The 7 Memory Challenge

Here’s a short exercise for you. Take a piece of paper and write seven sentences about your childhood. Each sentence must start with “I remember.” You might be surprised what comes to your mind.

Here are mine:

  • I remember how excited we were when our cousins sent over a batch of their outgrown dresses.
  • I remember hanging clothes on the clothesline on freezing winter days. The clothes froze stiff and were hard to carry into the house later.
  • I remember learning to iron, starting with handkerchiefs. Eventually, we worked up to ironing blouses with sleeves and those gathered skirts on shirtwaist dresses.
  • I remember pretending we were ice skating on our frozen creek, even though we didn’t have skates.
  • I remember the horror of seeing our dog, Tippy, hit by a passing car. We were waiting by the highway for the school bus.
  • I remember churning our own butter in the glass Daisy churn.

    Daisy Churn_edited

    I browsed around on eBay and found this picture. It’s exactly what our churn looked like.

  • I remember learning to make muffins back when they were like a bread, not the cake-like kind they make now.

I hope you will give it a try. Date and save your memory page to share with children and grandchildren later.



Potato Cakes – A Heritage Recipe

frying pans

Gail and Clyde Martin used these cast iron frying pans a lot.

In 1999, Mom started sending recipes to an online site called Kitchen Happenings and More. She proposed that they add a section for heritage recipes and she would supply them with recipes and the stories that went with them.

A Heritage Recipe June 10th, 1999
Margaret, publisher and editor of Kitchen Happenings and More wrote, “Gail Martin shares another of her favorite recipes from yesteryear.”

Mother’s Potato Cakes
by Gail Martin
One of my favorite recipes handed down from my frugal mother, who never let a bit of food go to waste, is potato cakes. She used a cup or more of leftover mashed potatoes, with two farm fresh eggs, 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and a dash of salt and pepper. Then mixed all together and dropped by the spoonful on a greased, hot, iron skillet. She would reduce the heat and fry until brown, turn them over and brown the other side. Mother used a dab of plain lard or bacon drippings to fry the small cakes. Of course bacon drippings add to the flavor.

The eggs Mother used were from her own New Hampshire Red hens. This breed of chickens laid large, brown shelled eggs and Mother’s chickens ranged on the open prairies of Greenwood county, Kansas where they ate grasshoppers, bugs and Bluestem grass. If you haven’t experienced the joy of fresh farm country eggs you are in for the treat of your life. In the summer time the yolks will be a brilliant orange globe. No comparison to the store bought eggs that have been in cold storage for who knows for how long.

My daughter Cindy says she always peels an extra potato or two when she is making mashed potatoes so she will have leftovers to make Grandmother’s potato cakes.

Ruth feeding chickens

Ruth Vining McGhee with the family chickens in the early 1900s. This is before the Rhode Island reds.

Mom also posted the story and recipe on the Our Echo website with this comment, “When this was published on June 10th I was so pleased as that was Mother’s birthday. I couldn’t have planned it better.”

I thought of this story and brought it here for more readers after my sister Cindy mentioned potato cakes today. “Using up the leftovers is part of the after Thanksgiving tradition: I fixed fried-potato-patties for breakfast this morning with the leftover mashed potatoes. They weren’t as good as Mom/ Gail used to make but I tried,” she said. Cindy said she adds a dash of garlic powder when she makes them.

Mom’s sister, C.J. remembers, “Ah, how this takes me back! Our Mother’s potato cakes were a sumptuous repast from the gods, and I’ve never been able to duplicate the taste. Not surprising since I only have access to store eggs, but perhaps not having Mother’s hand on the spoon has something to do with it!”

picture of potato cakes

My sister, Karen, still makes the potato cakes.



Old Dead Bird

My dad always made some remark at Thanksgiving or Christmas about the “old dead bird.” Well, our turkey fits that status now. He’s been stuffed and roasted and sliced and served.

Dad is carving the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Lil Cat looks on hopefully.

Dad is carving the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Lil Cat looks on hopefully.

After the feast, it gets totally dismembered. When it reappears tomorrow, it will be as turkey soup.

We don’t eat our holiday dinner until around 5 pm, so at noon I start chopping the onions, celery, and apples to mix into the dressing. Hubby cooks some sage sausage on the stove top to add. I throw in a few other things like raisins and dried cranberries. Combined with a package of seasoned stuffing mix (I apologize to any Australians reading this), and many cups of chicken broth, it goes inside the turkey.

