Tennessee Mountain Stories

Cold Winter Days by the Fire

                Well, it’s turning cold on The Plateau – temperatures have steadily dropped this week and Thursday and Friday night lows are forecast in the 20’s.  Brrrr – makes me long for the old wood stove. 

                Do you remember that warm, beating heart of the home?  The kitchen always had a stove – even when wood or coal was no longer required for cooking the family meals.   The aroma of the wood, that toasty spot where you could hold hands chilled by autumn’s wind; and there was always company around the stove.  Like porches in summertime, the stove was the meeting spot. 

                Before R-values determined the insulation pumped into our walls, and when houses were built of whatever materials were available, keeping warm in winter was more than a luxury.  Ethel Key Yeary told of the winter her younger brother, Coy, was a baby.  She and her older sister, Stacy, were charged with guarding the baby against the cold.  They took turns throughout the winter sitting by the fireplace, holding the baby.  Hearing that story through the years, I thought he must have been a weak or sickly baby.  But further questioning proves it was just the nature of the drafty old house.

                Young men who were required to keep wood boxes filled might not wax quite so nostalgic about the cook stove, which required extra work with the axe.  But did you ever eat ‘green-wood biscuits’?  See, green wood doesn’t burn hot and fast like good dry wood does so you can’t get bread nicely browned. Southern cooks rejoice in golden-brown biscuits – we’ll baste them with bacon drippings to encourage the color and add a little crisp before you sink into the fluffy softness.  So pulling out a pan of green-wood biscuits is a little moment of mourning.  But the kids loved those soft, pale biscuits – a rare treat. 

               Leftovers were kept in the warming oven perched high above the hot cooking surface.  Little legs required a chair to reach the treasures stored there.  But at Grandma’s house, even leftovers are a gourmet treat.  Unless you are baking during the day, there’s no reason to try to keep fire in that little firebox, but the cast iron holds the heat between meals to keep a little warm spot right there in the kitchen.

                I’d love to hear your fireside memories.  Just add a comment below – I’ll bet everyone else would enjoy them too.