Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gravel Fossils and Alluvial Diamonds

As a geology student at what was then Northeast Louisiana State College, I concentrated on partying as much as I did “cracking the books.” Being a small department, all the professors and students knew each other and we all looked forward to the geology picnic held every spring at a camp on Lake Cheniere - hot dogs, hamburgers and a keg or two of beer provided the usual fare.

One memory I have of these seasonal events is witnessing a geology professor – goaded by several grad students – attempting to drink the last gallon from the keg. He didn’t make it, and thank goodness final grades for the year were already posted.

The camp on Lake Cheniere was near a large gravel pit, a strip mining operation that had already removed tons of gravel for construction and road building. The pit was a favorite with geology students because it was a virtual endless repository of what we called gravel fossils. What kind of fossils? Silicified, Paleozoic fossils of the marine variety – brachs, corals, bryozoans, cephalopods, etc. Well, you get the picture.

How did these three hundred to five hundred million year old fossils end up populating geologically young Louisiana alluvium? In the case of the gravel pits near Monroe, they were eroded and washed down dip from Paleozoic deposits in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.

There were rumors that alluvial diamonds were also sometimes found in the gravel – rumors because I never talked to anyone that had actually found a diamond, or knew anyone that had. Still, the possibility is legitimate since Murfreesboro in the Ouachita Mountains is the location of a known diamond deposit, with diamonds exposed at the surface of the earth there.

Is it possible that a large, undiscovered alluvial diamond deposit exists in north Louisiana? Consider this – such a deposit is very real in South Africa where alluvial diamonds are found in gravel deposits, much like those in Louisiana. From 1926 to 1984 over 667,000 carats were produced from this part of South Africa known as the Ventersdorp Alluvial Diamond District.

Where would you look if you wanted to find this elusive north Louisiana diamond deposit? That gravel pit near Lake Cheniere might be a good place to start. Hey, and invite me along as I would love to find one of those elusive glitterers.

Eric's Website

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Garden Spider - a pic


Here is a pic I took of a colorful spider in my garden. Yes, I played with a few filters.

Company D, 1st Texas Infantry, CSA


Autumn is here, a magical season fraught with changing colors and spirits of long ago. I remember a few particular spirits and have my own mystical tale – one I have never told before.

I grew up in north Louisiana. My Grandmother lived nearby on a farm located near the tiny community of O’Farrell, in Cass County, Texas. When I was young, we visited my Grandmother at least once a week.

Grandma Rood married a man named Oscar, a company pumper for Humble Oil. I remember a picture that hung proudly in their house - her parents, my great-grandparents, Annie and J.P. O’Rear. John Pinkney was sitting in a chair, his wooden leg detached and propped against the wall, Annie standing behind him with her right hand on his shoulder.

Pink, as he was called, served in Company D, 1st Texas Infantry during the Civil War. How he lost his leg I haven’t a clue but he was captured and spent much of the War in a Union prison camp. When the war ended, he was released and hiked the entire distance from somewhere in Georgia back to his homestead in east Texas.

I had seen Pink and Annie’s picture many times and heard their story, although I was just a kid and promptly forgot most of it. Pink was just a picture on the wall to me – until something unexplainable happened years later.

I was drafted into the Army in 1970 and bound for service in Vietnam as an infantry foot soldier. If I told you I wasn’t frightened, I would be a bald-faced liar. Vietnam was different than Iraq. Every night on the news we witnessed row after bloody row of body bags being unloaded from transport planes. Worse than coming home in a body bag was to return limbless, or eyeless - or hopeless!

I was young and strong but I was frightened to the very core of my being that I would be killed or maimed – or worse yet, I would kill or maim some other poor human that didn’t deserve to die. I was having a hard time coping and none of my family or friends had the right words to say. And yes, I had trouble sleeping. It was during a particularly restless night when I saw a specter, or perhaps had a vivid dream. I don’t know, but this is what happened:

Something disturbed my dream and caused me to open my eyes. Gail was asleep beside me but she never woke up. There was an ephemeral glow at the foot of my bed, not a strong radiance but a peaceful aura that surrounded an apparition I vaguely recognized. As I lay there, eyes wide and unbelieving, the old man spoke to me with a raspy voice in a dialect so southern that at first I hardly understood him. He stood erect on a very noticeable wooden leg.