By the time the 15-pound turkey is in the oven, I face a massive clean-up project. The whole kitchen reeks of Lysol when I’m done. I make sure that the faucet, the sinks, the counters, and even the kitchen cabinet knobs have been sanitized.

All that work is worth it, as we’ll have turkey re-run alternating with turkey soup for the next seven days. It’s amazingly cheap meat as stores sell it at a loss to get shoppers hooked into their store. Besides that, it’s a lower-fat meat. It’s quite versatile, easily transformed into turkey salad sandwiches, stir fries, all sorts of casseroles. Tastes good too.

My husband makes the turkey soup on the day after Thanksgiving. (photo by Virginia Allain)

My husband makes the turkey soup on the day after Thanksgiving. (photo by Virginia Allain)

We should eat it more often, but skip the umpteen side dishes that make the holiday meal so fattening.

(originally published on Bubblews by Virginia Allain)

Note from Mom

I looked back on an early blog post I wrote and found this comment from my mother on it.

November 7, 2008 at 6:53 pm

I started writing with a pencil and a big chief tablet with lines across the pages. Now I am writing on a computer and posting online. In between, I advanced to writing with pen and ink, ballpoint pens, typewriters, improved typewriters, and a Cannon Starwriter 80-word processor. I wore out at least three, so the repair tech said.

I began to receive requests to teach others my writing ideas. What a thrill! I also had five daughters who gladly critiqued my ramblings. Now I’m on my 4th computer with grammar, spellchecks, and a grandson who keeps my computers doing what they are supposed to do. What writer would ask for more!


Gail L. Martin


The image of the Big Chief changed over the years.

Here’s my 8-year old post that she was commenting on:

My Mom keeps busy writing family memory essays. At age 84, she’s not running out of material. Her essays posted at Our Echo make for great nostalgic reading. Take a look at them and leave comments for her. She loves hearing from anyone reading her work.

gail-salina-libraryLately, she’s started recording some favorite recipes and articles on how to live thriftily. You can read her recipes, crafts and thrifty tips at the Squidoo site (username: Gail Martin).

Update August 2009: Mom’s family memories have just been published in a book, My Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s Kansas. You can read an excerpt on her webpage and be sure to click on the link to preview fifteen pages of the book.

Make Molasses Taffy

This old-fashioned candy recipe is one my mother-in-law, Cora Martin, made back in the 1920s. It takes two people to pull the taffy after it’s cooked. You can even make a party of it. Here’s how to make it.

Things You’ll Need:

  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • egg sized lumps of butter
  • vanilla (to taste)
  1. Mix all the ingredients, except the vanilla in a pan (molasses, sugar, vinegar, butter).
  2. Bring it to a boil on the stove top. Boil for 10 minutes. Stir frequently. She always used a wooden spoon for this.
  3. Add vanilla to taste.
  4. Remove it from the burner and allow it to cool enough to be handled.
  5. Coat your hands with butter, then pull the taffy with each person holding an end.
  6. When the taffy becomes light in color, it has been pulled enough.
  7. Twist the candy, then cut it into small pieces.

Cora and Ren Martin with their children in 1925.

My folks had taffy pulling parties when my older sister, Melba, was in her teens. There was so much fun and laughter as we paired up to pull that yummy stuff. Then we cut the taffy into strips to eat. The pulling and the togetherness made this a wonderful winter treat.

1938 – Pauline Bolte, Melba McGhee, Twila Yeager, Gail McGhee and little Carol McGhee.

