Posts by toadsthatsing

My Favorite Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookie Recipe

Posted by on Dec 5, 2013 in Colonial Articles, Historical Articles | 4 comments


I recently attended a Christmas tea party at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg. One of the dining room decorations used gingerbread men, and these sweet little cookies reminded me of the gingerbread men that I’ve made with my son and daughter ever since they were toddlers. I’d love to share my recipe with you!



Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup solid shortening

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/2 cup molasses (I use either Grandma’s or Brer Rabbit mild flavor molasses)

Combine flour, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and baking powder in a bowl; set aside. In a large bowl, using a mixer, cream shortening, sugar, and egg until fluffy. Add molasses; beat well. Stir in half of flour mixture, mixing until smooth. Add remainder of flour mixture, mixing with wooden spoon or hands until dough is all one color. Shape into two balls, wrap each in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets. Remove one package of dough from the refrigerator. Allow dough to stand until the dough is easy to work with – about 10 minutes. On a floured surface, roll out dough about 1/4-inch thick. Use a gingerbread man cookie cutter to cut out the men. Place on prepared cookie sheets about 2-inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly brown. Cool on a wire rack.

After gingerbread men have cooled completely, ice and decorate. You can use either buttercream or royal icing and cinnamon candies, raisins, gumdrops, and thin licorice for edible decorations.


A wall shelf with gingerbread men at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg

Photographs ©Cynthia Howerter

Christiana Campbell’s Tavern is an historic tavern located in Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia.

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Thanksgiving Lessons from My Grandparents’ Farm

Posted by on Nov 21, 2013 in Historical Articles, My Grandparents' Farm | 5 comments

115824008Through the lace curtains at my kitchen window, I watch the first snowflakes—as big as goose feathers—fall from the gray November sky. Scents of cinnamon and pumpkin waft through the room when I open the oven, and when my eyes catch sight of the oil lamp on the cherry farmhouse table, my thoughts follow the curving lane to the old farmhouse where Alice and Ed, my maternal grandparents, raised their children during the Great Depression.


Although my parents moved hundreds of miles away after their marriage, my mother’s thoughts frequently traveled to her childhood home. She loved nothing better than to gather my siblings and me next to her as she told us about her childhood on the farm near Muncy, Pennsylvania—stories I treasured and passed on to my own little ones.


Mother spoke of a life filled with an abundance of indoor and outdoor chores and of nearby relatives who frequently stopped by on Sunday afternoons to visit.


When harsh winds rattled the shuttered windows and blew swirling snow across the barren fields, it was the kitchen that was the center of Mother’s family’s life, mostly because it was the only room in the house that was heated. Family and guests gathered there, the old single-pane windows covered with condensation as much from conversation as from the heat of the wood burning cook stove where a chicken roasted in the oven.


The old farmhouse, which originally belonged to Ed’s parents, had no electricity, indoor plumbing, or central heat. Bathtubs, toilets, and even a kitchen sink were non-existent. Things weren’t any better outside. Three Belgian work horses—Fred, Maude, and Prince—pulled the plow and heavy wagons. Faith and a person’s own strength and determination kept the farm going when the economy and adverse weather interfered. Although parents and children worked hard from early morning to evening, my mother’s stories were never ones of complaining.


The day before Thanksgiving, Grandma Alice bundled up against the raw wind, then killed and dressed well-fed turkeys for customers from town who had given their orders weeks in advance. Once the poultry orders were filled, Alice killed the turkey she would cook for her own family. After Grandpa Ed finished the outdoor chores, he opened the old dovetailed chest in the guest bedroom and pulled out his hunting clothes. After dinner, he sharpened his knife on a stone and cleaned his gun. The days immediately after Thanksgiving were hunting days and Ed needed to hunt game to help supplement his family’s food supply.


The Great Depression was in full force and money was scarce for my mother’s family. Mother often said that while she and her siblings were growing up, they never realized how primitively they lived on the farm. A person can’t miss what they don’t know, she explained.


Something inside my heart was soothed when Mother spoke of the contentment that was felt at the end of each day when the family gathered at the dinner table and her father thanked the Lord for His generous provisions. Grandpa Ed and Grandma Alice made it clear to their children that, but for the Lord’s benevolence, their harvests would be small and their needs large.



