The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Day Of Preparation

By Lucille C. Kent © 1986

Issue: December, 1986

An Excerpt from the book "Christmas At Bethlehem Of Virginia Not Judea" by Lucille C. Kent.

At last! At last! Finally the day arrives when all the stored, saved, stolen, begged or borrowed goodies, tidbits and treasured morsels, the very best of all of these were brought forth from hiding.

The day began with much anticipation on the children's part of licking all the cake icing bowls, helping turn the meat grinders to grind nuts and fruit for cakes.

All the ladies and older girls were consulting recipes that had been handed down for generations as a traditional must.

All the older boys and men were sent to Brightwells Mill for extra eggs, flour and some last minute items. For many years a small store was operated along with the Mill. Now all the men folk being so full of Christmas spirit told wild tales of recent hunts or exchanged yarns that had been heard a dozen times, but just because it was nearly Christmas everyone laughed anyway.

This is the day all the cakes, cookies and pies were made except the fruit cakes that had been made weeks ago and was hidden away soaking in dewberry wine.

At the Chaffin place every one was helping to prepare the three color layers, red, green and yellow, coconut and ground fruit for Rocky Mountain cake. (Recipe given in book number one.)

The Kents were all scurrying around cooking four and six layer caramel cake and huge chunks of caramel raisin candy.

The Brightwells boys were scuffling up and down the hill from the house to the mill bringing this or that for "Miss Lessie Jane" their mother was making yellow layer cake with fudge icing an inch thick between and on it, sprinkled lavishly with nuts.

The Toler girls were kept hopping opening jars and beating eggs for their favorite blackberry jam cake with hickory nuts in between the layers. All work being bossed by granny Toler.

All the Eismons were mixing pie crust and making filling. They always had at least six different kinds of pies with meringue an inch high. Their special was damson custard.

Now Mrs. Shearer did not allow Virginia or Odessa to help, she took great pride in her real sure enough pound for pound cake.

The Fergusons and Quinns delighted the family with spice raisin cookies and cake, pungent and brown, made by Virginia and Ada.

Aunt Carrie Linthicum saved eggs for weeks to splurge on a four layer devils food cake with seven minute inch thick icing.

All the Brizendine gang joined in beating eggs for their special pink angel food cake with angel glaze.

Mrs. Cross was flitting around preparing scotch shortbread a crisp sweet served with whip cream and berries. While Mr. Cross (strutted his stuff) all dressed in his complete kilt suit and played the bagpipes for the two sons.

Lottie, Lizzie and Minny Masen did their private baking no one knows their specialty but I know it was good for their brothers Walter and Clarence had gathered goodies all fall.

All cakes were prepared from scratch as no woman would have disgraced herself by using boxed cake mix. If there was such thing they did not know.

Each Bersch, Jenning and Wilkerson participated to finish off real beauties the lady Baltimore cakes.

The McCraws always celebrated with huge snow white coconut layer cake large enough to feed Cox's army.

If the cakes were finished in time every family made country style potato salad. Using a dressing made of vinegar, mustard, water, sugar, salt, celery seed and egg all beaten together and cooked till thick this mixed with mashed potatoes and onions made a dish that tasted so good (you felt like smacking your mammy twice) especially if served on Christmas day with a year old ham, or a fresh ham. By supper time most every one was happily exhausted and the families were served a quick meal of country sausage with red eye gravy, harmony (not harmony grits) whole corn kernels skinned and boiled to a fluffy white cloud, hot batter bread and can tomatoes. Soon Bethlehem people were snoozing and dreaming of tomorrow, Christmas Eve.

These festivities lasted one entire week with each family sharing dinner with neighbors daily. The cakes, cookies and goodies were served at the Kents and Brightwells with cooked custard chilled to near freezing. At the Tolers, Chaffins and Eismans with pig foot jelly, flavored with dewberry, blackberry or elder berry wine topped with clouds of real whipped cream and nutmeg.

The Shearers, Quinns and Bersch's preferred Ambrosia made of Christmas oranges, coconut and clear jelly.

Many of the families went out in a big way for a bit of wine with the cake. While some of the older men sneaked a (little snort) of corn squeezin in theirs just for Christmas.

The story above is an excerpt from the book Christmas at Bethlehem of Virginia. Mrs. Kent has also written two more books that you may order:

THAT OUR HEIRS MAY KNOW book I and II. Endorsed by the Lynchburg Bicentennial Committee. The books are $11.00 per set. (Book I & II). Postage is included. To order write: Lucille C. Kent, 103 Vermont Ave., Lynchburg, Va. 24502.