MAY 2020


Before turning to my newsletter for the merry month of May, let me express heartfelt gratitude to the scores of you who responded to my mention of rising costs associated with it in the April edition. As I shared with everyone who responded (at least I hope I didn’t miss anyone), for the time being I’ve decided just to keep on the path I’ve traveled since first beginning back in 2004. It may cost me some, but if the end result brings a tiny bit of brightness into the lives of readers or takes their thoughts back to a simpler, less stressful time, that will be reward enough at present. Beyond that, about all I can add is that I’m immensely appreciative of the good thoughts you shared and the good vibes you passed my way. It was uplifting in a rare and wonderful fashion.



I’m making a valiant effort to reduce my huge stock of books and over coming months will be offering various specials with that goal in mind. For this month, anything and everything on two of the lists on my website (, Asian Hunting and Africana Hunting, Travel, and Exploration, is on sale at a discount of 20 percent. The only caveat is that payment must be by personal check, cashier’s check, or money order (made out to me and mailed to Jim Casada, 1250 Yorkdale Drive, Rock Hill, SC 29730). No PayPal for this special offer. Normal shipping fees apply. There are literally hundreds of books, many of them obscure or rare while others are dandy reads, on these two lists.



There’s precious little of note to report on this front. As I suspect is the case for many of you, I’m spending most of my time hunkered down at home. In fact, I basically get out among others only twice a week—an early morning run to the grocery store once a week to stock up on whatever I need (if they have it, which isn’t always the case) and a weekly trip to the Post Office to ship books. While doing the latter I also take care of any other errands which are essential.

Otherwise, I’m in the yard, garden, woods, or reading or writing. There’s been plenty to do on the latter front. I’ve completed preliminary indexing for A Smokies Boyhood in order to plow right into this tedious task once I have typeset proofs in hand. I’ve contributed several pieces to the daily blog of Sporting Classics magazine, “Sporting Classics Daily,” on things such as caping a turkey and decorative uses for turkey beards. Visit the “Daily” (it’s free) and you’ll find lots of interesting material there. I’ll have coverage of blackberries and recipes using them in the upcoming issue of Smoky Mountain Living. It should be out about the time you get this newsletter.

Otherwise, I’ve been busy getting some assignments for South Carolina Wildlife and Sporting Classics polished up and sent off to the editors of those publications. Look for my byline in upcoming issues. Also, all of this enforced stay-at-home stuff has led me to get busy on several book projects I had been putting off, and time will tell how they fare. I have a couple currently under consideration, but unfortunately another one (a cookbook proposal) was recently rejected by an academic press. It came as a surprise and obviously as a disappointment, but I’ve been in the writing business far too long to suppose for a moment that there is anything approaching certainty. Actually, let me revise that thought a bit. There is one certainty in the freelance writing business–a constant state of uncertainty.

I’ll let the cookbook project simmer for a time and hopefully figure out another avenue to travel with it. Meanwhile, I’ve got plenty to do, and is normally my case when anything–book, article (although I no longer write on speculation the way I once did), article concept, or something else—comes to naught, I lick my wounds for a few days, mutter about misfortune, and then plow ahead. That’s about it right now, so let’s turn to the marvels of May and what the month has to offer.



I’ve written numerous times over the years, in this newsletter and elsewhere, that May is one of my two favorite months of the year. October is the other one. There’s so much to cherish in the truly merry month of May, and perhaps you will find something uplifting as I share some of what I find magical in it. It’s a month to keep you on the “sunny side of life,” as the lyrics from a wonderful old Carter family tune so nicely express matters. In what is an unprecedented time of trouble in my life and those of my generation, superseding Vietnam, the assassination of John Kennedy, the Cuban missile crisis, the Cold War, multiple mini economic depressions, and various other bumps in the road I have traveled, I’m just trying to be positive.

I have no idea where it will all end but I’ve lived long enough to know that while I can’t govern events, I can to some degree govern how they impact me—maybe not economically, but mentally, spiritually, and in terms of my overall outlook on life. That’s why I want to share some things from my world as it exists today and has unfolded through the decades which have been and continue to be uplifting. If they serve the same purpose for you, or better still evoke similar recollections from your own life, that will in and of itself be uplifting.

