Category Archives: FOODWAYS

Posts related to food ways at Pine Mountain Settlement School and in the surrounding community. Describes food preparation such as preserving, hog-killing, pickling, molasses and sorghum production, tapping maple trees for syrup and other practices common to both the School and the community at large.

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Coming Back and Going Some More

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DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH
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DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH  Coming Back and Going Some More

TAGS: Roscoe Giffin; Southern Mountaineer; Cincinnati; migration; reports; Social Service Association of Greater Cincinnati; Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee; workshop; Kentucky migration; sociological studies; statistics; population studies;


CINCINNATI WORKSHOP

In April of 1954, Roscoe Giffin, faculty at Berea College, Kentucky attended an important workshop that was held in Cincinnati, Ohio convened by the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee [MFRC] and the Social Service Association [SSA] of Greater Cincinnati. The gathering was titled simply, “The Southern Mountaineer in Cincinnati.” The workshop was conceived as a means to review the growing complexity of social issues surrounding “the newcomers from the Kentucky’s hills.”

Dr. Giffin was asked to write the  “The Southern Mountaineer in Cincinnati,” April 29, 1954, [the copy here is second printing] that would bring together the issues facing the group and to assist in preparing the final report with the staff of the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee. It is a classic study of the going and sometimes coming back of Appalachian families who migrated to urban settings.

The issues for discussion determined by the participants were outlined as statements:

  1. Substantial migration from the hills will go on due to the area’s poverty and high birthrate
  2. These migrants’ adjustment to city life, as workers, parents and citizens, is important to Cincinnati
  3. Too many now make a poor adjustment, to their own hurt and that of social agencies, city services, schools, churches, industry, and community relations generally
  4. The gap and conflict between living-ways of hills and city can be studied like any intergroup problem
  5. Pooling local experience and sociological data can reduce our ignorance and stereotypes, in fruitful consultation

A little over 200 individuals attended the workshop.With the support of the SSA [Social Service Association of Greater Cincinnati], and the MFRC [Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee] and a host of social workers, educators, government officials, personnel directors, and church and civic leaders, the joined effort produced a report. “The Southern Mountaineer in Cincinnati,” April 29, 1954, [here, second printing]. The final report was compiled by the staff of the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee and Dr. Roscoe Giffin, of Berea College. It is a classic study of the going and coming back of Appalachian families to urban settings.

Dr. Giffin’s report is based on his observations of the work of the Cincinnati workshop and his own observations of the “culturally determined patterns of behavior which the Southern Mountaineers bring with them when they come to live north of the Ohio River.” By the necessity of the requirements of the urban setting, Dr. Giffin focused his report on “observed patterns of behavior” of the Southern Mountaineers in the urban setting and not on generalized behaviors associated with the people in their mountain regions. This declared bifurcation did not always work out in Dr. Giffin’s report, as it is near impossible to separate the two without assigning the Appalachian urban dweller a new identity. But, perhaps that is one of his points.

KENTUCKY MIGRATION

What is so very valuable, however, is the substantive work that Giffin brought to the gathering social crisis identified with the mass migration of Appalachians to northern industrial cities such as Cincinnati. Statistically, he paints a growing population shift after 1870 to Ohio from three states: Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia. By 1910 Kentucky had the second largest number of migrants in Cincinnati. Pennsylvania was first and West Virginia, third. By 1950 the entire Southern Appalachians were populated by approximately 8 million people. By 1950 the distribution was roughly the same, but the new Ohio (not just Cincinnati) immigrant numbers had increased dramatically

1950 MIGRANTS

Pennsylvania 309,000 (new residents living in Cincinnati)
Kentucky 275,000 (new residents living in Cincinnati)
West Virginia 103,000 (new residents living in Cincinnati)

 

In the United States in 1950, Giffin tells us that there were some 3.5 million people who had been born in Kentucky but only 2.4 million were living there. This put 1.1 million people living somewhere else. This put the out-migration rate at something near 1 in every 3 persons born in the state living somewhere else. As coal saw the bottom drop out of the market following the Second World War, the out-migration saw upwards of 100,000 plus or minus people leaving the state as coal began decreasing production.

What is striking about the migration of peoples from the Southern Appalachians is the mobility of that population. Time and again Dr. Giffin notes the flow of cars filled with migrants going back to their states of origin for brief visits. This brief but frequent immersion in familiar surroundings, Giffin describes as a desire for the familiar, an integration that can be described as “knowing your way around” — a kind of immersion in family ties that reduces the “emotional deficit” that strange places often bring about.

THE PROCESS OF APPALACHIAN MIGRATION

Giffin describes the process of migration as a familiar set of actions.  At “home” the migrants sit around their familiar tables, laden with the familiar comfort foods, and tell family stories and share stories of the new familiar city life. The city life often holds a considerable attraction for the young and a tense dynamic often begins to evolve in the nuclear family. Giffin suggests that the larger the nuclear family the stronger the pull for migrants to maintain a connection with their home area. This “familism” is a force that repeats itself over and over again in the large Appalachian families, — yesterday and today. As the Appalachian birth rate has gone down from the approximate 38/1000 ratio of the 1950s, the pull to return has not slowed significantly. He notes that the lowered birth-rate significantly altered the enormous pressure placed on housing for the migrant populations in the urban centers. That demographic is important.

The quality of living while supporting a family of 7 to 8 children requires significant income. Food, which often came from family gardens is now no longer available in the city and must be purchased. This economic demand substantially reduced any gains in the family income. Further, housing in the city is generally rental and often sub-standard as rentals are expensive and landlords often hostile to the patterns of behavior exhibited by the Southern Appalachian migrant families. These new economic and housing demands give some urgency to the families to seek out and form a community with other migrants. Giffen declares that the  community bonds are necessarily  strong.

In the 1950s, however, the patterns of behavior in the Appalachian family were not so remarkable to only that set of people.  Giffin seeks to describe them as a people apart, but the activity he assigns to their situation was repeated in many cities in the United States. It is a behavior that he called “well-marked.” He points us toward the women in the household.  Women across the country, he reminds us, were not leaving the home to work he declares. Men still dominated the household wage-earner position women were still discouraged from leaving the home to work.

Women who did seek employment often faced the criticism of other women who saw work as interfering with child raising. Care for children and affordability of child care were strong deterrents to women desiring to work outside the home in the 1950s. It was a trend that was diminishing but could still be found in communities throughout the country.  Giffin declares that the move to city life disrupted the cycle of “chores” that Appalachian family members engaged. He observes, that the discipline that accompanied the cyclical work routines such as working  the land and maintaining animals began to fall away in the city and new patterns began to develop.

Giffin observed that neighbors in the migrant communities of the city often changed frequently and long interpersonal relationships were hard to establish. “Knowing your neighbor” and relying on the neighbor in an emergency became significant issues for struggling families in the city. The desire for the “community” had driven the Appalachians into extended communities of relatives and regional clusters but even those could not sustain the pressures of the urban life. The family authority also shifted to the mother, suggests Giffin, as the fathers were often more absent in the city environment. Giffin notes that this shift in parental control often resulted in the children’s and mother’s anger issues toward the “absent but frustrated control needs” of the father.

WORK AND “JUST SETTIN” AND SCHOOL

Social issues surrounding motivation are also cited by Giffin.  He declared that the rural behavior which he calls, “just settin’ showed a marked disinclination toward competition and did not prepare the transplanted migrant children to deal with the competitive rivalry of city living. This lack of competitive rivalry, he notes did little to prepare the children for success against the more competitive and versatile city dweller. Giffin tells us that “just settin'” is seen as “loafing” by the native city-dwellers and a growing bias began to be evident in the areas of work and school.

Schooling was also a significant flash-point in the diaogs of workshop participants. Giffin looked at the graduation statistics of the mountain counties of Kentucky and determined that less than 15% completed high school in 1950. In some counties he studied he found that in the age group of adults over 45 most had less than 5 years of schooling. Absenteeism was a chronic problem in the mountains and he cited the figure of half to one-third of the 7 to 13-year-old children were out of school! This low regard for education placed many of the children far below their peers when they relocated to the city. It is little wonder muses Giffin that absenteeism was a chronic problem with the migrating families. in their new home.

MILITARY SERVICE

Giffin’s figures for the military draft, seem to disagree with the popular notion that the Southern Appalachians saw a disproportionate number of men swept up in the draft.  The general myth has persisted that Appalachians go to war in disproportionate numbers,  This appears to Giffin as incorrect. The picture of strong young and eager men going to war and showing unusual bravery, such as the classic Sgt. York film mythologized was not born out in the statistics. Based on an article cited by Giffin authored by J.J. McGrath, “Selective Service Rejectees — a Challenge to Our Schools,” in School Life, Vol. 35, No. 2, Dec. 1952 (pp. 35-37), the Selective Service in 1952 rejected 1/3 to 1/2 of all young men called into service from the Southern Appalachian region. This statistical analysis places the Appalachian region’s states among the highest rejection rates in the nation in 1952.  However, this does not take away from the high numbers from the region that served with honor and distinction in both WWI and WWII.

RELIGION

On the topic of religion, the Giffen study also has some surprising observations. He makes room for basically two strains of religious practice. The one, the Holiness organizations, he suggests are attached to social status and reflect the belief that members “…are the elect because anyone who is rich obviously didn’t get there on the basis of virtue.” This “virtuous” group of believers is contrasted with the second group of more main-line denominations. This group is seen to be more affluent and members of the Baptist or more fundamentalist traditions. He notes that both the Holiness adherents and the Baptists seem to ignore the social gospel and show little interest in associating their beliefs with a social consciousness or action. This rather harsh observation suggests to Giffin that religion played a negligible role in moving the migrants toward any organized social self-rehabilitation.

MONEY MANAGEMENT AND “The characteristic of the species ,,,”

Money management is another area that Giffin cites as problematic to some classes of Appalachian migrants in their new urban home. A pattern that Giffin points to is the lack of ability to negotiate thrift and saving of money. He notes an “easy come easy go” attitude to money earned by many Appalachians.  He, however, suggests that there is another set of values seen in some migrants and that is a tendency to be “thrifty”. It is a tendency that Giffin suggests has its origins in the mountaineers’ Puritan heritage. Giffin suggests that the Cincinnati social service folk will rarely see  migrants in their offices for as a group they migrate in very small numbers to the city and only rarely will rarely be seen seeking financial aid or presenting as a “problem case.”

At this point in the Giffin report, a phrase jumped off the page at this reader. It was his use of “the characteristic of the species ‘Southern Mountaineer’.” “Species”! Really? Up to this point, I could find points of identity with many of his observations, but suddenly I found myself lumped with a “species” that was separate from the rest of America. I began feeling like many migrants must have been made to feel in their new home. A “Rare species” suggests that any migrant from the Southern Appalachians is a rare species apart from the greater humanity — a sub-human being? The often made comments about long and lanky arms, “slouching” figures, out-houses and “Why do you talk different —look different?” surged to the top of my brain. Giffin, now seemed the unsympathetic observer and not an advocate for the welfare of the migrant.

Through the lens of the twenty-first century and as a Southern Mountaineer, I suddenly found myself wanting to take issue with Giffin and his observations. I wanted to be sitting in his classroom at Berea debating what made a sociologist tribalize his subjects — and any of his students. Strange as this reaction may seem to some, it was associated with the very section of the Giffin study that dealt with the freedom to see things differently. In many ways, Giffin had touched on a dilemma that still plagues immigrants throughout the world. How do we maintain our identity with dignity and not with our defenses? On reading this section again it seemed valuable to transcribe a section in its entirety. Reading the quote again, I forgave him a little for his use of  “species” which he isolated by quotes around “Southern Mountaineer”

“Free to Differ, But —: Continuing this listing of the characteristics of the species “Southern Mountaineer,” we must not overlook the behavioral patterns centered around individualism. They expect to have their own decisions accepted and grant to others the right to their own decisions and the right to differ. ‘…Mountain people are inclined to be nonconformists. Many … have … ability to go their own way … being quite sure that their own way is just as good as anyone else’s.'” (20) 

The quote within the quote is that of Edwin E. White, who wrote Highland Heritage, published by Friendship Press, New York, (p.35), in 1947. It is often cited in connection with the perplexing problem of defining “culture” in Appalachia. In actuality, White’s book was written in 1937, not 1947. It was then re-published in 1947, ten years later, with no revisions. White, a Presbyterian minister, was not unlike William Aspenwell Bradley, whose article, “The Folk Culture in the Cumberlands,” in the Dial of 1918, tried to make a direct a connection of Folk culture as found in Appalachia with the essence of American civilization. Even early writers as admired as John C. Campbell, in The Southern Highlander and His Homeland, used a broad brush to categorize mountain people…. it always ended badly as it set us apart — while yet giving us a “homeland” and consequently an identity.

The insistence of associating  Appalachian mountain people with specific ethnic, even racial, folk, and, for goodness sake, “species,” has been a trend that has plagued the field of Appalachian studies for the length of its existence. Sometime after 1920 this need to isolate the exceptional in the native Appalachian dweller began to fray and today our contemporary conception of the nature of America ‘s civilization is one that is fundamentally comprised of both migrants and immigrants who share many of the same aspirations basic to well-being.

Another grave concern in the report of the Cincinnati workshop, in this writers view,  is the omission of a full accounting of African-American Appalachians as integral to an understanding of Appalachians, generally.  Irish? Italians? Or? To read the report is to assume that there were not African Americans making the journey to Cincinnati to find work and that the only interaction occurs with “natives” or so-described Anglo-Saxon whites. The African American, Irish, Italian, German and other racial and ethnic populations are also represented as distinct sub-cultures but rarely are they isolated as a “migration” group from some American rural area. African American’s fleeing slavery and poverty in the South seem the most closely aligned to the Appalachian migrant. 

“Other,” is used today to set people apart and it continues to be a divisive word for Appalachian residents identified with a so-called Anglo-Saxon origin. Pulled along as “other,” America’s sub-cultures and sub-groups make up smaller proportions of many regions population, but none of us is exempt from some sub-culture. The ratio of the “other” migrants in the Cincinnati social complex and their social relationship in the urban community is still under construction and discussion. Clearly, these “other” populations were not been seen as integral to a discussion of the whole of the Appalachian migrants in the 1950s. 

All this close analysis of Giffin left me wondering about the isolation of intervention. It left me wondering if a consideration all “others” would have come to fit Giffin’s analysis?  Would those “others” have benefited from the targeted social services that aimed to care for the Appalachian migrants? What were the similarities? What were the differences? Who saw them as not “fitting” the social need?  Would the “other” qualify as a “species” of Appalachian?  Such is the nature of the continuing debate about what constitutes an Appalachian. Clearly, when “other” is used, or “species ” defined, someone is disenfranchised. “Other” builds a wall around people. The term fragments the discussion of what should be universal empathy for the distress of all populations forced to migrate and to immigrate. Social intervention needs to be a human instinct for all people in distress, both here and abroad. Intervention can not be parsed out to species, but only to people. Recognition and empathy for the individual seems to still be out of the reach of our contemporary world which is now even more fractured than in the 1950s ….. and just what is “maximum recognition”?  Empathy does not to be re-packaged.

MAXIMUM RECOGNITION

The author’s report continues its discussion of “Free to Differ, But …” and Giffin says

A practical application of these observations might be that personnel policies need to provide maximum recognition for the individual if their work is to yield mutual satisfaction.

I believe that this individualism shows up also as a tolerance which partly explains the fact that they possess less of the deep-seated racial and religious prejudices characteristic of many Americans, both North and South. I am of the opinion that in the right atmosphere they will lose their prejudices rather quickly. Such prejudice as they have is more like a coat than a suit of underwear into which one has been sewed. At Berea, we have found that their socially inherited prejudices yield quite readily to the medication of the integrated living of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious groups.

Migration is a story of going and coming back, but today’s migration is also a story of struggle to identify a place that welcomes and understands going and coming back. We now have a world in a state of migration and immigration as people seek to leave places where life has become intolerable. Today people are on the move due to many reasons: economic pressures, civil strife, political oppression, war, disease, drought. ocean rise, environmental disaster and a myriad of other impingements on quality of life.

MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS

But, with an eye to the growing tensions in contemporary life, all these dilemmas bring us to another characteristic found in Giffin’s study. That is, “Mind Your Own Business.” While most scholars acknowledge the general individualism and tolerance of the Appalachian people, there is a long history of feuds among Appalachian people that could quickly escalate and result in violence. Such anger can also be slow to dissolve, says Giffin in his analysis. Guns still play a role in solving grudges, family disputes, and perceived injustices. With the prevalence of guns in the society today and the long-standing role of the gun in Appalachian households, this tendency is and should be a point of major concern to urban and rural social service providers, alike. I suspect Giffin would find many who are sympathetic to this view.

WORDS ARE DIFFERENT

Well, I knew it was coming. Our language. Words Are Different, says Giffin — when spoken by an Appalachian. He notes that the language of Appalachian folk is distinctive. There is no disputing this auditory evidence, Scholars and others have found the distinctive sound and pattern and choice of words in the language of many Appalachians to be a treasure and a wealth of creative expression. Others have found the language of Appalachians to be “Hillbilly English” and a way to single “those people” out from the mainstream of American life and to label them as “ignorant”, uncultured, and lacking in social skill, particularly the skills of social dialog. It is my view and that of Giffin that what is needed is not a re-tooling of Appalachian English but a lessons in listening in the general population.  We all need to listen  — not just to the unique cadence and construction of the language found among Appalachian people, but also to what is being said. We could all benefit from a conversation that doesn’t focus on the “accent” before listening to the message.

In summary, Dr. Giffin leaves us with this message. Listen and Look and get Beyond the Data. He questions whether we can statistically isolate the average Southern Mountaineer and notes that his survey is preliminary and partial.

He provided the conference attendees a list of his summarized innate characteristics of Appalachian migrants

Behavior is directed by the traditions of the culture, but marked individualism is an aspect of this tradition.
At home in the mountains, the stranger is received usually with a cordial hospitality which may be concealed beneath certain shyness and reticence of manner.
Placidity of manner and behavior yields readily to any word or action which infringes on the prevailing definition of the rights of a free independent, self-reliant individual.
When so provoked, the response is apt to be militant if not violent.
Persons of authority tend to be defined as threatening rather than helping symbols though accredited authority is usually paid its due.

 Throughout this report by Dr. Giffin I kept thinking of my grandfather in a migrant culture in some city in the North. I wondered how he fared. I thought about the process of describing the Appalachian migrant and defining his needs against what I knew and did not know about my grandfather. I thought about my own absorption of Appalachian traditions and culture and my own long “migration” path that turned me into an “outsider” of my Appalachia.

I recollected my own goings and comings and the patterns and traditions that I thought were unique and that held a resonance with the patterns seen in the Giffin report. I thought about the current political tribalism that so readily identifies those for “us” and against “us”. I mused about the current state of the nation and measured that against the turmoil I have seen characterized in the political attention paid to Appalachia and Appalachians. I have learned that “going back” is sometimes painful, and sometime joyful. I have learned to question my “Appalachianess” and to treasure it and distance myself from it when it centers on the darker side of human nature.

What is lost and what is gained from all the coming and going from our places of origin? What does it mean to have identity? Are we born with identity? Is it enough just to be a part of humanity in this world of branding? Our labels used to be on the inside. We had style, not fashion, or the even more sinister, fad.  As Appalachin born have we been co-opted? Will the current identity crisis only be a fad? Our problem is not in the symbol but in the semiotics.

In giving this coming and going a deep thought, I remembered what I  read in a favorite book by Raymond Williams, The Country and the City, as he watched his rural countryside being destroyed by manufacturing and railroads.

“It is not the known, but the knowable community: A selected society in a selected point of view.”

I did not go and come back. I am constantly going and coming back and going and selecting my point of view.

