where the writers are


by Virginia Campbell 

I am so delighted to be visiting with you all here today at "A Writer's Life". Many thanks to our gracious and talented blog hostess, Caroline Clemmons. I have my storytelling hat on today, and you are all invited to join me here on the porch for a day of tall tales, twisted truths, and tempting treats. Yes, refreshments will be served! I'll be settled here in my swing, but you can pull up a rocker or porch chair and make yourself right at home. I was born and raised, and still reside, in the beautiful mountains of Southwestern VA. The true tall tales of Southern mountain folk are often stranger than fiction! My father's home town was Jonesborough, TN, which is the oldest town in the state of Tennessee. Jonesborough is also the home of the International Storytelling Center. Each October, the town hosts the National Storytelling Festival, a world-renowned event which celebrates storytelling at its most magical. ( http://www.storytellingcenter.net/festival/ )

An older gentleman, whom I knew as “Lucky”, was very outgoing and lively up until his death at age 93. I was surprised to learn that as a younger man, he had been very abrupt and somewhat “antisocial”. He had also been quite superstitious. However, this all changed after he survived being struck by lightning…on three separate occasions! After the third strike, he threw caution to the wind, set aside his fears and superstitions and began to live. He began to attend church, interacted with others, and became involved in community concerns. He met a nice woman, and they married and had four sons. Lucky considered himself to be a blessed man. If you look closely at the headstone on his grave, in one corner you’ll find a small lightning bolt.

“Lightning Lemon Meringue Pie”    That extra zing will make your taste buds tingle!  

 PIE: 1-1/2 cups sugar; 6 tablespoons cornstarch; Dash salt; 1-1/2 cups water; 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten; 2 tablespoons butter; 1/3 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons); 1 Tbsp. grated lemon peel; 1 Tbsp. lime juice; 1 pastry shell (9 inches), baked 

MERINGUE: 3 egg whites, room temperature; 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract; 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar; 6 tablespoons sugar 

In a saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir in water. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until thickened. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 additional minutes. Gradually stir in 1 cup of hot filling to egg yolks; return to saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, lemon juice, lime juice, and peel. Pour hot filling into pastry shell. For meringue, beat egg whites, vanilla and cream of tartar in a bowl at medium speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar gradually, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high until stiff and glossy. Immediately spread over pie, sealing edges to pastry. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes or until meringue is golden. Cool. Store in refrigerator.  

“Granny” Tate was an eccentric little country lady who lived off the beaten path and grew wonderful vegetables, fruit and flowers. She was wise in the ways of herbs and plants and also kept honey bees. She sold her wares at the local farmer’s market, but some who knew where she lived would just stop by her house and “go shopping”. Granny Tate also canned her produce and honey, and she usually made several quilts a year to sell. When the local sheriff started receiving calls from Granny about a prowler, he paid a duty call and told her it was probably a bear after the honeycombs. He had always thought that Granny took a nip now and then, and probably made her own “Mountain Dew”. Finally, she called and said that there was a dead man on her back porch, and she needed him removed. What the sheriff found was a live man with a large lump on his head, and one angry Granny. Southern women wield a mean skillet and rolling pin, and Granny was no exception. What made her so made was that she had used her favorite old black cast iron skillet, which had become thin on the bottom from long-time use. When she whacked the prowler on the head, it broke her prized skillet! Everyone looked at Granny with new respect. The sheriff searched high and low until he found her a good used skillet…blackened and “seasoned” just right. In return, she sent him off with a basket of preserves and home-canned goods and a large chunk of honey-on-the-comb. 

“Honey, you’ll love this coffee cake!” One sweet way to use a skillet! 

Cake 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 pieces; 1/2 cup light brown sugar; 1/2 cup honey; 2 large eggs; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 3/4 cup sour cream; 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour; 1 1/2 tsp baking powder 

Topping 1/2 cup all purpose flour; 3/4 cup light brown sugar; 1 tsp ground cinnamon; 3/4 stick chilled butter, cut into 4 pieces; 1 cup chopped walnuts 

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. For the cake: Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add brown sugar and honey and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Blend in vanilla and sour cream. With a rubber spatula, fold in flour and baking powder until completely blended. Generously butter a cast iron skillet and spread the batter evenly in the pan. For the topping: Mix the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and chilled butter with your fingers until well blended. Sprinkle evenly over the cake batter. Sprinkle with walnuts over the top. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 35 – 40 minutes. Serve warm.

The love of my life was tall, wiry, and quick with wit, temper, and laughter. His voice was raspy and he had a goofy laugh. He had dark golden blonde hair, and the most beautiful green eyes ever! His outward bravado was matched only by the size of his heart. For me, an inner core of compassion is essential in a man. They may fuss, cuss, rant and rave, and act like spoiled little boys, but those big hearts are there when it counts. Here in the mountains of VA, hunting is a way of life (not mine) and also a necessity to thin the deer population. My guy loved the outdoors, and he was raised in a family of hunters. However, he once told me that he freed a deer which he found trapped in barbed wired. He determined that the animal was not badly injured, just caught, so he cut him free. He would hunt animals on their own turf, but he could never kill one for sport that was trapped. Sometimes the men who seem to be the most easily defined turn out to be the ones with the most layers. If they are good guys, then it is very much worth your time to work through those layers to the heart of gold found inside.

