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May 05

Genealogy, arsenic and old lace. First published March 31, 2011, in The Examiner, an eastern Jackson County, Missouri, daily newspaper.

“Every family tree has some sap in it.”—Unknown

I guess you could say I was never into genealogy that much, although my mother was passionate about it and researched our ancestors with fervor for more than twenty years.

Funny how time changes us though. Now, I rather like it. For awhile, we thought we came over on the Mayflower and owned a castle in Scotland, right? Well, did we or did we not?

Sooner or later, most of us start to shake our family tree for one reason or another and hope no lemons, nuts or bad apples fall out.

In my case, I found more than a little sap.

My research began because my sister found an old picture of our great-great grandfather and sent it to my brother. Curious, he began researching one Louis Ferree Carothers, a captain in the Union Army, who was born on Nov. 14, 1816, and left this life on July 13, 1871.

We assumed that our mother surely wrote more about him in her family history, “The Kreek-Carothers Family”, compiled in 1983. My copy was somewhere in a box in the basement, left there untouched all this time.

Eventually, I found it and discovered some relatives that made me swell with pride.

And sure enough, I found that the Carothers Family (also spelled Carruthers or Caruthers) did indeed hale from Scotland, although originally from France.

And yes, they once owned a castle.

I learned that the Carruthers Castle is located somewhere near Dumfriershire, Scotland, but is now in ruins.

Then, I found two more Carruthers Castles, one called Lochmaben and the other Comlongon Castle, this one with a lady ghost.

Shaking the family tree was getting better and better.

I began to wonder if we had a king hiding in that tree somewhere and decided it was worth a deeper look.

Who said genealogy was not fun? Me, I think.

Never mind that, starting with my great-great grandfather, Lewis Ferree, I traced his roots past the Revolutionary War to our common ancestor, Capt. John Carothers, a judge and member of the General Assembly. John was born in 1739 and died on his plantation in East Pennsborough Township, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 26, 1798.

The circumstances of his death, however, were far from ordinary.

Instead, what I discovered buried within my mother’s stacks of notes and genealogical files, was a chilling tale of double murder, a story filled with insane jealousy, arsenic, and yes, lace.

If you are interested, here is the shortened version.

It seems as though a young girl named Sarah Clark (nicknamed Sally) came to live with the John Douglas family, who were friends and neighbors of John and Mary Carothers, my ancestors.

Sarah “contracted a strong attachment” for Mr. Douglas’s son, who was at that time paying attention to Miss Ann Caruthers, daughter of John and Mary.

Are you with me so far?

Overcome with her infatuation (what we would describe today as “fatal attraction”), Sarah “determined to destroy the life of Ann Carothers and gain the object of her affections.”

Following her clever and sinister plan, she hired on as a servant in the Carothers house and “bided her time.” She wore servant’s attire, a dark dress trimmed in white lace.

The historical account reads: “Having no ill will against the family, she desired to poison only Ann Carothers, and with this in view, she purchased some arsenic. With no suitable opportunity offering, she grew desperate and put the arsenic in a pot of leaven.”

I am sure you guessed it by now; the family all ate the bread and became sick.

Capt. John Carothers died quickly, followed soon afterwards by his wife Mary. Andrew Carothers, Ann’s brother, lived but was a cripple for life.

Ann Carothers, the intended victim, was the only survivor and never married.

Sarah, a.k.a. Sally, was tried, convicted as a murderess witch and hanged at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, or so the story goes.

Incidentally, I did not find any Mayflower passengers or kings in my mother’s genealogy tales.

Just murder, she wrote.

Mar 09

Bring on the Brackets! Basketball in March—the way it is supposed to be played. (From archived columns and first published on March 7, 2012, in The Examiner, an eastern Jackson County daily newspaper.)

“Basketball is a game that gives you every chance to be great, and puts every pressure on you to prove that you haven’t got what it takes. It never takes away the chance, and it never eases up on the pressure.”– Coach Bob Sundvold (former head coach at UCM and assistant coach at Mizzou and Missouri State)

ncaa_2x

I guess you could say that the game of basketball during March Madness is the way it is supposed to be played – flying high just like kites in the March wind.

During most of the regular season, basketball players know the pressure never eases up, and they know they have a chance to play well.

Normal everyday operating procedure for a ball team.

Come March, however, they know they have a chance not just to play well but also to be great, exactly what Coach Bob Sundvold said. And certainly, they know the pressure will ratchet up.

March Madness blows in with a fury each year when we flip the calendar from February to March, as though the weatherman just announced a severe wind advisory.

Conference championship tournaments begin, and miraculously and mysteriously, these very same players who played reasonably well during the regular season, now can fly and perform other inhuman feats, for one, levitating themselves toward the basket. Simply put, it is March Madness and flying happens, among other remarkable things.

We have seen it before, but we do not understand it.

Award-winning novelist John Edgar Wideman, described what basketball is like when it is played the way it is supposed to be played, especially in the month of March: “…basketball happens in the air; flying, floating, elevated above the floor, levitating the way oppressed peoples of this earth imagine themselves in their dreams.”

