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What’s a huckleberry?

  “I ate some really good huckleberry ice cream,” I told four Grands after one asked what I had eaten while Husband and I took a bus tour through parts of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.  “Huckleberry?  Like the boy in the book?  What’s his name?” one Grand asked. 

Another Grand answered. “Huckleberry Finn.  Was it his favorite kind of ice cream?”

Before we could discuss possible connections between Huckleberry Finn and huckleberries, my Grands asked more questions.  “What’s a huckleberry?  Do we have them?  What’d the ice cream taste like? Did you eat it a lot?”

Huckleberries are small purple berries that grow wild in the Pacific Northwestern United States. They thrive in the regions of the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park, but don’t grow naturally in Tennessee.

Huckleberry ice cream is delicious and unique – a flavor combination of dark sweet grapes and cherries. I wish I’d eaten a lot.

Before leaving for this trip, several people told me to eat huckleberry ice cream so I was eager to try it. Husband and I spent the first afternoon walking around downtown Rapid City, South Dakota, where I expected to see ice cream parlors, but didn’t, and huckleberry ice cream wasn’t available at the restaurants where we ate for two days.

We made stops in Gillette and Sheridan, Wyoming, and stayed overnight in Billings, Montana, and I only found individual package ice cream treats, like in our local stores.  On to West Yellowstone, Montana, a small town, population 1090, and I spotted an ice cream truck parked on a street corner.

As Husband and I walked to a local 1950s style restaurant for supper we passed the truck, and I checked out the flavors.  Yes, huckleberry was on the list!  “That’s my dessert!” I said.  What I didn’t notice was the operating hours and an hour later, the ice cream truck was closed.

After a day in Yellowstone Park, we stayed in West Yellowstone another night.  At suppertime we walked to the ice cream truck, and  I ordered two scoops of huckleberry ice cream.  The young lady apologized, “I’m sorry.  We’re out of huckleberry.”

To go with my supper, cheeseburger and cheese-covered tater tots, and to drown my disappointment, I drank a huckleberry soda pop that tasted like a Nehi grape soda, except sweeter.  Never again.

Our last overnight stop was Jackson, Wyoming, well-known for antler arches on its town square corners and its ski slopes.  Surely, a resort town of 10,000 would also have ice cream shops on every corner.

Moo’s Gourmet Ice Cream Shop was on a side street and at the top of the flavors list was Wild Huckleberry.  I didn’t celebrate until I held two scoops in a waffle cone. Husband and I sat on a park bench, near an antler arch, and I slowly licked and savored that delicious ice cream. 

            Huckleberry Finn and huckleberries? Because huckleberries are small, the word ‘huckleberry’ was used to refer to something small or unimportant. Some scholars think Mark Twain had that in mind when he named Huckleberry Finn.

Cucumbers Aren’t Just for Eating

     For the last step to make sweet pickles, Husband and I layered cucumber slices and sugar in a four-gallon crock. By the next day, syrup formed and now a week later we have sweet pickles.  There’s nothing better than a cheese sandwich – grilled, toasted or plain – with Miracle Whip and sweet pickles made using my mom’s recipe. The only way Husband eats cucumbers is pickled, and I’m pretty sure if he could get the same flavor and crunch using something besides cucumbers, he would. I’ve eaten raw cukes since I was a kid when I sat in the middle of my family’s garden, picked them from the vine and ate them like an apple. A garden salad isn’t complete without cucumbers and cucumber sticks is a better sandwich side than chips. 

During the summer I buy cukes at Farmer’s Market, and after I learned they are nutritious – providing vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and C, zinc, potassium, iron, and calcium – and a natural anti-inflammatory for arthritis, I gave myself permission to buy them at the grocery store when growing season ends.

Cucumbers aren’t just for eating. Gardeningchannel.com lists twenty-seven weird ways to use cucumbers, including placing slices on your eyes to reduce puffiness.  Cukes have ascorbic acid which is an antioxidant that relieves water retention, the swelling around the eyes.   Those antioxidants also relieve sunburned and itchy skin; use thin cucumber slices or make a puree to spread over the affected area.

