Matrilineal Monday: my grandparents, Victoria Emma Prinzing and Harry Forrest Buerer

Vickie Prinzing and Harry Buerer

When I discuss family history with others, I find most people, whether it be distance, family relationships, or other factors, know about one side more than the other. I probably saw my maternal grandparents less than 10 times in my life. They lived in California, and we lived in Pennsylvania. We didn't talk much on the phone, as long distance was expensive during my childhood. But I did maintain a kind of "pen pal" relationship with my grandmother, and I got to know her better that way.

I already talked a little about my maternal grandfather, Harry Buerer. But I haven't touched much on my grandmother, Victoria Prinzing.

With all due respect....my grandmother was kind of a pain in the butt.

She definitely had an opinion on the "right" way to do things and the "wrong" way to do things. When she and I corresponded during my girlhood, she wrote me back at one point and told me my letters to her needed to be at least 10 sentences long. No hair hanging in your face, and no saying "Geez" (because it sounded too much like Jesus.) And god help you...GOD HELP YOU...if you you picked up your dessert fork and began before she did. She'd call you out at a holiday dinner in such a way that made you want to shrink under the table.

My grandmother, Victoria Prinzing, when she graduated from York Community High School in Elmhurst, IL.

And while I struggle to find information on Hannah and my paternal side, I'm not at a loss for research on the maternal. My grandmother documented every single sneeze. She kept diaries, letters, and family trees that would make any family historian jump up and down with glee. And through these I can  begin to understand (or at least attempt to know) the human being my grandmother was. 

My cousin asked my grandparents for their family histories when he was in high school. My grandfather promptly wrote him back a one page story of his life as a farm boy in Modesto, California, picking and drying apricots and peaches most of his young life (except for a year when he battled typhoid fever.) My grandmother wrote three typed pages single-spaced about her upbringing and adulthood.

Born in Chicago on August 13, 1917, my grandmother's birth kept my great grandfather from the draft into World War I. (People joked my great grandparents should have named her "weatherstrip" because it kept him out of the draft.) Her parents bought a house in Elmhurst, a suburb of Chicago, in 1922, before Elmhurst even had paved roads. She graduated fourth in a class of 250 from York Community High School and went on to study English Literature at Wheaton College, graduating in 1940.

Vickie came from a very devout Christian family. Her Aunt Viola Elsie Anderson and Uncle Anton Christianus Anderson, served as missionaries in the Belgian Congo. My great great grandfather, Fred Prinzing, acted as the secretary of the Congo Gospel Mission. Vickie grew up typing letters and stuffing envelopes for the Mission and soon found a desire for her own venture to Africa.

My grandparents met at Wheaton, and Harry also expressed a desire to go to Africa. (My grandmother describes my grandfather's relations as "a nominally Christian family.") My grandfather proposed, and the Congo Gospel Mission accepted them before they even graduated. But the mission board recommended they wait a year after being married to go overseas.

And wait they did. World War II, a trip to Montanta, children, and other factors halted their plans. But eventually, their quest for Africa happened. And all is told in my grandmother's diaries. 

To be continued....

Creating a culinary legacy, the Big Harvest Potluck, and a recipe for Mom mom eggs

Five years ago, I met some of the best friends I have at small gathering of food bloggers in Bucks County, PA. That group has grown and blossomed, and every year some old and new friends return to the area to feed our brains, hearts, and appetites.

This year I had the privilege of speaking at The Big Harvest Potluck  about stack pie and creating a culinary legacy. Even though I treasure my heritage and family memories, I have no recipes handed down from the past. I have to count on the recollections of my childhood, the tastes and smells of the food that gave me comfort and a feeling of security and home.

One of my favorite smells and memories is breakfast cooking. My grandmother made breakfast for me every single weekend when I was a little girl. She awoke at 5:30am to cook eggs and bacon, every Saturday and Sunday, for all of my childhood. And that had a huge and profound impact on me. Someone was thinking about me and taking care of me before I even opened my eyes.

