Friday, February 15, 2008


This is what they called a "Cracker House" in Florida. Basically a Florida Cracker was a Florida Cowboy and is still used by some Floridians to indicate that their family has lived there for many generations. For such people it is a source of pride to be descended from "frontier people who did not just live but flourished in a time before air conditioning, mosquito repellent, and screens.We lived close to this empty house and I was always drawn to it. To get to the house you have a winding trail that goes through scrub and than into a beautiful Florida Hammock. The gray moss hung thick in some of the trees and almost made you feel like you were “coming home”. The old trees had branches that had to fight for light and so they were a beautiful maze as you look through them into the sky and as you rounded a bend you saw this most precious house. I know it has many a story to tell. There is a hand pump at the one side and I am sure for many years that was the only source for water. The screened porch tells you that many a night someone sat and rocked and as darkness came and the night sounds began. I think these folks really had a need to be in harmony with nature and their environment. In fact I believe their lives depended on it. There were several nights we went there just to feel nature as the sun set and we sat and listened and were captivated by our surroundings. You would hear the night critters begin to move about, the eerie sound of a owl, the flapping of wings as birds settled down for the night in the tall trees above you and we even saw bats as they glided above us. The sounds of a Piney-wood rooter hunting for food was a sure bet. (That is simply a wild boar). You sat and did not talk because you did not want the sound of a human to drive away the enchantment of the place. I always had a dread that I would have to leave and yes go to a newer and more modern place but still I wanted to stay.

There was a fire pit with old hewn logs as seats and I wondered just what was cooked over that open fire. Having lived in South Florida in a rural area and knowing many folks there that called themselves Florida Crackers I often was told stories of how they lived and ate. I am sure “hoecakes” were cooked in an old black cast iron skillet at this place. A hoecake is a simple cake made of cornmeal, salt and water and has to be cooked in a black fry pan most likely in fat that is left over from frying fatback. I guess I need to explain that fatback is off the back of a hog and is cut in squares and than sliced and fried until it becomes crunchy. They also in the old days made lard by boiling fatback and than straining it through fine clothe. Fatback is still used today and also is great to season beans and vegetables. They probably cooked many a deer and boar in the fire pit too. I am sure of this because they lived off the land. I would sit there by that pit and almost smell the food as it cooked and sizzled. Better yet I could almost taste it!

I guess this might be the time to tell you of a precious older man we all loved that was a Florida Cracker and had the cracker cattle. We would go to his old home and spend a weekend. The men would get up before dawn to go squirrel hunting and the girls and I would smell the strong coffee as it bubbled on the stove. We knew we needed to be up and soon begin to get ready to serve a big breakfast for the men when they returned in an hour or so. I would mix up the batter for the hoecakes and cut the fatback and have it ready to fry. I knew since our friend was a bachelor I would make his day by making some homemade biscuits and have them ready for him as he came in the door. He would take cane syrup and allow it to soak in his biscuits….I simply never could stand the taste or cane syrup. I much preferred the sweet orange blossom honey he collected from his bees. I knew they would bring back fresh squirrels and they would be dressed and than I would have to cook them. I ate many but never really acquired the taste for them. To me they looked awful in the frying pan. But that would be lunch…I knew I had to soak them in buttermilk for at least an hour to get out the wild taste and tenderize them a bit. He liked them to be coated with flour and salt and pepper and than fried until light brown .I would than add a chopped onion to the skillet and brown it, add water, milk and flour and bring it to a boil and add the fried squirrel and allow it to simmer about 15 minutes to ½ hour. So when I say these folks lived off the land I simply mean it. Fish, boar, doves, venison, gator and turtle were everyday food for them. I have eaten all I mentioned and lived to tell the story.

Cracker life was a simple life but a hard one for many. Some worked sawmills that were way back in the “glades” or lived on the horse from daybreak till sun down. Often the kids wore clothes made from “croker sacks” (burlap gunny sacks) and flour sack fabric. But they lived in nature, were ruled by nature and respected nature. They were close families that loved each other and they knew nothing but hard working days and nights but at least they did it together.

And so as I would have to get up and leave this green and vacant “cracker house” I would feel like I was a better person to have been there and remembered all the stories I had been told. As our friend used to say….”I live off the land, I give back to the land and I worship God who made the land for me to tend. That my friend is “good clean country living” and when I go to bed at night bone tired I am at peace.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Back row: Rachel, Ben, Dad.

Front row: Grandma Kraybill, Aunt Fannie, Aunt Elizabeth, Aunt Emily

This is to me a picture of happiness and peace. As I look at them I know they lived what they believed and served the Lord in all they did.

