When the Past Meets the Present

I have a diverse and wonderful group of friends on Facebook, and one of them is Anne Schaller Koch from my home state of Wisconsin. She recently posted some interesting photographs about her life on her page, and I asked her if she would mind writing out more detail for my Hope Blog. I love hearing about life as it was years ago. There is much to admire and to learn from in reading and hearing these stories. Thank you so much, Anne, for sharing these memories of your life that is rich in love and faith.

Baking and cooking from scratch appears to be enjoying a revival these days, at least in our family. Our daughter-in-law is working on creating a cookbook for her grown children containing the recipes she used when they were growing up. Here is a mother who grows her own herbs, makes her own pure vanilla from vanilla beans, rolls out the dough to make noodles, and more recently made all the candied citron for her Christmas baking—so it should not be any surprise to find most of her recipes are “from scratch.” Anne2Our daughter also follows this pattern, including making her own yogurt on a regular basis. It started me thinking that this is where I came in, the difference being that when I was growing up, cooking from scratch was the only option!

My early years were spent during the Great Depression in our country, and like the free range chickens we favor so much in our day, everyone was scratching for ways to put food on the table. Stores were small and sold only the staples needed to bake bread, create simple meals, and get along with the bare essentials. Even at that, few people had the “scratch” to buy even the basics. We lived in western South Dakota where the drought, dust storms, and armies of grasshoppers kept many a family from harvesting crops for animals or family. Yet the generosity of people was a blessing to experience, and the members of our congregation kept us (the pastor’s family) supplied with milk, eggs, garden vegetables, and whatever meat they could spare.

Anne4One of my earliest memories is of my mother making cottage cheese. When someone gave us more milk than we could drink in a day (no refrigeration), mother would put the naturally curdling milk or cream in cheesecloth bags and tie them with string to a stick supported between two chairs. As curds formed, the whey dripped into a pan below. No doubt we were sternly instructed not to mess with this set-up, and the memory stuck in my mind.

Being only five when we moved to our next home, I was not fully aware of the struggles or ingenuity my mother put into keeping us well-fed, but saved family letters tell the story in detail. I do remember that just before we moved, the church ladies came to help mother prepare the chickens to be canned so we could take the meat with us to our next home. I do not know how chickens came to be raised on the church property but am guessing it was another of mother’s attempts to make ends meet.

AnneOur next home was in eastern South Dakota, finally near relatives. My mother’s sister and family lived in a small town within visiting distance, and now there were cousins to play with from time to time. Here we are making mud pies (really scratching it) and washing up the dishes outside our playhouse. Note the broom to sweep the dirt floor. Our circumstances were now better since we had a garden and there were lakes where my Dad could fish. I can still remember my mother preparing frog legs for dinner, and being alarmed to see how they jumped in the frying pan. Mother needed to assure me that they were not alive and did not feel any pain. Mother was a stay-at-home Mom, and I was a very curious child, so as she cooked and baked, she explained “why” she was doing what she did. At Christmas time she was very particular about her Christmas Stollen and Lebkuchen. Ground cardamom from the store would not do; it must be whole cardamom seed that we would bring home and turn into powder by mother’s own method. I helped take the soft shells off the seeds, and then Mother would put about a tablespoon of seed into the corner of a dishtowel, and with a hammer she would pound those seeds until they were reduced to a fine powder. The aroma was pungent, and she had her freshly ground cardamom! I followed her directions for a few years after I was married but kept ruining my dishtowels, so I just decided I did not need to be so particular.

Food was as special as it gets at Christmas time. My grandmother from Minnesota would put a packet of dressed duck or goose on the train in the morning, and after its long trip, we would receive it in time to bake the bird for supper. With an orange in my Christmas stocking and an apple in each of my three Christmas Eve sacks (my father was pastor of three congregations), we enjoyed the only fresh fruit I recall eating during the winter months. The only convenience food I remember having in my childhood home was Jello, sometimes with bananas, and it was a real treat.

Our next move was to Minnesota, and compared to South DakotaAnne3 it was like the promised land of Canaan. We had fruit trees, gardens of both flowers and vegetables galore. We moved once again after two years, still in Minnesota but closer to New Ulm, where I would be attending high school and college. In this home I grew to adulthood, learning to cook, bake a pie, can vegetables and fruit, make jelly, pickles, and help with most all the household duties. By this time Mother had a large class of piano pupils coming to our home, and though I was away at boarding school a good share of the time, I came home weekends and summers to help at home. After three years of teaching school (and boarding at the homes of others), I was eager to be the homemaker I always wanted to become.

When I married Paul, we also moved to the Dakotas (this time not far from the Montana border), and armed with recipes dating back to Grandmother’s kitchen, I was all set. Some recipes required math to figure out measurements. One particular favorite had all ingredients listed in pounds (whether liquid or dry) and the shortening was specified as so many “egg lumps” of lard. One ingredient was “a glass of wine” and I never did figure out whether that meant four ounces, eight ounces, or more. Seems it didn’t matter, since the additional flour called for was equally unknown, written simply as “add needed flour to form dough into a roll.” I have made these cookies for sixty-two years now, and they always taste just fine!

In our retirement years we continue to cook from scratch whenever possible, though convenience foods are good to keep on hand. I say “we” because Paul has gradually taken over the cooking, as I gradually rely more on my walker to get around. I serve as arm-chair consultant now and help as I am able. Paul still has a generous garden, so we eat well, freezing our vegetables for the winter months. Paul is a good cook, and I like his fried chicken the best, made from those free-range chickens! We can’t compete with the young cooks in the family but we still bake our own bread and eat simple but healthy meals. We give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good!

~ Anne Schaller Koch

A Trip Back in Time

Take a trip back to 1905 with early film footage of New York City’s subway system. In this film clip linked below, the New York subway was only a few months old! I particularly enjoyed seeing the children in the early and the last part of the video (the family holding the hands of two children.) Their names are lost to the mists of time, but wouldn’t it be interesting to know who they were and their life stories?

The men and women looked so dignified in their dress. No tattoos, no flesh hanging out, and I do mean hanging out (even though it was late May when the film was taken), no people eating, shuffling along while slurping from giant 32 oz. cups, no coffee clutchers and no iPhone zombies staring at their magic rectangles. What a different world it was.

Here’s the link from the UK’s Daily Mail.

For History Buffs…

KingDavidMaking good on my promise to make the Hope Blog more interesting, here are a couple of stories, completely unrelated, that I found this week. History lovers should enjoy both. The first is the internationally reported find this week of what archaeologists believe is King David’s palace. Of course, no such find is without dispute, but the dig is an interesting one. Here is the story, and here is the statement from the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

The second story is of much more recent history. Stories of unusual, compassionate behavior during the nightmarish years of World War II are always heartening to read. A book came out here in the U.S. last December, titled, A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of WWII. (The paperback edition is reportedly going to be released in November this year, in time for Christmas.) The author is Adam Makos with Larry Alexander.

Four days before Christmas 1943, a badly damaged American bomber struggled to fly over wartime Germany. At its controls was a 21-year-old pilot. Half his crew lay wounded or dead. It was their first mission. Suddenly, a sleek, dark shape pulled up on the bomber’s tail—a German Messerschmitt fighter. Worse, the German pilot was an ace, a man able to destroy the American bomber in the squeeze of a trigger. What happened next would defy imagination and later be called the most incredible encounter between enemies in World War II.


This is the true story of the two pilots whose lives collided in the skies that day—the American—2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown, a former farm boy from West Virginia who came to captain a B-17—and the German—2nd Lieutenant Franz Stigler, a former airline pilot from Bavaria who sought to avoid fighting in World War II.


A Higher Call follows both Charlie and Franz’s harrowing missions. Charlie would face takeoffs in English fog over the flaming wreckage of his buddies’ planes, flak bursts so close they would light his cockpit, and packs of enemy fighters that would circle his plane like sharks. Franz would face sandstorms in the desert, a crash alone at sea, and the spectacle of 1,000 bombers each with eleven guns, waiting for his attack.