One day I asked her for her recipe for fried eggs, which made everyone chuckle. Of course she had no recipe; the technique had been ingrained in her probably since her childhood. But these eggs aren't just any eggs. And I'm here to share the recipe with you. In fact, Smitten Kitchen did a post on crispy eggs did a post a few weeks ago that looks absolutely amazing. So try them. And look for some other memories to create your own heritage and legacy to pass on.

The Recipe for Mom mom eggs

Fry some bacon in a cast iron skillet. Remove the bacon to drain on some paper towels. Leave the bacon grease in the pan. If you'd like to take some out, only take a bit. This is the basis for an amazing egg. Crack an egg right into the bacon grease. Watch it start to sizzle and bubble and become amazing. The crispy edges that emerge are perfection. Flip the egg if you like. Cook it to your desired doneness. Eat with buttered toast and bacon.

 

 

 

 

When the KKK threatened to burn down the house: stories from my stepfather, Bill Jones

When I was a really little girl, about four or five, my mother met a really great guy and married him in 1978. The guy was Bill Jones, and he hailed from the state of Alabama. I remember the first time I met him. He came to our house to pick up my mother, and when I opened the door, he said, "Hi!" in his best Southern drawl. He spoke a really peculiar language to me. He said things like, "Did you bump your noggin?" and "Has anyone seen my billfold?" He ate crazy things like black eyed peas and cornbread. He would chop up his over easy eggs (called "dippy eggs" in my south central Pennsylvania lingo) until the yolks were broken, then tear his bacon apart and mix it in with the eggs. And god help you when the Auburn vs. Alabama game was on. Much yelling ensued from the family room.

I didn't know too much about his upbringing in Sylacauga, a small down about an hour southeast of Birmingham. Lately, I've been asking him questions, and the stories he has are gold.

On September 16, 1963, a bomb went off in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. Four men associated with a Ku Klux Klan group planted a bomb in the basement of the church, ultimately killing four young girls and wounding 22 other people. The governor of Alabama, George Wallace, famously stated "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" and gained national notoriety for his publicity stunt of "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door" when he blocked the admissions entrance at the University of Alabama to prevent two young African American students from registering.  After the tragedy in the 16th Street Baptist Church, civil rights activists blamed the bombing on him.

George Wallace standing in the door at the University of Alabama, 1963.

George Wallace standing in the door at the University of Alabama, 1963.

My stepfather, a 20 year old student at Auburn University, decided to write a letter to the Birmingham News expressing his concern over Gov. Wallace and the "stands" he took.  The paper printed it on September 18, 1963. The letter reads:

“Alabama Stand” Hasn’t Helped State
During the governor’s election, Sen. deGraffenreid talked to our senior class. He told us that loudmouth threats would only bring trouble. He said the way to settle the segregation problem was through law and order.
Many people talked about all the young people at deGraffenreid’s speeches and said that they couldn’t elect him. Well, this young person will be able to vote next time and so will many other young people. 
I have seen what Gov. Wallace’s “standing up for Alabama” has done. He stood right in the doorway of our schools and moved when told to. Very good publicity! In fact everything he has done lately seems to be for publicity. When Huntsville’s mayor openly criticized the governor, he let the local school board settle the problem; and they have had no trouble.
How can Alabama progress when the governor, who is the representative of the people, admits all he wants to do is have President Kennedy defeated in the next election, and then, for example, have to turn right around and ask him to declare Huntsville a disaster area?
I think it’s time for the local school board to take over, call an end to some of the students’ excuse for taking an extended vacation, and time for some of the people of Birmingham to grow up.
BILL JONES, 917 Craddock, Sylacauga

And then the letters started pouring in.

The letters were mean. And violent. And from the tone, my stepfather and his family could tell they came from the KKK. They called him a commie. They threatened to either blow up or burn down the house. Six or seven letters arrived in all.

Bill Jones

Bill Jones

But the threats were empty, and eventually the attention died down. And Bill's parents didn't give him too much grief about it. The only advice Bill's father really gave him was this: "Next time you write a letter, make sure it doesn't have my address on it!"