“I’m Pink, your great-granddad. You’re going to war, Son. I spent most of my powers getting your Daddy back from the last big war. I ain’t got much left but now you’re in need and you ain’t got nobody to help ‘cept me. There ain’t no good wars but the one you’re headed for is real bad. You keep an eye on what’s going on in front of you and I’ll keep an eye on your back. Have faith, Son, pray, and I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

I awoke the next morning with no memory of the dream and many years passed before it crept back into my psyche. I was visiting my parents in Vivian and it came pouring forth, back into my mind, as I stared at the picture of my Great-grandparents in my parent’s front room.

I miraculously made it home from Vietnam unscathed, although I barely missed death, often by friendly fire, at least a dozen times. I once had a mortar round land between my legs without detonating. Old Pink was with me every step of the way, his powers diminishing every time he turned a bullet away for me.

Autumn is here, a magical season fraught with changing colors and spirits of long ago. It caused me to remember a dream I had many years ago. Or was it a dream?

Eric's Website

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mavis' Mayhaw Jelly

If you are lucky enough to find a mayhaw bush loaded with luscious red berries, pick a batch of the very nicest ones. Take them home and wash them up. About six cups of water are needed to cover two quarts of mayhaws.

Put them in a large pot, add the water, bring to a boil and cook for thirty minutes, or so. Press the berries in a colander using a big wooden spoon, and then strain the juice through damp cheesecloth. Now you are ready to make the jelly.

5 cups of the mayhaw juice you just extracted
7 cups sugar, preferably cane
1 box of pectin, powered

Mix the juice in a large saucepan with the pectin until it is completely dissolved then place on the fire. When the juice reaches a rolling boil, add the sugar, return to a boil and continue boiling for five minutes.

Remove from heat and skim the foam with a metal spoon. Skim again after placing juice in clean, sterilized jars. Seal jars and place in boiling water for fifteen minutes. When you finish, you will have eight or so jars of the best jelly you ever tasted.

Eric's Website

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mayhaws and Other Wild Louisiana Things

Growing up in northwest Louisiana, I recall trekking to Jeems Bayou in search of wild mayhaws so my mother could make mayhaw jelly. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this is the fruit of a variety of Hawthorne bush that grows profusely throughout the south, especially in swampy environments. Jeems Bayou, near Caddo Lake is a perfect spot for the elusive mayhaw.

Mayhaw jelly is thought by many to be the finest jelly in the world. I can’t argue with that sentiment. If you can find a jar, buy it and try it. You won’t be disappointed.

Mayhaws grow ripe in May and June, a time of abundant vegetation and wildlife, including snakes, in the area around Jeems Bayou. Once, far from the car and deep in the heavily vegetated area where mayhaws abound, my mother crossed paths with a snake – probably a harmless grass snake. It didn’t matter. It may as well have been a boa constrictor. My mother screamed bloody murder and didn’t stop running until she reached our brown and tan 1950 Ford.

My brother and I found the scene pretty funny but we didn’t laugh when we learned that we had also missed out on mayhaw jelly for the rest of the summer.

Eric's Website

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Butterfly with a Damaged Wing - a pic


Here is a pic I took of a butterfly with a bite out of its wing. Despite the missing piece of wing, the butterfly was flying just fine and didn't seem affected by the results of an apparent mishap.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pecan Charmante - a recipe

Marilyn did it again. She found a magnificent old cookbook filled with wonderful recipes. The name of the book is New Orleans Creole Recipes, written by Mary Moore Bremer. The original was published in 1932.

The copy we have is the nineteenth edition published in 1962. Our initial browsing of the book revealed an appetizing dessert called Pecan Charmante and Marilyn couldn’t resist whipping up a batch. If I’m any judge, the final product was awesome and reminded me of what an early-day candy bar probably tasted like.

Ideafinder.com defines a candy bar as “A confection made with sugar and often flavoring and filling with a shape that is longer than it is wide.” If this is so, Pecan Charmante should have become a famous candy bar. It didn’t, as far as I know, but here is your chance to taste it anyway. In my mind, it’s a scrumptious delight.