            A cucumber face mask, puree or juice, can rejuvenate and brighten the skin and some commercial skin care products use cucumbers’ natural oils for toning and hydrating. 

            To make metal shine, use cucumbers.  The stains on my stainless-steel sink are gone after I gave it a good scrubbing.  Even tarnish was removed from my sterling silver sugar spoon. Slice a cucumber and leave the skin on.  Rub the metal to coat with cucumber juice, then rub with the skin to clean. 

            I read that cucumbers are great for removing pen and crayon markings on a wall.  On heavy paper, it simply got the paper wet and smeared the markings.  It might work on a wall, but I didn’t try it.

Another suggestion was a way to reduce the appearance of cellulite.  A paste made of cucumber juice, honey, and ground coffee tightens the skin; I can’t imagine sitting still for 30 minutes with that concoction under a tightly wrapped cloth on my thighs.   

Eating cucumbers are supposed to cure headaches and hangovers.  Maybe caused by one too many cucumber martinis? The weirdest use of cucumbers is keeping slugs away.  Would a metal pan really make chemicals in cukes create a reaction to discourage a slug infestation?

If anyone looks up and tries some of these weird ways to use cukes, let me know.  I’m not wasting any more summertime cucumbers on experiments.  At my house, cucumbers are for eating straight off the vine or pickled. The pickle recipe is available at https://susanrray.com/recipes/

Savor a Sun-Warmed Strawberry

Once is Enough

How did I miss National Cheese Fondue Day on April 11 and Chocolate Fondue Day on February 5?  Maybe because after Husband and I hosted a fondue dinner we both said, “Never again.”

            In a column recently, I wrote that by the time I had a fondue party, others had fondued for years.  Many of us long-time married folk received fondue pots as wedding gifts.  In the early 1970s, Husband and I heated cheese in our pot and dunked chunks of bread, but our only time to fondue with a group was about ten years later when we hosted a fondue dinner.

            In 1978, Husband and I and five other couples formed a supper club, that we named The Gourmet Group, and we began gathering in each other’s homes.  We cooked and served food from many countries, and fondue seemed like a fun and easy meal.

             Fondue originated in Switzerland in the 16th century as a way to use hardened cheese and stale bread during winter months.  So, melted Gruyere, a traditional Swiss cheese, and bread cubes was the logical choice for our appetizer.  As we six women planned our menu, we decided to make the whole meal fondue since each of us owned a fondue pot.

            Fondue appetizer.  Fondue meat.  Fondue dessert. 

            Husband and I set two tables so six people could share one pot. The cheese melted perfectly, we dipped bread and drizzled cheese on tables and our chins.  We dropped bread chunks in the pots and retrieved them with slotted spoons. We enjoyed every bite.

            The cheese pots were removed and main dish pots were brought to the tables.  The person in charge of main dish had researched the size to cut beef cubes, the oil to use, and how much oil to put in pots   Each person’s dinner plate held raw beef and sides.  I don’t remember the sides, probably traditional Swiss vegetables or salad, whatever those are. 

            We waited for the oil to heat.  We waited and waited.

            Finally, the oil was hot. Each of us put a piece of meat in pots.  After the suggested time, the meat was raw.  Hardly warm.  Maybe just two people could cook, but cooking two bites at a time would make for a long evening.  

            None of us were that patient so I pulled out my heaviest deep pot, put it on the stove, and poured in oil. We stuck a few pieces of beef on forks into the hot oil and within seconds it cooked.  Not perfectly, but not rare. Forgoing forks, we dropped beef cubes into the oil, which splattered everywhere, and quick-fried.

            I don’t remember dessert.  Maybe we ate strawberries and chocolate hand-to-mouth.

            What Husband and I never forgot was the grease – on the stove, the floor, the tables. Now, about forty years later, The Gourmet Group continues to gather monthly and if the word fondue is even said, Husband and I shake our heads.  Never again.

