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April Showering

Beloved camp storyteller Chuck Stead tells a tale of trying to help nature expedite spring’s flowering…

Dougy Cramshaw came prancing down into the Fountain Pond Park singing, “April Showers Bring May Flowers!” over and over. Winter was done and all sorts of early flowers had emerged, like snow drops and crocuses. But you know spring is really coming in when you see the long green stems of tulips and daffodils. Dougy, keeping an eye out for these tall friends, made his way down into the Pond Park every day in early April, so as to greet them when they emerged. He knew where they would first break ground at the south side of the Third Street hill. But, on this warm, welcoming Saturday, they had yet to emerge.

That was when the song had come back into his head, “April Showers Bring May Flowers”. It occurred to him that thus far, there had not been a whole lot of showers. He squatted down at the patch of earth that every spring exploded with daffodils, and he poked his little narrow fingers into the soil. He then sniffed his fingers and even tasted the dry smudge of dirt on them. Clearly, he believed, the soil was just too dry for April. He looked toward the Fountain Pond, twenty feet or so from where he was hunkered down. Gathering water from the pond with only his hands to cup it in was his first plan. But, after three or four tries he could hardly get more than a few drops to the dry patch of soil. Then he spotted a Coca Cola bottle in the mud along the pond shore. He dug it out and washed it off, and then he held it under the water and filled up a bottle’s worth. As he climbed back out of the pond, Cindy Maloney’s little brothers Mort and Wort were just coming down the hill. They saw him with the bottle and, naturally, they wanted to know if they could have each have a sip.

Dougy said, “This is water – not Coke!”
Mort snarled, “You’re being stingy, Doug! I want some of that Coke!”
Dougy handed him the bottle and said, “OK.”
Mort swung the bottle to his lips but Wort grabbed it and shouted, “Mort, that ain’t Coke!”
Mort looked again and then swore at Dougy, “Why did you fool me?”
“I didn’t fool you. You fooled yourself.” Dougy grabbed the bottle from Wort and told them. “I got this water for the place over there where the flowers grow. It needs some water.”

The brothers looked at the little dry patch as Dougy poured a stream of water onto it. He explained that there hadn’t been enough April showers for the flowers. The brothers looked at each other and said to Doug that pouring water from a Coke bottle wasn’t enough like a shower, but that they had a plan. It was like those Maloney boys had all sorts of emergency plans in their back pocket. They took off up the hill and across Third Street to their family’s house. In the meantime, Dougy returned to the muddy pond and collected another bottle full of water. He climbed back out of the pond and carefully poured it over the little wild flower garden patch.

As the last drops left the upturned bottle, he heard Mort and Wort shouting to each other. Then, he saw them at the top of the hill, unwinding a long garden hose and dragging it down toward him. It reached just about ten feet short of the spot where he was crouched. While Mort yanked on it to stretch it out, Wort ran up the hill shouting that he would go turn it on. Mort pulled and pulled but the hose was not stretching. He yanked away and groaned as he tried to make it longer. Over the top of the hill they heard the sound of Wort shouting something, and then Dougy saw the hose stiffen up, and then water came shooting out directly into Mort’s face. He fell, gasping, as he had swallowed a lot of water. Next, Wort came charging down the hill with a heavy iron lawn sprinkler. He picked up the hose, still gushing forth cold water and tried to screw it into the sprinkler, now squirting water over all of them. He finally clamped it down.

The sprinkler sprayed them across the face and into the sky and down onto the little patch of flower-expectant dirt. Mort, soaking wet, happily shouted, “We’re April Showering!” Dougy, Mort and Wort backed up to take in the view of their little showering. They were satisfied with their work.

Just then, the boy’s dad, John Maloney, came cruising down Third Street and apparently, he didn’t see the hose across the road. When he drove over it, the hose got caught up in the wheel and wrapped around the car axle. As he drove down Third Street, the hose ran up the hill with the sprinkler bouncing away, furiously spraying the entire world until it wrapped around a tree, stiffened, and burst the hose. They heard John’s car skid to a stop. Next, they heard John release a string of seriously blue language. Mort and Wort charged up the hill to turn off the hose which was now flowing water down into the pond. John Maloney looked over the hill top from Third Street and all he could see was his broken hose draining water into the pond. He shouted, “Why are we filling the pond!?” He then went charging off in search of Mort and Wort. And by the end of the month, a glorious bunch of daffodils, like little explosions of sunburst yellow, celebrated spring at the base of the hill.

