Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Letter Update: Widner-Magers Farm Historic District

Happy 2019 Everyone!

Perhaps because we were raised in a farming community, we don't realize how many people dream of walking into a farm setting as it was almost a century ago, when agriculture was the heartbeat of our nation and folks had the opportunity to own and till their own land.  Besides renovating a total of ten vintage buildings and constructing six more, for the last ten years we have played host to those who fantasize about what they believed was a simpler life. We gave them a little taste of Delta farm life by donning costumes and speaking the language of the 1930s. They have come by bus loads--from as far away as New Jersey--by car and truck, and by bikes on a hot Sunday afternoon. We have also played host to those who have returned to the area for a visit, to reminisce about those 'good ole days.'  We have hosted weddings in front of the old barn. Organizations, various Chambers of Commerce in several towns, church and school groups have visited to find out just what a living history museum is all about. They have washed clothes with a rub board, played games of the 1930s, and had picnics with food from that era. They have picked sacks full of cotton and toted them to the company store for payment in pennies—pennies usually spent on candy inside the store. They have played storekeeper, postmaster, and landowner. Folk crafts have had their hands weaving rag rugs and making brooms. Hopefully, everyone went away with a better understanding about our Delta farming history. Unfortunately, in 2017 we had to stop giving public tours due to a huge increase in liability insurance and government rulings on public places. But, we do still give a few private tours and we always enjoy people stopping by and sharing their history with us.

We have also taken our Delta history on the road and continue to do so. We have taught workshops in rag rug weaving, broom making, Native American herbs, open fire cooking, and other crafts at Arkansas  Parks, particularly  at Parkin Archeological State Park. We have taught workshops for Arkansas Northeastern College. One year the youth from an ANC summer program came to the farm, learning the how-tos of making movies. John has participated in digs with the Arkansas Archeology Department of the University of Arkansas. He has also been a member of their organization. We participated in the Delta Made Products for several years. The Widner-Magers Farm Historic District has been a member of the Association of Living History, Farm and Agriculture Museums for fourteen years, an organization where we were able to share a little of our Southern history.  Our barns were featured in the AETN production Back Road Barns in 2016. We have appeared in numerous issues of Delta Crossroads magazine and Arkansas Living. The old grocery store was the location for the cover of Joe Chipman's CD Keeping It Delta. And you may have seen several billboards from that same store porch.

The groups visiting our farm have been many but we have reached larger numbers of people through our four blogs. Since 2017, I have concentrated on getting our Delta story out through them. The Country Farm Home has had several million people visit since its start. It has also been awarded one of the Top Fifty Farmhouse Blogs in the country.  The Duncan Farmstead blog is running close behind it. It is the place where I sneak in history with present day happenings at the farm. From Our Old Country Store blog, we have filled orders for John's Rag Rug Looms, which have been shipped all over the world--to such places as England, Canada, Italy, Australia, and Africa. In fact, in Nigeria, the ladies have built a cottage industry with their rugs made on John's looms. I also share other folk crafts at this site, and we periodically sell other items.

Dell, Arkansas is our fourth blog. There is probably more interest at that site from all over the USA than there is locally--from people whose families once lived here.  Little by little, I share stories and information about our unique little community’s past history. All through the years, I have continued my research and collecting of information but have had little time to share even a small part of what I have.

Well, I guess you get the picture by now. We've been busy. After all, there are only two of us and John has retired three times now! Most of all we have represented your heritage locally, nationally, and internationally.

Now we are beginning a new phase, the last of our mission and in preparation and anticipation of turning the farmstead over to the state or an organization with the same vision that we have had.  There is a lot of work ahead. It won't happen overnight. It's been through the kindness and interest of others who have donated to our project that has insured that the history of Dell and the surrounding communities will never be lost. We intend to make sure of that.

I have another project going on, too. In 2018, I began writing our Delta stories for the national magazine Country Rustic. The stories have been quite a hit. I will continue to write again this year, plus our farm will be featured in each issue for a year beginning in the Fall of 2019. This is a wonderful opportunity, along with the blogs and workshops, to inform more readers all over the country about our rich history. Cotton has become a huge farmhouse decorating element and people want to know more about the farms that produced it.

So as you see, we are not quitting. We are just slowing down a bit. There is plenty more to do. And, we will continue to collect and keep any history of the area, family histories, and donations. Each will be documented and kept safe here at the Historic District.

We both want to thank every one of you for your support, interest and donations through the years. Hopefully, the future will be just as fruitful. We moved back from Virginia to preserve the community’s heritage and we will continue to work to that end. . .

Thanks again!
Dru and John

The Mission of the Widner-Magers Farm Historic District is to promote and celebrate the unique agricultural experience of the Mississippi Delta in Northeast Arkansas, through the research and preservation of the farm buildings and early 20th century farm life; and to provide educational opportunities to experience 20th century farm life and folk culture.  

