Pear Relish

July 1, 2014

canning pears

It’s pear season and I’m hoping the pears at Sunshine are going to hang on the tree this year. Last year all the pears fell off in early June when they were still small, a one-time climate glitch I hope and not foretelling of the end of our century-old tree. My mouth is already watering at the thought of those pear preserves and, if there’s just too many, maybe room for a little of Vanny’s pear relish?

But therein lies the question, WHICH pear relish? M. Douglass who grew up down the road a few miles, recalled to me a specific recipe that I was able to track down in an old Macon cookbook at Sunshine authored by a “Mrs. E. V. Yates”:

4 qts pears
4 qts onions
8 green bell peppers
4 red bell peppers
12 cucumbers
2 hot peppers
(all “ground”)

4 c sugar
6 Tbsp dry mustard
2 Tbsp Tumeric
8 Tbsp flour, sifted
2 qts vinegar
1 c salt

Grind and drain all vegetables. Salt and drain. Mix dry ingredients to a paste with a little vinegar. Stir, bring to boil and boil 5 minutes. Add vegetables and pears and boil 3-4 min. Seal hot. Makes 2 gallons.

M felt that this was the recipe he remembered as Vanny’s (“Miss Evie” to him) which, a) ironically, sounds a lot like E.V. and b) he recalls seeing in an old Noxubee County Extension Cookbook. However, later on I came across a recipe in Vanny’s handwriting in one of Sunshine’s oldest cookbooks that was starkly different:

30 pears
4 green peppers
1 hot pepper
1 large can pimientoes
1 box raisins
4 onions
3 c. sugar
2 1/4 pints vinegar
3 Tbsp salt
3 Tbsp white mustard
3 tsp celery seed

pages from Vanny’s cookbook, pear relish recipe on left.

I have never made either but aim to try at least a small batch this year!


June Progress Report

June 11, 2014

Guest post. Mom just sent this excellent summary of the past year’s work at Sunshine! A lot has been touched on here previously but not with the first-hand knowledge she has had.

We have been deep in de-and re-construction at Sunshine, and it’s time for a report.

It started Memorial Day a year ago when good friends and family demolished the old fence, carefully preserving the pickets that we could. It was hot, hot, but the chiggers weren’t out yet. We scheduled work days with varying numbers of volunteers, pulling in expertise from far and near as needed. We sanded old pickets, had new ones made, dug new postholes with a two-man augur (this was the day in July when we discovered the chiggers were back in full force), built the rails, painted the rails and pickets, built the gates (added a new one to enter yard at the south end of the porch), puttied the two ORIGINAL front gateposts (made of Bois d’Arc wood and still hard as iron.

All in all the fence project took about eight days over nine months and in March this year, we broke out the champagne and toasted the beautiful fence and the friends who made it possible. (When I say “we” in regards to the work, I mean it in the royal sense—I made a job of toting and fetching and keeping the workers happy.)

Meanwhile, our contractor, MC, from Jackson had come up several times and gotten a start on the house work, but I despaired of him spending any real time on the job. A Macon contractor took down the north chimney (by the front bedrooms) that was seriously leaning away from the house and we have slowly been stacking whole bricks for walkways and foundation/steps/whatever and hauling brickbats to fill in low places in the driveway.

the crewThen suddenly, just as the fence was finished in March, MC who is a restoration expert (not that this is a restoration job, but it is an old house with all the challenges that he loves), freed up his crew and brought them to Sunshine and the real work started.

House DE-struction began as they lifted the foundation several inches on the north and lowered it several inches on the south. The wallpaper showed the stress, cracking everywhere, but we knew that would happen. Some of the serious dips and humps in the floor are gone and the house feels more stable, which was all we hoped for. I have heard that people around here describe Sunshine as that two story house that leans. People will still be able to find it that way.

They stabilized with cross beams and cleaned the upper attic and we installed (don’t faint) a heating and air system and insulated the attic. This process included the removal of about 12 bags of owl poop and the atticvacuuming and cloroxing the attic floor! We are considering the possibility of putting HVAC in the lower attic to cool and heat the downstairs too.

They took out the chimney between Vanny (Mama Me)’s room and the sitting room. They tore off the back porch and bath and added two feet to both, giving us room to install the shower we inaugurated a couple of weeks ago on Memorial Day weekend. They expanded the little closet in Vanny’s room to make a place for a washer and dryer. They moved the water heater out of the kitchen into the old pantry in the dairy!! I hope y’all are as excited about these details as I am!

They have also worked on repairing rotted window frames and sills and making doors and windows work.

Even with the devastating tornado damage in Louisville taking up the time of most of the potential electricians and plumbers, we were able to find a good plumber who replaced ALL the plumbing in the house and an electrician who wired the Vanny’s bath and the wash room.