SEE:

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Going and Coming Back I

 

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Stones, More Stones and Scalloped Potatoes

Pine Mountain Settlement School
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH
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STONES, MORE STONES AND SCALLOPED POTATOES

TAGS: DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Stones, More Stones and Scalloped Potatoes; Pine Mountain Settlement School; Harlan County, KY; stones; scalloped potatoes; rocks; agriculture; farms; farming; foodways; cooking; Raven’s Rock; limestone; geology; lime; lime burning; kilns; quick lime; Perry County; accidents; horses; horseback riding; doctors; Dr. Alfreda Withington;


On June 8, 1920 Katherine Pettit wrote to Martha Van Meter, a nurse at the Line Fork Settlement, requesting her to purchase some grey shambray so she could mount her paper maps and preserve them. She goes on to ask Miss Van Meter “How are you on library and office work and filing and such things or do you rather dig and pile rocks as I do?” Miss Van Meter’s response is not known but the exchange suggests that rocks were a constant measure of how one approached work at Pine Mountain. The memo also signals  Pettit’s deep engagement with the land and its geography and geology.

ROCKS AND THE PINE MOUNTAIN RANGE

The geology of Pine Mountain is very complex. But one component is much in evidence. That is the stone. Limestone, conglomerate, shale, shist, coal, and sandstone are in abundance. From the bothersome creek boulders to the giant Rebel’s Rock, or the beautiful Raven’s Rock arch, stones in the region can charm and confound.

Kendall Bassett Photograph Album, c. 1928-1929. [pmss001_bas001.jpg]

BURNING STONES  –  LIMESTONE AND LIME KILNS

One stone in plentiful supply in the Pine Mountain geology is limestone. Limestone is in rich supply in the valley of Pine Mountain. Often limestones and other stones were troublesome and were carried from the fields where they had troubled the plow. But some stones could be a gift. Limestone, for example, was a gift to the soil and to the farmer. Limestone is a stone that can be burned. But unlike coal, limestone, when burned, produces rich by-products. The richest of these by-products is known appropriately as “lime.” It is an important nutrient for many crops in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky and helps to neutralize the soil’s acidity.

While the burning of limestone for lime has consumed considerable forest throughout history, it is still well-known as a boost for tired soil. Today packaged in various fertilizers, it continues to be added to the soil to support crops and enhance grazing land. Before the importation of commercial fertilizers, however, lime was wrested from the stones of the surrounding mountains.

The history of lime-kilns goes far back in the history of the world and no doubt the practice came to the New World with our earliest ancestors and settlers. Until the advent of commercial fertilizers, the production of lime through lime kilns (the burning of limestone) was common throughout much of rural America. It was, however, not so common deep in the small valleys in Appalachia. The practice of burning limestone for fertilizer, according to some, was a practice that Pine Mountain Settlement brought to many in the local farming population, though the practice of adding lime was in practice before the School was founded.

The so-called “lime cycle” starts with the stone — technically known as calcium carbonate and carries the chemical compound symbols of CaCO3. The limestone is stacked over a fire fueled by wood or coal and layers of limestone and fuel are then alternated to create a sizable pile that will burn for 10 days or more. This “pile” generally reaches temperatures in excess of 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat from the fire cooks off the carbon dioxide, CO2, and leaves a rich residue of carbonates (calcium oxide, CaO). This calcium oxide, also known as “quick lime” can then be applied directly to the soil, or better, can be mixed with water to de-acidify the soil.

Building the llime-kiln 23_campus_work_052

Stacking the lime-kiln 23_campus_work_050

The lime-kiln fired-up and producing lime for farm land 23_campus_work_051

Quick lime can also be used to make “white wash,” an insect retardant “paint” often seen on the base of trees, or on fences or around the base of wooden structures in early Appalachian homesteads. Even much later, well into the 1950’s and 1960’s, homes sported trees with their bases white-washed or old tires painted white and filled with flowers or foundation stones supporting a home, carefully painted white. An important early use was hygienic. Lime was a key additive used to keep insects and disease at bay in the many privies of the Appalachians. Both lime and wood ash with its high concentration of lye were also used as alternative disease retardants in the privy. Today, lime is still used in water treatment and sewage treatment along with ferrous sulfate.

When quick lime is mixed with other additives, it can also be a key ingredient to strengthen concrete or added to stucco for the same purpose and for its pure white nature. It can bolster or build strong walls or can be used in ‘pointing’ stonework. Much of the concrete at the school used some local lime in the concrete mix. Today, the practice of burning lime has been replaced by commercial lime that may be purchased in fertilizer mixes and other commercial amalgams. The forest can be heard celebrating this turn toward commercial lime.

Analyzing and creating some of the early pointing concrete is an art. Pine Mountain has been fortunate to have Bob Yap’s good eye and deep knowledge of restoration when addressing many of the issues found in the stone foundations and sidings of many of the Pine Mountain buildings that have broken down with time. Yap’s annual workshops are some of the most exciting workshops held at PMSS. While Yap’s skills range across many restoration skills including window restoration, roof flashing, siding, fine carpentry, and so much more, he also addresses the vital skill or re-pointing rockwork. See the Pine Mountain schedule of events and workshops for dates the next series of restoration workshops.

STONES AND MORE STONES

Stones in the Pine Mountain valley are everywhere present. They fill stream beds, sometimes tumble down mountains, pose major obstacles in the construction of roads and homes, or provide the central building material of the same. They are rockwalls, laid dry-stacked one on the other and stone mantles above the stone fireplace. They mark the well-traveled paths around the campus. They hide the infrequent copperhead snake and the quick-witted “red-britches” ground squirrel. Stones are in evidence at every turn at the School and they are still being added to the landscape in the dry stack workshops that have now become an annual offering at the School.

hook_album_2blk__036

From Mary Rockwell Hook Album. [hook_album_2blk__036]

But, there is a difference between “cliffs”, “rocks” and “stones”.

Stone at the School can be found in flagstone walks and simple stream stepping stones. Rocks are often referred to as residing deep in the woods, where they are natural monuments with trillium tops and gentle fern and lichen-laced sides. They are places to sit for a stream-side picnic or a personal reverie. At Pine Mountain, almost no one is without a stone — or some affection for a “rock.” The Playground rock beside Isaac’s Creek is one of the most iconic rocks at the School. The large rock (no one calls it a stone) is nearly encased in the root of a giant poplar tree and provides many nooks to play or sit, or cut hair.

2457 Clyde Blanton and August Angel cutting hair at large poplar on playground, 1930s. [IX_students_09_2457_001.jpg]

The stone steps of Boy’s House have long been a favorite photography venue for Board pictures, students, and solitary musing. A special stone pulled from the steps of the Creech cabin was crafted by Andy Dorsky, a talented stone carver, into a seat where visitors may view the cabin.

POTATOES AND ROCKS

Not all rocks are stones. Potatoes were a popular crop in the mountains, but rocks and potatoes do battle in the field. It is difficult to grow potatoes in rocky fields, thus all workers took on the task of clearing the fields of rocks and turning them into construction stones:

“Another piece of economy has been the application of the two-birds-with-one-stone theory to the loose stones on our cultivable ground. We have secured building material for two sanitary closets and a fine tool house by gathering wagon loads of obstructive stone from our potato fields. As to rocks, we still have more worlds to conquer and we shall use them for building and retaining walls, paving, and roads.”

Nov. 14, 1914, Letter to Friends from Ethel de Long

DRY STACK CONSTRUCTION AND SCALLOPED POTATOES

In recent years Pine Mountain has held several workshops in dry-stack wall construction. The sinuous wall along the road from the Office to the Industrial Building (Plant Center) is a good example of the work of dry-stacking.

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Stone wall along road from Office to Industrial Building. [P1050413.jpg]

While it may be a stretch to compare stacking potato slices to something like stacking a dry wall, the art of stacking can make all the difference in a random pile of rock and a random pile of potatoes. Both can become an aesthetic work of art, or a tumbling pile of mush.

Dry-stack rock work was a workshop offered at the School and it can be a valuable skill for both a gardener or a cook. Both take a good eye! Dry-stack rock work may be seen throughout the School campus. Many of the walls are early drystack, but many are also the new and repaired work of the dry stack crews in training. A recent preservation workshop that re-built the wall just east of the Office were possibly treated to a meal with scalloped potatoes. It is not known if the masons were rewarded with the scalloped potatoes, but the following recipe is one drawn from the records of the School and would go well with a day of dry stacking.

SCALLOPED POTATOES

Scalloped potatoes? They actually have much in common with stacked stones. Potatoes are often what cause a stone to be moved, removed, stacked, broken up, hated or other actionable scenarios. Like dry stacked walls, scalloped potatoes are laid into the pan one slice on top of the other. In the kitchen the idea is “light-weight” but in the field, it is an exercise in heavy lifting.

SCALLOPED POTATOES

3   LB potatoes
4   T butter
4   T flour
2   t salt
1/4  t pepper
2  cups milk

Pare and dice potatoes and put in a buttered baking dish, sprinkling each layer lightly with the flour, salt, and pepper. Pour milk and melted butter over the potatoes. Cover, bake in moderate oven for 60 to 90 minutes.

Recipe in The Pine Cone, May 1935

GALLERY OF STONEWORK AT PMSS see ROCKWORK

Stones were life-long labor for farmers at the School as well as in the community farms and gardens. Some areas were more troublesome than others. The barnyard seen here was slow to be cleared of these troublesome partners of most mountain soils. But when “clearing” was completed, the stones were ordered into a rough paving behind and in front of the barn where the mud and muck was an ever-present nuisance.

Barn. Early construction with stones littering yard. [II_7_barn_281.jpg]

LIke the barn, other locations benefitted from the rearrangement of stones.  Stones were often an advantage when they were re-arranged and sometimes even if they were not. Before they were used as paving stones in the barnyard where the soft earth could quickly become mired with manure and mud, the native stones, though lacking organization, kept the yard drained and the feet of livestock sore but dry.

