Good food helps us get through winter

If there is anything more rib-sticking, more delicious, more comforting, more warming to the cockles of your heart in these continuing assaults by King Winter, it has to be honest-to-God, old-fashioned buckwheat cakes served with honest-to-God maple syrup and either bacon or sweet sausage.

(According to my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, cockles are puckers and wrinkles, so I guess the heart is full of cockles and the entire phrase is listed in the book.)

The recipe I have is my mother’s and it is yeast-based, so you make a batch and always keep a “starter.” This way, the original recipe can just keep going with additional flour, warm water and baking soda. A friend with whom I shared a starter knew someone whose starter had been kept going for five generations.

At home, there was always a starter kept warm on top of the old gas stove and when you stepped into the house, you could get a whiff of it as the yeast kept working. Talk about saving on food dollars. Mother could have served buckwheat and sausage to all comers all winter. The recipe I have, written in my still under-developed handwriting, is dated 1937, before I even graduated from high school.

One of her instructions was to always use either bacon or sausage fat to grease a cast iron skillet, no substitutions. These are not pancake-type thick cakes, but are thin and lacy and light when properly prepared. Buckwheat is supposed to be good for your brains and your arteries — I’m not so sure about the bacon fat and sausage!

Finding pure buckwheat flour took some doing. With Randy Jones’ help, I got it at a health food store — Living Naturally — but was shocked at the price: $4.35 for one pound. I’m sure it wasn’t that expensive in the good old days or we wouldn’t have lived on buckwheats winter after winter.

* * *

This has been a bumpy week here as my dear 18-year-old cat, Lisa, stopped eating for three days and my heart has been aching for her. Her veterinarians could not find anything organic wrong, blood work just two weeks previously had been fine. The consensus was, and is, hair balls. In the almost 15 years she has been with me, she has never up-chucked a hair ball and she is combed every single morning of her life, so there shouldn’t be a problem — but there definitely is.

I’m hoping she will get through this and that I’ll have better news next column. She is finally starting to eat — there are several opened cans of different flavored cat food in the refrigerator as I try to tempt her appetite.

* * *

I almost need an interpreter to decode the hieroglyphics in the broad expanses of snow in the front yard. I put shelled corn out for the deer or for whomever needs sustenance and there are many visitors. Deer tracks are easy, so are squirrel tracks and crow tracks, but there are some I’m not sure about. Most emerge from and return to the jungles I have let grow on both east and west sides and it gives me pleasure to know the besieged wildlife is fed and has sanctuary from the storms.

One of the maple trees has ivy growing up its triple trunks and I noticed the other day that the ivy has been eaten from the ground to the height of a deer’s stretched neck. Talk about green salad in the dead of winter. Actually, I’m aware that the ivy is not healthy for the tree, so the deer are welcome.

* * *

Found an amusing clarification in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal which had to explain why a previous article, Smart as an ox, noted the colonists got “milk from an ox.” Readers pointed out that an ox is male, therefore, no milk.

The Oxford English Dictionary offered two definitions: A large cloven-hoofed, often horned, ruminant mammal … long domesticated for its milk, meat and hide; a cow, a bull … frequently a castrated adult male, especially as used as a draught animal; a bullock.” The clarification noted the article in question referred to working oxen that are always male.

* * *

How about another gem from Whatever happened to … “Galoshes: and they were really ugly and never fit and they had big buckles on them, but once you got them on you stepped in the slush or snow and it didn’t matter because you had your galoshes on and when you tried to take them off, your foot came out of your shoe.”

And: ” … shopping before there were supermarkets when the grocer knew you and saved things for you and if you didn’t have money, he’d trust you ’til tomorrow and if you ever bought anything somewhere else you hid the bag so he wouldn’t know … ”

I can even remember when you could telephone your grocer and read your list to him and he’d have it all ready for you when you came to the store.

So many of these little niceties have disappeared forever and I’m not sure the world is better off without them. Probably because I’m ancient and cranky, but it really annoys me when I finally make it to the cashier in the checkout line, only to find her busily chewing gum and carrying on a conversation either on a cell phone or with the guy who is bagging the items that she swishes across the doohickey that prints the price.

About the Author

A lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley, Janie Jenkins retired in 1987 as a feature writer and columnist at the Youngstown Vindicator. In June of that same year, she started writing her column, "On My Mind" for Farm and Dairy. She loves all animals and is an accomplished equestrienne. Local history is also one of her loves, and her home, the former Southern Park Stables, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More Stories by Janie Jenkins

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