In Search of Candy Corn

I didn’t buy candy corn in September when I first noticed it at the grocery store, even though I really like candy corn and peanuts mixed together.  I knew the lure of a Payday candy bar’s flavor would hit hardest at 9:00 p.m. when I’m prone to eat anything and everything. (Yes, I know that’s the worst time of a day to eat.)

            September and October, I avoided that pure sugar candy, and early November, I planned to buy candy corn to make Oreo cookie turkeys with my Grands as we’ve done many times.  (Google Oreo and candy corn turkeys to see pictures of chocolate cookies with orange and white tailfeathers.)  I was surprised candy corn wasn’t on Food Lion’s grocery shelves and made a mental note, which I forgot, to pick it up somewhere else.

            Then late Friday afternoon, a week before Thanksgiving Day, Husband and I were getting a few groceries because the Ray family, which includes six kids ages 4 -12, was coming to our house Saturday for Thanksgiving dinner. We received a call from Daughter: “I’m at Kroger and they don’t have candy corn. Will you get some at Food Lion so we can make Oreo turkeys at your house tomorrow?”  There still wasn’t any at Food Lion.  How I wished I’d bought candy corn in September and given it to Husband to hide. 

            As Husband and I talked after supper, we wondered if any stores had candy corn,  and we decided to make a quick trip to our drugstore.  The kids would want to make Oreo turkeys.

            So, we set out on a Friday night adventure.  First stop was the drugstore. No candy corn. Then the Dollar Store, IGA grocery store, and another drugstore.  No candy corn.  Maybe Wal-Mart?  According their website, it was available online for $13.22 per pound, but not in local stores.  Amazon offered an 11-ounce bag for $5.08. We didn’t consider ordering.

            One story is that the candy company that produces 85% of candy corn was a victim of a ransomware attack in early October and production stopped.  The company reported production resumed in some manufacturing facilities to near capacity in time for Halloween sales. If I’d known, I’d stocked up and maybe other people did and that’s why there was no candy corn to make Oreo turkeys on Saturday before Thanksgiving. 

            Daughter improvised and the kids made Oreo turkeys with Ike and Mike tailfeathers, but that’s not the end of the story.

            I told my niece Sarah, who lives in Georgia, about Husband’s and my Friday night adventure and she offered to look for candy corn.  I asked her not to because it cost too much and I’d eat it.

            On Thanksgiving Day, Sarah presented two bags of candy corn to me. I didn’t tell her that the day before Husband’s sister, Sara, had given me a bag that she had squirreled away in her pantry.             That sweet and salty treat never tasted so good.  Thank you, Sarah and Sara!

Eat More Ice Cream and Celebrate

In honor of National Ice Cream month, my Facebook friends shared their favorite flavors. Chocolate Chip Mint.  Butter Pecan.  Vanilla.  Rocky Road. Fig.  Pralines and Cream.  Coconut.  Butternut.  Chocolate.  Peach.  Cookies and cream. Banana.  Spumoni.  Bubble gum. Peanut Butter Chocolate.

            Some were specific.  Baskin Robbins Nutty Coconut.  Stellar Coffee at Cream City Ice Cream.  Blue Bell Salted Caramel at Cole’s Store. Dark Chocolate at Lazy Cow.  Fudge at Mackinac Island.  Brown Butter Bourbon Truffle by Kroger’s Private Selection.  Mayfield Chocolate.

            Several friends chose homemade: anything homemade, vanilla, strawberry, and peach.  I agree homemade is delicious. Is homemade ice cream really better than that bought in a carton or is the experience of making it and scooping it from a tall cold metal cylinder is what makes it so good?    

            Not one friend named my favorite flavor:  Burgundy Cherry that is sometimes available at Cream City and Baskins Robbins. 

            What ice cream flavors are the most popular in the United States?  According to an article published by Newsweek magazine on May 25, 2021, chocolate is the first choice – followed closely by vanilla.  Plain chocolate and plain vanilla.  That’s really not surprising.  Flavored toppings and nuts and candy and almost anything can be added to chocolate or vanilla to create unique tastes. 