Pecan Charmante

Cream one cup of sugar with one stick of butter. Spread this over fifteen large graham crackers; sprinkle on this one cup of chopped pecan nuts. Put in moderate oven and bake for eleven minutes.

Hey, I said it was simple!

Eric's Website

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Joy's Wild Sandplum Jelly - a recipe

Marilyn and I were taking my Dad to lunch on Sunday when she pointed out to me a bushy tree loaded with small reddish-orange fruit. “Do you know what it is?” she asked. She went on to explain that it was a sand plum bush, the fruit of which produced her mother Joy’s second favorite jelly; blackberry was her first.

Sand plums grow wild in parts of Kansas and Oklahoma and served as an important food source to the native Indians and early settlers. Joy isn’t around to make us any sand plum jelly and the last jar we had we purchased in Guthrie, Oklahoma while shopping for souvenirs. Marilyn and I agreed that we would find a sand plum bush and plant it in our yard. Maybe then she will take a stab at Joy’s simple recipe.

Wild Sand Plum Jelly

4 c. wild sand plum juice
4 c. cane sugar
1 tbsp. butter

Wash well and barely cover with water both ripe red wild sand plums and partially ripe pink plums. Boil until fruit is soft and liquid is bright red. Cool until warm only and strain through cheese cloth to obtain clear pulp free juice. Make jelly in proportion listed above. Bring strained juice to a boil, stir in butter to keep juice from boiling over sides of pan.

Slowly stir in sugar, stirring constantly until mixture reaches 220 degrees on candy thermometer. Remove from heat immediately and pour into dry, warm sterilized 1/2 pint jelly jars, leaving approximately 1/2 inch at top of jar for expansion when jelled. Seal jars tightly. Wild plums contain natural pectin. Do not over cook because jelly will continue to jell while cooling in the jars.

Yields approximately 8 to 10 jars.

ERIC'S WEBSITE

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Night Crawler - a picture


Here is another spider pic. I got home after dark last night and walked through the web of this spider. As I drink my coffee this morning I'm still combing bits of the web out of my hair. No, she didn't bite me.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pommes de Terres Souffle - a recipe

Marilyn and I are both avid collectors of old books, especially cookbooks. Miss M recently found an old cookbook on eBay titled New Orleans Creole Recipes by author Mary Moore Bremer. The book was first published in 1932 by Dorothea Thompson of Waveland, Mississippi. I could find nothing on the internet about the author but the book is a culinary treasure. If you can find a copy, buy it! Here is just one of its wonderful recipes. Here is an original recipe straight from the book.

Pommes de Terres Soufflé

This famous dish is difficult for any but a professional chef. All authorities agree that the kind of potatoes used is of great importance. I would suggest the use of a starchy potato.

Peel, cut square, and trim off corners. The pieces should be absolutely even, not thicker than a silver dollar, and cut lengthwise of the potato.

They are hard to cut. Do not soak. Wipe each slice dry. Have two pots of lard. Pot number one must be warm. Put in ten or twelve slices at a time. Let them cook slowly until soft and nearly done, then take out and cool.

Heat second pot of grease quite hot, but not smoking. Have the frying pan hot so as not to chill the grease.

Put into it not more than six slices at a time for the same reason. Turn on a fierce heat and fry until they puff and become slightly amber in color. Keep slices turning constantly.

If they do not puff in a moment, they will never do so.

The exact temperature of fat depends upon the quantity of fat and the texture of the potatoes; so accurate directions are impossible.

I would not advise one unskilled to try this for the first time when strangers are invited to dine; but anyone that likes to experiment might get great pleasure in mastering this dish. It is quite a feat, and puts one in a class with professionals. Besides, it is ever so nice.

The puffs may be served on a napkin and hurried to the table, having been salted first. One may get them in New Orleans, served most beautifully, sometimes in a hot basket made of pastry, tinted in various colors.

When you eat them, be sure to appreciate the one behind the scenes who prepared them, and say with the colored folk, “Ain’t dat sumpin?”

Eric's Website