HORSES AND ROCKY ROADS, TRAILS AND PATHS

The stories of negotiating rocky streambeds on the backs of horses or in wagons abound in the Pine Mountain Valley. Steep mountain slopes and laurel thickets offered poor trails and often the thoroughfares were the streambeds. One story stands out in the myriad of tales of rocky-stream mishaps. This tale of the fall of Dr. Alfreda Withington on a dark night medical call is particularly memorable. In her own words from her autobiography, Mine Eyes Have Seen (E.P.Dutton & Company, 1941) she describes the 1926 accident that began when she was called to treat a child who had been badly burned. Dr. Withington had stayed the night with the family. As she started the next day on the long trip back to the Medical Settlement at Big Laurel by horseback she had what she described as “bad luck.”

It was the next day when I was returning alone from this visit, that bad luck overtook me. As Maud [the horse] was going downhill she stumbled on a rock, falling and hurling me straight over her head, so that I struck almost squarely on my face. I remember the sensation of hurtling through the air and hearing a crash. Then there was a blank

A mountain woman was standing over me when I came to. I had an awareness that something was wrong; putting my hand to my nose felt it crunch, and it was bleeding terribly. I told the woman to give me my kit, and lying there I manipulated the grating bones, straightened them, and poked some gauze up my nostrils. Though faint from loss of blood there was nothing for me to do but remount and ride the four miles home.

The next day my face was swollen beyond recognition. I rode thirteen miles more to the railroad and took the night train for Louisville to consult a specialist. He said I could be thankful indeed that my malar bones were not smashed; a stiff hat saved them.

“What I do every Friday. M.K.. [Marian Kingman] Along Grease [sic] Creek, Pine Mountain, Ky.” [kingman_098a.jpg]

Dr. Withington’s tale was repeated many times over by staff at Pine Mountain and the community families whose only roadways were streambeds and rocky hillsides. Most could identify with her “bad luck” as they had either experienced it or knew someone who had. Dr. Withington was 65 years old when her accident occurred. She was slowed down for a while but she continued to ride in streambeds and along narrow ledges above streams in order to serve the many families needing medical attention for many more years. She left the stones of the Kentucky mountains in 1931, finally retiring at the age of 70,

SCENIC ROCKS AND HIGH PLACES

Indian Rock, Rebel’s Rock, Raven’s Rock, arches,. Sandstone cave…..

STONE SOUP

Besides scalloped potatoes, there is Stone Soup. Any soup may become “stone-soup” when a clean and dense stone is heated intensely and dropped into a soup pot. It acts like a slow cooker and it both cooks and maintains the warmth of a meal. The following is a pleasant winter stone soup made from stored and home-canned goods.

Vegetable Stone Soup

1 cubed onion, braised (or added directly to pot)
1 qt. jar of tomatoes
1 qt. jar of corn
1 qt. jar of green beans
3 cups of beef broth
1 tsp dry oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

One clean medium stone thoroughly heated. Place stone directly in soup mixture. Let cook for 1 hour. Patience. Re-heat stone, if needed. Serve with cornbread. and cold buttermilk.


To explore the many uses of stones and rocks at Pine Mountain a quick look at the built environment, of foundations, steps, walls, etc..  All will give a good overview of the value and required skills to utilize this building material. Buildings that are noteworthy for their rockwork are the Chapel, Laurel House II, and Draper Industrial BuildingRockwork, as seen in ROCKWORK at PMSS can also demonstrate some of the troublesome aspects of this medium.

PLAYING IN THE ROCKY, STONEY, BOULDER STREWN CREEK

Ann Angel Eberhardt,  the other editor and voice on the Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections website (there are two of us) shared the following story. Ann is a cousin, a friend, a writer and a superlative sounding-board. Her father is the hair-cutter in the photograph above.  When she read this piece about stones …  she felt compelled to share some of her memories among the stones of Pine Mountain. I am sure other readers will have similar memories especially of the creeks of Eastern Kentucky. I asked if I could share her memories of visiting near the right fork of Mason’s Creek in Perry County.

Your article reminds me of those times my family would regularly visit Mom’s people, the Halls, in Viper in the summers of 1940s & early 50s. We cousins would spend most days setting up little “playhouses” on the huge boulders in the creek. Each of us would have his or her own boulder (stone?) and use twigs, pebbles, stones, discarded items and anything else we could find to create our playhouses. One cousin even directed the creek in a way to have “running water.” There was a perfectly round hole in the rocky creekbed that we called “Indian’s washbowl.” It was probably formed by eons of circling pebbles that the creek water washed into it.

Sound familiar?

Helen Hayes Wykle

ROCKWORK AT PMSS

 

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH In the Kitchen Pots and Pans I

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Blog: DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH VIII
IN THE KITCHEN

IN THE KITCHEN In the Kitchen Pots and Pans I

Home Economics classes and the Practice House (Country Cottage) at Pine Mountain Settlement School aimed for a comprehensive education in kitchen ways and this included the many tips and tricks that women often learn following their mothers around their home kitchens.  But, most of the girls who came to the School in the early years did not have the advantage of following mothers around their kitchens, as some had no mothers, some had no kitchens to speak of, and they rarely had the time for extended instruction. Cooking had to be balanced against many other tasks including care of children, gardening, canning and preserving, weaving, sewing, and other consumers of time. The kitchen education of women in the Pine Mountain community usually gave way to the tasks of keeping ahead of economic disaster through a grinding work schedule or keeping the cycle of planting and harvesting on schedule.  “Time” in the kitchen, if a kitchen even existed, had nothing of the time many younger women now take for granted. And, the kitchens, themselves, bore little resemblance to our idea of a contemporary kitchen.

In 1940 Alice Cobb, a staff member out visiting neighbors in the community described a kitchen that belonged to the Sarah Bailey family. [See: ALICE COBB STORIES “About Sarah Bailey” 1940.]

The kitchen of Sarah Bailey was the community exception — not the rule. Sarah Bailey was an exceptional woman

“Come right in folkses. Supper’s all ready, and agittin’ cold on the table. Glyn [her son],  bring them chairs in here honey. (To us) “You set down now and go to eatin’ if they’s anything thar that’s fitten to eat.”

We were almost carried in on a wave of fragrance — a delicious combination of smells of all the good things in the world, sweet and sour and baked and fried. Glyn led the way with two chairs, we brought the other, and presently were seated saucer-eyed no doubt, if there had been mirrors to see with before the round groaning table (the work is used advisedly) in the same stout chairs we had occupied in front of the fire.

The children stayed in shy stairsteps in the doorway, watching our every move. Sarah stood by the kitchen stove, her hands folded, and with dignity oversaw the banquet.

The table was without any exaggeration covered, with no spaces between dishes. A heaping dish of spare ribs joggled against a bowl brimming with apple sauce. Piled up sausages on a platter were ready to tumble into the full butter crock. There was so much that it was hard to kow just where to start. And amid our protests at the bounty before us, Sarah brought another dish of what looked to be quarters of fresh raw apples, offered as a special treat. We were amazed.

“Not apples at this time of year!”

“Hit’s sulpherated  apples,” she explained. “They stay just like new that way.” Se promised to take us out later to see her sulphurating equipment.

We began to count them to see how much of that dinner had come out of Sarah’s own farm of four acres. The chickens (there was boiled chicken, steaming and tender) she had hatched and raised in her own back yard. We saw some of their family roosting in the apple tree outside, while we ate.

“Them shucky beans,” she saidGrowed in the garden and me and the children strung them up and hung ’em out last summer.” (One has not really tasted beans until he has had the shucky kind and there is no mountain porch complete without lacy festoons of them, which like so many of the attributes of mountain life, represent combined social, aesthetic and practical values. Bean stringing is entertainment, the decoration is lovely, and they do taste wonderfully good when they are finally eaten!)

“The sausage and pork sides was from the two hogs we raised, and I butchered just last week” she went on, and then left’ her post by the stove to hasten the passing around. “Here, have some sausage — you hain’t eat nothing!”

“You mean you butchered  yourself?”

Her eyes danced like Glyn’s as she nodded. “Law, yes!” Why there haint no man alive can cut up a hog as good as me. The men folks around here always calls on Miz’ Bailey when they got a butchering on hand to do.” (Miz Bailey” is a mite of a person not nearly so big as an average sized hog!”

“I raised the corn and canned hit last summer, and I pickled my own beets and I raised them sweet potatoes and the Irish potatoes too.”

We went on enthusiastically to note that the eggs (a platter of fried ones, and a bowl of boiled eggs in gravy) of course came from her very own chickens, and the cornbread —

“Well, I reckon you wouldn’t hardly say hit was all mine. But hit was my corn that dried and went to the mill to grind. Hit was the meal that went in to bake!”

“And the milk, of course —”

Oh yes, my cow gives good milk. Plenty for butter for us and mam’s and pap’s. Have some more bread. You haint’ touched nary a thing seems like. course hit’s just plain country cooking’ but I’d hate it a sight for you fellers to go away hungry. Have some buttermilk?”

We couldn’t!

“Now you all just have some cake, if you won’t eat no more chicken or port and beans. Seem like you’re aiming to starve.” We were faced with two enormous cakes, one dark and the other light, and a great bowl of canned peaches (from Sarah’s tree, and canned by her). It is wonderful how accommodating the stomach can be so pleasant an emergency. We partook with gusto of the cake, which she regretfully confessed was “… all furrin ingredients, ‘cepting the lard,” and the coffee with sugar which was also furrin although she explained that as a general thing her family didn’t use “fotched on” sugar at all, but the sorghum from her own cane, made at her stiroff last September, or the honey from her two bee gums ‘robbed’ last June.

At long last it was apparent even to this Sarah Bailey that her guests could hold no single spoonful more. It was time for another move.

“Well, if you hain’t aiming to eat nothing,” she spoke with a distinct tone of reproof,”I reckon you all might want to see my canning cellar and the way I sulphurated them apples.”

Before we were well out of the tiny kitchen the children had snatched our places and were diving into the remains of the feast. Certainly, this had been no ordinary supper, but very evidently prepared for the special occasion with willing and friendly hands, prompted by a warm and welcoming heart.

How do we know all this? There are many stories of visits to the homes of neighbors by the scribbling settlement workers. They often charted in detail where they ate, what they ate and how it fared with them. Even the most rudimentary meal was welcomed by the workers if they had been long in the community for it was well-understood that criticizing a meal was one of the largest insults to be given a home, but food was often raised by both workers and community women.  That food was a constant topic is well documented in the literature of Pine Mountain Settlement School eras and the documentation outlines a clear rationale for the inclusion of a “Practice House” where the foodways of both workers and students could be expanded.

