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Singing Goats, A Pickle In A Tree, And An Easter Egg Hunt At Christmas

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Courtesy Connie Bailey-Kitts
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Cinnamon the goat listening to the organ, with a microphone to pick up her voice as she sings.

In this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we explore stories about the power of memory and tradition. Listeners across Appalachia share some of their favorite traditions, and our reporters and hosts share some of our family traditions, too. We’ve got recipes for things like cranberry salad and sorghum gingerbread. Reporter Zack Harold tells us how his family began a unique tradition of hunting for Easter eggs on Christmas Eve. We travel to a farm in Bluefield, Virginia, where goats sing along to Christmas carols, played on an organ.

Co-host Caitlin Tan shares her grandmother’s recipe for stollen, a special German sweet bread that she makes each Christmas. And co-host Mason Adams sits down with his mom to talk about baking cookies during the holidays.

Singing Goats

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COURTESY CONNIE BAILEY-KITTS
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There is a tradition in Appalachia of observing “Old Christmas” on January 6. Folklore suggests that animals speak in the middle of the night on Old Christmas.

But it turns out, you don’t have to wait till Jan. 6 to hear goats singing to Christmas carols.

We heard about these music-loving goats through Connie Bailey-Kitts, who lives in Bluefield, Virginia. Her goats love to listen to a church organ she keeps on her property. The organ dates back to the 1920s. “If they hear the music playing, they'll come down from the field when the organ’s playing," she said. "And the organ’s really, really powerful. It’s got a really big sound, and they're drawn to it."

Bailey-Kitts said her goats will lift their ears up like they're trying to catch more of the sound of the organ.

“I think they don't know quite what to make of it," she said. "It doesn't intimidate them either. It's just amazing.”

Stollen Bread

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Caitlin Tan
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Ilse Tan makes her traditional stollen bread that she grew up with in the former East Germany.

Stollen is a cake-like fruit bread of nuts, spices and dried or candied fruit, and coated with sugar. It’s a traditional German bread eaten during the Christmas season. Our co-host Caitlin Tan interviewed her grandmother Ilse Tan about the recipe, and what makes this food so important to her.

Oma's Stollen Recipe

  • 5 Cups Flour (about)
  • A little less than a Tablespoon of Baking Powder
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Knife tip Cinnamon
  • 1 Knife tip Cardamom
  • 2 Cups Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 3 Drops Lemon Juice
  • 2 Sticks butter (melted)
  • 1 Pint Sour Cream
  • 1 Handful Raisins
  • 1 Handful other dried fruit, chopped
  • 1 Handful sliced almonds
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Rum

Mix all ingredients together. Should be like a sticky bread dough.

Knead into 1-3 loaves.

Bake @ 350 degrees F for 65-75 minutes (or a clean fork).

Paint melted butter on top.

Sprinkle with a thick layer of powdered sugar.

Let it cool, slice and enjoy!

Cranberry Salad

One of our listeners, Emma Louise Leahy, is from Jefferson County, West Virginia, but she’s currently studying abroad in Germany. She shared the story behind her family’s handwritten recipe card for cranberry salad, which has been passed down from her grandmother. She said you have to start the day before because it has to sit overnight and includes fresh cranberries, Mandarin oranges, pecans, and apples, if you want. She chops them up really finely, saying it is easiest with a food processor and then lets it sit overnight with brown sugar. They use it as a palate cleanser between courses at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Leahy’s grandmother died when she was five. She says this recipe, and others, make her feel connected to her ancestor, even after all these years. “She's still somebody that even in her physical absence from our life since she's passed on, that she's left a big impact on our family,” Leahy said.

 

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Connie Kitts-Bailey topping off gingerbread cake with her cousin Alice Bailey Nunn. Nunn's dad, Jim Bailey, made the sorghum used in the recipe.

Gingerbread

Folkways Corps reporter Connie Bailey-Kitts brings us a story about her family’s gingerbread recipe, using homemade sorghum.

The recipe is passed down from her grandmother, Alice Bailey, who was widowed shortly before the stock market crashed in 1929. Sugar was expensive and scarce, but sorghum was easy to grow on their mountain land. You could boil down its juice to a thick sweet syrup. It technically wasn’t “molasses” (which comes from sugar) but it looked so much like it, it was called sorghum molasses.

Her pro tip: Dissolve the soda in water first, instead of mixing it with the dry ingredients. That way you don’t have to worry about getting a speck of bitter soda taste in the cake. Top it off with a lemon sauce, orange sauce or whipped cream. It freezes beautifully, too!

Reporter Connie Bailey-Kitts serves holiday gingerbread cake, once made in this coal-burning cook stove by grandmother Alice Bailey.

Grandmother Bailey’s Soft Gingerbread

  • 1 cup Wesson oil (or safflower oil)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sorghum (reduce to ¾ cup if using blackstrap or mild molasses)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 Cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour an 8 x 12-inch or 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

Sift flour together with sugar, salt and spices*. Set aside.

Beat the eggs, add oil, sorghum/molasses, and soda (that has been dissolved in the two tablespoons of hot water). Add the sifted flour mixture to wet ingredients. Beat well. Gently stir in the cup of water and beat lightly. Batter will be very thin, like a soup, but do not add more flour.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Let settle for 1 or 2 minutes. Bake 30 - 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

*You can use the spices to suit your taste. We reduce or eliminate the cinnamon, but that is your choice.

Lemon Sauce

  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg plus ¼ cup water
  • Pinch Salt
  • Fresh juice of 1 or 2 lemons (to taste) plus grated zest of 1 lemon

Melt butter in a saucepan on low heat. Whisk in sugar, egg, water, and salt. Add juice of lemon, plus zest and bring all to boil.

Stir until thick. Remove from heat and pour over gingerbread cake. Sauce freezes well.

Orange sauce

  • 1 cup orange juice, mixed with ½ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, combine juice, water, sugar, cornstarch and salt and heat over medium low heat until thick and creamy.

Remove from heat, add butter and stir.

Our Inside Appalachia theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Ritchie Collins, The Ritch Collins Three-O, Bortex, Blue Dot Sessions, Ross Hollow and their song “Appalachian Love Song”, written by Stuart and Annalee Johnson-Kwochka, and Josh Ritter and Corey Chisel as heard on Mountain Stage.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi and Eric Douglas also helped produce this episode. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia. You can also send us an email to InsideAppalachia@wvpublic.org.

Caitlin Tan is working as Inside Appalachia’s folklife reporter, as part of a Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies grant. The goal of her reporting is to help engage a new generation in Appalachian folklife and culture.
Mason Adams grew up near the Virginia/West Virginia border in Clifton Forge, Virginia. He’s covered mountain communities and the issues affecting them since 2001. His work has appeared in Southerly, Daily Yonder, 100 Days in Appalachia, Mother Jones, Huffington Post and elsewhere. He lives with his family and a small herd of goats in Floyd County, Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @MasonAtoms.
Roxy Todd joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2014 and works as the producer for Inside Appalachia. She's the recipient of a National Edward R. Murrow Award for "Excellence in Video," for a story about the demands small farmers face in West Virginia. She also won a National PMJA Award For "Best Feature" for her story about the history of John Denver's song "Country Roads." You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.