Books, Tomato Pie, and Aunt Cathy – Oh My!

This next series of blogs will be dedicated to sharing family stories and recipes that elicit love, comfort, and wonderful memories.  The best part is at the end – read all the way through.  You’re welcome.

culwells minus baby franAnd, since this is “onefromthemany” – one of the many that I’m from is Catherine “Cathy” Louise Culwell.  She was the 6th of the 7 Culwell children.  She is the littlest one in my mom’s lap in this photo.  Aunt Fran was next to come and would round out the Culwell 7!

Aunt Cathy passed away several years ago now and I have some of the fondest memories of my life with her.  I’ll share them with you.

When I think of Aunt Cathy, I think of books, juicy ripe tomatoes, and a deep love of nature.

Aunt Cathy was one of my best friends as a kid.  I spent summers with my Grandparents at their house in Mt. Airy, MD.  Since my Grandparents were busy most days at my Granddad’s medical office in town – if I wasn’t in fish mode at the local pool – the Ridge Swim Club (my Gram was one of the founders) – I was with Aunt Cathy.  I’d call her “My Cathy”.  For years, I called her that.  Actually, until she died, I called her that.

The Culwell House

culwell house

The room at the very top of the house with the air conditioner in the window was her room, her floor actually.  I spent so many hours up there with her, that it was a second home to me.

She was a voracious reader.  I mean, she’d read several books A DAY!  She would suit me up many days, even as a kindergartener – and we’d walk down Main Street to the library.  She would get stacks of books each week.  So many that we’d have to take breaks walking back to the house so that our backs didn’t seize up from the weight.  She read all kinds of books, mostly romance, art, and nature.

She was a lover of nature – oh boy.  Animals, horses mostly, flowers, plants, bugs – she didn’t discriminate.  When I was 4 or 5, I remember announcing to her that I wanted to be a horse when I grew up.  Or a back hoe.  I don’t know, so don’t ask.

She also loved flowers.  She was a talented artist.  Drawing, painting, needlepoint.  I have many of her pieces now that my husband and I cherish.

When my Grandparents passed away, she moved to Rainsville, AL in the years following to take care of an elderly woman that needed close watching over in her twilight years.  The family was so grateful to Cathy – that they gave her land — or maybe sold her land for a dollar — and she built a cute, little house.  A place all her own

Rainsville is a beautiful place!  It sits atop Sand Mountain on the northern end of the state.  It is one of the prettiest places in the US.  And… home to … drum rollllll…. the band Alabama!  They even have a museum in their hometown, neighboring Fort Payne.  While interesting, I don’t recommend making the trip just for the museum – sorry guys.

Trivia Alert — little known fact about the State of Alabama – it is the most populous rural state of the 50 United States.  Why?  Um, because it’s beautiful, aren’t you listening?  You’ll drive along the hillsides and see them peppered with homesteads, big and small.

Aunt Cathy’s next door neighbors (the family of the woman that she had taken care of for years) had dozens and dozens of animals.  Goats, dogs, donkeys, geese, and lots and lots of martin houses.  Ne’er did see one of those elusive birds, but sure did see lots of houses.

Some animal pets from her neighbor’s place.

goose duck donkey rainsvilleme and goats rainsville

When we visited My Cathy, one of our favorite things to do was to go to nearby Mentone.  A gorgeous small mountain town.  We’d go the slow way – riding through small country towns and lots and lots of chicken farms.  She’d point out where damage was from this tornado or that tornado.  See, I told you she loved nature.  All nature, even Mother Nature’s fury.

During one of our drives, she wanted to stop by and see some horses.  One of her nurses had a place with champion ancestor Appaloosas.

Cathy and the Appas

apaloosas 24745_1379313768786_4172602_n

They are just magnificent!  Majestic.  Strong.  One could watch them prance and play for days.  How Cathy loved them.

During our long, winding drives, we’d always stop by two places – Miracle Pottery – a gorgeous little hillside shop and studio – and a little cafe that had an attached country store – the Wildflower Cafe.

miracle pottery alI have some of my all time favorite pieces from Miracle, including a microwave omelet and bacon maker!  This is their cobbler bowl.  What I love most about their pieces is that they are oven and microwave safe.  Functional and beautiful.

Check them out!  http://www.miraclepottery.com/

The Wildflower Cafe – now, now, y’all – they had the most amazing… I mean to consider selling your first child… amazing Tomato Pie.  Here’s their website: http://www.mentonewildflower.com/  If you ever find yourself in that region of the country, go!

And because I care for your well-being so much, I’ll share the recipe here with you.  I’ll message you my address just in case you do want to send me that first kid of yours in gratitude.

The Wildflower Cafe’s Tomato Pie

6 Roma tomatoes, sliced
2 cups balsamic vinaigrette (I make my own, but I s’pose store bought is ok.  Don’t skimp on quality or you’ll be sorry)
1 baked pie shell (you can show off and make your own)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, gratedtomato pie
2 tablespoons basil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Marinate sliced tomatoes in vinaigrette for 30 minutes. Drain.
Layer tomatoes in baked pie shell.
In a separate bowl, combine mayonnaise, both cheeses and basil.
Spread mixture over tomatoes.
Bake for 30 minutes or until lightly brown. Cut into slices. Serve warm.

Wildflower served it as I remember with slices of buttery toast – the kind that you butter, then slap on the griddle.  Alabama’s version of Texas Toast.  You don’t need the toast, the pie alone is enough to sustain life for centuries to come.

Since it’s summer – and summer comes with juicy, ripe tomatoes.  I also remember platters of freshly sliced tomatoes served at my Grandparent’s House.  Straight from the garden.  Oh, I can still smell that smell – you know the one, when you pick a fresh tomato…earthy, green, fresh.  It lingers on your finger tips, like a natural perfume.  Gram and Cathy would pick them, slice them up in thick slices and would put them on the dining room table.  That alone was dinner some nights. Cathy would plop a dallop of mayo on top of those bad boys and go to town.

eddie murray cal ripkenWhen Granddad got home from birthing most of Carroll, Frederick, and Howard County’s babies; we’d listen to the O’s on the radio.  I thought I was going to marry either Cal Ripken or Eddie Murray back then.  Ray Knight, a close third.  Maybe he would’ve been the best man.  Although if I had stuck to my 4 or 5 year old dream and been either a horse or a back hoe, I don’t know how that would’ve worked.

So… that’s My Aunt Cathy.  Part of her anyway.  A gentle, kind woman who loved books, nature, and her family – more than anyone I’ve ever known.  I’m grateful to be one from the many like her.aunt cathy and me sand mountain

Big hugs and big kisses.

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