Beautifully Basic Beef Stew

I made a version of beef stew for dinner the other evening. When I make soup, stew, pasta sauce, chili, etc, it's usually a little different each time. I sort of have a basic idea, and then use what's on hand. This time, I used two different cheaper cuts of beef that were well-marbled. I trimmed the excess fat and cut the meat into bite-sized chunks. I browned the meat well in a little olive oil with a large onion for flavor. I let the meat cook down, and then added enough water to the pan to loosen the good bits and make a nice juice. I added several bay leaves, salt, pepper, and garlic salt. I cut up at least one large potato per person into big chunks, and then added some carrots and celery, also in large chunks. The meat is better in smaller pieces, and the veggies are better in larger pieces. This is the point where you add more liquid. Water, beef broth or red wine (or some of each) are best. (One time when making beef stew, I also added a jar of mushroom gravy with some additional water one time, and it was delicious). Simmer stew covered until meat and veggies are tender, adding more liquid if needed. If desired, you can thicken the stew with flour or corn starch which has been blended smooth with a little cold water before stirring it into the hot stew. Remove bay leaves before serving. Stew is pretty basic, and the simpler the better.

Savory Wild Rice Casserole 

1 1/2 cups uncooked wild rice, rinsed; 4 cups water; 1 teaspoon salt; 4 slices bacon, diced; 2 cloves garlic, chopped; 1 small onion, chopped; 1/2 cup celery, sliced; 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms; 1/4 cup dried cranberries or golden raisins; seasoned salt to taste; 1/4 teaspoon pepper 

Place rice, water and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer; cook 45 minutes or until tender. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Simmer for 5 additional minutes. Drain any liquid. While rice is cooking, fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet and drain on paper towels. In bacon grease skillet, saute onion, celery and mushrooms until tender. Add rice, cranberries or raisins, seasoned salt, and pepper. Heat through. Place cooked rice mixture in a 2-qt. buttered casserole. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-30 minutes. Delicious with Cornish Game Hens, Roast Chicken or Roast Turkey

Beef and Cabbage Soup 

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/2 head medium cabbage, rough-chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 large onion, rough-chopped
1 (16 ounce) can kidney beans
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (32 ounce) carton beef broth
1/2 tsp garlic powder
several bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Brown ground beef and drain. In a large stock pot, combine remaining ingredients and add ground beef. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and cover, simmering for one hour or until vegetables are tender. Remove bay leaves before serving.  

A lot of myths and tall tales started with a little nugget of truth and embellished it until it became a legend. Paranormal fiction is intriguing because it takes our fascination with fearsome things to a whole new level! Many of us have had unexplainable “supernatural” events in our lives, which leaves the door open for our imaginations. I have lived in the same house for over 30 years. My mother and I owned the house together. She passed away several years ago. I have had many paranormal experiences in my home, both before and after my mother passed away. The first experience was to glance over at a living room window late one night and see the "Scream" face looking in! I rushed to the door and turned on the front porch light, and not a "soul" was about! Another time, on Halloween night, I heard distinct footsteps on the wooden floor of the upstairs hallway. My mother and I were both downstairs and no other "human" was in the house. One night, I went upstairs to my room without turning on the stairway light. When I got to the doorway of my room, a large misty shape moved from the area of the doorway and went across the room and out the window. One bright Sunday morning, I had overslept, which is a rare occurrence. A voice from the doorway of my room said: "Are you getting up?". I looked over through sleep-filled eyes and saw the blurred image of a large friendly blonde woman dressed in red and royal blue. I answered, and then realized it wasn't my mother! The "woman" was twice the size of my mother (who was actually downstairs in the kitchen). Since my mother passed away, I have noticed unusual scents in the house. I have smelled my grandfather's pipe tobacco, my grandmother's lily of the valley, and my mother's fingernail polish remover. All of these people are deceased, and none of those items are in the house! The time that I was the most afraid was when I came home to find my house almost in a vacuum state. There seemed to be no air, no sound, and no smell of any kind in the house. My cats were in hiding. I don't know what had been in the house, but it had some kind of mojo!  

Midnight Madness Cake

1 (18.25 ounce) package devil's food cake mix; 1 (5.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix; 1 cup sour cream; 1 cup vegetable oil; 4 eggs; 1 tbsp. instant coffee powder dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water; 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs and coffee water mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into a well greased 12 cup bundt pan. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until top is springy to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool cake thoroughly in pan at least an hour and a half before inverting onto a plate If desired, dust the cake with powdered sugar.

What are your favorite family fables, local legends, and spooky stories? Any good recipes to share? I'd love to hear what you have to say : )