We have had the blessing of a prelude to spring the last few days, and it has been a balm to the spirit. Warm, sunny days with abundant sunshine and blue skies replaced the cold, gloomy days of the tail end of winter. The sunshine is awakening the hills from their winter sleep, and new growth is beginning to stir and sprout.
Songbirds are exuberant in the springtime weather; they are singing at dawn and at dusk. Their days are filled with building nests, and getting ready for the fledglings that will come. It is a wonderful cycle of life which is repeated over and over. What a miracle to witness once again the awakening of the earth.
The grass is greening in the fields and meadows—it is amazing what a few days of sunshine and a light rain will accomplish. Buds are fat on the lilac bush, and the maples sport red bloom. Easter flowers, crocuses and tiny snowdrops flaunt their colors and welcome spring.
The official first day of spring comes on the heels of St. Patrick’s Day, giving us a double reason to be glad. St. Patrick’s Day was the accepted time for farmers here in the hills to plant potatoes. There are folks who will put their potatoes in the ground come hail, snow or freezing weather. Daddy always called potatoes “Irish potatoes,” which may allude to the potato famine in Ireland.
When I was a little girl in Hagar School, I read a book called “Sean O’Day” which told of a young boy living in Ireland. Ever since that time I have been enchanted with everything Irish. Added to the fact that my maiden name was “O’Dell,” I have always felt an affinity with Ireland. Our genealogy goes back to Ireland, with a one hundred year stay in England before our ancestors came to America.
Irish or not, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many places today with parades, Irish food (such as corned beef and cabbage) and the wearing of the color green. I was surprised to learn that green was not the original color associated with St. Patrick, but it was St. Patrick blue. During the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the wearing of a green shamrock in the hat was a sign of rebellion. There was a song during that time called, “The Wearing of the Green.”
I can remember Mom singing, “Oh, the wearing of the green/ the wearing of the green/ they’re hanging men and women now for the wearing of the green.” At that time I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what the song meant. The green shamrock has been associated with St. Patrick, since he was supposed to have used it as a symbol of the Trinity. He felt that he was sent to Ireland to draw the people away from Druid worship, and preach Christianity.
When explaining the Trinity to a group of people, he picked a three-leaved shamrock and explained, “One leaf is the Father, one the Son, and one the Holy Ghost. They are three, yet they are one.” There are many fables concerning St. Patrick, such as driving the snakes out of Ireland.
I’ve heard it said that on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish. That is a good reason to celebrate.
March winds, cease your blowing
It’s time for Spring, time for sowing.
Ah, jealous winds you linger on,
All day I hear your doleful song.
I see you twist the trees about
And slam the gate in and out.
You bend the yellow broom grass low
And pick up leaves as you go.
You snatched my hat and sent it spinning
While passers-by stood grinning.
Now, naughty winds, you best be going,
It’s time for Spring, time for sowing.
By Artie Nettles McCoy
The winds of March have not been as fierce as usual here in the hills. In fact, March has behaved itself in a more orderly fashion as it prepares to take its leave. Many harbingers of spring have arrived to welcome once again the gentle month of April.
The spring peepers have been singing their nightly chorus for several nights now. Their shrill piping is a song of springtime, telling of warm nights to come, calling forth the woodland flowers, and coaxing the grass to grow. The modest violets have heard the call, and come peeping shyly through the tender new grass.
Purple noses show on the lilac buds, anxious to burst forth into fragrant bloom. Golden forsythia gleams in showy fronds, bordering lawns and spread on road banks. It is glorious to watch spring unfold in the hills of West Virginia.
Early crops are being planted. A lot of folks planted potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day, while others wait until April 10—the one- hundredth day of the year. Onion sets have been planted, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts are set out in neat rows. It takes faith to plant a garden. We must trust the Lord to send the warming rays of the sun, and rain in due season. We can cultivate the soil, plant the seeds and keep out the weeds. But unless the Lord sends the refreshing rain and the abundant sunshine, our work is in vain.
Wild foods are beginning to spring up in our hills. We enjoyed our first mess of ramps last week—tiny, tender ones with only a couple of inches of green tops showing. It seems that we relish the first mess more than any, but it is hard to beat the ones we fix on our spring camping trips. With potatoes fried over an open campfire, fresh trout caught that day, and biscuits baked in an iron Dutch oven buried in the hot coals—we feast like kings.
One of our most eagerly sought after wild foods is beginning to appear. The elusive morel mushroom has been found already. Patty and Bob found five tiny ones last week, and we can expect more after we get some rain. They are probably the most popular mushroom found here in our woods, and are easy to identify. Folks here have their favorite morel patches, which are a closely guarded secret. They tend to come up in the same place year after year and can be found in old apple orchards and burned-over areas, under dead elms, ash, oak, beech and maple trees. We find them under poplars many times.
This time of year I find myself remembering Robert Browning’s poem “The Year’s at the Spring.”
The year’s at the spring
And the day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn
God’s in his heaven—
All’s right with the world!
Everything’s all right in my Father’s house!
We’ve had several responses to the request for a chow-chow recipe that David Adams wanted. We heard from another David Adams and his wife Carole of Gay She adds that she and her husband were both born and raised in Pennsylvania, but have made WV their home. She said they fell in love with WV and the Ripley area while on vacation here. Of course she sent some Pennsylvania Dutch recipes.
We heard from Rose Persinger of Hurricane who says that the recipe she uses came from her mother-in-law many years ago. She and her daughters make it every year, and she cautions not to use a food processor as it makes the mix too fine. They use a hand-operated food chopper. Shirley Bailey of Craigsville sends recipes from a very old Ball Brothers canning book, and one from a Kerr canning book. Alene Hubbard of Charleston sends three different recipes, and we are grateful to each person who responded. We also got a recipe from faithful Janet Tucker.
They were all basically the same, except some of the recipes uses cauliflower and cabbage in addition to the other ingredients.
1 peck (12 ½ pounds) green tomatoes
8 large onions
10 green bell peppers (may use half red)
3 tablespoons salt
6 hot peppers (chopped)
1 quart vinegar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cloves
3 tablespoons dry mustard
Few bay leaves
1 ¾ cups sugar
½ cup horseradish (optional)
Chop tomatoes, onions and sweet peppers together and cover with the salt; let stand overnight. Drain, add the hot peppers, vinegar and spices (tied in cheesecloth bag) and sugar; allow to boil slowly until tender (about 15 minutes.) Add horseradish if desired, pack into sterilized jars. Process in boiling water bath for five minutes.
We have requests for a couple of songs from our readers, and the first one is from Golda Harrison of Webster Springs. She can remember some of the words which go like this: “I often think of Mother, while here on earth I roam; I know she is with Jesus, In yonder’s heavenly home. I know she’s free from trouble, from sorrow and from pain, Oh, what a consolation that we shall meet again.” I hope someone has this song as it would be good to use for Mother’s Day.
The other request is actually a poem written by Preacher Conley, and requested by Ray Baughman of Strange Creek. He wants it for his friend Virgil Houghton, and added that it could have been printed in the Braxton Democrat newspaper in 1938. He writes, “Virgil remembers his mother’s funeral, back in 1938. When Lewie Houghton was laid to rest, there miraculously appeared a rainbow in the sky. Virgil would be eternally grateful if he could obtain a copy of this poem.”
Thank you so much, dear readers, for your help in finding these old songs and poems.