(Article previously published online on eHow by Gail Lee Martin)

After reading Gail’s memories and the family recipe for taffy, I did some research using I found a similar description of the family having fun together making the sticky, stretchy candy. This clipping is from a Kansas paper, The Collyer Advance02 Jan 1930, ThuPage 2

What’s became of the old-fashioned watch party on New Year’s eve? Remember how we used to congregate at some neighbor’s home, eat pop-corn and apples (and sometimes drink sweet cider) until a midnight hour and then all join in singing a welcoming song as the new year opened before us? Some years when the cane was exceptionally good and there was an abundance of sorghum, we’d have taffy pulls. My, how good that taffy tasted, especially if it was seasoned with black walnuts!
There’s another thing, too, that we remember in connection with the taffy pull, and that is how clean our hands would become after we had pulled and stretched our wad of candy (and had dropped it upon the floor a half dozen times) and had twined it around our fingers. No matter how dirty one’s hands were they always emerged from a taffy pull as white and clean as tho they had been given a scouring with Lewis lye.
The Collyer Advance, 02 Jan 1930, Thu, Page 2

The Collyer Advance, 02 Jan 1930, Thu, Page 2

Here’s a slightly different recipe for cream taffy from a 1930s Kansas newspaper.

taffy recipe from The Hutchinson News  (Hutchinson, Kansas) 10 Jan 1930, Fri  • Page 11

The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kansas) 10 Jan 1930, Fri • Page 11

Back to Work on Family History

I need to buckle down and delve into my mother’s genealogy notebooks. The first year after her death, I didn’t have the heart to start working on them. Over the last couple of years, I’ve dipped into them now and then, but haven’t really worked on them.

Now enough time has passed that I’m ready to move forward. My online writing on other topics has reached a plateau. That leaves me free time to transfer information from Mom’s notebooks to my tree on She worked on the family history before the proliferation of online genealogy information. Now, it’s time to make her research accessible to others through these websites, through blogs and through self-published books.


A chart in one of Gail Lee Martin’s genealogy notebooks.


Mom collected this information over years of painstaking research that involved visits to courthouses, libraries, and cemeteries. She strained her eyes to read through reels and reels of microfilm ordered from the government. She wrote to distant relatives. She visited ones within driving distance. Then, she carefully documented what she learned.

I have several contacts asking for family records, so that will spur me into researching those requested topics. I also need to contact older relatives for information they may have.

I hope to assemble photos and stories from Mom’s charts and notes into blog posts on our family history site on WordPress. The name of the blog is Then and Now but mostly it is about the past. Drop by now and then to see what I’ve posted recently.

If you have a membership to Ancestry, my profile name on there is vallain159.

Old Letters – Keep or Toss?

I’m determined to do something about the boxes and folders filled with letters accumulated over the years. Actually, I have about 40 years of correspondence stashed in various closets and boxes. There are letters from friends I met at 4-H camp years ago, from college roommates, from friends we made in Maryland, Australia and Texas, and of course, letters from family.

First, I’m gathering all the letters and cards into one room to deal with it. Then I’m sorting by the person who sent them. I have an empty file drawer to sort them into folders.


Saved letters (photo by Virginia Allain)

After that, should I read them and then return them to the sender? They might get a kick out of what they wrote so many years ago. In some cases, I am no longer in touch with the person, so guess I should just toss those. Of course, I’ll save my mother’s letters to use with the book we planned about her later years.

She had quite a stash of greeting cards accumulated over the years. At the time of her death, I sorted those and my sisters each took the cards they’d sent Mom home with them. There were birthday cards, anniversary cards, and holidays of all sorts, from Christmas to Easter to Thinking of You. Hopefully, as they looked back through those, it brought back memories of happier times.

In with the cards were  some letters that had been her parents from way back. Those are now safely stored with her genealogy files and family photos.

What do you do with letters? Toss right away? Save?

ink well and pen (821x1024)

Vintage inkwell collected by Cynthia Ross, Gail’s daughter.

Some friends gave me these ideas for dealing with old letters:

