Friday, April 11, 2008

Made from Scratch

(The following was published in my former newspaper genealogy column, Rootbound in the Hills, on 28 June 1988. This re-publication is dedicated to my children: Nick, Molly, and Tim Macy. I hope that they treasure the rugged stock from which they emerged.)

Mary SREAVES CLOTFELTER of Monett is a talented writer who has an intense interest in preserving family history. She recently submitted a biographical sketch for publication in The Crowder Quill, the literary magazine of Crowder College. The sketch, "Made from Scratch," won the Gold Quill Award for best non-fiction from a member of the community. The subject, Mary Jane ELLIS SREAVES, was the author's grandmother and my great-grandmother. Cousin Mary and Crowder College have given me permission to share this special piece of family fabric with our Rootbound readers.
"Made from Scratch"


Since I have been appointed to help compile a "centennial cookbook," I remember my widowed paternal grandmother who was a "scratch cook," and wish I had her recipe for horehound candy. Beginning with the leaves of the horehound plants that grew beside her chicken house, she produced pieces of medicinal cough candy which became the forerunner of today's molded cough drops.

Then there was her smothered chicken, which she served when her large family returned home for big pot-luck family dinners on Sunday. Since Grandma hatched her own eggs, she had a surplus of roosters, and they, one by one, became the main dish for those special occasions. Hen's were granted a reprieve because they were destined to become layers of eggs for breakfast, ingredients for the good sorghum cakes Grandma made, and, most importantly, farm income.

Most young roosters are elusive birds and prone to making erratic turns and skids, sometimes becoming airborne when pursued. This made capture difficult for a grandmother past her prime. As a result, Grandma had a "chicken catcher," a long bamboo fishing pole with a wire noose attached at the end. With the aid of this contraption, the target rooster never lived to crow anothe morning, but did utter a few squawks when he was beheaded. This, of course, was the beginning of Grandma's smothered chicken, a real meat stretcher of tender fowl covered with some sort of steaming cream gravy and seasoned with a pinch of this and that. I wish I knew the spices she used.

I also remember the rich blackberry jelly Grandma made from berries she foraged, scratch by scratch, from her rocky hillsides. This delicacy, combined with sweet cream butter churned daily, spread atop a warm slice of her fresh sourdough bread, was a treat to be remembered by her grandchildren, and then passed on! Her house always had a lingering smell of all the good things she had cooked from scratch on her old wood stove.

Now as I reminisce, I realize Grandma was a real "made from scratch" pioneer filled with fortitude and grit. Perhaps it was passed down to her from her ancestors, the earliest settlers of Nantucket Island, and the other hardy folks, including native Americans, who had added to her gene pool along the way. Then there was the circumstance of providence which had helped to give her a perserving spirit.

I wish my children and their children had known this gentle, brave lady, Mary Jane SREAVES, who chose to spend her remaining years on her wilderness land and face the thorns of life. Now owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation and the people of Missouri, it has been set aside as a natural history area.

Little did Grandma know that the last residents of her land would be the wild things, but I think some of her Indian heritage would cause her to be pleased. The wild plum thickets drop their overripe fruit on the ground, the blueberries stain the mouths of the creatures who relish them, and the blackberry brambles cover the old paths and encroach upon the abandoned garden. Daffodils mark the edge of Grandma's long-ago yard, and the sweet smell of her lilacs permeates the springtime air.

Alex and Mary Jane SREAVES lived on their 80-acre farm in northern McDonald County during the early days of this century. Their property, which lies in the hills just beyond Buffalo Creek, was purchased a few years ago by the Missouri Conservation Department and is now known as Buffalo Hills. The state has preserved the natural beauty of the old homestead, and Cousin Mary has captured, on paper, some of the essence of that sprightly pioneer woman who did so much to turn the patch of wilderness into a home. Their efforts help to maintain and fortify a rich family heritage.

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