Ultimately, Charlie and Franz would stare across the frozen skies at one another. What happened between them, the American 8th Air Force would later classify as “top secret.” It was an act that Franz could never mention or else face a firing squad. It was the encounter that would haunt both Charlie and Franz for forty years until, as old men, they would search for one another, a last mission that could change their lives forever.


The Change Ringers

I knew nothing about campanology a month ago. But I was at the library looking for a good mystery when I came across Dorothy Sayers’ shelf. I had read Sayers years before, but hadn’t visited her books recently. I took home The Nine Tailors, and it was a good choice for more reasons than one. On top of being a top flight mystery (Sayers was one of the best, in literary opinion), it introduced me to change ringing, the fascinating skill of bell ringing that originated in English church towers centuries ago.

The story takes place in a fictitious English village and revolves around an old church and its bells. For plot details, you’ll have to read the book, but what fascinated me and encouraged further reading were the bells of the church and the mathematical patterns of change ringing which were described in the book. Here is video of the ringers at Westminster Abbey.


Good old Wiki has this to say about change ringing.

Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a series of mathematical patterns called “changes”. It differs from many other forms of campanology (such as carillon ringing) in that no attempt is made to produce a conventional melody.

Today, change ringing can be found all over the world, performed in a variety of media; but it remains most popular in the context where, in the 17th century, it developed: English churches. These typically contain a few large bells rigged to swing freely: a ring of bells. The considerable inertias involved mean that each bell usually requires its own ringer. Thus, contrasted with a carillon, in which a large number of bells are struck by hammers, all tied in to a central framework so that one carillonneur can control them all, a set of such bells is comparatively unwieldy— hence the emergence of permutations rather than melody as an organizing principle.

For more details on those permutations and all the other fascinating details of the complex skill, read the summary here or watch this instructional video with samples.

Here are a few more clips of bell ringers in English churches who, like those for centuries, ring out jubilant peals for weddings and festival Sundays and also toll the sad last bells for the dead. In past centuries, these church bells were a way of communicating and uniting a community in both joy and sorrow, because Christian churches were then the center of life in England. Change ringing is a little slice of Western history that I am pleased to learn more about.



Here is an interesting video clip about an Irish church’s carillon, which takes an entirely different skill. A church near where I used to live had a carillon play. I remember vividly hearing wonderful hymns like “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” and “Come Thou Fount” and “Nearer My God to Thee” ringing out through the evening air. It was lovely.


Can You Pass the Civics Test?

Newsweek gave 1000 Americans a basic civics test. Thirty-eight percent failed the test. Even liberal Newsweek acknowledges that this kind of ignorance imperils our nation’s future. I would say that it is this kind of ignorance that explains the election of our current President. If there is vast ignorance about our basic founding documents in this country, how would Americans know if the candidates running for office even believe in the Constitution?

Our children need to know the basics about our country and how it works, and civics or government classes have gone the way of logic and Latin. The schools have made way for comprehensive sex education, drug education, death education, multicultural education, anti-bullying education and so forth, but have failed to teach history and civics to American citizens. It’s a travesty.

Take the test and see how you score.

On the Wings of History

As a birthday present for Tom, he, his sister Kris, Jonathan and William got to ride on a B-17 last weekend at the EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It was the flight of a lifetime on a “Flying Fortress”, the primary American heavy bomber primarily used in Europe during World War II. 15,000 were made and about 7,000 were shot down. Despite these horrifying numbers, the B-17 was known for its durability, sometimes returning to base with only one engine working. Its crews loved it, and many consider it to be the best all around bomber of World War II.*

*Information provided by William Schlueter, resident World War II historian.

Here are some snapshots of that memorable flight. There were three crew members and ten passengers on board that day.

Tom, his sister Kris, William and Jonathan in the radio room. The open space is where a machine gun would have been.

Tom, his sister Kris, William and Jonathan in the radio room. The open space is where a machine gun would have been.

From the bomb bay, looking into the cockpit.

From the bomb bay, looking into the cockpit.

Looking through the plexiglass in the bombadier station.

Looking through the plexiglass in the bombadier station.

William in the radio room, thrilled to pieces to be onboard.

William in the radio room, thrilled to pieces to be on board.

Looking at the plane during the pre-flight briefing.

Looking at the plane during the pre-flight briefing.