            Toppings brings to mind sundaes and banana splits.  When I was young, Mom, Dad, and I often went to the Dairy Queen on Sunday nights and I always ordered a sundae.  Dad teased that I could only eat sundaes on Sundays, and he had me fooled for a long time.  I hate the slimy texture of bananas, but add ice cream, chocolate syrup, and toasted pecans, and even a banana tastes good.

            Do you eat ice cream in cone or a cup?  Kids choose cones and adults usually choose cups. My friend, Mary Jo, reminded me of the days of past when drug stores sold ice cream.  She remembers buying an ice cream cone for a nickel at the drug store on the square in Livingston, TN. For a dime, she could get a double dip cone.  An ice cream cone for a nickel or dime – those were the days.

             Recently, I took one of my Grands to get ice cream and ordered a two-scoop cone, just like hers – two flavors I’d never eaten.  As we sat and talked and licked ice cream, I declared that ice cream tastes better in a cone.  “Why do you think that’s the only way I eat it?” my Grand asked.

            And why eat only a few flavors?  It’s time to try some suggested by friends and some unusual flavors.  I’d eat Pickled Mango that’s available at an ice cream shop in Ohio, Lobster flavor in Maine, and Creole Tomato in New Orleans. 

            Anyone tried Cheetos ice cream? Vanilla ice cream rolled and dipped in crunched Cheetos, aka Cheeto dust, is sold at a New York City ice cream shop. We could try this at home.  

            It’s July.  Everyone celebrate and eat ice cream!

Eat Ice Cream and Celebrate!

Finally, it’s July.  All year long, I have waited for July so I can eat ice cream and celebrate for 31 days!

            July is National Ice Cream Month as declared by President Reagan in 1984, and he designated the third Sunday (July 18th this year) as National Ice Cream Day.  Because 90% of the people living in the United States eat ice cream, he thought it worthy of being commemorated. 

            We Americans eat 1.6 billion gallons of ice cream each year. That averages 23 pounds per person, and ice cream is among our top ten favorite desserts, ranking number five.  It’s our default desserts, our late-night snacks, our celebration treats.  A bowl of ice cream, topped with caramel and chocolate syrups or sprinkles, is our Grands’ special treat.

            No one knows the exact birthplace of ice cream, but it’s origin could be A. D. 60 when Nero was the Emperor of Rome.  There’s evidence that ice and snow were sweetened with honey and flavored with fruit juices.  By the 1500s, cream was added, and in the 1700s, “cream ice” was sold in European cafes.

            The first written record of ice cream in the U. S. is in a letter written in 1744 by Maryland Governor William Bladen.  In 1790, our first president, George Washington, spent about $200 for ice cream- that’s about $6000 today.  In those days, ice cream was only for the rich.

            By the mid-1800s, ice cream became more available.  In 1843, Nancy Johnson patented the hand crank ice cream maker, and Jacob Fussel began the first ice cream factory in 1851.  Shouldn’t national holidays honor Johnson and Fussel?  Can you imagine celebrating birthdays without ice cream or never knowing the joy of licking an ice cream cone?

            Home refrigerators with small freezers, common in homes by the late 1940s, made it possible to keep ice cream, but in the 1950s, ice cream was only for very special occasions at our house.  Did anyone else’s Mom buy ice milk?  Frozen low-fat milk with added sugar and cheaper than ice cream.  If you haven’t eaten it, be glad. 

            Sometimes, Mom made ice cream.  She skimmed thick cream from the top of cold milk, that Dad had brought from the barn in a milk bucket the day before, and mixed it with sugar, vanilla flavoring, and egg yolks.  She heated it and then poured the mixture into metal ice cube trays, without the dividers, and froze it in our refrigerator’s small freezer compartment, only big enough for four small ice trays. 