  • Ann Hinds – “I just received a package of letters from my cousin. She had saved them all from when we were kids. They were fun to read and I find that I haven’t changed that much. I have the letters from my great grandmother that I will hold on to. Any other correspondence from family, I transcribe on so if they start looking, they can find it. While it may not mean a lot to me, it is history to those families.”
  • Jacki Garcia – “I know I will never toss my grandmother’s hand-written letter she wrote when she was a young mother to one of her children. Priceless. This is what this internet and computer generation is truly going to miss, the slant of the cursive letter, the faded out pencil marks, the “love” that a real hand-written letter has.”
  • Tracy – “I would just keep the ones that have special meaning and toss the rest. Or, actually, you could scan what you want to keep and toss all of them if you are trying to declutter your house.”
  • Cheryl Paton – “When I was a kid, we saved lots of things. We had scrap books and stamp collections. And then a flood came and all of that stuff became instant garbage. I then became very selective on what I might truly want to save.”
  • Evelyn Saenz – “Listen to what you said about your mother. You are saving hers to help you write about her. Well, that may be true of your children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. They may want to get to know you through those old letters as well. Keep the letter. Keep them all. Letters should never be thrown away. You might consider putting them in old shoe boxes. Cover the shoe boxes in leftover wrapping paper or wall paper. Tie a ribbon around each box and label the box on the end. Then put them all on the top shelf in a closet or up in the attic. It’s not hoarding. It is preserving your family history.” (caution: an attic or garage is not a safe place for old letters where heat, humidity, and possibly insects could damage them)
  • Susan Kaul – “OH No! Save them. Ever so often I look at my saved letters and stroll down memory lane, it is delightful. Don’t throw away your memories.”
  • Barbara Radisavljevic – “I save. Those letters have a lot of my personal history in them. I am going through them and getting rid of those what no longer mean much to me, but special ones, especially from those who are now passed on, I keep.”

(This was originally posted by Virginia Allain on Bubblews November 8, 2013)


Make Giblet Gravy

My mom wrote her instructions for making giblet gravy and posted them on the eHow site back in 2004. Here’s that article.

Here’s my way of making gravy for serving with the turkey for special meals and Thanksgiving.

Things You’ll Need:

  • giblets (liver, heart, neck, gizzard)
  • water
  • flour
  • a shaker
  • crock pot
  • turkey dripping
  • salt
  1. When the turkey is thawed enough, remove the packet of giblets stored inside. If they are difficult to remove, run cold water into the turkey.

    2013-11-28 005

    The giblets are inside the turkey.

    Remove the giblets from the wrapper and place the heart, gizzard, liver and neck in a pan of water. Boil until tender. The liver can either be removed before the others, as it cooks more quickly or placed in the pot near the end when the others are almost done.

  2. Remove the giblets and neck into a pan to cool. Turn off the heat. Save the broth.
  3. When they’re cool, cut all into small pieces and add back into the broth. (I usually eat the meat from the neck while doing this. You can pull it off the bone and put it into the gravy if you want to go to all that trouble.)
  4. Heat all to boiling and add a cream sauce made of water and flour prepared in a shaker. I use a Tupperware shaker. (1/2 full of cold water, add 4 heaping large-serving-spoon size of flour). Shake it vigorously in the shaker to blend the flour and water. While pouring the cream sauce from the shaker into hot broth, stir vigorously.
  5. After the gravy thickens, I pour it into a preheated crock pot. When the turkey is cooked, my husband drains the drippings into one end of the pan and we add that to the gravy for more flavor. Add salt to flavor.
Tips & Warnings
  • This makes enough gravy for a crowd. We’re usually feeding 20 or more.
  • If you don’t make the cream sauce in a shaker, you might have lumps in your gravy. You can pour it through a sieve to remove the lumps in that case.
clyde, cat, turkey, 1988 001

Clyde Martin carving the turkey

This is the kind of shaker used for the cream sauce that goes into the gravy.

Make Sugared Nuts from Black Walnuts or Pecans

Gail Lee Martin Recipe for You

Separate the shells and nuts

Separate the shells and nuts

We have been using black walnut nutmeats as far back as I can remember. They
are a native tree in Kansas. I love the taste of them in fudge, cookies,
cakes, salads, and pie.

The black walnut with the husk still on.

The black walnut with the husk still on.

I can still remember Daddy making a small covered wagon and Mother filling it with fudge to be auctioned off at one of the Teterville community’s parties back in the 1930s. This party had a western theme and even included a melodrama. Such mixed emotions I had, proud that Mother and Daddy could create such a nifty reproduction of something from the old west, but oh so unhappy that I didn’t get a chance to eat some of that delicious fudge with black walnuts in it. 

This recipe was originally published by Gail on the eHow website.

Sugared Nuts 

Here’s how to make fancy spiced black walnuts or other nutmeats.

Difficulty: Moderately Easy


Things You’ll Need:

  • ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 ½ tablespoons water
  • 1 ½ cups of walnut halves or pecan halves

These are the spices we use for the nuts (cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ground cloves).  sugared-nuts-black-walnuts-pecans-spices-moms-photo

  • In a deep, 2-quart, heat-resistant, non-metallic bowl, combine the first seven ingredients.That’s everything, but the nut halves.
  • Heat, uncovered, in a microwave oven for 1½ minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Nuts, ready to be sugared.

    Remove from the microwave and add the nutmeats to the syrup mixture.

  • Stir until all are well coated. Add more nutmeats until the syrup is all used up.
  • Heat the coated nuts, uncovered, in the microwave oven for 5 minutes or until the syrup begins to harden slightly.


  • Spiced nuts make great Christmas gifts

    Spiced nuts make great Christmas gifts.

    Transfer nuts to a sheet of aluminum foil and spread them apart to cool and harden.

Tips & Warnings

  •  These fancied up nuts can be frozen if you have any left after you taste them.
sugared nuts for Christmas

Treat your loved ones to homemade sugared nuts. (photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Sell Nuts for Extra Holiday Income

Medium sized black walnuts

If you have nut trees, here’s how to make extra money selling the nuts at Christmas time.

Things You’ll Need:

  • a source of nuts
  • sifters
  • white pan
  • tweezers
  • tins and mugs
  • foil cupcake liners
    • Where to sell them:
      We had great success making spiced black walnut nutmeats which our family and friends praised. We then decided to go one step further. We sold them at the farmer’s market. You could also sell them at a flea market or even online like on eBay.
    • How to increase sales at holiday time:
      Around the holidays, we fixed the special nuts in tins and mugs that we found at garage or estate sales. Look for ones appropriate for the season. Look for clean, rust-free, undented tins. People particularly like ones with holiday scenes on them, but other designs make nice gift tins too. Don’t spend too much on these, or you will have to raise the price of the nuts.
      We advertised in the local Shopper’s Guide and people flocked in to buy these unique gifts.
  • Sort the nuts by size:
    To get the biggest nut meats for the spiced nuts, my husband used different strainers with different size grids, large and medium. The large grid let everything go through except the largest pieces. Those large nuts worked great in the spiced nut recipe.
  • Continue sifting using smaller and smaller grids:
    Now he had lots of smaller sizes of nut meats. Really just bits and pieces. So he shook them up in a strainer with a smaller size grid. The smaller grid lets the tiny pieces of shell and other debris fall through. Then these can be run through a strainer with even a smaller grid for the best results.nuts-med-strainer
  • Make sure they’re free of shells:
    Clyde dumps them into a white baking pan and searches for more shells that slipped through. Some tiny pieces of the shell stick to the nut meat and can be removed with tweezers. No one wants to bite into a piece of shell in their spiced nuts or Christmas baked goods.

    Clyde Martin preparing the nuts.

    Clyde Martin preparing the nuts.

    The shaking in the strainers seemed to bring out the oil in the nut meats, making them shiny and tastier. We loved the results of shell-free goodies. It brought return buyers who knew they could count on our product.

  • Offer a variety of flavored and plain nuts:
    With the medium-sized nut meats, we made candied nut clusters. Click on the link to get my recipe for these. We also sold a lot of plain nuts for people who liked to bake. Some would get the smaller nuts for this, but many wanted premium nuts to use in their Christmas cookies. The price of the plain nuts reflected the work we put into sorting and the demand for the holidays.

    sugared nuts for Christmas

    Treat your loved ones to homemade sugared nuts. (photo courtesy of Pixabay)

  • Store them: We stored the spiced nuts and the different candied nuts in the large, empty ice cream buckets until we were ready to fill gift tins and mugs.
  • When we filled the tins, we divided the different candied and spiced nuts using foil cupcake liners.
  • For the mugs, line one with plastic wrap and fill with nuts. Pull the loose ends of the wrap up to twist. Tie it at the twisted area with colorful Christmas ribbon. Use scissors to curl the ribbon.
  • When someone responded to the Shopper’s Guide advertisement, we set out a display of the different nuts in tins and cups on our dining room table. Try to make it festive and appealing.
Tips: These also make great gifts for the family. Fill some of your own fancy dishes that are sitting in the cupboards collecting dust. It’s one way to pass on an heirloom piece of china to your grandchildren.
Cinnamon Star cookies with lots of nuts for Christmas

Cinnamon Star cookies with lots of nuts for Christmas