*Earlier today I watched a pair of nesting bluebirds working non-stop to feed their ravenous hatchlings. The box they call home isn’t 25 feet from the window at my kitchen table, so I have a bird’s eye (well, actually a human eye) view of proceedings. It’s fascinating to watch the feeding, along with regular “taking out the trash” (little bluebirds do poop, you know, and unlike too many humans fowl don’t foul their nests), although most years I miss the special moment when it’s time for the young birds to leave the nest and move out into a much wider and much more dangerous world. I’ve caught it on a few occasions over the last quarter century or so, however, and it has always been special.

The mention of a time span of a quarter century is another part of the bluebird story. The box in which they nest is one made by my father, after a diagram I had found somewhere and given to him, at least that long ago. Daddy, who had been a young man in the depths of the Great Depression and never at any time in his 101 earthly years exactly lived in the lap of luxury, was a great one for doing things right. He believed in self-sufficiency, was a practical engineer of singular skills (my brother, who has multiple engineering degrees as well as a number of patents under his name has often said “Daddy was a far better ‘hands on’ engineer than I’ll ever be”), and when he set his mind to something you could count on the end result being both delightful and durable.

In the case of the bluebird box, it has a tin roof (what earthly creature can fail to enjoy rain on such a roof?), a removable bottom where some quick work with a Phillip’s screwdriver lets you clean it out after the nesting season, and a design which makes attaching it to a post wonderfully easy. Since Daddy first crafted the box it has been home to bluebirds every spring, and it pleases me to think that those homebuilders this year are lineal descendants of other bluebirds right back to when the box was first put in place. Whether or not that is the case, I get to enjoy their antics and, whenever I’m watching, resurrect some heartening thoughts of my father.

*Mention of the music provided by a tin roof and rain takes me squarely back to boyhood. The upstairs of our two-story home wasn’t particularly well insulated, and for that matter none of the house was. There was no central heat and we slept in bedrooms which could be mighty cold during the winter months. But that lack of insulation translated to pure magic any time it rained at night. The symphony of raindrops dancing on tin is soothing and serene. I don’t know whether the makers of the various “go to sleep” sounds have tried this, but in my view the only thing which matches rain on a tin roof is the sound of a mountain trout stream gurgling nearby. If you have access to either, you are blessed. If not, just think about them. You’ll feel better for doing so.

*Strolls in the garden. In order to enjoy this bit of May magic, obviously there’s the basic requirement of a garden or at least some flower beds or places where you’ve planted something. But if you can walk through a garden in May, with vegetables all around (there will be weeds too, of course), and not have a grin on your face and an outlook which puts you on the “sunny side,” I’ve got a thought and a recommendation. The thought is that you’ve got a hole in your soul. The recommendation is that you seek some help, professional or otherwise, because something has gone terribly awry. Similarly, harvesting and eating something you’ve grown—whether it is leaf lettuce or spring onions, new potatoes or peas, the first blooms from squash (battered and fried they are scrumptious—see recipe below)—will most assuredly bring a smile to your face.

tulip poplar bloom

Poplar tree bloom

*Still on the subject of strolls, walks amongst wildflowers are a source of quiet joy and splendid inspiration.  May is probably the month of the most extravagant of wildflower showiness in this part of the world, although September certainly makes a splash with iron weed, cardinal flower, Joe Pye weed, golden rod, tick weed, and more. To wander through a patch of woods, making progress slowly (which is the way to go if you want to combine observation and contemplation with exercise), is to be enchanted. Try it and you won’t deny it. Beauty may even be in your back yard, as I discovered when I noticed a poplar tree absolutely laden with delicate blossoms featuring cream and muted orange loveliness.

*Look to the skies and love the clouds. When the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth opened his poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” with these lines

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw crowd,

A host of golden daffodils.

he was in touch with something truly special. I’ve never gazed upon a large field filled with daffodils, but I’ve seen pastures aplenty adorned with the white and gold of daisies. Often, while doing so, I’ve looked heavenwards to watch drifting clouds as well, and to indulge in these simple things is to become part of a dream.