That thought leads me to an epic game played on March 12, 2009, at Madison Square Garden between Syracuse and Connecticut. Syracuse, No. 18, beat No. 4 Connecticut in six overtimes 127-117. According to an AP story at the time, everyone was left “exhausted, and except for the losing team, exhilarated.”

I know we were watching every minute of it in our household. When the game went into the first overtime, we thought we should call it a night, but just couldn’t quit watching. And according to my ESPN research, the game did not end until 1:22 a.m., three hours and 46 minutes after it began. I remember the exhaustion and the exhilaration.

Furthermore, I didn’t really care who won because it was the fact that the game was mesmerizing, played just the way it should be in March.

Not only were the players on Syracuse and Connecticut elevating themselves to astonishing heights and greatness, they were also enduring implausible pressure.

According to the AP account of the game, Jonny Flynn, a Syracuse point guard, inexplicably “had 34 points and 11 assists in a game-high 67 minutes, only three fewer than were played.”

The kid played 67 minutes without sitting down!

And that is why I love March Madness. They play the game the way it is supposed to be played—flying high.

Bring on the brackets!

Jan 26

Pancakes, biscuits and ‘Missouri MIX’ – first published quite awhile ago in The Examiner, an eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

I can still memory-taste the fresh buttermilk pancakes and hot buttermilk biscuits—both made with lard.” – 

Vernon L. Smith, American economist and author

pancakes

Memories of homemade pancakes and biscuits stay with us forever, but over the years, most of us made the switch from “scratch” to box-style mixes.

Prior to the 1930s, many dishes were indeed prepared from “scratch” and cooking was a time-consuming and priority job for housewives, moms and grandmothers.

You can imagine the excitement when the first box biscuit mix, Bisquick, hit the stores in 1931.

According to Bisquick company lore, Bisquick was first promoted for making biscuits only. It’s slogan: “90 seconds from package to oven”.

It didn’t take long for cooks to realize that Bisquick could be used to quickly prepare a variety of other foods, such as cake mixes and cookies.

Home baking was never the same again.

I did a little research into the history of baking mixes and found one fact that genuinely surprised me.

Did you know that long before Bisquick emerged in the cooking world, Aunt Jemima pancake flour was invented in 1889 in St. Joseph, Missouri? It was actually the first self-rising flour for pancakes and the first ready-mix food ever to be introduced commercially.
I grew up near St. Joseph never realizing until now that Aunt Jemima flour originated there.

Incidentally, some folks never fully liked or embraced the taste of box mixes and continued to bake from scratch.

In the 1960s, the University of Missouri Extension Division introduced a product called ‘Missouri MIX’ that apparently solved the box-taste problem. It tasted good, very good.

I first heard of this miracle homemade pancake and biscuit mix in 4-H food projects and later in high school home economics classes.

My mother would make up big batches and store in glass jars until we were ready to use it.

Her favorite Missouri Mix creation was making pizza crusts. In 15 minutes or less, one could have a perfect, nice and soft, not-too-thick crust just like you find in pizza shops. Sometimes, she would add a teaspoon of sugar to the Missouri Mix but I never understood exactly why. It’s an easy recipe–one cup of MIX and ¼ cup water, stir, roll out, add sauce and toppings, and bake on cookie sheet for 12-15 minutes at 425 degrees.

Besides pancakes and biscuits, we used Missouri MIX to make something called Salad Sticks, which are what we call bread sticks today. The difference is that Salad Sticks were rolled in garlic butter and sprinkled with your choice of caraway, dill, sesame or anise seed before baking.

We made Swirls (a lot like muffins) loaded with cheese or cinnamon or banana-peanut butter fillings.

One could make coffee cakes, fried pies, date bread, corn fritters, apple fritters, Boston Brown Bread, cobblers and cornbread with Missouri MIX.

It was an entire bakery in a jar.

All one needed to add was a little creativity. Another bonus about MIX that I might mention is that in our current tight economy, MIX can save a great deal of money.

By now you may be wondering, where does one find Missouri MIX, and the answer is: you make it, from scratch.

It took a little searching through my mother’s old cookbooks to find the original MIX recipe, but I did. Incidentally, if you search online for “The New Missouri Mix”, you will find a re-invention of the 60s recipe complete with yummy home baking suggestions.

It is always good to start at the beginning, so here is the original basic Missouri MIX recipe that will yield about 13 cups of MIX:

9 cups sifted all-purpose flour
One-third cup double-acting baking powder
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons nonfat milk solids (dry milk powder)
4 teaspoons salt
1 and three-fourths cups vegetable shortening OR one and one-half cups lard.

Stir baking powder, dry milk and salt into the sifted flour. Sift all dry ingredients together until well mixed.

Cut fat (shortening or lard) into flour mixture until all particles of fat are thoroughly coated and mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

 

Find recipes here: http://kayhoflander.com/2015/01/how-to-find-the-basic-missouri-mix-recipe-and-variations/

 

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