"The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip... " - Tom Robbins
"Memory is elusive - Capture it." - The Bert Company from their Five Year Diary
I’m staring at the stacks of stuff from Kansas that still needs to be distilled…
The literal stack of photos, cookbooks, church history books, genealogy lines, food memoirs.
The sound wave stacks of audio recordings from my baking lessons and interviews.
The existential stacks in my head - on identity, geography, domesticity, feminism, the melancholy nature of the beetroot.
Last weekend I got another stack of goods I've been anxiously anticipating - Keturah’s diaries.
21 diaries total. Spanning 42 years. 1940 to 1982.
Plus an address book from 1965 and a wedding guest album.
|Keturah's 21 diaries, address book, and guest album|
If you’ve been following along, you may remember Keturah by way of her recipe cards which fed my fascination and inspired a lemon pie. You may remember she is my step great grandmother on my mother’s side. You may remember that calling her an icon in the family would be an understatement.
|Keturah and Fred Dreier|
I’ve wanted to read her diaries for awhile now, both for myself and for the book. What does this have to do with my cookbook? Fair question. The answer I think lies in the nature of her writing - Keturah was out to simply document life on a farm, in a small town, and then later, in a retirement home. She was telling what they ate, baked, butchered, how many eggs were gathered. They tell the culinary story of a Pennsylvania Mennonite woman in Kansas. Bingo.
(As an aside, when I die someone please burn all my journals, unread. Throw those suckers in the cremation machine with me and consider this post my notification on the subject. It’s not that I have some deep, dark secret… I wish it was that exciting. I just imagine I’ll sound so embarrassing in the retrospect, even from my urn.)
Conversely, it was NOT Keturah’s dying wish for her diaries to be burned. This is NOT the story of Mother Teresa, where she asks that her private writings be destroyed upon her death, but instead everyone just pretends they didn’t hear her, and post-funeral turned them into a bestseller. Which I admittedly own. Ahem.
|The Bainbridge Ferry Terminal|
How I got them felt like a bit of a pilgrimage... no one in the family could remember who had them! So I utilized the magic of Facebook and... Voila! We just hadn't asked the right person - my aunt Lori had the diaries and lucky for me Lori lives on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle. So last weekend, after what felt like my pilgrimage on public transit (complete with a sprint at the end to ensure I literally didn’t miss the boat), I arrived in Bainbridge. And short 2 hours later, I was back in line for the Seattle ferry with a Trader Joe’s bag in my hand, full of Keturah's diaries.
|The cream-colored 1982 diary - right on top awaiting me|
Filled with a sense of urgency, I grabbed the book on top as I waited in line for the boat. It was cream-colored (the book, not the boat), and still had the $2.29 price tag still somewhat in tact. 1982 said the inside cover - The year of my birth! Until that moment, it had never actually occurred to me that her diaries might actually include little girl me.
So I turned to my birthday- February 15th. Nothing. But then these were not the days of Facebook where even the afterbirth gets a tag 20 minutes post-labor. She was in Kansas, I in Texas.
February 17, 1982. There, in the most beautiful cursive handwriting… “Joan flew to Texas today to help Randy & Teresa with their new baby, Katy Beth Boyts. Roads are terribly muddy.” (That she misspelled my name I don’t care… I was 2 days old.)
This simple sentence just floored me. That it was the diary on top had me trying my best not lose it right there, and I swear the guy behind me in line almost asked if I was alright. It was such a poignant reminder that I am so incredibly connected to this project and this woman, that this is not a story about Mother Teresa or some other icon who never knew my name. I am writing of a woman who once wrote of me. I was floored.
The rest of the ferry ride I was in some sort of haze, just cognizant enough to take a few photos and recognize the sensation of knowing you are exactly where you should be.
|Seattle skyline from the ferry|
1982 was the last diary she wrote, or at least that is here in this bag. She died in 1986.
Back in Seattle, I sat down and read 1982 in its entirety. It is most definitely the voice of an 88 year old woman living in a retirement home - Schowalter Villa in Hesston, Kansas.
She tells of her daily activities - of the weather, her visitors, family supper (waffles and sausage, cherry pie and sandwiches, soup, duck,), friends' deaths, her own back pain, church, her grandchildren's chest colds.
She is, on very rare occasions, emotional - "How my heart cries within me."- April 22nd
She is at times so vividly happy. "It was like being in Heaven and wonderful."- February 2nd
She underlines words, like "Katy Beth Boyts" and "terribly muddy".
|My 1982 reading|
But the line that struck me the most in that year... March 26th, “We went to see Maurine. I had not seen her for a long time. I also realized that I do not need anything. We have it very good here." I can only think that I have so much to learn from these books.
The last diary down, (how typical of me - to turn to the last chapter first), I now go back to the beginning, 1940 - Farm days.
For a complete turnaround... Now for some beetroot. Along with Keturah's diaries, beets have shown up so much in the last week: an email on beetroot bread, a note from my mother about how much she loved Keturah's beets, a blogpost on the history of beets, a beet salad from Janan, and a roasted beet Tuesday lunch.
You can see why it just feels right...
|Tuesday's Beet Lunch avec peanuts|
I love these little ladies. Their pink hues on the plate make me pick up a camera. Their redness on my fingertips have me feeling like I accomplished a substantial thing, like the feel of your hands in the garden soil, but more tasty.
So here’s a beet recipe. It’s perfectly simple and perfectly scrumptious.
Beet & Goat Cheese Salad
Adapted from Janan Markee’s kitchen
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total time: about 90 minutes
8 medium sized beets
2 1/2 Tablespoons goat cheese
1 Tablespoon chives, minced
Salt & Pepper
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. If your beets still have greens on them, cut them off, leaving an inch on the beetroot. (This makes for easier peeling.)
2. Place beets in foil and drizzle with 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Rub oil onto beets until all are thoroughly coated. Wrap up the foil and place on baking sheet or roasting pan. Roast beets for about 1 hour or until a knife cuts through the beet with no resistance. Note: It is much better to overcook a beet than to undercook it!
3. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least until you can handle them. Beets are still lovely served at room temperature or even chilled so take liberty on the cooling. Then peel and cut them into large dice.
4. Add 2 Tablespoons of goat cheese and all the chives. stir till combined.
5. Serve the salad on its own or on a bed of greens. Sprinkle on a bit more goat cheese, if you like as I do. Then give a grind of salt and pepper, and a small drizzle of olive oil. (I had accidentally let my arugala in the garden go to bloom and so I decided to consider this good fortune and add its sweet, edible yellow flowers to the mix.)