I want to share part of a letter that Aunt Emily wrote to me in 1988.

Dear Donna,
I am sitting at the desk in the enclosed patio. I am looking back on the farm. On the third year of teaching school in September I had typhoid fever, a long siege that was 8-9 weeks of not conscious and delirious, taking just a little juice and milk for nourishment. Mother, Father and the nurse caring for me so I would not get out of bed watching for weeks. Finally so weak the nurse could not feel my pulse and so she gave me whiskey and she saw life in my veins. After that I gained strength very slowly but no more teaching that year. This is what I saw on my wall. It read “ He Careth For You’. 1 Peter 5:7 this meant so much to me and still does.

The next year I was teaching again. I was so glad to be able to talk to your grandfather about school (He also was a teacher) Soon after that I was glad to see my brother Lehman, you grandfather with his wife Bertha and their children. (Rachel, Arthur and Ben) growing up. But than a sadness came when brother Lehman was called home at age 33,(the age of Jesus) . So his work on earth was well done. But we missed him and pitied Bertha and the children. So Arthur (age 6) and Ben (age 2-1/2) grew up in the home of my parents and us “Aunties”. Bertha and baby Rachel with her parents. But we worked it so that weekly they would all be together. But did you ever know I thought it would have been better, when I was so near death, to have gone on and their father would have been here to raise the family for the Lord. But we have to say the Lord does all things right and go forward.

We all enjoyed living together, how those little boys were real blessings and I can say they were good boys. We so loved them. How they would play and keep us young. Their room was full of toys and homemade things. Your father had made a telephone arrangement in which they talked from one room to another. Oh how they would go on their kitty cars and go down to the pavement.

Later on they got paper routes and delivered papers with their bikes. They also fetched milk from a nearby farm. We all worked together to save and help each other. Both Ben and your father got a ride on the drag while getting ready for planting. Ben was very careful in drying dishes and placed them carefully at their places.
School time came and they walked down to school so neat and tidy. Later they graduated from EMS (Eastern Mennonite School in Harrisonburg, Va). They both found lovely companions and were married. Than Rachel and Bertha came to live with us. Rachel trained to be a RN at General Hospital. She and her mother were dear ones to us. Than she married Luke Brubaker. I could say more about going to Uncle Amos’s and all the children enjoying Christmas and Easter until we reversed it and all came to our house.

Later on in this long letter she wrote this to me. “Donna, I think of you so often and pray for you. We all go through struggles and trials which are not easy, but God will carry us through. Keep on trusting and obeying, “His Word is SURE TRUE”. This was the motto I had on my wall while teaching at New Danville Mennonite School. Always remember “Be strong and of good courage” Joshua 1:9

She than wrote several paragraphs to all 3 of my kids with encouragement and love.
I am sharing this letter so you see they met each trial with strength and courage and trusted the Lord and kept going. I think that is why we see such real peace on each of their faces. The house they lived in was built in 1920 in the town of Mount Joy. The “Aunties” parents lived down stairs and the “Aunties” lived upstairs. Than the 2 boys came and they adjusted and made sacrifices but I never heard a word about those. In fact I can honestly say I never heard the “Aunties” complain at all.

As I sit here this morning I see a faith that is pure. They understood trials but they also understood that God was always with them. You see in the letter Aunt Emily did question why she was not taken and her brother left to raise his children but she accepted “The Lord does all things right and we go forward”. I so admire this. I feel so blessed that I had the “Aunties” in my life to set a example that I follow in His steps. I think sometimes I want to follow in “their “ footsteps and they would say, “Donna, follow in HIS foot steps and you will not falter long.

This was a poem her students memorized and she lived. It is simple but true. I looked today for an author but cannot find one. This poem is on a sheet of things she had students use as copy work or to memorize.


My heart is God’s little garden,
And the fruits that grow each day
Are the things He sees me doing,
And the words he hears me say.

The flowers in God’s little garden
Are joy and truth and love.
And the seed by the Master planter
Is raised in His garden above.

There’s a spring in God’s little garden
Those waters so sweet and clear.
Flow out into other gardens
Which God plants very near.

I must tend God’s little garden
Lest the weeds and sharp thorns grow.
If the flowers should droop and wither
His heart would be sad I know.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I thought I would share a few recipes with you tonight.
Yesterday I wanted to make CHICKEN CORDON BLEU. I looked at many different recipes and here is how I did it.
This serves 4

4 chicken skinless chicken breasts
4 slices Swiss or Provolone cheese (Pepper Jack adds a lot)
4 pieces Canadian bacon
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup seasoned flour (mix salt & white pepper in the flour}
about a cup of Panko crumbs

Preheat oven to 350.
Pound the chicken breasts. I like to put them between waxed paper to beat.
Take one breast and add slice of cheese on top and piece of Canadian bacon on top of that. Depending on the width you may have to cut the slices in half. Roll it tight. Do the same with the rest. At this point I put them in the freezer until they were firm. (I watched a chef I worked with some times do this but I do not always have the time to do it.)
I than rolled them in flour, the egg and than the panko crumbs. I placed them in a baking dish sprayed with Pam. Melt some butter and drizzle on top.
Bake them for 30 to 40 minutes.

I made this sauce and served them with it.

1- teaspoon paprika 6- tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon minced ginger½- cup dry white wine 1- teaspoon chicken bouillon granules 1- tablespoon cornstarch 1 -cup heavy whipping cream

I melted the butter in a small skillet and added the minced garlic and ginger and cooked them a bit and than added the wine and chicken bullion cube, paprika and cornstarch and mixed it good. The heat was on low and I added the whipping cream and reduced it.
You could buy thin cut chicken cutlets
You can use ham.
Spinach or fresh basil is good between the cheese and meat.
For the sauce you can use cream of mushroom soup + ½ cup of sour cream and season as you like.

I served it with Loaded Mashed Potatoes and a salad and Nana's rolls.
For the loaded mashed potatoes I made them like I would and added shredded cheese, bacon and sour cream.
3 packages dry yeast
4 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water
5 cups self rising flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup shortening
2 cups buttermilk

Dissolve yeast in warm water.Combine flour,salt,sugar and cut shortening into this.Mix in flour,milk and yeast.Knead to elastic. Roll out to 1/2 inch thickness.Nana brushed melted butter on each one.Place in greased baking sheet.sometimes we allowed them to rise about 1 hour and than baked.Bake at 450 for 10-12 minutes.Dough may be stored for up to a week,covered.

Monday, February 11, 2008


There was one piece of furniture mom and I did not talk about right away when we knew they were moving. I simply could not because it is a real treasure to both of them. When they moved into the retirement community in Virginia they had this custom made for them/ Mom had loved looking at the crystal in the cabinet from both her mom and also dad parents and the Aunties.

I think we both knew it would be coming here. I knew we had a good corner for it in the dinning room. So on Sunday it made the trip from their apartment to ours. I had washed all the crystal pieces she gave me so the would sparkle. It was fun to put it in the cabinet and now I sit in my chair and enjoy all the family treasures.

It is wonderful to have taken care of such treasures so they could be passed on to the next generation. I am blown away by what people throw away and I want to ask why…we see brand new items with tags in the garbage here…some seem to feel maybe if they set these things by the garbage areas maybe someone will use them. But many just simply throw them away. I was with my husband when he was compacting garbage and we saw awards given to a soldier and man in government and they were tossed.

I don’t hang on to things like I used to. It just seems wrong to me to hoard for a rainy day when someone could use it right now. Here I am not talking about family treasures but the things we think we may fit into again, or a dozen more cook books than we could ever use, kitchen things we may have used 2 years ago but not since. These things become a weight we carry around.

What I do treasure is when mom could say, “That was daddy’s parents” and it makes it so something I want to remember and pass on to my kids or grandkids. Do you see the wooden piece of the next piece of funiture? Mom used this almost daily when she was a kid. Do you know what it is? Leave your answers in the comments

Yes, this corner cabinet is a very special gift that mom and dad gave us. It is a gift from the heart and that makes it a comforting piece of furniture. It is solid oak and I sit here and know that my parent’s love is as sound and strong as the oak tree it came from. What more could a daughter ask for?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

GRANDMA"S CHINA and One Strange recipe

This is another treasure mom gave me. It is grandma's china. I faintly remember when she got this as a child. I knew one thing for sure.....when it came out it was for a special meal and I best handle it with care as I helped set the table. I really can't remember her fussing at me to be careful because Grandma taught by example. She treasured what she had and always took care of it. I was thinking about how beautiful it looked with a pink tablecloth under it and also she used a blue one too. It makes a beautiful table. I think I will use it when I make our special Valentine's meal.
The crystal goblets and sherbert dishes on the plate were Wedding gifts from my parents wedding and that will be 65 years ago the end of this month. The silver is also a wedding gift from grandma and grandpa. Mom also took the best care of what she had.
I was thinking about all the wonderful meals I ate from this china.....Thanksgiving with a huge turkey and stuffing, sweet potatoes, vegetables, pies, always started with fruit salad and crackers......or Easter with ham, red beet eggs, golden glow salad, homemade puddings and cake.
Than there was her favorite meal and yes, you are reading this right....stuffed pig stomach.....Some call it "Dutch Goose" and I guess that sounds better. Here is the recipe just for fun.
1 pig stomach1
1/2 pound ground sausage
1 quart diced potatoes,raw
1 onion,chopped fine
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper

Remove the inner linning of the stomach and discard. Wash stomach well and than soak in salt water several hours. Drain and fill stomach with stuffing. Sew securely.

Use either recipe for filling:
Filling One: Make a filling of raw diced potatoes, chopped onion and shredded cabbage. Add seasoning and mix well.

Filling Two: Make a bread filling by browning diced onion and bread crumbs in butter. Mix with egg,fresh chopped parsley and some milk. Stir in diced potatoes and sausage. Mix throughly.
Place stuffed stomach in a large roasting pan and bake at 350 for 3 hours. Serve with gravy made by adding flour and water to drippings in roasting pan.

Here are a few of Grandma's secrets....she added poultry seasoning to the ingredients under the pig's stomach. She would par boil the potatoes in water that she added saffron to. What a wonderful addition.

I know this sound awful but it indeed is wonderful It smelled wonderful and was so good and crispy. The inside stuffing was so good and full of flavor. It is a very wonderful memory for me. I helped her cook it but never made it on my own.....imagine asking a butcher for a pigs stomach....I think they would call the men in white coats.....
Yes, this china is very special to me.......My mom was given it by grandma and I will take care of it and pass it on to my children.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


The last few days have been devoted to helping mom go through things and slowly pack. She decided she did not want to take all her "good stuff" with them but surprised me by having wonderful treasures for John and myself. She knows I hated losing the things that were grandmas and the aunties.

The picture above is both of my grandparents on their wedding days. The one on the left is dad's parents. He died when dad was very young and so I never met him. Dad and his brother went to live with the Aunties and their sister stayed with their mother who was caring for her parents. I have a very faint memory of this grandma playing with a rubber duck in a washtub with me. She died when I was still a toddler. On that side is a cup and saucer that was her mothers. It does not have a handle and a chip but I love it! Under it is a hand-spun cloth with crochet edging that came with the Kraybill's when they came from Switzerland. It sure is a treasure too. The blue tatted handkerchief is one Grandma Kraybill did.

The other side is my mom's parents and the grandma I speak of so much. The dish and saucer and spoon were some of her most loved treasures. They came from her mom. She had this in her china cabinet and it was something I often asked her to get out and let me see. It is so delicate and perfect.

The fabric in the back is almost like the cushions she made for her porch swing. Mom wanted to make some and I think I may do that and send them to her after she is moved. They will have a lovely screened in porch, which they are sure looking forward to.

I know these are "just things" but they generate memories for me. I love to think about the loving hands that took care when they washed these items and dusted them. I am thankful for the stories that passed down to me from the Aunties and Grandma. I plan to write them down for my kids and grand kids.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Meet Mom and Dad

This is my parents.........

They are quite remarkable for being in their upper and mid 80's.

They live in an apartment here in the same complex but a change is coming. To understand it I need to share a bit about them.

They grew up in the same community in Lancaster County, Pa. (Mount Joy to be exact.) They both graduated from a Mennonite School in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is now Eastern Mennonite University. They married and moved to a small farm in a neighboring town, Elizabethtown. The farmhouse at that time did not have a bathroom. I was adopted in 1948.

The farm had several acres of asparagus, chickens, a huge garden and a wonderful lawn that I spent many happy days playing in. Dad sold chicks and equipment and so was gone during the day and mom did a lot of the work. I remember being in the barn at a very early age. In 1954 dad was exposed to polio and spent 5-1/2 weeks in the hospital. He had a hard time recovering but they give the credit to a chiropractor that came almost every day to massage him and soon dad was walking with a large brace and than a much smaller one and to none at all.

Mom and Dad gave a lot of time to the Mennonite Church in helping at a Mission Church in Harrisonburg and Steelton. When I married and moved to Florida they went as house parents to Honduras. When they returned to the States Dad began working for a new Mennonite Camp in Brooksville, Florida. They bought a house and stayed for over 20 years. They moved to a retirement community in Harrisonburg Virginia.
The camp is called Lakewood Retreat:

When we moved to Florida they decided they wanted to move back and so rented an apartment close by. When John and I were left homeless and sick due to toxic mold and lost most of our belongings they welcomed us in and helped us heal. We moved back to Georgia and they followed and than when we moved back to Atlanta they again moved.

This takes me to now.......another change. They are buying a double wide in Sarasota, Florida in a retirement community. This will take place in a month. I understand this move because they are so excited to get back to a Mennonite Community and they will be able to walk and dad use his scooter to go to church where they attended for 2o years. They will know neighbors that are like them and do activities they will enjoy. Living here in Midtown Atlanta is hard on them. They say they feel like a fish out of water. I will miss them and I feel like I may not see Daddy alive again and that is troubling to me. But a reality I know exists. Because the place is furnished we have a lot of things to go through because they have decided to let much with us. Mom says I lost all of the things that were grandma's and the aunties(due to the toxic mold) and so she wants me to enjoy what she has. I will admit the loss of those things was painful. We will start next week with this process.
Were they are moving:

My parents have taught me these things:
1. Giving to others with your time.
2. How important a regular time is to read God's Word and pray. My dad starts each day with His Bible and it has always been that way.
3. Care for the things you have.
4. A real love for nature!5. Mom is a cleaning frenzy and I need to do better. She is a perfectionist.6. They are married 65 tears...need I say more.
7. Dad is a very balanced man. He knows what He believes and has never been wishy-washy.
8. They adopted me and I was a foster mom and adopted our son. Their example made me know I wanted to open my heart to kids that needed love.
9. Their word means it will be done. Trustworthy is the trait I see here.
10. They love the Lord and are looking forward to Heaven.

I could mention much more. I may not always agree with them but they are good parents and I am thankful for them. So pray for all of us as we make these changes.....we will need all the prayers we can get. As an only child it is a lot of work on my shoulders but it will be done.
My Mom's favorite meal to serve guests:
Ham Loaf
Mennonite Community Cookbook Page 70
Serves 8
1 pound fresh pork, ground
1 pound cured ham, ground
1 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3/4 to 1 cup milk
Grind the meats and mis all ingredients. Shape in a loaf, dust with flour and place in a roasting pan. Bake at 350 for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
At the end of 1 hourpour over the loaf 1 cup tomato juice or a sauce made as follows:
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
Mix and bring to a boil before pouring over the loaf.
~~my notes:
We always had the butcher grind 10 pounds of each and than freeze the ground meat together for ham loaf. This recipe that you can multiply without any trouble. I have made it for 125 people. One way my kids liked this was I made patties instead of the load and I would place a patty in a baking pan than a pineapple ring and repeat until finished. For the glaze I used the pineapple juice instead of the vinegar. This is fun and easy to serve at a pool party. I also have doubled the sauce made with pineapple and added crused puneapple to it and made the hame mixture into ball and served it as a appetizer.
Scalloped Potatoes
Mennonite Community Cookbook
Page 164
Serves 6
6 cups raw potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
4 tablespoons flour
2-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 onion, minced
2-1/2 cupswarm milk
2 tablespoons butter
Place a layer of potatoes in buttered baking dish add minced onion.Sprinkle with salt pepper and flour, and dot with butter. Repeat until all ingredients are used. Pour hot milk over potatoes and bake at 350 for 1-1/2 hours to 2 hours.
1. Make a white sauce with the milk, flour and butter. Melt 3/4 cup grated cheese in the sauce and pour over potatoes.
2. Top with 2/3 cup soft bread crumbs and stips of bacon
3. Add 1 cup grated cheese on top of potatoes 15 minutes before the cooking is completed.
4. Add 1 cup ham in alternate layers with the potatoes.
~~My notes:
I use half and half for a richer texture (thank my grandma for this!)
I like to add Italian seasonings and garlic.
I have made these with Brie good!
My family likes it with bacon on top...not with the bread crumbs
I have made this with adding salsa to the cheese sauce and they loved it!
She did almost the 7 sweets and 7 sours....I will give you one of the salads she would make. I will save the rest for another post.
Kidney Bean Salad
Mennonite Community Cookbook
Page 177-178
2-1/2 cups canned kidney beans, drained
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 hard cooked eggs
1 medium-sized onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 cup salad dressing
2 tablespoons cream
Chop eggs and combine with celery and onion. Add beans that have been drained. Mix ingredients together and chill. Add cream to salad dressing and blend through mixed vegetables.
Serves 6
~~My notes.
I use mayonnaise. I add 2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish.
2 tablespoons fresh basil is nice with 1 jalapeno without the seeds, minced and I do not add pickle relish than.
You can add crumbled bacon on top just before serving.
Fresh parsley is good with this salad.
I want to tell you all I could not cook or bake without the Mennonite Community Cookbook. It is the best basic cookbook!
Here is the link for it:
Another cookbook by the Mennonites I use all the time is "More Wth Less". You can see the format and several recipes here: