Next Monday celebrates National Retro Day! Retro describes something new that’s imitative of past, classic fashion styles or designs. Nowadays, retro has expanded to describe many other classic things from our past – such as music, movies, TV shows, and even foods.
Additionally, next Wednesday is also the beginning of March, which celebrates National Craft Month! A craft is basically an activity that involves making things skillfully, with your hands. Common retro crafts include macrame, weaving, sewing, knitting and crocheting.
These days, other popular crafts include making beer/wine, jam, soap, pottery, jewelry, candles, aroma oils, etc. Sugaring, which is the process of gathering maple sap and making it into a sugar and/or syrup [NOT the hair-removal process by the same name], is considered a craft, as well.
Unofficially, March Is Maple Syrup Season In Michigan; which is also the title of a timeless, informative article about the traditional (retro) method of sugaring; written by Russell Kidd (March 14, 2013), available at Michigan State University’s Extension’s website.
Making maple syrup is a really big event in Michigan! On the weekends, mid-March to late-April, in different regions around Michigan, you’ll find an array of maple syrup festivals, celebrating the age-old craft of sugaring.
The ideal conditions required for maple sap to flow well are here, as night temperatures hover around the freezing mark and daytime temps warm up, into the 40’s range. The sugaring season normally lasts about four to six weeks, depending on the weather, climate change, and location.
Unfortunately, global warming is shortening the sugaring season. The effect of climate change on the maple syrup season and its average production shows a slight closing of the normal “window of opportunity”, as the season’s start is beginning to shift from March to mid-February…
Once the weather gets too warm and the trees start to bud, the sap is no-longer good for sugaring and the season is done. Around this time of year, since four years ago, I love re-sharing a really great story/video from my local morning news show.
Backyard Maple Syrup, With Jill-of-all-Trades, by Jill Washburn (March 26, 2019), available at Fox2Detroit.com, is an impressive segment about how to collect maple tree sap and a simple way to cook down a small batch (about 2 gallons), for a day or so in a slow cooker, until it renders a sweet, thick syrup.
When the mini sugaring process is done, the two gallons of sap yields about a half-cup of syrup, but there’s such a great feeling of accomplishment in being able to say, “I made it, myself!” [FYI: December 17th is the OFFICIAL National Maple Syrup Day.]
I’ve learned that maples with a 25-inch (or more) diameter can handle up to three taps but no trees should ever have more than that. Those with a 10-to-20-inch diameter shouldn’t have more than one tap. At 20-25 inches (diameter), they can sustain up to two taps. In an average season, each tap can produce about 10 gallons of sap, which renders about one quart of syrup.
Here’s a re-share of Mom’s homemade, copycat version of “Syrup, Like Pancake House”, made from pantry shelf products; as seen in her self-published cookbook, The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; June 1977, p. 32).
Between inflation and supply shortages, people are resorting more to making their own groceries and personal care products. Given our current trend, I think many of us are going to learn more about old-fashioned homesteading skills.
Mom was a trailblazer, with her “copycat cookery concept”. But she also wrote about how to stretch food, reinvent leftovers, and make many grocery products at home! If it saved money on her family’s grocery budget, she had to share it with others. Critics thought her craft (copycat cookery) was a passing fad that wouldn’t last. They were so wrong!
Not only did it last but it grew by leaps and bounds since its inception in the 1970s. Mom carved out a creative new niche in the food industry. People wanted to make their own fast food, junk food and grocery products at home. The concept was so catching that there were copycats copying the ORIGINAL copycat, even plagiarizing her.
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, pp. 298-299). [A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition)].
WE WERE RECEIVING ABOUT 1000 letters a day from the radio shows that I took part in and the newspaper stories that I was more-or-less an acting consultant on subjects related to ‘fast food’. In the spring of 1981, our old friend, Carol Haddix, ran a story about our new book of ‘Homemade Groceries’ in the Chicago Tribune, where she had just been assigned the food department.
The Donahue Show people called once more and requested our appearance. We had just done a PM Magazine show with Detroit and had declined an invitation to appear in New York on Good Morning America, as well as declining an opportunity to have People Magazine interview us – and I still wonder why in the world I said I would do the Donahue show!
I think it was because I had just tangled with Grit, the weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania, over giving credit to the Food editor’s teenage daughter for having developed a fish batter like Arthur Treacher’s, using [my] club soda and pancake mix [recipe] – and received an apology on the back page of one of their issues, placing the item between an ad for corn and callous remover and waste cinchers.
I was also tangling with Jove Publications, who were pressing hard to sell their ‘Junk Food Cookbook’, using my recipes, word-for-word, with credit going to somebody else. I wanted to establish the fact that I was very much in business and willing to protect my copyrighted property with the same enthusiasm and sincerity as the major food companies had exhibited in protecting theirs from my imitations. (And believe me, we’ve heard from all the big ones!)
So, on July 6, Paul and I flew to Chicago, staying at the Hyatt O’Hare, and did the Donahue show live – for an entire hour – on July 7, flying back that same afternoon. The next day, 15,000 letters waited for us at the St. Clair post office.
And every day for 4 months, we picked up thousands of letters – having received by Christmas, well over 1 million letters, requesting information on how to acquire our books, which were still available only by mail from our address. We were bogged down with an unexpected response. It was an experience of mixed blessings!
I’ve often mentioned that my favorite, of Mom’s self-published cookbooks, is The Secrets Of Homemade Groceries (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1979). When I was a young mom, struggling to make ends meet, money was tight, and the pantry was almost bare. Mom’s ‘Homemade Groceries’ cookbook was always my go-to source – AND still is.
It teaches how to make a lot of popular grocery products at home; as well as, how to stretch or extend other products, saving a lot of money on the monthly grocery expenses! The ‘high demand’, ‘overhead costs’ and ‘expected profits’ that are added to the prices of ‘convenience’ foods are what kill us at the grocery stores!
The lack of real nutrition that’s missing from these preservative-loaded, manufactured foods are not benefiting our health, either. They’re full of unnatural, shelf-life stabilizers, none of which are found in homemade groceries, where YOU control the ingredients!
‘Homemade Groceries’ includes easy principles for canning and freezing food, as well as making your own mixes, sauces and seasonings at a great financial savings compared to buying them – especially now! The retro homesteading concept has spawned new interests in “homemade”.
What happened to us, as a society? We became a too-busy-with-other-things, instant-gratification-and-convenience-overloaded culture! About half a century ago, we evolved into times when both parents, in a family unit, had to work to make ends meet, while their children were “raised” in the public schools’ Latchkey program.
The value of time changed dramatically, especially for working homemakers. Self-sufficiency and homesteading became a dying skill among many of the newer generations, who opted to spend their time differently, in exchange for conveniences – even to the extent of wanting more conveniences.
Nowadays, too many families are struggling to survive week-to-week and month-to-month, so cost-saving homesteading skills (re-termed as DIY) are making a renewed comeback. Besides, sometimes, when it comes to food, homemade is just better made, especially if you have to follow a special diet, as you control the ingredients in the product you covet.
‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ – Plato
Vegetable gardening time is approaching fast. Many growers are starting their seeds indoors, right now, and prepping their garden beds for when it’s time to transplant those seedlings outside – usually after about 8 weeks. I remember when I was young, helping Mom in our little garden and orchard, in Algonac; collecting tomatoes, apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb for her homemade sauces and desserts.
Besides the nutritional and money-saving values of growing your own food, it’s also a healthy activity! You can burn a lot of calories, while tending a garden. There are so many aspects involved – planting, weeding, mulching, composting, watering, harvesting. I’m really looking forward to getting back into my garden soon.
In honor of TODAY, being National Muffin Day, here’s Mom’s copycat recipe for “White Mountain Muffins” (aka: Bongo Biscuits); as seen in her self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Mostly 4-Ingredient Recipes (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; April 1986, p. 101).
Here’s also a re-share of Mom’s homemade “Self-Rising Flour” recipe, included on one of her “Free Recipe Samples & Ordering Information” sheets.
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
February celebrates, among other things… National Fasting February, Black History Month, National Canned Food Month, National Great American Pies Month, National Bake for Family Fun Month, National Bird Feeding Month, National Cherry Month, National Grapefruit Month, National Hot Breakfast Month, and National Snack Food Month!
Tomorrow is… National Grain-Free Day and National Sticky Bun Day! Plus, as the day before Ash Wednesday (2023), it’s also… Mardi Gras (aka: Fat Tuesday), Paczki Day, Fastnacht Day, and iHop’s National Pancake Day!
February 23rd is… National Banana Bread Day and National Dog Biscuit Day! Plus, as the fourth Thursday in February (for 2023), it’s also… National Chili Day! And, as the last Thursday in February (2023), it’s also… National Toast Day!
Friday, February 24th is… National Tortilla Chip Day! BONUS: In honor, here’s Mom’s secret recipes for “Tortilla Shells” and “[Homemade] Masa Harina”, as seen in… Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, pp. 68 & 70). [A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition)].
Sunday, February 26th is… National Pistachio Day!
…8 down and 44 to go!