            Mom’s homemade ice cream was richer and far better than ice milk, but it didn’t have a smooth texture.  When we got a hand-crank ice cream maker, it turned all those same ingredients Mom poured into ice cube trays into delicious ice cream.  We always made ice cream for our backyard July 4th hamburger cookout so, I agree, July should be National Ice Cream Month.             What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?  How many flavors are available? That’s next week’s column.

You got any Strawberry Jam?

“Hey, Gran, you got any strawberry jam?” When my Grands ask this, they mean homemade Strawberry Freezer Jam and they know the answer is yes.  

            As long as I can slice and chop and stir and pour, there’ll always be strawberry jam in my freezer.  It’s a family tradition. Mom served homemade jellies and jams alongside hot Martha White biscuits, and her strawberry jam was my favorite.

            After I married, Mom gave me jars of strawberry jam for my birthday. It was a gift of work and love; she picked the berries from Dad’s and her strawberry patch and washed, chopped, and cooked. My children ate peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches so I get a bit sentimental when my Grands do the same.

            Last week as I watched twelve-year-old Annabel stir peanut butter and jam together in a bowl and then spread it on bread to make her sandwich, I remembered that both her mother and I had done the same at her age. And another Grand, age 10, takes PB & J sandwiches in his school lunch bag every day so he makes five sandwiches at one time and freezes them to have throughout the week. 

            Strawberry jam isn’t just for biscuits and sandwiches.  Have you tried it on cornbread?  That’s 10-year-old Lucy’s favorite.  Her older sister, Elsie slathers sour dough rolls with butter and jam.   Muffins baked with a spoonful of jam in the middle are a treat. A plain soda cracker topped with strawberry jam would probably be tasty – a bite of salty sweetness.

            Strawberry Freezer Jam could be called Congealed Strawberry Sugar since the ingredients are twice as much sugar as fruit and pectin.  One time to cut cost, I used a less expensive store-brand sugar and the jam never “set-up,” but it was delicious ice cream topping.  I learned my lesson: use name brand, high quality sugar. 

            But all pectin may be the same. Because only store-brand pectin was available where I shopped recently, I took a chance and bought two boxes.  Last week, I made six recipes of jam, four with expensive name brand pectin that I’d bought earlier, and two with the cheaper store-brand.  There’s not a smidgen of difference in the taste or consistency.  

            I’m sentimental about jam jars.  Store bought jelly jars and recycled grape jelly jars work well, but my granny’s snuff glasses with tin tops that Mom filled fifty years ago are my favorites.  Last week, my Grand teased me as she wiped clean the tops of the filled jars and put lids on them.  “Gran, what if someone thinks it’s snuff?” she asked.   

            Six recipes make a lot of jam – thirty cups!  All eight Grands, those who live across town and those who live an airplane ride away, eat it.  And jam in tightly sealed plastic containers travels well inside a suitcase.

            A day spent making jam is a day well spent.  It isn’t just about good eating for my Grands – it’s also reliving happy memories.

Bacon is Mighty Good Eating

Bacon doesn’t have to be cooked in long, flat slices.  Twist it, roll it, or fold it.  

            Bacon spirals are the all the rage, according to some online sources, and they are simple to make.  Preheat the oven to 350º or 375ºF and line a baking sheet, that has sides, with aluminum foil.  Spray the foil with a cooking spray.  Twist each piece of bacon a few times and place it on baking sheet.  Bake about 30 minutes until the bacon is browned and crisp enough to hold its shape. 

            Because the bacon is twisted, many slices can be baked on one pan.  To make Spiced Bacon Twists, coat slices with a mixture of brown sugar, mustard powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper.    

            While reading online about bacon spirals, an advertisement for bacon roses popped up.  A half-dozen bacon roses in a vase is $45.00 and a dozen in a loose bouquet is available for $66.00.  Prices don’t include tax and shipping.  There are special offers for Father’s Day gifts, and the ad boasts that bacon roses were popular gifts for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

            What’s a bacon rose?  A bacon slice rolled tightly and topped with brown sugar.  You can make this special gift.  Thread a toothpick through a bacon strip at one end, then roll up tightly about one-third of the way.  Twist the bacon strip clockwise to form points for rose petals.  Secure the bottom of the rolled bacon with two crisscrossed toothpicks so the rose will stand up. 

