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The days are growing a little shorter and in summer’s melody there can be heard a sad note of fall now and then. Gardens continue to produce prolifically, and the harvesting and canning keeps the country housewife busy from daylight to dusk. The full cellar shelves and well-stocked freezer gives a sense of satisfaction that is worth all the hard work involved in putting it there.

I have noticed that there is a campaign going to educate children on where their food is produced. I don’t think our great-grandchildren would have to think twice about this question, as Hunter and Peyton help shuck the pile of sweet corn that is brought from the garden. They help from start to finish, from gathering, shucking and watching it being processed over a camp stove. Then comes the cooling in ice water, cutting it off the cob (Poppaw does this step) to packing it in freezer bags. I’m sure it means more to them than buying a bag from the supermarket.

In just a little while, the children will be trading their days of freedom for a backpack of books and school supplies, and boarding the big yellow buses for institutions of learning. I was reminiscing this morning about my first day of school, which I can remember vividly, although it has been 76 years. I was a little scared and apprehensive, but excited.

It was just a short walk, as we lived in sight of the white, two-room schoolhouse. It sat upon a little knoll, and as I walked up the hill I could smell the trash barrel burning papers, stubs of crayons and used-up wooden pencils. It was an unique odor that will always spell “school.” Our country’s flag waved upon the tall flagpole; we formed two lines (big and little rooms) and recited “The Pledge of Allegiance” every morning. The old pitcher pump was located near the flagpole, where we got numerous paper cups (made from notebook paper) of water to quench our thirst. Then we marched into our respective rooms.

It wasn’t long until we learned the routine, and settled down to learning the three R’s-readin’, ritin’ and rithmetic. I remember when I first learned to read from the “Peter and Peggy” first reader. At first, it was merely a jumble of letters, until all at once they began to make sense. It was as if a great light dawned—I could read! I developed a love of reading that continues until this day.

It is with a mixture of sadness and relief that mothers see their children off to school for another year. Sadness because they see their children growing up, and preparing for their own lives (but wouldn’t the nest be crowded if they never left home?) and, relief because they can finally get back on a schedule of sorts. I would love to have a “normal” day—a “normal” day would be “abnormal” around here.

The gardens are beginning to taper off now, and the hectic pace of canning and preserving has slowed down some. I love to see the first new shoots of the vegetables as they come up in the spring, and I also love to see the corn patch mowed off after the last nubbin has been pulled. There is an unequalled sense of satisfaction in knowing that the last crop has been harvested, canned or frozen, and put away for the winter.

I have a good recipe for canned tomato soup that I have used for years to get rid of that last bucketful or two of tomatoes.

2 gallon ripe tomatoes (cut in pieces)
1 cup diced celery (I use more)
4 large onions (chopped)

Partially cook onions and celery before adding them to the tomatoes, and then cook all together until celery is tender. Put through colander and add one tablespoon celery seed, one-half teaspoon pepper, one-fourth cup salt and two cups sugar. Mix together one cup butter and one cup plain flour with enough of the tomato mixture to make a smooth paste.

Add to the boiling soup; stir to prevent burning. Fill clean jars and adjust lids. Process fifteen minutes in hot water bath.

You may double the recipe to make 14 quarts of delicious and economical soup. This is so good eaten with grilled cheese sandwiches when snow is pouring down. Mom used to tell us she was putting away food for “snowy days.” We’ve passed the torch on down, and now our granddaughters are doing the same.

It seems there will be an early autumn, as katydids have been sounding their lonesome dirge for some weeks now. Their lament sounds through the warm night air, reminding us that autumn is not far away. Night settles about the hills with the soft whirr of insect wings punctuating the darkness. The last quarter of the moon will shine shortly, to join the myriad of stars that twinkle in the velvety blackness.

This is a most pleasant time of the day. With the day’s work done, and the fierce heat of the sun replaced by the cool night air, there is time to relax on the front porch swing. The creak of the swing, and the chorus of cicadas are the only sounds heard in the gathering darkness. The voices of the children, like sleepy, twittering birds, have long since died away into silence as bedtime catches up with them. Summer seems suspended: waiting.

When Abigail was four year old, Crystal stayed all night with her. She was helping the youngster say her prayers. Abigail went through her whole list of “God bless” each friend and numerous relative by name. Crystal got tired. Finally she prompted Abigail, “Say God bless my aunts and uncles.” Abigail looked a little puzzled, but obediently repeated, “God bless my hands and knuckles!”

We had a request for sweet apple preserves from a lady (sorry, I lost the name) who was competing with the deer for her sweet apples. My sister Mary Ellen has a sweet apple tree, and a momma deer and her baby make regular trips for their daily snacks. Here is Mary Ellen’s recipe:

2# prepared apples
4 cups sugar
2½ cups water
1 tablespoon ginger root or mixed spices
Pare and core small apples and leave whole.
Boil water and sugar three minutes.
Cool; add apples and cook gently until clear.
Pack apples in jars. Add ginger or spices (tied in cloth bag) and boil rapidly to almost jellying stage. Pour hot syrup over apples and seal.

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Alyce Faye Bragg

She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer