Conversation and Mother Culture

“Conversation calls out into light what has been lodged in all the recesses and secret chambers of the soul: by occasional hints and incidents it brings old useful notions into remembrance; it unfolds and displays the hidden treasures of knowledge with which reading, observation, and study, had before furnished the mind. By mutual discourse the soul is awakened and allured to bring forth its hoards of knowledge, and it learns how to render them most useful to mankind. A man of vast reading without conversation is like a miser, who lives only to himself.”  – Isaac Watts, Improving the Mind, blogged about what he says about conversation here.


In the comments there, somebody asked me if I found I had many such conversations.  I do, but I had to think about why that is, and where I have them.  Largely, I have them via online conversations with some few special friends who like to talk about ideas and eschew small talk.  I also really cannot do small talk, it is the stuff of nightmares to me.  I don’t mean I am above it, I mean I am baffled by it and never know what to say and then end up saying the wrong thing.  Or things, more likely.  I get nervous and anxious and blurt out dumb things that come out all wrong and sound insulting.  I hate small talk. So I tend not to hang out in places and with people where small talk will abound.  And I prefer written exchanges anyway, so this works for me.

But I started wondering how one goes about finding more real life friends who engage in conversation about ideas.

While pondering, I remembered the old term Mother Culture, because regular conversations, deep, meaningful conversations, are one of the best form of M.C. I know of.   So I looked it up at Google Books and found:

Mother Culture 1

Indulge me.  I know this is about cheese-making, but really, some of this applies.  Keep chill until ripe.  Examine yourself, skimming off what needs to be skimmed, stir well by thinking about ideas, mixing with others, reading widely, ruminating- and also, keep something in reserve. Don’t spill all your thoughts at once.

It’s advisable to propagate mother culture from day to day.  Just as a dab of this mother culture will grow into more culture for more cheese of tasty goodness, so you, too, can bring the conversation somebody else needs. Be the kind of friend you are looking for yourself.

Here’s another quote from a different vintage book:

“It is important that all vessels with which the mother culture and the buttermilk come in contact should be scalded with boiling water If this is not done just sour milk of a poor flavor will be the result ”

“One sees that the big problem is to secure a good mother culture. If the mother culture is good, the buttermilk will be good and the rest is easy if the directions given here are followed.”

this book also advises regular checking for purity and cleanliness, making sure the culture hasn’t gone bad due to contaminants.

I’m sure you see parallels.

Finally, ” Before I sit down I want to say that I find all along the line a large number who are having a great deal of trouble with their starter and I believe that in every instance I have found that it was all due not to a man’s lack of knowledge but to downright carelessness. Carelessness will create more trouble in a creamery than any other one thing, and as for that,anywhere else.

As an instance I will relate that only a short time ago a man called me into his creamery and said ‘My butter is off flavor…’   I took his tub of butter and got his flavor and then I said to him ‘Let me see your culture,’ and he took me over to his starter can. The moment I saw that I knew exactly where the trouble was. It was not the culture but the mother culture that I next looked after and when I took the lid off it had as bad a smell as any swill barrel I ever put my nose into. I said to him “Your culture is absolutely off!”

Then we went about to start a mother line which we did with whole milk And right here I would like to speak again of the point that perhaps not all buttermakers take into consideration. Indeed I did not appreciate it until it was brought to my mind demonstrated to me in my dairy school course and that is the fact that men are careless. They are not as particular as they should be and in no other place is it more important that scrupulous care be taken than in the dairy business. There must be very great care taken in sterilizing and if this is not done, and done all the way through from start to finish, there will be unsatisfactory results in spite of your best efforts ”



Friendship for Grown-Ups: What I Missed and Learned Along the Way by Lisa Whelchel has some very straightforward suggestions on conversational prompts and discussion starters. This is so helpful for people like me, paralyzed by small talk.

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Crocheted octopus


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Rereading the classics

books and reading, school arts vol 15 1916 STANDING INVITATION TO A READER AND TWO LISTENERS TO SIT AND ENJOY A GOOD BOOKThese books,(classics) really written for older people, will have their message for the young, a message that will be amplified and perhaps changed entirely, when, after many years, the book is read again with no lessened interest.

Les Miserables was read once by a young boy whose attention was caught and held so strongly by the exciting story that he held himself through all the long, prosy meanderings with which Hugo has delayed the march of his plot. Some years later the same boy, grown to a college student, read Les Miserables again with even greater interest. He remembered the story quite well, but the prosy meanderings had to his broadened intelligence become wonderful pictures of life, and even the book-long description of the Battle of Waterloo was fascinating, though its only function in the story was to say that one man saved another man’s life. The boy, now a man in middle life, read Hugo’s masterpiece a third time. Story and description were now secondary in in terest, but the author’s deep insight into human nature, his brilliant style and shrewd, kindly phil osophy held the old reader more closely than had anything before.

So will it be with many of the books in the list. If we are to make friends, let us meet them as early as we can, see them as often as we can, and cling to them as long as we can.

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Vintage cookery book by a very interesting chef

chef rufusGood Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus: A Collection of Practical Recipes for Preparing Meats, Game, Fowl, Fish, Puddings, Pastries, Etc
By Rufus Estes
published 1911

Introduction: I was born in Murray County, Tennessee, in 1857, a slave. I was given the name of my master, D. J. Estes, who owned my mother’s family, consisting of seven boys and two girls, I being the youngest of the family. After the war broke out all the male slaves in the neighborhood for miles around ran off and joined the “Yankees.” This left us little folks to bear the burdens. At the age of five I had to carry water from the spring about a quarter of a mile from the house, drive the cows to and from the pastures, mind the calves, gather chips, etc. In 1867 my mother moved to Nashville, Tennessee, my grandmother’s home, where I attended one term of school. Two of my brothers were lost in the war, a fact that wrecked my mother’s health somewhat and I thought I could be of better service to her and prolong her life by getting work. When summer came I got work milking cows for some neighbors, for which I got two dollars a month. I also carried hot dinners for the laborers in the fields, for which each one paid me twenty-five cents per month. All of this, of course, went to my mother. I worked at different places until I was sixteen years old, but long before that time I was taking care of my mother. At the age of sixteen I was employed in Nashville by a restaurant- keeper named Hemphill. I worked there until I was twenty-one years of age. In 1881 I came to Chicago and got a position at 77 Clark Street, where I remained for two years at a salary of ten dollars a week. In 1883 I entered the Pullman service, my first superintendent being J. P. Mehen. I remained in their service until 1897. During the time I was in their service some of the most prominent people in the world traveled in the car assigned to me, as I was selected to handle all special parties. Among the distinguished people who traveled in my care were Stanley, the African explorer; President Cleveland; President Harrison; Adelina Patti, the noted singer of the world at that time; Booth and Barrett- Modjeski and Paderewski. I also had charge of the car for Princess Eulalie of Spain, when she was the guest of Chicago during the World’s Fair. In 1894 I set sail from Vancouver on the Empress of China with Mr. and Mrs. Nathan A. Baldwin for Japan, visiting the Cherry Blossom Festival at Tokio. In 1897 Mr. Arthur Stillwell, at that time president of the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gould Railroad, gave me charge of his magnificent $20,000 private car. I remained with him seventeen months when the road went into the hands of receivers, and the car was sold to John W. Gates syndicate. However, I had charge of the car under the new management until 1907, since which time I have been employed as chef of the subsidiary companies of the United States Steel Corporation in Chicago.”

He has many delicious looking recipes in his cookbook, and also some recipes for things odd to modern tastes. I’ve merely chosen a few examples. For instance:

BROILED PIG’S FEET— Thoroughly clean as many pig’s feet as are required, and split lengthwise in halves, tying them with a broad tape so they will not open in cooking. Put in a saucepan with a seasoning of parsley, thyme, bayleaf, allspice, carrots and onions, with sufficient water to cover. Boil slowly until tender, and let them cool in the liquor. Dip in the beaten yolks of eggs and warmed butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cover with bread crumbs seasoned with very finely chopped shallot and parsley. Put on a gridiron over a clear fire and broil until well and evenly browned. Unbind and arrange on a dish, garnish with fried parsley and serve.

BROILED SHEEP’S KIDNEYS— To broil sheep’s kidneys cut them open, put them on small skewers. Season with salt and pepper and broil. When done serve with shallot or maitre d’hotel sauce.

Brunswick Stew should please anybody:

BRUNSWICK STEW— Cut up one chicken, preferably a good fat hen, cover with cold water, season with salt and pepper, and cook slowly until about half done. Add six ears of green corn, splitting through the kernels, one pint butter beans and six large tomatoes chopped fine. A little onion may be added if desired. Cook until the vegetables are thoroughly done, but very slowly, so as to avoid burning. Add strips of pastry for dumplings and cook five minutes. Fresh pork can be used in place of the chicken and canned vegetables instead of the fresh.

Well, perhaps not a vegetarian.=)

HAM CROQUETTES— Chop very fine one-fourth of a pound of ham; mix with it an equal quantity of boiled and mashed potatoes, two hard boiled eggs chopped, one tablespoon- ful chopped parsley. Season to taste. Then stir in the yolk of an egg. Flour the hands and shape the mixture into small balls. Fry in deep fat. Place on a dish, garnish with parsley and serve.

HASH WITH DROPPED EGGS— Mince or grind cold cooked meat and add two-thirds as much cold chopped vegetables. The best proportions of vegetables are half potato and one- quarter each of beets and carrots. Put a little gravy stock or hot water with butter melted in it, into a saucepan, turn in the meat and vegetables and heat, stirring all the time. Season with salt, pepper, and a little onion juice if liked. Turn into a buttered baking dish, smooth over, and set in the oven to brown. Take up and press little depressions in the top, and drop an egg into each. Set back into the oven until the egg is set, but not cooked hard. Serve in the same dish.

RICE AND BEEF CROQUETTES— To use up cold meat economically combine two cups of chopped beef or mutton with two cups of freshly boiled rice. Season well with salt, pepper, onion juice, a large teaspoon of minced parsley, and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Pack on a large plate and set away to cool. Af ter the mixture is cold, shape into croquettes, dip into beaten egg, roll in fine crumbs and fry in smoking hot fat.

(combine raw hamburger meat with) finely chopped shallot, two eggs, salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg. Mix well and form into balls. Roll in bread crumbs and fry with a little clarified butter four or five minutes, turning frequently. Serve with Russian sauce.

STUFFING FOR GOOSE— Roast fifty chestnuts, using care not to let them burn, remove the inner and outer peels and chop them fine. Chop the goose’s liver, put it in a saucepan with one- half tablespoonful of chopped parsley, shallots, chives, and a lit tle garlic and about two ounces of butter, fry them for a few minutes, then put in the chopped chestnuts with one pound of sausage meat, and fry the whole for fifteen minutes longer. The stuffing is then ready for use.

STUFFING FOR RABBITS— Peel two onions and boil, when they are tender drain and mince them. Chop one-half pound pickled pork and few fine herbs, stir them in with the onions, then stir in the yolks of two eggs and add a sufficient quantity breadcrumbs to make it fairly consistent. Season to taste with pepper and salt, using a very little of the latter on account of the salt in the pork. Then stuffing is ready for use.

STUFFING FOR A SUCKLING PIG AND ‘POSSUM— Put two tablespoonfuls of finely chopped onions into a saucepan with one teaspoon of oil. Toss them over the fire for five or six minutes, add eight ounces of rice boil in stock, an equal quantity of sausage meat, four or five ounces of butter, a small quantity of mince parsley, and pepper and salt to taste. Turn the mixture into a basin and add three eggs to make the whole into a stiff paste. It is then ready for use.

CRESS SANDWICHES— Take thin slices of rare roast beef and cut into small pieces. Add an equal quantity of minced watercress dressed with a teaspoonful of grated horseradish, a little salt and paprika to season, and enough softened butter or thick cream to moisten. Blend the ingredients well, and spread between thin slices of buttered graham or whole wheat bread. Cut in neat triangles, but do not reject the crust.

BANANA SANDWICHES— Remove the skin and fibers from four bananas, cut them in quarters and force through a ricer. Mix with the pulp the juice of half a lemon, a dash of salt and nutmeg and set it away to become very cold while you prepare the bread. This should be cut in very thin slices, freed from crusts and trimmed into any preferred shape. Slightly sweeten some thick cream and add a speck of salt. Spread the bread with a thin layer of the cream, then with the banana pulp put together and wrap each in waxed paper, twist the ends, and keep very cold until serving time.

JAPANESE SANDWICHES— These are made of any kind of left-over fish, baked, broiled or boiled. Pick out every bit of skin and bone, and flake in small pieces. Put into a saucepan with just a little milk or cream to moisten, add a little butter and a dusting of salt and pepper. Work to a paste while heating, then cool and spread on thin slices of buttered bread.

KEDGEREE — For this take equal quantities of boiled fish and boiled rice. For a cupful each use two hard boiled eggs, a teaspoonful curry powder, two tablespoonfuls butter, a half tablespoonful cream, and salt, white pepper and cayenne to season. Take ail the skin and bone from the fish and put in a saucepan with the butter. Add the rice and whites of the boiled eggs cut fine, the cream, curry powder and cayenne. Toss over the fire until very hot, then take up and pile on a hot dish. Rub the yolks of the boiled eggs through a sieve on top of the curry, and serve.

LUNCHEON SURPRISE— Line buttered muffin cups with hot boiled rice about half an inch thick. Fill the centers with minced cooked chicken seasoned with salt and pepper and a little broth or gravy. Cover the tops with rice and bake in a moderate oven for fifteen minutes. Unmold on a warm platter and serve with a cream sauce seasoned with celery salt. If liked, two or three oysters may be added to the filling in each cup.

SARDINE RAREBIT— One level tablespoon butter, one- fourth level teaspoon salt, one-fourth level teaspoon paprika, one level teaspoon mustard, one cup thin cream or milk, one cup grated cheese, one-fourth pound can sardines, boned and minced, two eggs, toast or crackers. Melt the butter, add the salt, paprika, mustard, cream and cheese and cook over hot water, stirring until the cheese is melted. Then add the sardines and eggs slightly beaten. When thick and smooth serve on toast or crackers.

MOLDED CEREAL WITH BANANA SURPRISE— Turn any left-over breakfast cereal, while still hot, into cups rinsed in cold water, half filling the cups. When cold, scoop out the centers and fill the open spaces with sliced bananas, turn from the cups onto a buttered agate pan, fruit downward, and set into a hot oven to become very hot. Remove with a broad- bladed knife to cereal dishes. Serve at once with sugar and cream or milk.

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Last night I said my last good bye to our Unicornian boys, as their host parents invited us to come watch the eldest play soccer (he’s younger and smaller than the American kids on his team, but he makes the best goals, not that I am biased).    As events have unfolded we have learned new things, heartbreaking things, hard things, and it’s very possible these boys cannot be adopted ever, by anybody, especially not in the states.  So we may never see them again.

Remember when I said this?

It hurts too much.  I never want to endure this kind of pain again.  Ever. I’m pretty sure we will, but right now, I am looking at this screen in tears and all I can say is it hurts too much.

You know when you say, “I really need to get started on….” insert some really necessary, important household project, and then you go back to your laptop and crochet and don’t get started, you probably aren’t going to because you are a loser and a slacker.

Feeding the cherub grapes, cheese on rice cakes, one of those horrid baby food pouches of pureed spinach and squash, and granola bars with milk all day long is a well balanced meal, yes?  At least for today.

Crackers, pimento cheese spread and cookies (on the side, not with spread) is a well balanced diet for myself.  I had coffee, too.

If you are watching the K-Drama W, which has been amazing and very cool, did it just get totally creepy, or what?  But too late, I’m hooked.

A friend has lost her baby at 20 weeks.  She’s an online friend mostly, but I happened to be able to meet up with her in her state the same day she found out she was pregnant, and so I felt in some small measure a tiny bit of proprietary interest, a sort of distant, courtesy godmother kind of thing, and I hate this for anybody.

A friend with many children, all at home, has a returning brain tumour.

A friend with many children all at home, was in a devastating car accident and she has lost her leg.

I can make a longer list.  I can make another list of things I call good, babies born, excellent bloodwork after a new cancer treatment for another friend, adorable grandchildren who say funny and sweet things, precious adult children who say wise and keenly insightful things and remind me they love me, God has a plan, food in my fridge, clothes in my closet, my friend who lost her leg survived the accident as did all her family, and more.

But it’s not like these things somehow cancel out the others. Grief is not on one side of a page and somehow it disappears, like X in an algebra equation, when you put good things on the other.  Solve for X.  Solve for grief.

We need to stop living in a fallen world, sighed one of my adult children, who knows as much or more as I do.

And providentially, as I am becoming another mess of hot, puddling, gasping tears, a message comes over my phone, a friend from another state, a friend who knows as much or more about enduring these hard things, telling me she saw the boys have left, and she is praying, praying for peace, safety, blessing, and for God to be the strength of my heart.

If we must live in this fallen world, it is more endurable through friends and family like these.





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