Jeff, “I can’t eat this!” He raked it off on his plate, and his mother noticed Crystal’s empty plate. “Oh, Crystal” she said. “You’ve already eaten yours. Here, have some more!” and gave her another big serving.” I don’t know what she did with that!
My son-in-law Bob found this song, and said it sounded so much like me that he brought it to me. It needs to be shared: