Sunday, January 20, 2008

Prairie Life, part II (and a recipe)

Myvillage lies on the banks of the Big Turtle River in the northeast part of Big Flat County, which is almost smack dab in the center of the great prairie state of Windswept. Big Flat County has an area of twelve hundred square miles and a population of 165,000, of whom 125,000 live in Cornfedton, the county seat. The rest live in small towns named after native sons and Civil War politicians, and either farm for a living or commute to Cornfedton to work. Cornfedton is twenty-five miles away from Myvillage and like most county residents I drive there to shop, get my car serviced and my prescriptions filled.

For decades, Big Flat County’s wealth came from agriculture and it is still one of the top grain-producing areas in the US. Sadly, this is beginning to change; Cornfedton is booming, putting some of the richest farmland in the world under concrete for a lot of cookie-cutter subdivisions. I swear every house that has been built here for the last ten years is beige.

Cornfedton is the corporate headquarters of one of the country’s biggest service firms and a major regional nursing home chain. It has two large manufacturing plants, two hospitals, a community college, a small four-year private religious college, and a branch of Windswept State University. It suffers from a bit of an identity crisis; most inhabitants are fifth or sixth-generation Cornfedtonian and its roots are strongly rural, but it yearns to be like the wealthy, yuppie suburbs up around Lakeopolis, 120 miles away.

Cornfedton loves brand names and since it is big enough to support huge retailers but not quite big enough to sustain both the national chains and mom ‘n’ pops, it has lost much of its sturdy Midwest character and the retail districts now resemble southern California. There are no non-chain booksellers and the last independent pharmacy closed two years ago. According to a boasting article in the local paper, there are more McDonald’s here than in the entire state of Wyoming. Nearly all the greasy spoons have been put out of business but fortunately there is still a Greek place hanging on for dear life just off the parkway. How it has survived I don’t know unless it is because the owner is also the cook, cashier, busboy, janitor and headwaiter.

When the spousal unit first brought me to Cornfedton, my one thought was that it is the most white-bread place I have ever seen. I have not changed my mind. It is prosperous, pious, kind-hearted, and dull. It averages one homicide per year. It also regularly makes the list of the twenty best places in the country to live if you’re homosexual. This is why the allegedly reverend Fred Phelps hates Cornfedton and has popped up with his witless crotch fruit to picket several of the churches here; said churches having dared to preach the pernicious and mistaken doctrine that God loves us all.

Smug City, where I am more or less gainfully employed, is fifty-five miles and two counties away. Smug City is smaller than Cornfedton but considers itself in every way the intellectual, political, and cultural superior of the two. Smug City is the home of the University of Windswept, a nationally-ranked school. It has indie bookstores, coffee shops that are not Starbucks, vintage clothing stores, a public radio station, art galleries, and some very fine old architecture. I should like Smug City better than Cornfedton but for some reason I don’t.

My favorite locality, however, is Prettybury, twenty miles up the blacktop and just over the county line. Prettybury has a population of around 4,000. Unlike most Midwest farm towns including Myvillage, it has managed to hang on to its business district. This is due to its distance from Cornfedton and the Interstate, and also to the heavy local population of Apostolic Christians.

They are familiarly known here as AC’s or more crudely, Bunheads, after the mandatory hairstyle for female church members. Apostolic Christians are a result of a schism in the Amish church in 1850 or so and although they may seem quaintly old-fashioned to outsiders, they are quite a bit more in this world than the Amish. Because AC’s are thrifty and traditional and prefer to shop locally, Prettybury has among other attractions, a plumber, a veterinarian, a department store – remember them? – two drugstores, a hardware store, and a Dairy Queen. It even has a stoplight.

Once, it had a McDonald’s. Rather unwisely, the corporate lawyers attempted to shut down a local restaurant called Macdonald’s that had been there since the first six feet of dirt. In retaliation the town stopped going to McDonald’s and it went out of business pretty quickly. Macdonald’s is still open and serves pork-chop sandwiches and corn fritters to die for.

Prettybury also has a wonderful grocery store owned by an AC named Dave. The baggers at Dave’s carry your groceries to your car for you. Unless you are over sixty-five years old or have one in the oven, don’t even think of parking in the row of spaces nearest the door. Many Dave shoppers are AC’s and AC cooking hasn’t changed much since the Hoover administration, so you can get rennet there, and samp, and Martha White self-rising flour for biscuits.

The spousal unit teaches school a few miles northeast of Prettybury in a town even smaller than Myvillage. Fewer than 5% of his students are AC’s. AC parents tend to be very involved in their children’s education, and AC children tend to be polite and hard working. The spousal unit wishes 100% of his students were AC’s.

His very first Christmas there, one of the AC parents sent her child to school with two loaves of bread as a present for Teacher. This is how she wrote the recipe out for me.


In a bowl put 1 C oatmeal,
¼ C brown sugar
½ C white sugar
½ stick butter or oleo
½ t salt

Pour 2 c. boiling water over it – let cool. Add 1 pkg yeast that’s been mixed with ½ c warm water – mix in 5-5/12 c. flour. Knead on floured board – 5-7 min – Add more flour if needed for not too sticky dough—Let rise until doubled – put in 2 greased bread pans and let rise. Bake 350 degrees 30-35 mins (I add some whole wheat flour instead of using all white).

I do, too, and I modify the process to use quick-rise yeast. This is terrific bread.


SierraMoon said...

j'aime ce post, aux belles photos très " exotiques" pour moi !!! ;). c'est un post très instructif ! et merci pour la recette du pain !
stay warm !!!
ps = FYI the pix on my last post sho the only blue sky/dry day we've had since the beginning of 2008 ! (s,o don't be jealous -- I'd trade the wet weather for some cold and some day light ;)!)

Shay said...

that is true luckily this weekend has been very sunny just bitter, bitter cold! -29C, avec le vent.

Miss Kitty said...

Love the pictures--my Small Town is quickly becoming like the cookie-cutter, p.o.s. suburbs of Atlanta, and it makes me very sad.

Shay said...

Prosperity is not an un-mixed blessing.

T-Mom said...

Looks a lot like home. Down here in Forgottonia, it used to be a cluster of small towns serving as gathering places for farmers. The farms were the rotational type that have been around forever--big barns, loafing sheds, and chicken coops near the house, a big elm, 3 or 4 fruit trees. Cattle and hogs were turned into the fields after harvest to glean and manure, and fields were typically rotated between corn, soy, and hay. There were a lot of fence rows with trees and bushes providing good wildlife habitat. Now it's miles and miles of unfenced monoculture and those damn factory farms, and the sturdy old farmhouses are abandoned and falling down. Breaks my heart.