            Place bacon roses on a foil-lined baking pan with sides or in a muffin tin. Sprinkle each rose with a pinch of brown sugar and bake about 20 minutes in a 400 ºF oven.  Cool, remove the toothpicks, and stick a skewer into the bottom of each rose so it looks like a rose on a stem.  Your cost will be much less than $66.00 per dozen.

            Bacon roses aren’t as delicious as Special Oven Bacon, a tried-and-true recipe. Lay thick bacon slices, cut in half, on a broiling pan or a baking pan. Sprinkle a mixture of ¾ cup brown sugar and one heaping tablespoon flour over the bacon.  Then sprinkle with ½ cup finely chopped pecans and bake at 350º F for thirty minutes. 

            Have you tried folded bacon?  When my friend served really thick short slices of bacon, I learned a new way to cook it.  Fold a slice in half, end to end, and then cook your favorite way – fried in a black skillet, baked in the oven, or microwaved.  Folded bacon cooks evenly and the perfect size for a BLT, and it’s easy – much too easy – to pick up for a mid-morning snack.

            I baked a whole pan of bacon – some twisted, some rolled, some folded.  No matter the shape, crispy bacon is mighty good eating.  As long as it’s ‘pig bacon,’ as my Grand said when he was 5, and not turkey bacon that his mother sometimes served.

P. S. Because I made only 4 roses, I baked them in ramekins.

How to Cook Bacon

It’s easy to fry bacon like our grandmothers did.  They put bacon slices in black iron skillets and fried it until it was done. Now, detailed directions are printed on packages:  place bacon slices in a single layer in an unheated skillet.  Cook on medium heat 8-10 minutes or to desired crispness, turning occasionally. 

            You might follow the microwave directions.  Line a microwavable plate with three layers of paper towels.  Lay bacon slices in a single layer on the towels and cover with another towel.  Microwave about one minute per slice, depending on desired doneness. 

            What if you want to cook a lot of bacon? Bake it in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a large baking sheet with foil. Place bacon slices in a single layer on the baking sheet.  Bake until desired crispness, 15 to 25 minutes. 

            I’ve used all three methods and there are pros and cons. Bacon is crispier when fried the old-fashioned way in a skillet.  To get good bacon drippings for a mess of fresh green beans or to grease a black skillet to bake cornbread, fry bacon.  But frying makes a mess; the grease splatters everywhere. 

            A slice of bacon never gets done evenly in the microwave.  It’s hard to know how long to cook it because some slices are thinner, some thicker, and microwaves are different.  A friend owns a pan especially made for cooking bacon in the microwave and she swears by it.

            I bake bacon if I need more than a few slices.  About thirty years ago when I worked in the kitchen at a boys’ summer camp, I learned to bake it. It takes a lot of bacon to feed 100 boys!  After cleaning up after supper, we kitchen help filled huge pans, the size that fits inside industrial ovens, with over 300 bacon slices.  The next morning, we put the pans in cold ovens and turned the oven temperature to 400°FThe bacon cooked while Mrs. White mixed, rolled, and cut out biscuits, and the rest of us cracked eggs to be scrambled and got out fruit, jelly, and juice.  By then, the bacon would be done. 

            A few years ago, Husband helped at a fund-raiser pancake breakfast and learned a different way to cook bacon.  Drop slices in a big kettle of hot grease.  No doubt that works well if you’re outside and have a long-handled scooper.

            I’m told that bacon cooked in an air fryer is the best ever. “Crunchy outside, chewy inside, dark around the edges…just perfect!” an ad reads.  When I get an air fryer, I’ll try it.

            I was inspired to write this column when I read that spiral twisted bacon cooks best and I saw a recipe for bacon roses, but I got side-tracked thinking of the many ways to cook one of my favorite meats.  Next Wednesday, I’ll write about spiral bacon and bacon roses. Be sure you have brown sugar on hand.