And, we are adding a powder room in the back hall under the stairs!! We will also redo, but not expand the upstairs bathroom.

After getting the bees out of the kitchen wall, MC has repaired the wall after painting the inside with a sealing paint and stuffing it with insulation to at least give the bees pause if they try to come back. There is no guarantee.

Still much to do, including a wire fence for the north side of the yard where we did not replace the picket fence, reducing future maintenance by a little. There will be a drainage system put in on the north side that will keep water out from under the house. Still considering how to make use of the cistern for catching rain water. Might undertake rebuild/restoration of smoke house — it is seriously eaten up with termites, but has been treated.

to those that know Sunshine: We would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and memories!

PS: The corn was as high as an elephant’s eye across the road and the cotton was peeping up behind the house  two weeks ago. The gin did great business last fall and drew in more farmers in its second year of operation.

back porch rebuild
2 feet added to the back porch!

for your comfort

June 3, 2014

Memorial Day weekend across the South was hot, on par with July 4 temps so I hear, in Macon and Atlanta, temps in the 90°s. Sunshine, however, seemed remarkably cool (it was most noticeable about 9 or 10am when the sun really bore down on the front porch on which we were still enjoying coffee, and the front yard where we tried to do a little yard work) and we have our new AC to thank!

The AC is only installed upstairs (at the moment and this seems to work well) as ducts were easy to run through the attic (there is also finally insulation above the ceilings!). The “trickle-down effect” does a remarkable job of cooling the downstairs front hall as well, so we’re keeping the front door closed. I found myself still hesitating before running upstairs for something, the wall of heat was quite daunting for a quick trip to the bathroom or a change of clothes in the middle of the afternoon, now I might just go up there and never leave! At night our guests who weren’t raised on minimal AC use in the humid Mississippi clime were quite comfortable and have given their stamp of approval.

But that’s just one improvement of many.

Our longtime friend and expert historic house contractor has been hard at work this spring. The bathroom on the back porch had been added to Sunshine shortly after construction and was never really well thought out or constructed (the uncomfortable narrowness is due to it being squeeeeezed necessarily between the corner of the house and the bedroom window and in recent years, despite liberal use of Great Stuff, a gap has been widening where the bathroom connects to the old exterior wall). MC and his crew demo-ed the back porch and bathroom (bit by bit, leaving one wall in place), rebuilt the structure underneath, and expanding the whole deal by about 2 feet, just shy of making the back porch flush with the rear kitchen gable. Keeping that slight “reveal” was done to maintain the appearance of the original difference in planes. The back porch now has new decking, and solid, and the bathroom, well, even though it was still a work in progress on Memorial Day weekend, it was up and running complete with—wait for it—a SHOWER! Our out-of-town guests also enjoyed this new feature of Sunshine.

Harvesting Honey

May 1, 2014

N and I went to Sunshine the weekend after the Big Bee Removal, I was eager to see the scene and try some honey which Aunt D reported was quite tasty on toast.

winnie-the-poohAfter the beekeepers removed the bees, Mom, D, and D, packed honeycomb into every container they could find. We found these in the fridge, safe from ants and other critters (but not winnie the pooh). The honeycomb was dripping initially, and most of the containers had nearly an inch of honey in the bottom but as the fridge is cold the draining process had essentially come to a halt.

I decided to do a little experimenting with honey separation and put a bit of honey-filled honeycomb in a small pot on the stove. experimentingAlthough the honey seemed to start dripping at about the same temperature that the beeswax melted as well, I kept cooking, eventually (accidentally) boiling the honey. When it cooled however, the wax had separated to the top of the pot and separation was much easier. Perhaps this was a good method? I tried a little on my toast, it was excellent.


When we got back to Atlanta I googled around for more appropriate methods of honey harvesting. I’ve learned through this video that honey becomes viscous enough to separate at 118°F which is still too cool for the beeswax to melt and does not constitute “cooking” which would be the beginning of pasturization and the end of producing raw honey, not that concerned me.

A little more searching and I found a method much more in sync with my own ideals: crushing and straining. Did you know that you can buy a simple paint strainer, a mesh cloth, that comes in various sizes from Home Depot and use that to strain honey? I got the 5-gallon size to make sure i had enough fabric, it was too big for my pot, but I was able to tie it up well enough. mashing honeycomb
getting it all in

Now the crush and strain guy in the video is real fan of letting gravity do as much of the work as possible, but when I asked N about putting a pot to use for “days” he balked, granted, having honey sitting around on the kitchen counter is also not a great idea. So I revised the crush-and-strain method to suit:

After crushing my honeycomb bit by bit with a potato masher to open up the sealed holes, I transferred the dripping combs to my paint strainer stretched over a soup pot. Then, to speed the process along I created a backwards double boiler (big pot over a little one by necessity) which was just enough heat to make the honey flow faster but keep the wax from melting with the honey. For good measure i inserted a thermometer in the crumbly mess every now and then to make sure the wax temperature wasn’t getting up to 144°. My methods were imprecise but it wasn’t getting anywhere near melting.