Some of the lessons that Pine Mountain sought to instill in its students were common-sense, but these practical skills were also mixed with industrial training that could carry over into jobs in food service industries, domestic work, as a dietitian. nursing and nutrition specialist, and other kitchen-related or food-related employment.  The helpful kitchen hints provided throughout the student newsletter, the Pinecone, describe simple hints for the preservation of food, kitchen safety, cleanliness,  and maintenance of kitchen tools. Many of these prescriptions were part of Home Economics instruction and a requirement for most all students at some time in their education. The emphasis on foodways served to raise awareness of home-safety in the handling of foods and food preparation as well as expanding the palate of the student.  Food-borne illnesses, disease, and poor hygiene were ever-present in the homes of many in the surrounding community and particularly in some of the coal camps where close-living made for a precarious existence. The direct impact of integration of proper food handling, relationship of disease to cleanliness, transmission of common bacterial infections, etc. was high on the agendas of many of the workers at the school as their health was also at stake.  Handwashing, cooking at the proper temperature, storage, etc. were subjects integrated into classroom activities, work routines and service in the community. Hands-on food preparation and preservation of food were part of the routine work program for many students at the school and the awareness of proper handling of food and food preparation was in the interest of the entire community.

The early kitchen in Laurel House I, the first main building and dining commons for the School was exemplary for its day.  It was a large facility, outfitted with ample ovens and stoves, washing areas and food preparation areas, and the Laurel House kitchen saw a steady rotation of students through its training.

The student newspaper, the Pinecone gives testimony to the integration of kitchen work and food savvy in the lives of the students.

Angela Melville Album II, Part I. [melv_II_album_018.jpg]

Angela Melville Album II, Part I. [melv_II_album_018.jpg]

The following is a Pinecone list of helpful hints.

KITCHEN HINTS

[From The Pine Cone, February 1938]

1.    To keep the smell of cabbage, onions, and other strong-smelling vegetables from going all through the house, burn newspaper on top of the stove.

2.    To keep smoke down from sugar and other things which have boiled over on the stove, apply salt.

3.    To keep lemon fresh in hot weather put in fresh water every day or keep buried in sand.

4.    To keep cheese from molding, wrap in a cloth wet with vinegar.

HINTS ABOUT DISHES

1.    Rinse and wash as soon as through using dishes if possible.  If not possible soak in cold water.

2.    Soak in cold water all dishes which have been used for batters milk or eggs.

3.    Care of coffee and tea pot —

(a)   Rinse in cold water

(b)   Wash in hot water

(c)    Scald, dry and leave open.

4.    Egg beaters —

(a)   Rinse, clean, dry and hang up as soon after use as possible.

(b)   Never put egg beaters to soak and never let the cogs get wet.

POTS, PANS AND STOVES

Stoves were rarely found in the early Pine Mountain community homes until coal became a common fuel and roads allowed the transport of large durable goods, such as heavy stoves, into the community. Even after the advent of the gas and the electric stove, the use of the coal stove continued in many households but, then, only in the homes that could afford the transport of the heavy metal stoves and the cost of the coal stove, itself.

“Kitchen” was also not a word that was common in many households where the cooking of food and preparation of food was not relegated to a specific room in small homes.  It was only in larger homes and cabins that “kitchens” began to appear.  Most often they were in areas often referred to as the “dog-trot”, the area that sometimes joined two sections of a cabin home or sometimes they were small sheds attached to the side of a house or cabin.  This location was for several reasons, the most common were the removal of this area to an area away from the central living space to reduce the danger of fire and injury to children. The evolution of the “dog-trot” into a kitchen was not uncommon. The small cabin at Pine Mountain School has remnants of a “dog-trot” in the center of the lower floor of the structure and when cooking moved indoors, this space was the preferred location.

Angela Melville Album II - Part III. [melv_II_album_240.jpg]

Angela Melville Album II – Part III. [melv_II_album_240.jpg]

Difficult to document because of the lack of light and windows, very few photographs exist of the interiors of mountain cabins.  Those photographs that have captured interiors sometimes show how central the fireplace was to the small cabins and homes.

Angela Melville Album II - Part III. [melv_II_album_229.jpg]

Angela Melville Album II – Part III. [melv_II_album_229.jpg]

Tracing the history of cooking and the common practice of kitchen arts in early mountain homes, the clever use of iron cooking pots stands out.  Large cast-iron pots on tripods were used heavily at Pine Mountain in its early years.  Sometimes used in interior fireplaces or on tripod supports mounted in the yards or in the “dog-trots”  or “go-betweens” of cabins, iron pots of various sizes were portable and versatile. They saw uses for many fundamental cooking projects including soap-making, dye pots and boiling down cane or maple syrup.

Before the campus kitchen was in place at Laurel House I, workers at the School used iron pots to prepare group meals, boil laundry, dye wool, make soap, and various other tasks — but not always in the same pot! Keeping the pots clean and being mindful of a pots previous use was extremely important!  There are good tales of pot confusion, however.  Iron pots were critical tools for the early mountain families and were heavily used.  Today they are treasured items of many mountain families or have been relegated to the yard when their bottoms fell out from too many lye soap batches. In their bottomless state they were still treasured for they could hold plants and flowers on porches and in yards.

A humorous story is told about the mixing up of pot contents when an iron pot accidentally became contaminated with soap and was then re-used for soup. One of the important lessons that all students were drilled on was to not criticize the food as it was served at the communal tables.  So, when the dinner soup arrived and was ladled out to the table, there was consternation written large on the faces of the students around the table.  One brave student suddenly exclaimed, “This soup tastes just like soap!”.  As the other students drew in their breath and looked to the staff member at the table for the requisite reprimand, the distressed student quickly altered his remark by saying, “…and, that is just the way I like it!”

Worker at the Medical Settlement at Big Laurel next to cooking tripod with cross-bar. X_099_workers_2478a_mod.jpg

Iron pots can hold heat for long periods of time and whole meals can be cooked in a single unit and sometimes be stretched over several days.  Flat cast-iron skillets can be used with skill to fry fat-back to render cooking lard, a staple in almost all households. In the early households, cast iron pots and skillets were constantly put into quick action for all meals, often keeping an ever-ready location on the hearth.  Often, too, they were placed where they could readily be moved over hot coals or onto metal stands. The skillets were well seasoned and could withstand the high heat of frying as well as slow cooking.

With a lid, the pans could be used for baking by being buried in the coals of the fireplace.  Like the large cauldrons used on tripods, the deep cast-iron skillet with a lid was a vital tool in common food preparation.  Corn pone, fried chicken, bacon, fried onions, greens with fat-back, fried apples, fried potatoes, fried fish— anything that would fry, simmer or bake was placed in these deep skillets and generally with a generous dollop of rendered lard.

Larger iron pots could be covered with a lid or not and could be hung from a metal “arm” and be placed or swung into the fireplace.  Into this pot could go most anything.  Squirrel stew, rabbit stew, chicken, and dumplings, or a rich vegetable stew.  Stews of many varieties were common in mountain homes as they could be kept going for several meals.  Any dish that required substantial liquid and a long cooking time were most often placed in these “slow cookers”  — the very deep cast-iron pot with a lid. If the family had a “footed” iron skillet with a lid, this was often placed directly in the coals of the fireplace and coals shoveled on-top of the lid. This “oven” vessel would bake cakes and oven recipes.  Biscuits, cobblers, and other items that required baking could be handled quite well in these small “ovens.”  Clearly, the possession of a cast iron pot was almost critical to the early settlers in the area and a kitchen item that was guarded carefully. The skills of its use were passed along in the family and readily adopted by the settlement workers.

SEE:  FOODWAYS: “Old Fashioned Dinner” 1919

 

GO TO:

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH  I – GUIDE

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH II – INTRODUCTION

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH III – PLACE

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH IV – FARMING THE LAND 1913-1930

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH V – FARM & DAIRY I – EARLY YEARS

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH V – FARM & DAIRY II – MORRIS yEARS

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH VI – POULTRY

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH VII – IN THE GARDEN

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH VIII – IN THE KITCHEN

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH IX – DIETICIANS

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH X – IN THE DINING ROOM, MANNERS & ETIQUETTE 

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Farming the Land Early Years 1913-1930

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH
Farming the Land Early Years 1913-1930

TAGS: Katherine Pettit ; Ethel de Long ; Pine Mountain Settlement School farm ; farming ; sustainable agriculture ; William Creech ; Mary Rockwell Hook ; Evelyn K. Wells ; Margaret McCutchen ; creek farmers ; farmers ; Greasy Creek ; Isaac’s Creek ; soil analysis ; livestock ; Ayrshire cows ; poultry ; grazing ; farm managers ; Marguerite Butler ; Farmer’s Cooperative ; University of Kentucky ; Kentucky State University ; Fitzhugh Lane ; Horace D McSwain ; Mr. Baugh ; Gertrude Lansing ; Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Doughtery ; Mr. Morrison ; Boone Callahan ; Harriet Bradner ; Fannie Gilbert ; William Browning ; Louise Will Browning ; Peder Moeller ; Oscar Kneller ; silo ; Darwin D. Martin ; Brit Wilder ; irrigation ;

CLEARING THE LAND

Farming the land. Ploughing with mule.

Farmer and Mule. Series VII-52 Children & Classes. [elem_006.jpg]

Planning for Pine Mountain was very deliberate and where land was involved, Katherine Pettit. co-founder of the School, was a keen observer and a diligent doer.  Of the two co-founders,  Katherine Pettit and Ethel de Long, it was Pettit who assumed the lead responsibility for the land issues of the School. Under Pettit’s direction, the land was to support the school, but it was also to be a driving force in the school’s programs. In her vision the land would be a source for the agricultural, educational, physical, and emotional needs of the school.  The forests, gardens, planting fields, grazing fields, flower beds,  —- all received careful consideration under her watchful eye.  There is no doubt that the vision for the school’s physical site was always in Katherine Pettit’s mind’s eye but she also called on her excellent on-site help, particularly Uncle William Creech. If she didn’t find her answers in those close-by staff or in the community folk, she did not hesitate to seek outside consultation.