Last week, my stepfather had a birthday. He is a humble and joyful person to be around. And we all are so very proud and love him dearly.

Love you to the moon and back, Billy Charles.

Vintage recipes and traditions: finding the food of our ancestors

Last October, I wrote a post about finding the stack pie tradition in North Carolina.  The whole notion of stack pie is a wonderful thing to me.  It encompasses artistry, community, and family all in one dish.  But the only documentation I had of stack pie came from Cabins in the Laurel, a book my aunt gave me.  I knew I had to do more digging.

And I found some great things.  Amazing things.  But I didn't find them in the way I expected.  For instance, I realized discovering old (and sometimes forgotten) recipes can't really be done online.  Nowadays, we can do almost everything with a few clicks on our computer or phone.  But stack pie didn't really come up all that regularly for me, if at all.  So I dug some more.  And let me tell you how and where you can possibly come up with some great ideas for vintage food traditions and recipes.

  • Ask your relatives.  This almost seems too easy.  But our older relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) hold on to so much information.  And they'd probably love to talk about it.  Sit with them.  Jog their memory.  The most joyous of remembrances lie around food and family.  See what these people in your lives have to say.

 

  • Contact the local library in the area you're researching.  I cannot, cannot, cannot stress enough how valuable libraries are.  I really believe the majority of people in a town have no idea the wealth their libraries have to offer.  Yes, things are moving in a more electronic direction, like eBooks.  But the library not only holds old and rare books; these institutions provide family chronicles, newspapers, and other priceless documentation on the local history of the community.  Let me give you an example:  I walked into a library in Bakersville, NC, and asked the librarian at the front desk if they had any old local cookbooks or recipes.  She thought for a minute, and said, "Have you been in our North Carolina room?"  She then walked me into a room no bigger than a walk-in closet filled with books and articles about the local area.  Pulling a huge table out of the way, she got on her hands and knees and began to hand me small local cookbooks from Mitchell County.  I was in heaven, I tell you.  And after making much use of their photocopier, I took invaluable information about the local area.  Almost every library has either a local history room or several shelves dedicated to community archives.  I have to believe you won't walk away empty.

 

  • Use the library in your own area, even if it's miles away from the area you're researching.  The library in my town has been very good to me.  And I've become friends with the reference librarian.  Tell him/her what and where you're researching and what you're trying to look for.  He/she can pull books and other information you didn't even know existed.  My reference librarian got a book for me on Appalachian cooking, a book I didn't even know existed.  I then tracked down the author and sent an email to him.  And he was very gracious and wrote me back (a lot of authors are.)

 

  • Go to library book sales.  I think you can tell by now how much I love the library.  Many people don't know that the library either has an ongoing book sale or has an enormous book sale once a year.  Go.  Go.  Go.  A library in the next town over has a huge one every year, and I wake up at 6:30am on a Saturday morning and pay $20 to get in before the public.  And it's so worth it.  The library will have local history and cookbooks, and let me tell you a secret:  I've gotten old church cookbooks for free because no one else wants them.  These books have so many old recipes from churches in the area and all over the country.  I love to look at the recipes and who contributed them.  (Check out my friend Amber's post on her grandmother's cookbooks.  Lovely.)

 

  • Call the churches in the area.  For hundreds of years, the church has been one of the strongest pillars of a community.  These churches usually keep their history in their own libraries or designated areas.  Quakers keep amazing minutes of their meetings that can provide so much information about an locale.  And if you've grown up in church, we all know how the congregation loves food.  My food-loving family came from a line of Baptists and Methodists, and the central church in Bakersville where my family worshipped was the Bear Creek Baptist Church.  However, I didn't limit my contact with just them.  I decided I would call the other Baptist churches in the area to see if I could get any local food traditions.  Let me tell you something about that area:  Bakersville's population lies around a little more than 450.  In the Bakersville/Spruce Pine area, there are 22 Baptist churches.  And I called every single one of them.

So I've given you several ways to find those old forgotten recipes and traditions.  You'll find once you get started, the journey can be as joyful as the destination.  Off you go!

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