I let that sit all afternoon, “stirring” the beeswax and crystallized honey mess every now and then and eventually tying the strainer up tight to get the last reasonable bit. In the end I came away with about 2 pints of honey!

This dark honey is perfectly nuanced, it has a hint of the smoke used to calm the bees and slight citrus tartness. Most of all though it tastes like sunshine smells, a little beeswaxy flavor that feels very real …it seems to be the smell of the kitchen in the summer—I guess that makes sense.


bees III.

April 23, 2014

(and final edition for kitchen bees?!)

honeycomb at Sunshine
above: beekeepers learn about cutting away the honeycomb attached to boards pulled from the outside wall of the kitchen

As mom tells it, the bee guys (and ladies) descended on Sunshine like a, well, a swarm of bees. From the upstairs porch the approach of a caravan of pick-ups was a sight to behold. As they each slowed and turned into the driveway you could tell something exciting was about to happen. Ruby, of course, was barking her head off.

bee woman You see, a few weeks back Mom, resourceful and determined, was stalking beekeepers on the internet. She discovered that there would be a convention at Bud Watt’s house near Macon in April, and promptly emailed one of the attendees, “JP the Beeman” who turns out to be one of the TOP BEEMEN in the U.S. After conferring with Bud Watt, who remembers me of course and our bees, the team decided to use Sunshine as their little project for the weekend. It turned out to be the biggest “little project” they’d yet encountered. (ok, no one called it “little” but it sounds better in the re-telling)

Leaving the hive in the blue room alone, they went straight for what we suspected was a massive hive in the north wall of the kitchen. The bees swarmed and relocated out to the orchard at which point the bee guys captured the bees in a box. (for some really great bee-education go to JP’s YouTube channel which will hopefully soon have the Sunshine event uploaded!)

It’s hard to miss the front door to the hive, but, as suspected, it goes much much farther inside the wall. In fact honeycomb entirely filled the space top to bottom between the two studs to the left of the window. The bee men removed the siding and cut the sub-siding all the way up to the gutter, revealing more honeycomb with each piece of wood passed down and honey for the taking.

The pictures are really the most impressive:


For good measure they checked to the right of the window as well but found nothing and I am here to report that when N and I went over this past weekend there was nary a buzz in that part of the house and we returned with a batch of honey-filled honeycomb. yum.

AC in Mississippi

April 14, 2014

I completely forgot to post this great article from 2 weeks ago that features our very own Sunshine!

Clarion-Ledger article

click above to view/download actual article, text is below in case you have trouble though.

Air Conditioning Comes to Mississippi
by Amanda Owens

MACON, MS — Mississippi, long believed to be the most backwards state in the nation, has finally joined the bandwagon and become the 50th state to recognize air conditioning as a viable daily resource.

The bill, signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant on March 28, mandates that in all new construction must have air conditioning and all existing habitable structures must be retrofitted with air conditioning by the year 2018.

Mississippi’s humid subtropical climate with long summers and short, mild winters seems not to have affected the residents of the state in the centuries that white, black, and red men have inhabited the area. However, after a study was released in 2012 that clearly correlated population, income and health statistics to indoor climate control in the US, legislators began pushing for a bill that would mandate the amenity statewide. Mississippi ranks 31st in population, and 50th in both income and health ( Proponents of the legilation believe that it will have a marked influence on the prosperity of the state.

Detractors of the bill say that Governor Bryant is just playing to a few of his biggest campaign financiers which include Dinsmore Air Conditioning Services out of Macon, Mississippi. When we tried to reach Dinsmore by phone last week, they were busy installing air conditioning at several local residences including an old farmhouse out toward Deerbrook. Mr. Dinsmore was working fast, putting in vents in the upstairs rooms and running insulated ducts through the attic. Although the HVAC system is only being installed upstairs, there should be a significant “trickle down effect,” well known in the scientific world, which is admissible by the law.

Naoya Wada, owner of Never Without in Atlanta, was astounded by the news, “I never thought the day would come” he told reporters, “I was just getting used to the idea of being excused from going to Mississippi between April and October but it looks like I’ll have a harder time getting out of visiting my girlfriend’s family after all.” His girlfriend, who wished not to be named, was born and raised in Jackson, the state’s capital.

Governor Bryant had a few things to say on the steps of governor’s mansion after signing the bill: “Some people think Obama’s healthcare plan will solve things, but our problem here is that it’s just too hot and we can’t help sitting on our butts all day. This air conditioning bill is gonna change that. People will be motivated to move about and get things done. Brains will be working, I went to college in Georgia and those classrooms were cold as a fridgidaire, they say your brain is sharper when it’s cold. You’ll be astounded what Mississippians can accomplish.”

