Thirty years ago, young Edie Bell made a gift for the owner of the apartment she and her husband were renting. It was a cloth doorstop fashioned in the shape of a frog and filled with soybeans.
Giving that gift, making her landlady feel good, stirred something deep within Bell and put in motion a lifelong passion for giving to others.
“I enjoy sharing,” Bell says. “I really do. It makes me feel good that they are going to feel good.”
Stop by her Glasgow home and you’re likely to find Bell making or cooking something for someone. The house, like Bell and her husband, Bob, is the picture of Southern hospitality with its long front porch, white spindles, and facing swings. Get comfortable in one of the swings and you can see some of the large vegetable and flower gardens the couple grow each year.
From these gardens come all manner of delectable gifts.
There are sweet lime pickles made from the cucumbers, as well as recipe after recipe made from zucchini, including her second-most popular gift—zucchini cake dabbed with cream cheese cake icing. The sweet, crunchy pickles are the most sought after. There is jam made from blackberries and cabbage tomato diet soup for when you want to shed a few extra pounds that have settled in. The enticing aroma from the oven just might be gooseberry crunch.
“God gives each of us gifts,” says Bell, an active member of the Warren East Garden Club and the Amar Homemakers of Barren County.
A few miles away, Esli Pelly of Smiths Grove will greet you with a big smile and an ease that says she’s never met a stranger. Pelly, husband David, and daughters Croslin, age 17, and McKay, 9, are constantly growing, gathering, snipping, cooking, drying, and tying. From their efforts come miniature gourds transformed into holiday ornaments they give as Christmas presents, bird feeders made from sunflowers that attract birds and people alike, vintage containers overflowing with flowers, and specialties such as corncob jelly, fresh salsa, and roasted pumpkin seeds.
“We give something away most every day,” says Pelly, who also has a business called The Garden Patch. “In 1999, we started putting up greenhouses so we could raise bedding plants, perennials, and herbs. In the fall, we have pumpkins and mums.”
The abundance inspires Pelly to follow a tradition she learned from her mother.
“My mother was a gardener,” Pelly recalls. “She was always cutting bouquets to take to the local nursing home. I grew up doing that and wanted to continue the tradition of giving to others. My mother was also a baker and gave away her baked goods, but I am not a baker,” emphasis on not.
Pelly is much happier with her hands in some soil, where something beautiful will emerge. Pelly often teaches community education classes; one of them is called “From Trash to Treasure.” She doesn’t believe in throwing anything away.
Billy Watt doesn’t believe in wasting anything either. He also proves that giving gifts from the garden doesn’t necessarily require lots of creativity like Pelly has, or even cooking expertise like the Bells. Watt gives generously from his vegetable garden.
“When I was growing up, Dad always grew too much because he liked to give vegetables to people who needed them,” Watt says. “I like to give produce directly from the garden to older people and those who aren’t able to grow a garden. I take things to church. I give a lot away.”
In fact, Watt deliberately grows more than his super-sized family—seven children, 13 grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren—will need.
A few counties away near Fountain Run, Lonnie Ray and Evelyn Holland also raise a large vegetable garden. They grow a variety of vegetables and fruits and have done so since they married in 1949.
Their bounty is canned, frozen, and cooked into food for family and friends to enjoy. They freeze heaps of green beans and put up quarts and quarts of tomatoes and tomato juice. There are bread and butter pickles, and in the freezer you will find what looks like a hundred pints of corn, cut and bagged.
Their garden supplies their daughter and four grandchildren (two from another daughter who is deceased) with all their favorites, including homemade spaghetti sauce, corn on the cob, and rich stews brimming with vegetables.
The garden also provides neighbors with produce; the Hollands give away vegetables from their garden all season long. At Christmas, deacons at their church and friends often receive jars of their homegrown popcorn—a yellow hybrid or a Japanese white huskless variety. Planted separately from the sweet corn to prevent mixing, the popcorn is left on the plant until it dries, then harvested. The Hollands use a hand sheller to shell the corn, clean it, and put it in jars. It makes a practical, fun gift that everyone enjoys.
Some things don’t last long enough to become gifts. Apples from their trees turn into dried apple mix that fills fried apple pies. Prepared the “old-fashioned way,” the pies “get eaten faster than they get cooked,” Holland says with a laugh.
But other treats are shared, including a sweet chunk pickle, corn relish, and cucumber and squash relish.
Fruits make good gifts, too. In Adolphus, Nina Jones makes crabapple jelly, apple butter, peach preserves, pear honey, blackberry jam and jelly, and huckleberry jelly and pies. All the fruit is grown on her 130-acre farm.