My grandparents have long since gone to be with the Lord, and their farm has changed hands several times since they sold it. But my mother’s stories taught me that when a family realizes that they’re dependent upon the Lord to provide for all of their needs—as well as their blessings—every day is thanksgiving day.


May your Thanksgiving Day be joyous, may you be surrounded by your loved ones, and may you give thanks and praise to the One who provides for your every need.


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Henry’s Visits To My Grandparents’ Farm

Posted by on Nov 18, 2013 in Historical Articles, My Grandparents' Farm | 24 comments

Through the years, my husband and I have acquired possessions that have both a function and a history. For example, the tall case clock in our dining room not only informs us of the time in fifteen minute intervals, but also reminds us of my father-in-law who built the clock in his workshop. Even small items have a large capacity to resurrect special memories. That’s true of one of my favorite kitchen tools—a microplane grater. Each time I hold it in my hand to grate nutmeg or chocolate, treasured memories return to me.


As a highly curious ten-year-old, I wondered what country my mother’s family originated from. Neither my mother nor grandmother knew the answer. But it was a question I couldn’t forget, and I knew that someday, somehow I would find the answer.

Twenty-five years later, my husband and I moved our family to a new city, and I had an abundance of free time on my hands—time to search for the answer to my long-held ancestral question. Although it wasn’t easy acquiring information about people no longer living, genealogy became my passion, and my inquisitiveness expanded from learning my family’s origination to when and why they immigrated to America.

On a historical society website, I found a query from a man named Henry who had genealogical information on Philip and Sarah Snyder, my great-great-grandparents—whose information I couldn’t find. I quickly penned a letter to Henry that explained my relationship to Philip and Sarah and offered to swap research.

He wrote back and asked me to phone. I called and learned that not only were we distant cousins, but Henry had known my long-deceased maternal grandparents, Alice and Ed, whose farm near Muncy, Pennsylvania had been near his parents’ farm. We’d only talked for several minutes when he paused and said that my voice sounded like my grandmother’s.

My heart caught in my throat. No one had ever told me that.

83113669Henry confided a great concern. For over 40 years, he’d spent every vacation traveling to court houses, historical societies, churches, and cemeteries to locate important but hard-to-find genealogical information, and he had recorded all of it in meticulous, highly detailed handwritten notes. Now in his eighties and in poor health, Henry knew his children saw no value in their father’s painstaking research—information that proved their family history back to the 1600s in Europe. Henry believed his children would throw away his papers once he passed.

He asked if I had any suggestions as to how his research could be preserved and enjoyed by others. Having recently compiled and printed several genealogical books, I offered to record his information and have it printed. Henry asked what I would charge.

“Ten dollars per hour.”

A long silence followed. “I’m not sure I can afford that.”

“I can work with you on the price.”

I could hear the whistle in Henry’s breath as he thought it over. “Well, all right. This is my life’s work, and I know if it’s not printed in a book, my kids will just throw it out once I’m dead. The thought of that happening is more than I can bear.”

I told Henry that I’d keep track of the hours I spent typing his work into my computer program. We’d settle the bill when I completed the project.

A week later, I received a box that contained 300 research pages, information in tiny print covering the front and back of each page. I assumed this was Henry’s entire collection. I shuffled through the papers like they were a long-awaited Christmas gift, squealing with delight as I perused the family history that my cousin had uncovered. Henry had no formal education beyond high school, but he researched like an accomplished academician.

I began typing Henry’s brilliant research into my genealogy program. After two long days spent tapping the keyboard as fast as I could, my fingertips were inflamed; I’d only recorded twenty pages.

The following week, a second box containing an additional 400 pages arrived. As I looked through the research, tears pricked my eyes. My third cousin once removed had found the answers to my questions. The papers shook in my hands as the lives of relatives who had lived before me unfolded—ancestors who as young adults in their teens and early twenties had left their parents in Germany’s Palatinate to escape the ravages of war.

They survived treacherous ocean crossings on small disease-ridden ships only to arrive in Philadelphia to discover that they were despised because they could not “Englisch sprechen.”

These young people were forced to claim and clear forests on Pennsylvania’s dangerous frontier because there was no other land available. They married and had families—only to have their wives and children massacred by Indians or killed by wild animals. Some lost all of their children in less than a week to illness.

But they persevered, thanks to their deep faith in God and the fact that they had no financial means to move elsewhere. These were my ancestors—people who, generation by generation, paved the way for my children and me to have a better life.

I almost cried when additional boxes containing hundreds of new pages arrived weekly for the next six weeks. Now I understood why Henry was so worried about his research.

Because I wanted to be certain that I was accurately reading Henry’s handwriting, we spoke almost daily on the phone for many months. Each call furnished glimpses into family members and ancestors.

Henry told me that he used to visit my maternal grandparents’ farm when he was a young man. Because I had grown up in another state and wasn’t able to spend more than a week or two each year with my grandparents, Henry provided a precious perspective of them.

I learned that Grandpa Ed had been a godly man who treated everyone respectfully and had always been quick to help someone in need. Grandma Alice made visitors to the farm feel welcome and special. “Visit often and stay long,” Henry said she would say.

Each time we spoke, Henry asked if I had finished. The disappointment in his voice was palpable when I explained that many more hours were required. As the weeks stretched into months, I heard something else in Henry’s voice, something I couldn’t identify.

One day, Henry told me that he and his father had owned the only threshing machine in the rural area during the 1930s. Local farmers paid them to bring the machine to their farms to thresh their grain crops so they wouldn’t have to thresh by hand, a slow and labor-intensive process.

He went on to tell me about a summer during the Great Depression when my grandparents didn’t have enough money to pay for threshing, but Henry and his dad threshed anyway, knowing that Ed and Alice risked losing the farm if they couldn’t thresh their grain.

As we got to know each other, Henry talked about himself. After serving in the Army during World War II, he’d worked as a laborer, never earning much, but providing for his family the best he could. And always, always seeking answers to his burning questions of who had come before him and what were they like.

Finally, after ten months, I completed recording Henry’s research and printed several books.

It was time for Henry to pay me. Listening to his voice as he asked what he owed, I finally understood what I’d heard each time I’d explained that many more hours were needed to complete his project: fear. The same fear he must have heard in my grandparents’ voices that long ago summer.

I crumpled the three thousand dollar invoice in my hand. “Henry, you owe me nothing. You’ve already paid me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, it’s simple. Your research answered my questions about my mother’s ancestors and gave me the heritage that I never knew. My throat tight, my voice came out in a whisper. “Without you, I wouldn’t know my voice sounds just like Grandma Alice’s.”

“It truly does.” Henry replied with that distinctive whistle in his voice.

“And had you and your dad not threshed my grandparents’ grain without pay that one summer, they probably would have lost their farm.”

I could hear Henry breathe hard through his mouth.

“I have a saying that I tell my children: ‘Be kind to others and that kindness will be returned to you.’ Henry, your kindness to my grandparents sixty-seven years ago just came back to you. It’s been a privilege to help you finish your life’s work. And I’m really glad I’ve gotten to know you.”

Henry tried to say something, but couldn’t. Sometimes, it’s just hard for a man to speak.

A week later, a check for fourteen dollars arrived in the mail. Henry’s handwritten note said it was all he could afford, but he wanted to pay me something for my work. I knew I would insult Henry by returning his payment, so, because I love to cook, I went to the cooking store and bought a tool that I really needed—a microplane grater. Every time I use it, I like to think it helps make the food I’m preparing extra special. But more than its function, it has a history—and it always makes me think of Henry and what he did for me.

Henry Snyder, 1918-2004

Henry, you are loved and greatly missed, and your life’s work has a special place in my heart and my bookcase.


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Sharing Favorite Thanksgiving Memories From My Grandparents’ Farm

Posted by on Nov 14, 2013 in Historical Articles, My Grandparents' Farm | 6 comments

152027355Almost ninety years ago, my maternal grandparents, Alice and Ed, began celebrating Thanksgiving Dinner with their little ones in their old farmhouse near Muncy, Pennsylvania.

Through the years, my grandparents and their children encountered many difficult and sometimes overwhelming situations, but God never failed to provide for their family’s basic needs. It’s an eternal promise that God makes to all believers.

Perhaps you’re in the midst of a tough time and unable to see anything good in your life. Maybe you’re wondering what you have to be thankful for. If you’re reading this, I can immediately think of one thing God is blessing you with this very moment:  you are breathing. Sometimes our thankfulness has to begin with something as basic as recognizing that we are alive. And as long as we’re alive, there is always hope for better times.

Television, newspapers, and social media try hard to convince us that Thanksgiving is a time set aside for parades, football games, and shopping. May you and your family gather together on Thanksgiving Day, remembering the real reason for celebrating this special holiday: give thanks to the Lord for all of the innumerable blessings He has bestowed upon each of us during this past year.

Come, join my family and me as we remember and celebrate the true meaning of Thanksgiving.


With Thanksgiving just days away, I’d love to share several of my family’s favorite recipes with you:

After dining at one of Colonial Williamsburg’s taverns many years ago, my mother arrived home with a new turkey dressing recipe. It’s been a family favorite ever since.

Williamsburg Oyster Dressing

1 cup butter

1½ cups onion, chopped

1½ cups celery, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons poultry seasoning

16 cups stale white bread cubes, lightly toasted

1 quart oysters

Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet. Add onion, celery, and parsley; sauté over medium heat until vegetables are tender. Do not brown. Add salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl. Add the sautéed vegetables, and mix well. Drain the oysters, reserving the liquid. Chop the oysters coarsely, and add to the bread cube mixture, tossing gently to mix well. Add a little of the reserved oyster liquid if the dressing seems dry. Taste for seasoning. Stuff and truss the turkey. Place any leftover dressing in a buttered casserole. Bake in the oven during the last 30 minutes of the turkey’s roasting time.

Yield:  makes about 12 cups – enough for a 20-25 pound turkey.


Nearly ninety years ago, my Grandma Alice began a family tradition when she prepared several Thanksgiving desserts for her large family on their Pennsylvania farm.  Grandma Alice’s tradition continues three generations later!  Along with pecan and pumpkin pies, we sometimes serve this swirled pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin Swirl Bread


¼ cup sugar

1 cup sour cream

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 large egg



2 2/3 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup water

1 16-ounce can pumpkin

4 large eggs

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9×5-inch loaf pans and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, combine all filling ingredients.  Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed (1 to 2 minutes); set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, oil, water, pumpkin, and eggs.  Beat at low speed, scrapping bowl often, until mixture is smooth (1 to 2 minutes).  Continue beating at medium speed, gradually adding all remaining bread ingredients and scraping bowl often, until well mixed (1 to 2 minutes).  Place about 1 cup of the pumpkin batter into the bottom of each of the two greased and floured loaf pans.  Carefully spread half of the filling mixture over the batter in each pan; top each pan with half of the remaining pumpkin batter.  Pull knife or spatula through the batter and filling to create a swirl effect.  Bake for 65 to 70 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool bread for 10 minutes before removing from the pans.  Cool completely.


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How Does A Person Describe Love?

Posted by on Oct 23, 2013 in Uncategorized | 16 comments

There are times in a person’s life that are difficult to describe with words.  Even if you are a writer.


Can the setting of a wedding capture the essence of two people’s joie de vivre?



Can the perfectly played notes of Bach’s Wachet Auf  stir the passion in a person’s heart?



Who can read the thoughts of a father whose only and beloved daughter is about to embark on a new life with another man?



How does one describe love?



Is there a look, an expression that conveys one heart’s desire to commit to another for a lifetime?



What makes the ecstasy of joy so contagious?



How can someone’s happiness touch so many hearts?



Will you remember the description of a setting or the picture forever engraved on your heart?



This is a way to say that all of the prayers you’ve ever prayed for the spouse that God ordained for you have been perfectly answered.


Congratulations, my precious daughter Megan Kelly and wonderful new son Tyler!


All photographs by John Nettles, Jr., of City Light Studio, Charleston, South Carolina.  ©John Nettles, Jr.

A special thank you to Karen Hewitt Hagan and Sandra Ericksen of, 27 1/2 State Street, French Quarter Gallery District, Charleston, South Carolina, for providing their beautiful art gallery (Hagan Fine Art Gallery ) for Megan and Tyler’s wedding.

We also thank our incredible wedding officiant, Christy Loftin, who guided Megan and Tyler through the spiritual and legal details of their Charleston wedding, and who, unflustered and with great poise, conducted the wedding ceremony in candlelight due to a spur-of-the-moment electrical outage., and on Facebook:  Details Charleston.



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