The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Nestor Family Reunion – With Recipes

By Emily P. Cary © 1987

Issue: February, 1987

It's the second Sunday of August. In a remote nook of the Monongahela National Forest, a few miles north of Parsons, West Virginia, the mist in the glen guarding Sycamore Grove parts on cue.

Brigadoon like, the Nestor clan materializes, just as they have for nearly two hundred years. Here on the grounds of Bull Run Chapel, beneath the cloud capped mountains marking the border of Barbour and Tucker Counties, they assemble to honor their ancestor, Jacob Nester.

As young Jacob stood forlornly on the deck of the ship "Sally" watching the shrouded body of his mother disappear into the stormy Atlantic Ocean, he could not have foreseen that he was bringing to this land the seed of a diverse clan whose members celebrate their heritage with unbridled joy and dedication.

Nestorville, the village Jacob founded shortly after the Revolutionary War, lies directly over the mountain from Sycamore Grove. As the buzzards and eagles fly, the distance is accomplished in a few minutes, but the snaking mountain road is a seventeen mile driver endurance trial.

The license plates on cars and pickup trucks chugging up the dusty hollow tell tales of odysseys from climes as distant as Texas, California and Utah. Eagerly, their occupants unload cauldrons and casseroles of culinary delights and scurry over to the picnic tables to partake of the bountiful feast with their kinfolk.

In one corner of the grove, the twang of stringed instruments tuning up confirms that the Nestors are about to be treated to their traditional concert of native music. This cultural fossil of pioneer America is performed by otherwise elusive old timers who emerge from uncharted hollows for this occasion with annual punctuality.

For more than thirty years, Alva Nestor, of Falls Church, Virginia, has been the Nestor clan president. His tenure in the organization is exceeded only by that of Carl Nestor, the official historian, who completed in 1983 the third edition of the family genealogy, "Descendants of Jacob Nester 1761 1844."

"It's the final edition, as complete and as factual as I can make it," says the lanky researcher, now retired from a long and varied career as a construction engineer. His modest home in Wolf Summit, West Virginia, a Clarksburg suburb, is crammed with primary and secondary sources gathered over many years.

"I couldn't have done it without Clarice," says Carl, gazing fondly at his childhood sweetheart and wife of 57 years, whose encouragement enabled him to complete his self appointed task.

Carl's quest began nearly a half century ago with "name collecting" in old cemeteries. Wherever his job sent him, he sought out and interviewed elderly Nestors and Nesters. By piecing together his direct line, he discovered that the original German name was Nestler, the spelling changes occurring in this country for ease or aesthetic reasons.

"We recognize Jacob as our first ancestor immigrant, even though his father, Johann Gottfried Nestler, brought him to America," says Carl Nestor.

Johann and Jacob landed at Philadelphia in September 1773, having survived the harrowing crossing that took the like of their beloved wife and mother. Ship logs show that the family boarded the "Sally" at Rotterdam, Holland and that the ship made a brief stop at Portsmouth, England on the 23rd day of August that year. Like their fellow travelers, Johann and his family had left the German Palatine region to seek religious freedom and economic opportunities.

Carl Nestor located Pennsylvania German Society Proceedings which revealed that Jacob and his father emigrated to join relatives who had fled the Palatine several years earlier and established themselves in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Alas, the anticipated happy ending was elusive.

No sooner had father and son arrived in this country than Johann Nestler abruptly decided to return to Germany. Leaving young Jacob with the relatives, he sailed from Philadelphia. Some accounts say that he went on family business related to his wife's untimely death; others suggest that he was despondent and homesick for Germany.

He may have perished en route because there are no records of his arrival on the other side and he never was heard from again.

Young Jacob became an enthusiastic citizen of his adopted land. War records certify that he served as a private first class in Captain Ferdinand Ritter's Eighth Company, Third Batallion, of the Berks County Militia. By this time, he had dropped the "I" in his surname and assumed the spelling that is carved on his gravestone: Nester.

