It was long after that we went on our first date together cross country skiing at Sizerville State Park. I had never skied before and didn’t realize the familiar foot trails at Sizerville weren’t good cross skiing trails. As we skied the hiking trails over dead trees and crossed foot bridges in the newly fallen snow I told him that the park was one of my favorite places. “When my children were small we lived in the trailer park a few miles up the road. We didn’t have much money so I would dream that this was a country club where we would swim, picnic, hike and ride bikes. Every year there’s a wonderful Autumn festival where I make hard tack candy over an open fire.”
“Really? I set up here every year at the Autumn festival and carve wood spoons.” Cliff carved spoons on the far end of the park with folks who were making soap, crafting whirly gigs, for children and pressing apple cider. I made the hard tack candy at the front entrance, near the nature center with folks who were helping children make corn husk dolls, painting pumpkins, dipping candles and making leaf prints.
We talked about the potluck dinner of hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans, smoked turkey, potato salad, hot dogs, salsa and tortilla chips, lemon cake and brownies that was served to all the volunteers after the festival. Both of us came to the conclusion that's where we met before, as we both felt like we knew each other for a lifetime.
After the snow melted we began mountain biking together. Cliff bought me a red Rockhopper mountain bike in the early spring. One of our favorite places to bike was Sizerville State Park with it's mountains and beautiful roads. When we would stop for a break to enjoy the vistas we began making plans for the upcoming Autumn Festival in October. We both agreed that it wasn't that much fun setting up alone and thought it would be a great idea to set up next to each other. All his life he had been looking for a woman who wanted to work alongside him. Although I never thought of having anyone to do the things I loved with, the idea sounded wonderful. This was a dream come true for both of us.
In late August of 1999, when the postcard reminder for the annual festival arrived in the mail I called the park to make my reservation and put in a request that Cliff and I set up together at the same site. I never expected that the idea would be met with resistance. My longtime friend Lisa had since moved on to another park and there was a new manager. In a stern voice she said “You have to stay in the area where you are and Cliff has to stay in the area where he is. He is doing a demonstration and you are doing an activity with children.” Her demeanor was as irritating as poison ivy that made my skin itch.
Since I no longer enjoyed making the candy by myself I called the park office to tell them I wouldn’t be making the candy any longer. It was an abundant year for apples. We came up with the idea to make some apple butter in a cast iron kettle with drop apples. When looking for a recipe in Cliff's Foxfire books I read that in pioneer days every family had their own recipe for apple butter. I came up with our own recipe using brown sugar, cider, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and my secret ingredient, cardamom. Cliff crafted a small apple butter paddle to stir the mixture.
I was working for Penn State Extension at the time and had a good whole grain biscuit recipe I could use to bake biscuits in Cliff’s Griswold cast iron Dutch oven over the fire. This would fit in with the theme of pioneering and demonstrate how pioneers cooked without electric. Cliff brought enough dry firewood in the back of his thiel green F-150 pickup truck to build a fire. I hadn’t thought of asking for permission from the park manager since fire pits were available at each picnic area and vendors often had fires to stay warm on the cool autumn day.
All was well for a while. We started a fire early in the morning so we would have enough hot coals to cook the biscuits and apple butter. I made up a large batch of dry biscuit mix made up of whole wheat flour, lard, baking powder and non-fat dry milk. I added the park’s spring water to the mixture to make a soft, pliable dough. After I rolled out the biscuits with Cliff's mom's wood rolling pin, my grandson William who was now just tall enough to reach the picnic table cut out circles using an antique biscuit cutter. The first few batches of biscuits burnt as the fire was too hot, but as the wood turned to hot coals, the biscuits came out golden brown.
It wasn’t until people began stopping by to taste the warm biscuits and apple butter simmering in the 10 quart kettle, that the park manager who I spoke to on the phone when making our reservations confronted us. She was dressed in her park uniform and had fiery red shoulder length hair. She walked briskly to our site as if she had business to discuss “You didn’t get permission to do an activity in this part of the park.”
I replied “I’m not doing an activity. This is a demonstration on how to make apple butter and biscuits over a wood fire.”
She said “You aren’t allowed to do this here.” I apologized and told her there wasn’t much I could do about it now. She sharply turned and walked away in frustration.
The day continued with people stopping by to watch Cliff carve spoons and to taste the apple butter and biscuits, which we now had to cut in quarters to accommodate the large crowd that had swelled to over 1500 people. It was fun seeing little boys and older men alike stand for hours and watch Cliff carve a spoon with his hand tools. A woman with young children, including her red-headed five year old son with a white t-shirt and blue jeans stopped to watch Cliff smooth out a spoon with a spoke shave.
“What are you making?” he asked.
Cliff replied “A spoon made out of wood.” The boy thoughtfully said “Maybe you should make a wood bowl for your wife’s biscuits.”
Not knowing how to reply to the lad, Cliff said “I used to have red hair when I was a little boy.”
Seeing Cliff’s grey hair under his leather large brimmed dark brown hat that shaded his eyes, the boy said “Wow,that must have been a long time ago.”
As the crowd dwindled down and the apple butter and biscuits ran out, the drill sergeant returned, walking slower towards our site. “Are there any biscuits and apple butter left?”
“Why?” I asked
“Everyone is telling me how good they taste. People love the smell of the apple butter through the park and told me what a great idea it was to have someone making apple butter and biscuits.”
I scraped the last of the apple butter from the cast iron kettle and spread it a piece of one of the leftover burnt biscuits and kindly handed it to her. “This is all that’s left” I said. She thanked us for volunteering at the festival and reminded us next year to get permission.
I almost told her that one of my motto’s in life is “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness, than it is for permission” but thought I should probably keep that under my hat. Little did I know I would need her forgiveness again at next year’s Autumn festival.
To be continued ...
9 cups flour (1/2 unbleached white and ½ whole wheat)
1/3 cup aluminum free baking powder
1 cup plus 2 tablespoon nonfat milk solids
4 teaspoons salt
1¾ cup lard or vegetable shortening
Sift all dry ingredients. Cut shortening into flour until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Store well covered, in cool, dry place.
2-3 cups biscuit mix
Enough warm water to make pliable dough.
Stir water into dough.
When dough is pliable knead lightly a few times.
Pat into circle that is 1/4 inch thick.
Cut into rounds with biscuit cutter.
Place rounds on ungreased baking sheet.
Bake in preheated 425 degree oven until lightly browned (10-12 minutes)