Based on Governor Bryant’s words and other proponents, one might also hope that the legislation would improve the health of this state especially since it has been steadily making welfare, medicaid, and other federal or state health benefits increasingly difficult to receive despite the dependency of so many Mississippians on these programs. ❆

Amanda Owens reported for this story, she personally wonders if the whole state of Mississippi will lose the “magic” it had for her on a visit there 4 years ago. She admits to being pretty hot at night but thoroughly enjoyed the primitivity of cooling houses with open doors and windows. Granted, it was only April when she visited.

(inspiration for this piece from NW)

fence complete!

April 3, 2014

back on March 8, 2014

It’s been a long time since we started this project, since last Memorial Day weekend in fact, but now it is DONE! yes, your heard right, the pickets have been carefully removed and picked over (smack-tested in fact), sanded, new ones made out of cypress (“replace in kind,” getting the original bois d’arc is another matter), the post holes dug, the frame built, gates built (btw – new gate on the south side of the front yard!) pickets painted, the frame painted (thanks to some local painters on that last one) and finally, FINALLY, putting the pickets up and completing the fence.


Look at that fence! —and those fine old bois d’arc posts (c. 1901)

UntitledThe final day was a mess of people, as has been the norm, additional Mitchells (J’s family from Louisville) showed up and true to fashion pitched in, Mom had barbecue from the Shell for us, homemade cole slaw, and clementines. We worked down the fence in 2 teams of 3 with a nail gun apiece, one to hand off the correct picket (long-shorts or short-shorts, long-longs or or short-longs, or maybe even really short shorts, these things were important!), someone to hold it against the fence and someone with a strong arm to operate the nail gun. One team was faster, I won’t say which, and our fearless leader J went about finished the gates which are several and very spiffy, that is to say, wonderfully operable. Yes, we are pleased with our fence.


Next step (oh yes, there is always a next step, no time for sitting on the porch yet guys — oh wait, what porch? or is that another story?). Next step: build the wire fence around the orchard side and blockade the rear so that our Bella cannot run [too] free!!

part way there

April 3, 2014

in October 2013

frame up, pickets and frame awaiting a coat of paint!


ok, I should’ve posted this in, what, October?
pretend i did?

a historically inspired Jardin

February 17, 2014

I picked up a few experiments for the garden this year. Sesame for one which has been on my list for some time, it was very popular in historic souther kitchen gardens, including, not surprisingly, our historic gardening friend TJ.


It seems to that our recent trip to Mexico (link) has influenced my seed-buying shopping spree this weekend more than i expected. I found myself drawn to Amaranth and squash in particular, the cultivation of which we learned about in our visit to the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca. Oaxaca, one of the most biodiverse regions of the Americas as far as plants go, is home to the earliest evidence of squash and corn domestication in the Americas. 10,000 year-old squash seeds were found at an archaeological site called Guilá Naquitz. We were shown living examples of teosinte (right) a wild grass ancestor to modern corn.


Squash grows so well at Sunshine with little attention that I racked up on a couple winter squash varieties for my absentee garden: butternut, a funny looking pumpkin, and 2 kinds of acorn squash!

Amaranth, meanwhile is an ancient grain that was a staple of the Aztec diet. In my search for seeds, I realized that some varieties of Amaranth are not so unheard of, grown as flowers even as far away as Northern Europe, but this ancient grain plant had shown up in my seed catalogs back in my introductory year to gardening, and that is what I’ve secured for Sunshine this year.

(Where I will plant these seeds is still tbd though it may be time to dig up part of the front or back yard because I’m not sure I’ll have time to “till” up space in my old garden or maintain the weeds.)

seed shopping for Atlanta

February 15, 2014

The ice has mostly melted and the sun is out, so I went off to Farmer D’s this morning. After weeks of dreaming it was really happening, compost, vermiculite, potting soil–I’m determined to start some seeds off right this year, something I haven’t done since my dedicated first adventure in gardening at Sunshine.

IMG_1098I stopped at Lowe’s too for some cheaper dirt and compost which I unloaded, bag by bag at the community garden on the way home. This is the community garden 3 days ago, today it’s just muddy. I’ve got plans for some snap peas and Mexico Sour Gherkin (look like miniature watermelons) around the perimeter for everyone to enjoy with some haricot vert bush beans in my plot and some sunflowers, something I haven’t planted since Sunshine, but did so there with great success. Eventually there’ll be okra (burmese), tomatoes, summer yellow squash and a long Italian zucchini, a Ping Tung Long eggplant and some herbs…

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some seeds to sow!