According to Carl Nestor, the last "e" in the surname evolved into an "o" around the third generation. He surmises that the change was inspired by the family's admiration of George W. Nestor, Jr., a prominent Virginia teacher and writer. Most of Jacob's descendants embrace this spelling, but a few purists cling to the original.

Shortly after his discharge from the army, on April 26, 1785, Jacob married Mary Magdalene Durr. Together they headed west to claim his military lands. By 1791, they had settled in Piney Creek Hundred, Fredrick County, Maryland.

By today's standards, Jacob would be called an over achiever. A shoemaker, farmer, millwright, and carpenter by trade (and a Lutheran minister by divine inspiration) he prospered rapidly and purchased more land further west in Georges Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Continued financial success enabled him to acquire another four hundred acres deep in the fertile wilderness of Virginia's Randolph County (now Barbour County, West Virginia).

With their few possessions lashed to an Indian type contraption (two long poles fastened to the sides of their animals), Jacob and Mary Magdalene made the journey from Fayette County, driving their cattle before them.

The tiny cabin Jacob erected when they reached their destination was soon enlarged to two stories to accommodate the growing Nester family. Sons Jacob, George and David helped their father cut the timbers with a "jig type saw." The operation, described by Carl Nestor, was simple. "Jacob and his boys fastened a rip saw to a tree limb or large sapling. They pulled the limb down and the tree pulled it back up."

Years later, the original timbers were used by descendants to erect a large barn. By that time, the homestead had become the village of Nestorville. So strong was Jacob's influence in teaching his offspring the value of hard work and faithful obedience to their church that one can almost sense him surveying the scene from the family plot in Campbell Cemetery on a nearby hillock.

Five more children arrived in rapid succession: Samuel, Daniel, John, Mary, and Elizabeth. From the eight first generation Americans came the enormous extended family that today fills the picnic tables with platters of down home cooking fit for emperors. Direct Nestor descendants and "marrying in" members alike proudly proffer their special dishes to be sampled and applauded by the crowd. Throughout the afternoon, cheerful voices rise and fall in volume to balance the primitive instruments and harmonizing voices.

Their straw hats tipped at rakish angles, the musicians perch jauntily on three legged stools plucking banjos and sawing on fiddles carved from native trees by granddaddies who go back so many "greats" their descendants have lost count. The voices, unisexual in texture, mimic the twang of the stringed instruments   mysteriously hollow   like phantoms from two centuries past. Men's voices climb the scales as deftly as if their vocal chords were greased with lard. Scooping up the lower notes like water dripped from a well, the women's alto voices sing forlornly of age old diminished hope and lamented loves.

The folk tunes have passed unscathed from generation to generation, but the harmonies and embellishments reflect individual nurturing. Although the casual listener may not understand the mechanics of the chords, which are rife with open fifths and diminished sevenths, he can relate to the lyrics. Verse upon verse the singers recount the misery and hardships that hounded the early settlers in the wilderness and extol the promise of salvation through faith and belief in the Scriptures.

The fiddler, craggy browed and stooped, plays with a vigor that belies his four score and then some years. Don Hull of Thomas, West Virginia, a spokesman for his fellow musicians, declines to be interviewed or photographed, saying, "Don't want no publicity. What we do, we're doin' for the Lord."

"They're not unfriendly," Alva Nestor hastily explains. "They simply believe that their music is a gift from God and He'll be angry if they use it for commercial purposes."

The Nestors mingle joyously throughout the long afternoon, their serious singing and satisfying conversation nourished by country hams, thick sliced roast beef, enough chicken legs to populate a coop, chunks of chilled watermelon, mounds of corn on the cob slathered with butter and salt, platters of basil flecked tomatoes dimpled with garden dew, and crusty, aromatic loaves of homemade bread.

Although the expert Nestor cooks confess to adding ingredients by instinct, they guarantee that everyone will have success with their favorite recipes which they happily share.

By sundown, their spirits and appetites buoyed by this close, meaningful encounter, the Nestors reluctantly return to their vehicles and retrace their tracks leaving Sycamore Grove to the descending mist and a cacophony of frogs and katydids.

Nestor/Nester Family Recipes

Nancy Nester's Sycamore Grove Cole Slaw
(Nancy lives in St. George, West Virginia.)

Grate 1 large head of cabbage.
Mix together:
1/2 cup Miracle Whip
1 teaspoon mustard (creamy Dijon type)
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons white vinegar

Pour mixture on cabbage and toss,
(Recipe can be doubled, tripled, etc. for a large crowd.)

Elsie Nestor Greaser's Gobble-Up Chicken
(Elsie lives in Parsons, West Virginia.)

For 86 plump chicken pieces, prepare crumbs by pouring 1 box corn flakes into a large bowl. Crumble finely. Mix with: salt and pepper to taste.

1 tablespoon parsley flakes
1 tablespoon Morton's Nature Seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Fill a large bowl with 1 or more cans of Pet milk. Dip chicken pieces in the milk and roll in the crumbs. Bake on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil at 350 degrees for one hour. Reduce heat to 250 degrees and bake for an additional 1/2 hour.

Freda's Banana Pudding
(Freda Nestor Phillips lives in Parsons, West Virginia.)

Mix together the following:
2 cups of milk
1 1/2 cups of dark brown sugar
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of butter
a pinch of salt

Cook ingredients over a low fire in a double boiler, stirring until thick. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla. (The cook can substitute for the above a package of butterscotch filling. Follow the directions on the package.)

In a large baking or serving dish, layer in this order: Cover bottom with whole graham crackers, add a layer of filling, then a layer of sliced bananas. Repeat for as many layers as you desire. Top with graham cracker crumbs. Chill for at least 4 hours. To serve, cut in squares.

Virginia Nestor's Peanut Butter Pie
(Virginia lives in Parsons, West Virginia.)

Make butterscotch pudding using Freda Nestor Phillips' recipe above. (Or prepare a package of butterscotch pudding for pie.)

Add: 3 tablespoons Jiffy peanut butter (or more to taste).

Pour into a pie crust (regular or graham cracker). Make a meringue of 3 egg whites and 3 tablespoons sugar. Add the sugar slowly as you beat the egg whites until stiff. Spread meringue on top of pie. Sprinkle chopped peanuts on top of meringue and bake at 400 degrees until brown. Alternate topping: omit meringue and cover with Cool Whip. Freeze or chill until ready to serve.

Jo Lene's Joy Cake
(Jo Lene Nestor lives in Winchester, Virginia.)

Pour 1 box yellow cake mix (any brand) into mixing bowl.
Add 1/3 cup cooking oil
Add 3 eggs
Add 1 1/4 cups crushed pineapple and juice

Mix together and pour into 9x9 inch square pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour. Cool, make vanilla instant pudding as directed on box. Stir into pudding 1/2 can of coconut. Frost cake with pudding and sprinkle remaining 1/2 can of coconut on top.

Lottie's Layered Fresh Salad
(Lottie Nestor Flanagan lives in Keyser, West Virginia).

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried leaf basil (or use fresh basil, 1/4 to 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
3 tablespoons salad oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Mix first 7 ingredients in a plain clear container. Layer in an attractive bowl or serving dish:

4 tomatoes, sliced
2 medium cucumbers, pared and sliced
1 medium onion, sliced

Pour dressing over all. Cover and refrigerate several hours. Makes 6 servings.

Lottie's Luscious Chocolate Pound Cake
(Lottie Nestor Flanagan)

1/2 pound butter or margarine
1/2 cup Crisco
3 cups sugar
1 1/8 cups milk
1/2 cup cocoa
5 eggs
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Cream butter and Crisco, add sugar gradually, beating well after each addition. Add eggs one at a time. Beat well. Sift dry ingredients together. Add vanilla to milk. Add milk alternately with dry ingredients. Blend well. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 hours in greased, floured bundt pan. As Lottie confirms, this is Good Eating!