“I enjoy raising things,” Jones says, “and I hate to see food go to waste. I try to save everything I can.”
Friends, neighbors, and relatives are glad of that. She regularly provides them with jars of sweet fruit jams, jellies, honeys, and butters.
Whether it is relish or jam, zucchini bread, or simply an armful of fresh vegetables, the motive behind all the giving seems to be constant.
“I love to give away things we have made because it is from the heart,” says Pelly. “People really and truly appreciate homemade things. It is a way of sharing yourself. I have been so blessed in my life; I love being able to give to others as well.”
Esli Pelly and Mrs. Wages
6 lbs. fresh tomatoes
1 pkg. Mrs. Wages Salsa Mix
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 avocado (optional)
Wash tomatoes. Scald 3 minutes in boiling water. Dip into cold water. Cut out cores. Remove skins. Chop tomatoes coarsely to equal 5 pints of tomatoes. In a large pot, combine tomatoes, salsa mix, and vinegar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped avocado, if desired. Serve fresh or pour into sterilized jars and put in water bath for 40 minutes.
ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS
1 small sugar pumpkin
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Sugar pumpkins are also called pie pumpkins or old-fashioned Long Island cheese pumpkins. This is a fun recipe to make with kids for an afternoon snack.
Slice open the pumpkin, scoop out the seeds, and wash them well. For every 1/2 cup seeds, add 1 Tablespoon salt, add enough water to cover, and boil in a small saucepan for 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and drain with a strainer. Coat cookie sheet with olive oil. Place seeds on sheet in top rack of the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes at 300-325 degrees. Turn two times. To give as a gift, place seeds in a small canning jar and decorate with raffia.
Lonnie Ray and Evelyn Holland
20 tomatoes (about a gallon of chopped tomatoes)
1 sweet red pepper
2 cups sugar
2 cups vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pickling spice
Dice all vegetables and fruit into small pieces. In a large pot, mix sugar, vinegar, and salt. Put pickling spice in a bag and place the bag with the sugar/vinegar mixture. Bring mixture to a boil for 5 minutes. Add diced fruit and vegetables, and simmer slowly for 2 hours. Pack in sterilized jars and water bath for 5 minutes to make sure they seal.
Note: Evelyn often adds this straight to her vegetable soup, although she says it’s best eaten straight from the jar. The Hollands also refer to this recipe as “The Good Stuff.”
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup cooking oil (canola or vegetable)
3 Tablespoons vanilla flavoring
1 cup sugar
2-1/3 cups all-purpose white flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Get out two bowls—one for the wet ingredients and one for the dry.
In one bowl, beat eggs with a fork and add grated zucchini, cooking oil, vanilla flavoring, and sugar. Stir together.
In the other bowl, mix all-purpose white flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir together. Add chopped nuts.
Mix wet and dry ingredients together, and pour into greased and floured small loaf pans or 9 x 13 cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Notes: When serving, dab with Philadelphia Cream Cheese cake icing. When making this from frozen zucchini, use 4 cups of shredded zucchini as approximately 2 cups will turn to water in the freezing process. Pour off the water from the 4 cups of frozen zucchini and you will have 2 cups for use.
SWEET LIME PICKLES
Edie won first place at the Barren County Fair for these crunchy, sweet pickles.
2 gallons cucumbers
2 cups pickling lime
4 cups apple cider vinegar
4 pounds sugar
2 teaspoons pickling spices
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon whole clove
Choose cucumbers that are approximately 3-5 inches wide. Wash cucumbers and cut them lengthwise into 4 pieces. Place in large roasting pan and cover with water. Add 2 cups pickling lime. Let sit for 24 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent lime from continually settling on the bottom.
Pour lime off, and rinse cucumbers 2 or 3 times. Cover with ice water for 3 hours. (Edie prefers to put a lot of ice on top and let it melt.) Drain.
Put spices (celery seed, pickling spices, and clove) in cheesecloth and close with a twist tie. Add apple cider vinegar and sugar. Drop cheesecloth bag in. Let sit overnight or for 8 hours. Remove cheesecloth bag.
Bring mixture to a boil and boil in roaster pan for 15 minutes. Use metal thongs to place pickles in wide-mouth sterilized jars and fill tightly with hot vinegar from roaster pan to 1/2 inch from top of jar. Wipe rim off completely. Screw on lids. Pickles are ready to seal within one hour. Makes 4-5 quarts.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: DRESSING UP YOUR GARDEN GIFTS
For a list of enticing and inexpensive ways to dress up your gifts from the garden, as well as more gifts from the garden recipes, go to garden gifts.