The Root Drinker

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, shares a peak into a character with a mysterious, muddy method of self-preservation…

About a year after my grandfather passed, it was observed that I had become a sullen and moody soul. Apparently, I was still waiting for him to return. My dad, Walt, started to take me on his ‘rounds’ in the evening when he paid calls upon village elders. I listened to their stories, their gossip, and their lives. It was time, according to my mother, that I learn about other things. But all things, for me, were connected to grandpa, whom we called Heebie Jeebie.

Along with my dad, my uncle Mal took me around to ‘learn about other things’ and this is how I met the root drinker. In the drive up to his house, Mal talked about how the root drinker had been diagnosed by doctors with an incurable cancer and had little time left to live. Mal said, “That was twenty years ago and he’s doing just fine still.” I asked how he was doing fine and uncle Mal said proudly, “He’s a root drinker!”

The house we came up to had bundles of twigs and dried flowers, and heaps of grass tied in long braids all hanging from the open ceiling of the front porch. As we walked under the porch roof, I looked up and saw the sky, realizing that there were only roof rafters for tying plants in the air and no actual roof cover on the porch. Mal called out to the man to let him know we had arrived. I saw the door open and we were greeted by a very healthy-looking man who smiled a very gritty set of teeth at us. He was happy to have us visit and he told us to come in and to sit down.

We walked in and it was very dark and kind of musty smelling. I looked up. There were the roots: thousands of different roots hanging from the ceiling. They were so clustered together that I felt we had gone underground and were now looking up at the very bottom of a forest. These roots were tied in bunches, some of them caked with clumps of earth and others clean and dry. He called us over to his table and showed us his book. It was an old tattered notebook and it had been his grandmother’s root drinking recipe book. He had kept it as a family heirloom and then when he was diagnosed with cancer he poured through the scribbled pages and detailed recipes left to him by a woman from another time. There were even little drawings to help identify the different plants and to show how to scrape the root skins and how to chop and shred the different roots

He was very proud of his grandmother who he told us lived to be over a hundred years in age. She had told him of when she heard about Lincoln being killed. She told him about learning of the death of Chief Sitting Bull. And she told him about hearing Mark Twain tell stories of his adventures in the Sandwich Islands. But it was her root drinking recipe book that told him the most valuable thing: how to live.

He poured us both a cup of lukewarm tea that had stuff floating in it. It tasted like mud. But Mal insisted I drink it. I did. The taste of dirt lasted in my mouth for days after. And the image of roots hanging from the ceiling has lasted with me ever since.

The Holiday Menu’s Story

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, traces the history of the Thanksgiving menu and gives us ideas of how to incorporate the past into our present fare, including a recipe for acorn squash custard.

I was always interested in history. Becoming an archeologist was one of my childhood dreams that did not come true. With Thanksgiving approaching, I decided to do a little digging. Together with my children, I wanted to learn more about what food historians have to tell us about the origins of the Thanksgiving menu.

Food history seems to be a fun interdisciplinary field. It examines food in the context of cultural, historical, social, and economic circumstances. Its methods include archeological research and go as far as, for example, studying pollen found at the Plymouth Plantation. The goal of this particular inquiry is to find out what the Pilgrims grew in their gardens. I am not sure how hundreds-of-years-old pollen gets preserved, found and identified, but I find this kind of research fascinating.