1913 opened with the first visit to the campus of one of the most important of those farm consultants, Miss Mary Rockwell, an architect from Kansas City,  Together, Pettit,  Ethel de Long, and Hook developed a plan for growth that centered on the topography of the land and the plan was followed, according to Evelyn Wells, (the first chronicler of the school’s history), very closely.  Every effort was made to build around the productivity of the land; to use what the land provided and what the topography suggested. Forest lumber, stone from the fields, native plants and flowers, local human and animal labor, native seeds for garden crops and other native resources were called into use.  All were considered important to the aesthetics and to the growth of the school and its environs.  The remote location demanded that the planners seek local solutions to many of their needs and that they model the best solutions if they were to be both practical and educational in their mission. But, this local focus did not mean the outside world was excluded. It was, in fact, tapped for all it could contribute.

While Mary Rockwell Hook was helping to develop a plan for the land and how the buildings would interact with the landscape, several other consultants were also called upon for direct assistance with farming. James Adoniram Burgess, who was the Superintendent of Construction of buildings, a woodworker and vocational instructor at Berea College,  starting in 1901, was well informed about construction and was heavily consulted by Pettit.  Pettit also consulted with the  Agricultural Department of State University (University of Kentucky), specifically J.H. Arnold, who had written extensively on factors necessary for a successful farm.  While Arnold’s focus was on the Blue Grass area of the state he had some sound recommendations for the business side of agriculture. In 1917 he co-wrote with W.D. NIcholls, USDA Bulletin No. 210 “Important Factors for Successful Farming in the Blue Grass Region of Kentucky.”  This unique partnering of Burgess and Arnold was evidently very productive.  Ethel de Long notes in her May 1913 Letter to Friends, that the consultants

… were here last week … to give us their advice on the best use of our land and the best disposal of the buildings we hope to have in the course of time. 

The progressive ideas of the early founders was not missed on visitors to the School.  Margaret McCutchen, a visitor to the School in 1914 and writes:

“The first intimation I had of the School was the foot-log over Greasy, carefully flattened on top by well-placed stepping stones.  Here I met with my second surprise, (the first was the beauty of the place) that about this school, only an infant in the wilderness, everything was so ship-shape.  Good fences, substantial gates, roads, hitching posts, mounting blocks, the straight furrows of the ploughed fields and even rows of garden patches, wood-boxes on the porches, coat pegs by the doors, and the picturesque stone tool-house to protect the tools and farm implements — all these spell to me in large letters one of the chief articles in the constitution of the school, ORDER.”

pmss001_bas035_mod

View of the school grounds c. 1913-14. Old Log sits at what is now the entrance to the school. The foot-bridge Miss McCutcheon traversed is just opposite the cabin and crosses Isaac’s Creek where it becomes Greasy Creek, the headwaters of the great Kentucky River.

The school’s early years required some clearing of forested land and the re-preparation of older fields cleared by the earliest settlers.  In the above view of one corner of the school campus, the land is just being prepared for farming.  Efforts to straighten Isaac’s Creek [also known as Isaac’s Run] and to construct a bridge can be seen.  Old Log cabin, the first permanent dwelling on  the school grounds is seen to the left in the photograph.  Moved to the site for early housing of staff, the structure still welcomes all who visit the school.  Today it is the site of the school’s gift shop.]

CREEK FARMERS

A view down the long Pine Mountain valley in the first decade of the twentieth-century would have revealed the steep hillside farming often practiced in the Pine Mountain valley and the surrounding valleys.  In the narrow valleys such as that running beneath the long Pine Mountain spine, the community farmers used as much of their land as they were able to physically cultivate. Often the farms stretched far up the mountainside in a series of random terraces, often following natural contours of the land. The school claims to have introduced terracing but it was also introduced by livestock continually navigating the steep hillsides and by the constant planting and cultivating of corn rows that horizontally followed the contours of the hills.  Each year the farmers often advanced up the mountain in search of  rich soil as their crops depleted the soil. It was arduous work.

005a P. Roettinger Album. "Country [?] Looking from Uncle John's toward the School."

005a P. Roettinger Album. “Country [?] Looking from Uncle John’s toward the School.”

While much farming in the Pine Mountain valley was on the sides of the mountain, the practice of farming in the area was often called “creek farming” and the farmers as “creek farmers.” The narrow strip of bottomland in the eastern Kentucky valleys led to this description in the 1960’s of those who farmed the region. The term was broadened to include the entire family and meant those families who lived only a stone’s throw from the streams of the region. In the small hollow that led into the valley, this geography was often accurate, but the broad slopes of the valley often meant that the farm was much more than a “stone’s throw” from the creek.

Because the developing transportation system often shared the same meandering creek path or sometimes the creek bed itself, the land that could be farmed was further reduced and families headed for the hills.  This form of subsistence farming, a more common term than “creek farmers”, and the confined transportation corridors, led to the development in the valleys of a kind of continuous and uniformly distributed series of small “centers.”  The so-called “Mouth of Big Laurel” is one such nuclear community.  The Pine Mountain valley and most near-by valleys followed this pattern of development common to eastern Kentucky.

pmss001_bas010

View of the Big Laurel Community in the second decade of the 20th century. From the Kendall Bassett Album, pmss001_bas010.jpg.

GREASY CREEK

Greasy Creek, a large and stony stream that has its headwaters at the School where Isaac’s Creek flows into Shell Creek, is the largest stream in the immediate area of Pine Mountain.  It was supposedly named for the grease of a bear that was killed near the stream. The clear water in the early years supported a variety of aquatic life including abundant bass, brim, and other common stream fish. I was one of the favorite fishing streams in the area and an important source of food for many families. It also served as a water-way to float log rafts down river to mill during Spring-tide. Today, it is slowly recovering from mining intrusions over the years that have left sections of the stream severely polluted and with diminished aquatic life — with consequential degradation of the entire stream.

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The Big Laurel community on the headwaters of Greasy Creek soon became an important outpost for Pine Mountain Settlement School.  As the location for the first of a half-dozen outposts proposed by Katherine Pettit, Big Laurel Medical Settlement was situated on a hill overlooking Greasy Creek and the wide bottom-land created at the meeting of  Big Laurel Creek and Greasy Creek.

During the early years of the School and before, every piece of land was precious and was often cultivated to the top of the ridges.  This extensive cultivation may be clearly seen in the following photograph taken in the first decade of the twentieth century.  What appears as terracing is often the result of cattle and farm animals paths that horizontally negotiate the steep hill-sides.  Greasy Creek flows in the center of the photograph of this country of “Creek farmers.”

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FARM CONSULTANTS

Pettit realized that education would be needed to change local farming practices that were both labor intensive and not sustainable. Following the first consultation regarding the layout of the School and two years after the founding in 1913, Katherine Pettit and Ethel de Long in 1915 again brought consultants from Kentucky State University [University of Kentucky] to the School to hold a “Farmer’s Institute.” It was open to the full community and brought participants from along the valley and hollows surrounding the school.

Marguerite Butler, an early worker at the school describes the Farmer’s Institute

Four splendid instructors from the Kentucky State University have been here for four days holding Farmers’ Institute. It is a splendid thing for this part of the country and you never saw such interest as the farmers showed. Last night one of the men said it was by far the best meeting he had ever had in Kentucky. Of course mothers, fathers and children came for miles around. Yesterday the school cooked dinner for all out in big black kettles in the open . The men killed a sheep Saturday for the great affair. The talks were splendid on the soil and care of it, proper kind of food and why, how to raise fruit trees and poultry, which are both easily but poorly done in the mountains. I enjoyed every single speech. Just about four yesterday afternoon we learned that there was a “meetin” down Greasy five miles. Of course we wanted to go, so in ten minutes one of the men and lady instructors, Peg, one of the older boys here and I started off. I bare back behind Miss Sweeny on her horse. We had wonderful fun and the ride at that time of evening was glorious. I stuck on, even when we galloped beautifully. One of the men invited us there for supper so he rode on ahead to prepare supper. They had made biscuit, stewed dumplin’s and chickens, sweet potatoes and all sorts of good things. These professors said it was one of the experiences of their life. We all walked down to meetin’ afterwards in the Little Log School. I succeeded in falling in the creek, so did Miss Sweeney, as we only had to cross one four times. You couldn’t possibly believe what a meetin’ is like unless you hear it with your own ears. I shall have much to tell you. After an exciting ride home over a black, rough road we got here at 10:15, no worse for the wear. [1914 Marguerite Butler Letters]

Miss Pettit’ s consultation and the broad sharing of the findings of the Institute gave not only the farm program at Pine Mountain its first leap forward. but jump-started the educational process for the local community.  Pettit believed that the farm was central to the success of the school and that it should be managed by progressive and trained farmers. Her plans were large and her enthusiasm was even greater when it came to farming at Pine Mountain. However, she found it difficult to match her vision with the succession of early school farmers whose early departure from this key position was almost as rapid as annual crop rotation,

Fitzhugh Lane, a young boy whom Pettit and de Long had brought with them from Hindman to help establish a garden and some subsistence farming, was the first farmer at Pine Mountain. He did not stay long and was never designated as “the farmer”.  He overlapped with the first designated farmer, Horace McSwain at the School He came in late 1913 but also quickly left in 1914.  McSwain was hired to also serve as the manager of the new saw-mill at Pine Mountain. The dual position was likely unmanageable as the rush to construct new buildings was cyclonic. The following note in a letter to the Board in 1913 describes the clearing of land and the multiple duties of many of the staff:

I wish you could know what important work has been done here through these last weeks. The coal bank has been made been made ready for the winter’s digging, according to the directions of Professor Easton and we are now making a road to it. We have had foot logs laid in many places over the Creek and have built a bridge that ought to last for two generations so that we may haul stone to the site of the school house. Miss Pettit has had charge of most important work In ditching the bottom lands. You will be interested to know why she had to give her time for this, instead of Mr. McSwain. He has had to be at the sawmill all the time, largely because he has not known what minute one of his hands would have to escape to the woods. You see this is not a conventional community and many of our best workers have indictments against them, for shooting, fighting, or even being mixed up in a murder case. Since this is the month when court convenes the men with indictments against them are all afraid the sheriffs may be after them….