Websites and Blogs

Monday, January 21, 2019

SEASONED SOUTHERN STYLE: Mom's Basic and Economical Soup Recipe From Left-Overs

Growing up a farmer's daughter, I learned to appreciate the time, effort and money it took to keep a farm. . .and a household. . .running. There were some lean years along the way. We often had to cut corners and make-do. . .

I often thought that was the case when Mom saved every little scrap of meat, every teaspoon of gravy, and all the left-over vegetables. . .She froze them in big gallon milk cartons to make soup. . .Now that I am older and find myself doing the same, I believe she would have saved left-overs if we had been millionaires. . .for as the winter grows cold and the north winds blow, I find myself digging into the freezer, grabbing those containers I marked  "for soup.” I have tried many other recipes. . .from Pinterest. . .from cookbooks. . .clipped from magazines. . .but my favorite is Mom's method, from which I am able to make as many different soups as there are ingredients. . .

She started with making a stock using a basic mix of meat, onion and water, which were prepared pretty much the same for any soup. . . If no meat was available, she pulled out the homemade frozen stock, prepared at an earlier date from the bones of roasts or chops, ham bones, or carcasses of roast poultry. Then she added the saved conglomeration of left-overs from the freezer and refrigerator, adding rice or pasta or potatoes and herbs for flavor. In fact, practically any left-overs might find a place in the family soup pot. No necessity for running to the grocery store for expensive vegetables or broth. No spending hours in the kitchen slicing and dicing. . .The challenge was to make-do with what she had on hand. . .but with delicious results. . .The whole house filled with the smell of what I call 'comfort food'. . . and a well-balanced meal in a bowl. . .

Ham Bone Soup, Tomato Soup (recipe in a later post), Turkey and Smoked Sausage Soup

MOM'S BEEF OR PORK SOUP BASE: Your choice of meat, plus chopped onion, in a big soup pot. Cover well with water and boil until the meat is tender. Remove meat and cut into bite size pieces. Skim fat off the top of the broth. Return meat. Salt and pepper. Garlic powder. 1-3 tablespoons real butter. You should have at least 4-6 cups of broth. 
(I will share her basic soup from poultry in a later post.)

That's it. . .Simple, huh? . .Now the fun part. . .Adding in the left-overs. . .bits and pieces. . to make the soup suit your taste. . .Here are some examples of the soups I have recently prepared from Mom's Basic recipe. . .

Broth made as above with a meaty ham bone.
I then removed the bone and skimmed off the fat. Any meat left on the bone was thrown back into the pot. To this base, I added 1 can diced organic tomatoes with its liquid and left-over freezer vegetables of carrots, celery, corn, okra, green beans, white beans, one whole hot pepper, green pepper, along with a piece of diced smoked sausage I also found in the freezer. Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste. I also added basil and a little thyme. (Use your favorite combination of herbs or none at all. It will still be delicious.) The soup was slowly simmered until the flavors combined well. The last 10 minutes, I also added diced white sweet potatoes. Cost: 85 cents

Broth made as above from left-over turkey and a package of smoked sausage cut into bite-size pieces.
Once broth was done, I added: 1/2 can of tomatoes and hot peppers, ½ can organic pureed tomatoes, one can black beans rinsed and drained, freezer left-overs including small amounts of green beans with the liquid, non-gluten spaghetti, brown rice, baked beans, carrots, cabbage, onion, green pepper, and celery. I added more salt, pepper, and some garlic powder to taste, as well as a little basil and a pinch of red pepper. Then let it simmer until flavors came together. Non-gluten macaroni was added the last 10 minutes. Cost $3.25

At least 6 cups of broth made as above from 1 pound grass-fed hamburger meat.
Then I added 3 cups diced canned tomatoes and left-overs of carrots, green pepper, cabbage, white beans, green beans and mushrooms. (White potatoes are good in it, too, but I'm watching my carbs.) Also garlic salt, pepper/red pepper to taste.  Simmer.  Cost: $5.58

These recipes are merely examples of three different soups from Mom's basic broth recipe. No two soups are ever exactly the same. . .but all will be delicious if you will start with her simple base. . .

Mom couldn't make a small pot of soup. The pot often almost spilled over. Another of Mom's tricks was to preserve extra soup, but not freeze it. Of course, I do it, too. The soup is sealed in quart jars as in canning vegetables but it isn't processed in a water bath or pressure canner. . .It stays fresh in the refrigerator for 3-5 months. Once opened, the soup is just as delicious as the day you make it. . .not mushy like frozen soups tend to be.

Regardless of where we live, whether farm or city, there should be no argument that food prices are soaring. This is where the family soup pot can help any budget with numbers of servings per pot.  Besides being thrifty, homemade soup is also very healthy. Paired with garlic bread, corn bread or crackers and a tossed salad, you just can't get down-home cooking better than that. 

From My 'Soup Kitchen'