As we all know, the origins of Thanksgiving celebration go back to 1621. The three-day feast of Pilgrims and the local Native Americans was, of course, not called “Thanksgiving”, and it was not intended to start a tradition. It was simply a harvest celebration (present in most cultures in some form) with festivities that we hardly miss today (think: hunting). Thanksgiving was later celebrated on and off, but only became a tradition and a national holiday much later. This was partly thanks to the perseverance of a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale. I have learned in the course of my “digging” that she was the editor of the popular women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book—sort of the Martha Stewart of her time—a trendsetter for everything household related. Sarah Josepha Hale petitioned 13 presidents (beginning in 1827) with the idea of establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday. President James Polk hosted the first Thanksgiving dinner in the White House in 1845, but the holiday wasn’t officially established yet. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, Hale pitched the idea to President Lincoln as a way to unite the country in the midst of the Civil War. This time it worked. Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

Food historians tell us that they are quite sure about the foods that were not on the table during the 1621 harvest festival, but there is less certainty regarding what foods were actually on the menu.

We know that a lot of meat was eaten; the kind of meat and poultry that most likely won’t be part of our Thanksgiving dinner.  We would like to think that the Pilgrims enjoyed some turkey as we do today. Perhaps they did, perhaps they didn’t. There was an abundance of wild turkeys in the area, but there is no proof that turkey was actually served during the 1621 harvest celebration. If it was served, it certainly wasn’t the centerpiece of the dinner table.  Local wild fowl (ducks, geese, possibly swans) were prepared, and we know for sure that there was plenty of venison to go around. Seafood was certainly part of the menu; most likely lobster, oysters, clams, and possibly bass.

As for the preparation of the food, boiling and roasting were the two methods employed. Big pieces of meat or whole birds were roasted on spits, while the open hearth in the house was used for other cooking.

The birds might have been stuffed with onions, herbs and nuts, but not wheat bread stuffing. The Pilgrims did not have wheat flour, so bread stuffing was off the menu and so were pies. Not only there was no flour, there wasn’t any butter for the pie crust or even an oven for baking. At that time, the Pilgrims hadn’t constructed an oven yet. But they did not give up on pumpkin based desserts. They improvised by filling a hollowed out pumpkin with milk, honey and spices, and roasting it in hot ashes. Voilà, pumpkin custard!

Locally available vegetables such as wild onion, leeks, squash, Jerusalem artichokes, and beans were cooked. Probably some English crops (turnip, cabbage, parsnip, onion, thyme, rosemary, carrots) grown from seeds brought from Europe were available. To know for sure, we need the above mentioned pollen research.

As for other side dishes, corn in the form of porridge and sweet corn pudding was served (but not corn on the cob). Two of our favorites, potatoes and sweet potatoes, can be ruled out. Potatoes, originating in South America, and sweet potatoes from the Caribbean, had yet to reach North America. Cranberries were available and perhaps present on the table, but not in the form of sweetened cranberry sauce. Today we take the availability of sugar for granted, but the Pilgrims had none, since by the fall of 1621 they ran out of the sugar brought from overseas.

Over the course of history, The Thanksgiving menu has evolved into what it is today. There was a roasted turkey and there were mashed potatoes on the menu printed in The 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. At the same time, this menu included many items that we hardly associate with the Thanksgiving dinner (oyster soup, sterling sauce, chicken pie, and fruit pudding).

Most of us perceive Thanksgiving not only as a harvest festival but – more than anything else – a family celebration.  On our Thanksgiving table, food history meets family history. Each of our menus is most likely a combination of the usual Thanksgiving menu items with those unique to our family. Like every family, every menu has its own story worth “digging” up.


Squash Custard in Squash Shell

My children were intrigued by the idea of pumpkin custard baked in a pumpkin shell. We decided to improvise and to create our own recipe for acorn squash custard. We liked what we made. This recipe is a tasty and healthy alternative to a more conventional seasonal dessert.

1 small acorn squash
1 egg
¼ cup milk
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
tiny bit of ground cloves

Cut the squash in half. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds. The seeds won’t be needed for this recipe, but they can be roasted and enjoyed as a snack.

Scoop out about half of the squash flesh and put it in a small mixing bowl. The squash shell will serve as a baking and serving “dish” for the custard.

In another bowl whisk the egg, then add milk, maple syrup, cornstarch, vanilla extract, and the spices. Mix together.

Put the two halved pieces of squash into a small baking dish.  Carefully fill the squash with the milk and squash mixture. Bake in a preheated oven on 350 F for 30-40 minutes or until the filling is set and the flesh around the shell has soften.

The custard can be enjoyed warm or cold.