Mr.[ ?] Baugh, whose full name has been lost to time, is listed as the designated farmer for the year of 1914. It is unclear whether he overlapped with McSwain or if his tenure as farmer was less than a year. He shows up on the staff listings simply as “Mr. Baugh”.   Harriet Bradner is listed for 1915 as a worker on the farm. Leon Deschamps, a Belgian émigré arrived in 1916, hired as the School’s Forester, farmer and teacher.  His tenure was to be the longest to date. He briefly left the School to serve in the Great War [WWI] but returned after a year and stayed until 1927.  During 1918 and 1919 another woman, Gertrude Lansing is listed as a farm worker, but was not the designated farmer. In 1919 Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Dougherty were hired to work on the farm and charged to pick up some of the responsibilities of Deschamps who was temporarily away.  Several staff who had other duties are also listed as farm workers during this time.  Edna Fawcett, for example worked as a teacher, a house mother, and on the farm from 1917 – 1919. Many other staff shared farm responsibilities from time to time.

FARM ASSETS AND LIABILITIES

By 1917 the assets and liabilities of the new school are listed as:

Assets:

The original 234 acres of land
125 acres recently given. (Mostly coal and timber)
A coal bank
A limestone cliff
A boundary of timber aggregating 600,000 ft.
A stone quarry
A maple sugar grove
Annual pledges to the amount of $1600.00
An unpolluted water supply
Three dwelling houses
One tool house
Two sanitary closets
Sawmill
Two mules
Two cows
One hog and two more promised
Chickens
Two collie pups

Liabilities:

$700.00 a month

FARMERS

 In 1920 Mr. William Browning came to the School as the farmer and stayed for seven years.  Later, in 1922-1924, Fannie Gilbert was assigned to work on the farm and assisted Browning. Until Browning, no farmer had lasted more than two years with the exception of Leon Deschamps, whose duties were spread among three positions (forester, farmer, teacher).   Miss Pettit’s agenda was a large one and the work to be completed was hard labor and long hours. Farming under Katherine Pettit also required considerable ingenuity and diplomacy in negotiating Pettit herself and the community skepticism of new farming practices. It is clear from the many staff letters that William Browning was a favorite with the women staff. He is described in many staff letters as quite attractive and charming, but someone who “needed to be taken care of.” One of the workers described Mr. Browning as a “buttonless man” who had difficulty keeping his wardrobe together.  It appears that many of the women at the school were eager to sew on buttons for the “buttonless man.” He soon took a wife and that ended the button competition.

Browning was also assisted by Leon Deschamps, a Belgian whose training as a forester allowed him to address both the silviculture and farming needs of the school. Browning and Deschamps overlapped from 1920 until 1927 when Deschamps left Pine Mountain.  Under the guidance of Browning and Deschamps, the farm had grown in productivity and, like the previous farm workers, these two farmers largely developed the land according to Miss Pettit’s plan. Deschamps, when he was left in charge of the farm largely followed the planning of Pettit and Browning but when he left in 1928 the direction of the farm went through a series of short-term farmers and some of Pettit practices and vision were set aside. A Mr. Morrison, of whom we know little, followed Deschamps and he was quickly followed by Mr. Boone Callahan who became one of the legendary members of the staff and who was also well known as a wood craftsman. Boone Callahan, one of the many Callahan Family children brought to the School in the very early years and Brit Wilder were among the first Students to come to Pine Mountain.  In the 1943 special edition of Notes, “Our Mountain Family,”  the contributions of Callahan and Wilder are noted

“…  since the days when they [Callahan and Wilder] cut “pretties” for Miss Pettit with their knives, they have never been far away from the life of the school. Boone had special training in agriculture at Berea and at Bradley Polytechnic Institute, and has been in charge of the carpentry department for years. He lives with his family at Farm House.  Brit is the truck driver and superintendent of the mine. He is the grandson of Uncle William, is married to a former Pine Mountain student and has a lovely home close to the school.”

Pettit was well read on farming practice and she never ceased her consultation with available experts in the field. During the 1920’s Katherine Pettit had been observing the agricultural progress at John C. Campbell Folk School under their new Danish farmer, George Bidstrup. The Scandinavian farmer, who had been hired to bring Danish farming practice to the Brasstown, North Carolina folk school. Bidstrup was charged to provide model farming for the Brasstown community and had enjoyed considerable success in farming in the North Carolina mountains.  Marguerite Butler, a Pine Mountain Settlement School worker who had left Pine Mountain to study in Denmark and had subsequently been recruited to John C. Campbell Folk School by Olive Dame Campbell in 1922. She maintained a lively correspondence with Katherine Pettit following her departure from Pine Mountain and many conversations centered on farming and gardening. Butler married George Bidstrup shortly after she arrived at Brasstown and she was eager to share what she had learned from him about farming with Pettit. When Butler married Bidstrup many local Brasstown practices were passed directly along to the Kentucky school. Intrigued by the Brasstown experiments in farming methods, Pettit went looking for her own Danish farmer and found Peder Moler. Inspired by what she saw at John C. Campbell, Pettit set about to bring the Danish farmer to Pine Mountain where he could introduce Danish agricultural methods to the subsistence farmers of the Pine Mountain Valley. Through Marguerite and her new husband, George Bidstrup, many Danish practices entered the Pine Mountain Settlement School farm program and many Pine Mountain practices were adopted by the community of the John C. Campbell Folk School.

While Pettit eagerly set about bringing the Danish farmer, Peder Moler, to the School, the immigration quotas of the late 1920’s slowed down the immigration process.  When the Danish farmer finally arrived at Pine Mountain in 1930, Katherine Pettit had just (late 1930) departed the School as Director and Hubert Hadley had just been hired for a brief year (1930-1931) and was followed by the interim director, Evelyn Wells until Glyn Morris could come as the new Director.  It was an unstable time at the School.

In late spring of 1930 the new Danish farmer, Peder Moler, immediately encountered a slew of challenges, not the least of which was resistance to any foreigner changing long-standing mountain subsistence farming methods.  As a “furriner” Moler persisted as best he could, and was from all accounts, an energetic and visionary farmer, but one who was “severe” in his demands. His tight “command” of the farm and his crews led to tensions in the workplace. Oscar Kneller, an amiable and seasoned farmer of the Appalachians was quickly hired in July of 1930 and was charged to help Moler. The two were, by all accounts, a good team and they produced record crops.  Cabbages and tomatoes were in abundant supply.  The surplus of cabbage was so great that it was still feeding the school “until Christmas the following winter.” [Wells, History, p. 26]

Moler and Kneller made many improvements to agricultural practice as well as the grounds of the School but events at the School soon slowed that progress.  On May Day in 1932, an unusual act of violence occurred on campus at Pine Mountain.  A disturbed young man came to campus, following an argument about a love triangle in the community.  He threatened a student with a gun and then killed him   Moler, who was present at the event, was very shaken by the confrontation and the shooting and the events following the murder.  Glyn Morris, the new School Director, hired in 1931, asked Moler to accompany him on the arduous hike across Pine mountain to the Big Black Mountain community to deliver the news of the young man’s death to the family. The emotional event, the anguish of the family and the memory of the violence and the cultural differences profoundly affected Moler and he decided to return to Denmark. His departure left Oscar Kneller singly in charge of the farm.

Kneller was an energetic worker and he immediately set about completing projects begun by Moler and enhancing them. One important project was the purchase of a silo for the barn.  The silo was expected to bring down farm costs, particularly for winter feed. Other projects included the further straightening of Isaac’s Creek, particularly in front of the Office and the completion of the pathway and steps to the Infirmary from the lower roadway.  In School documents, there is a reference to the “hard surfacing” of roads by Moler, This most likely is a reference to the use of gravel and particularly coal cinders which gave the roads protection in the winter freeze and thaws.  This practical road surfacing and re-use of coal burned in the campus furnaces was a practice Kneller continued.

Evelyn Wells, in her unpublished history of the School, describes at length the importance of the addition of the silo and Oscar Kneller‘s role in proving the worth of the new purchase

“Mr. Kneller’s project was the building and filling of the new silo. Up to this time all food for the cattle had been purchased and carried to the school in trucks from across the mountain, and it had been most expensive.  There was some disagreement over the building of the silo, but with Mr. Darwin D. Martin‘s backing the silo parts were bought, and in 1932 the farm boys and Mr. Kneller built the silo.  The first filling took several days and all the men workers helped the boys. Every evening the progress of the filling was announced in the dining room, and on the last night, when the fodder from the last field had been cut and brought up, the boys and men workers stayed on the job all night.  Early in the morning, just at daylight, the task was finished,  The silo lacked three rings of being filled, but all the corn was put away.

At the end of November 1931, the cost of the Dairy was $1140,08. At the end of November 1932, it cost $1471.80 which included the cost of the silo, cutter, and all incidental expenses of transportation and erection.  Ensilage lasted until the middle of March.  No hay was bought. The argument for building the silo was that it could be bought, built, filled and still we could come out at the end of the year with no more expense for the dairy than the year before, leaving the end of the year with the silo paid for. Hay had cost $200 a car plus freight from Putney. It usually was necessary to buy two or three carloads. Thus, there was a saving of about $600. In May 1932 dairy expense amounted to $2469.38.  In May 1933 it was only $ 1591.38, plus the cost of the silo $541.55. 

Of course, a large amount of the land was given to ensilage and a relatively small amount to a truck garden.  But the bottom land was resting in clover since it was practically exhausted.  It was replaced with [a] vegetable garden between the creek and the tool house.  This record was made in the spring, and at that time a large number of cans of peas had been put away [number not given] the cabbage between 12,000 and 15,000 heads looked well, and corn covered the hill below the chapel.”  [Evelyn Wells, History, p. 26]

Crop rotation, another new farm practice, had also been introduced slowly to many local farmers by the school. Some already practiced this technique, having learned by close observation of their soils. The introduction of crop rotation helped to ensure more sustainable farmland for the School and for farmers in the community.  Under this practice, crops were given systematic rotation, i.e. cabbage fields were rotated annually with corn and corn with beans, and so on.  In fall corn shocks, fodder for animals, often dotted fields where the year before cabbage grew for the school’s extensive canning program. Under the gentle guidance of Oscar Kneller, the majority of the farmers in the area adopted the rotation practice and local crops began to thrive and steep hillsides began to heal and to suffer less erosion.

In a 1920’s editorial in the Jackson Times, the newspaper of Jackson, Kentucky, the editor ruminates that farming

….. for rich and poor, for city and country should stimulate idealism, purpose, action, responsibility, service, brotherhood, true patriotism. It should aim to make better citizens by making better men. And finally, it should recognize the fundamental education in the doing of the common tasks of every day—the education which only needs to be linked with an intelligent vision to make everyday life better and happier. This is our problem in the mountains.

The editor further asks

Is it a mountain problem alone?

Clearly by the 1920’s farming had taken on a role beyond just subsistence and had been integrated into the economic and educational dialogue.

The next farmer, whose history spans some 27 years at the School, was a product of this economic and educational mantra.  William Hayestrained by Oscar Kneller when he came to the School as a student in 1933 became a valuable member of the farming crew. In late 1938 when he graduated from the boarding school at Pine Mountain he became the next farmer for the School and was retained until 1953.  Glyn Morris, hired in 1931 as the Executive Director of the School, had a particular crusade to engage students in industrial training and to meet them where their strengths and interests intersected.  He found this in Bill Hayes and also in his appointment of the farm assistant, Brit Wilder, the grandson of William Creech, who had entered the school during its founding years as one of the youngest children ever admitted to the School. Hayes and Wilder were a productive team for many years.

The Hayes years were the longest tenure of any farmer at the School, stretching from 1938 until 1953.  This era will be covered in Dancing in the Cabbage Patch V- FARM & DAIRY – THE MORRIS YEARS.  Also see:  William Hayes.

FARMING AND LAND OWNERSHIP TODAY

Land ownership in Harlan County has changed very little over the years, but ownership of mineral rights has dramatically altered the idea of “ownership” and in some cases the pride that accompanies it.  As contracts continue to be drawn up for the new gas resources of the region it is not clear what this will mean for the relationship of future generations to their land, their water and their quality of life, but it is clear that the mountain garden will survive.  The transition from subsistence farming to mountain gardens reflects the shift in transportation, food availability, and lifestyle in the Southern Appalachians.

Today, many family lands remain ravaged or vulnerable to the continuing injustice of the Broad Form Deed or “mineral rights” which allows the taking of minerals from lands that were given over by a “broad-form” deed which allowed the owner of the mineral rights to indiscriminately remove their purchased “minerals”.  The practice of mountain-top removal is the most indiscriminate form of this “taking.” Unfortunately, the invasive mining practices of today could not be imagined by those who sold their mineral rights through these early broad-form deeds. The broad-form deed returned many families to tenant farmers as coal owners came and scraped off the surface of the farm to remove their mineral — much of this “taking” was bought for as little as a dollar an acre.  It was difficult to know in the pre-industrial eras that such easy money would later bring such hard lives.

The quality of rural life in Appalachia continues to shift as new means and practices of exploitation are discovered. The uneasy tenancy of the land in Appalachia has shifted the agricultural focus of many families.  Why work the land if it will be stolen away in future years? Why work the land if the grocery store is within driving distance?  Why work the land if there is no one who remembers how to manage seasonal crops?  Why work the land if the only seeds available are GMO altered and will not come back the following year? Why work the land when there is so much entertainment to divert creativity? The excuses for abandoning the land for local farming and gardening are many.  Hard times, however,  always seem to return families to their garden and farm. The current downturn in the economy has brought many families back to the land in eastern Kentucky and with that return, many have begun to realize the profit potential of truck gardening, specialized crops, and family savings and the human values growth potential of families in the garden,

Loren Eiseley in his small study of Francis Bacon, The Man Who Saw Through Time, (1961) said that Bacon understood

“…that we must distinguish between the normal course of nature, the wanderings of nature, which today we might associate with the emergence of the organically novel, and, finally, the “art” that man increasingly exerts upon nature and that results, in turn, in the innovations of his cultural world, another kind of hidden potential in the universe.”

I would argue that a dance is better than wandering and it seems that dancing works best with a partner.

GO TO:   

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH  I – GUIDE

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH – ABOUT

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH The Stir-Off Sorghum Molasses

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 16: Special Events

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH:
STIR-OFF – SORGHUM MOLASSES

The following account details a “Stir-off” in 1944 at the home of “Uncle” Henry Creech, son of William and Sally Creech who lived approximately a mile northeast of the settlement school. “Uncle” was a common form of both respect and affection. Henry Creech, son of William Creech gave his land that Pine Mountain might begin its work educating families in the Pine Mountain valley in Harlan County, Kentucky. But,  Pine Mountain soon learned that education was born a twin and that they had much to learn from the community. The Creech home was a favorite gathering place for many who worked at the School and a rich learning environment for those interested in mountain ways and customs.  Uncle Henry was a man of many talents and one of those was his understanding of what makes a good batch of sorghum and more importantly, what makes a good neighbor.

A “stir-off” was a common community event in the early years of the School and one eagerly looked forward to by the children.  The warm, sweet sorghum, dipped out on long canes cut from the sugar cane stalk was enough to satisfy even the most discerning “sweet-tooth”.

[From 1944 NOTES]

STIR-OFF AT UNCLE HENRY’S 

Children's Stiroff - Mable and Ralph Cornett, Helen and Steve Hayes, David Barry, Mr. Creech, Kathy Barry, Elizabeth Dodd. September, 1946. nace_1_047a.jpg

Children’s Stiroff at Uncle Henry’s House – Mable and Ralph Cornett, Helen and Steve Hayes, David Barry, Mr. Creech, Kathy Barry, Elizabeth Dodd. September, 1946. nace_1_047a.jpg

GALLEY

DESCRIPTION OF A STIR-OFF AT UNCLE HENRY’S HOUSE ON ISAAC’S CREEK from 1944 NOTES

“You who have been using the 1944 Pine Mountain calendar have during October looked many times at the picture of a “stir off” at Henry Creech’; place. When sorghum is plentiful, and the weather is right it is Henry’s good custom to invite the whole school for an evening “stirring off”. Early in September we began asking each other when the cane would be ready, and presently on the heels of our wondering. came the invitation. All of us knew that that day since dawn, cane cutting had been going along down on Isaac’s Creek, and all being well, we would “stir off” about eight o’clock.

We tramped up the creek as dusky dark changed to night, and our torches were stars strewn all down the road, from the speedy vanguard to trailers clambering over the stile above Big Log House, a shouting, singing crowd. We rounded the last bend to see the
fire glowing in a gulley below, close to the creek, and Henry Creech’s dark figure weaving shadows with the swinging lantern. Early arrivals clustered about the fire, whittling ends of cane for us to dip the foam with. While we waited for the foam to be ready the group settled here and there to sing -ballads or run sets on the grass. The steady hand-clapping of the dancers and the shrill calls of the leader accompanied strains of “Sourwood Mountain” and ‘The Ground Hog”.

As usual there were newcomers to the mountains who had never heard of a stir off and we asked Henry if he would tell the new ones all about the process.

“You have to cut the cane and then strip the stalks and seems like one or two men working on the job can do more than all the women you could set to it in a day. I don’t know why, but it’s that way. You have to put the stalks in the cane mill, and then hitch up the horse, so he pulls it around and around, and then the cane juice drips down the spout in the tub and you pour it in the trough here.”

He paused to adjust the lantern, and we looked at the trough, which was like a wide flat boat, divided into two sections, and about three quarters full of dark liquid, now beginning to foam on the top. It was not yet ready because the foam was still green, although some of us were licking green foam to Henry’s mild disapproval. He said it “would cause stomach complaints” before it was ripe.

‘Then you cook it, and it has to cook for about eight hours, ’till it boils up and foams over the top, and when the foam comes on you skim that off and throw it away—and finally it’s a nice yellow foam, and that’s when it’s good for licking—and then you decide when it’s done and pour off the molasses in a lard can, and that’s all.’

It was not all really, for by the end of the explanation the foam was ready for dipping. This, we should explain. is done with paddles, which are cane stalks with flattened ends, used like spoons. (To be sure it takes time for the uninitiated to get used to the idea that everybody can hygienically dip into a common trough of boiling sorghum.) 120 paddles dipped, 120 eager tongues tasted and licked. Before sorghum melted in the trough before our eyes.

But we tasted more than sorghum. We tasted the joy of a real country function. Here in the mountains our social occasions are made of simple homely happenings…

… The stir-off ended. But the “sweetenin” we eat some dreary day next February will bring back the wood-smoke and firelight.”

[Recounted by Robert Creech, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Creech, grandson Of Uncle William. Killed in action in the South Pacific area on Sept. 27th, 1943 [?]. Written by Alice Cobb [?]  From: NOTES – 1944]

DESCRIPTION OF A STIR-OFF and SET-RUNNING AT UNCLE SOL DAY’S

Friends & Neighbors – VI-51 – 1717. “Black” Sol Day and family.

Sol Day‘s stir-off.  Behind the house, they had set up a great trough on stones, under which they kept a long line of fire. Three or four men with lanterns (this was an evening affair) were keeping the sorghum from burning, by stirring it with paddles and the sweet smell just filled the air. All around were neighbors with sticks of sugar-cane, which they dipped in the foam on top and then sucked — good, but awfully sweet! The moon came up and lighted the sugar patch on the hilltop where all the sweetness came from.  Finally, they drew the trough off the fire and poured the liquid off into buckets, and then we all went down to the sawdust pile and watched the set-running. A set is really a quadrille, only danced as fast as you can do it, the boys snapping their fingers to speed things up and calling out the figures, “Wild Goose Chase,  “Home Swing”, etc.

[From Evelyn K. Wells’ Transcription 1915 of her letters home.]