*See if you can find a patch of wild strawberries (they ripen in late May hereabouts) and if you do, feast to your heart’s content. Several hundred years ago Izaak Walton quoted a friend named Boteler on the appeal of strawberries and summed the whole matter up quite nicely: “Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.” There’s enduring wisdom in those words, and wild strawberries are a prime example reminding us that bigger isn’t always better. A dead ripe wild strawberry, or better still a whole bunch of them atop a piece of home-made shortcake, will bring tears of pure joy to a glass eye. They are that good. Thoughts of wild strawberries invariably lead, at least for me, to the matter of culinary magic associated with shortcake. Accordingly, let’s turn to some thoughts and recipes on the cooking front.




As any observant gardener knows, perhaps only one out of every four or five blooms on squash and pumpkins is a female and will eventually produce foodstuffs. Thankfully the female blossoms are easily distinguishable because the miniature squash or pumpkin is visible at the base of the bloom. Normally the male blooms just fertilize the females (with some help from bees, other insects, and the wind) but they can be harvested when at their golden fullness and prepared in any of a number of delicious ways.

Wash freshly harvested blooms (best done in the morning, and if you don’t want to cook them until supper you can float them in a big bowl of water with the stems getting a drink or just wait until close to the time you plan to cook). Gently pat dry with paper towels or place atop cloth towels to drain a bit. Dust with flour and then dip in egg batter. After coating with egg batter dust with flour again and immediately fry in a large pan with hot cooking oil until brown (watch closely because they will cook in a hurry). You will only be able to cook a couple of blooms at a time, but place the cooked ones atop paper towels to drain any excess oil as you continue cooking. Serve piping hot as a novel and delicious side dish.




Mulberries just beginning to change color as they ripen

Although available in the wilds (mostly around old home places, along fence rows, or in pastures—they are an “open area” tree and not common but plentiful enough to be worthy of mention), mulberries are infrequently used as part of nature’s bounty. I’m not sure why you so seldom see mention of their food qualities, although Daddy used to swear that “every ripe mulberry has at least one worm in it.” Maybe, but I’ve never found that a deterrent (just a mulberry flavored bit of protein). Interestingly, a traditional folk medicine use of mulberries maintains they are actually good for pin worms. Or possibly they aren’t harvested much because of fragility or the stems which cling to every berry. Whatever the case, there are certainly a number of things to recommend mulberries.

They are among the first fruit or berry treats to become available in the spring, with only wild strawberries being of comparable earliness. Mulberries begin to ripen in the latter part of May, depending on location and elevation. They spread their period of ripeness over two or three weeks. Low hanging ones can easily be picked, but a quicker, more efficient way is to spread a tarp or old sheets beneath the tree (they grow to appreciable heights) and shake the fruits (name notwithstanding, they aren’t actually a berry) down. If you use them to make pies, cobblers, jams, or jellies, don’t worry about the stems. If you eat them fresh, just bite the stem off. Should you know of the whereabouts of a mulberry tree or two, this might just be the year to give the fruit a try. I’ve got my eyes on one and hopefully will get at least my share of its offerings. Rest assured that birds will get theirs. Mulberries are sweet with a hint of tartness, more reminiscent of a blackberry than anything else, but still distinctively different. If you use in pies or other cooked fashions, blackberry recipes will work. Just keep in mind that you may need a bit more sugar. Here’s a cobbler recipe that’s simple and scrumptious.

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 ¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup whole milk

¼ cup butter (1 stick), melted

3-4 cups fresh mulberries, washed thoroughly and patted dry

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and milk; stir with a whisk until smooth. Add melted butter and blend. Pour resulting batter into a 9- x 13-inch baking dish. Pour mulberries evenly over the batter (do not stir). Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until the top is golden brown.


Roma tomatoes make wonderful sauce
and I try to make a couple of runs every summer

Turning from currently available mulberries (if you have the gumption to find and harvest them) to fond dreams of the not too distant future, I want to offer several tomato recipes. I just came in from the garden where the three dozen or so tomato plants I have in the ground (and another two dozen for late planting are now in cups just getting started) have been staked, tied twice, got a recent side dressing of fertilizer after setting the first fruit, and other than some aphids (I’ll drown those critters with a sprinkler can) are looking good. I use them in almost endless ways and always freeze a great many for soups, sauces, stews, and the like. I also, in good years, give a lot away. This year I’ve planted Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, Carolina Gold, Beefmaster, Roma (for sauce) and a couple of varities which are new to me. Here’s some material for dreaming, and in good years I have my first tomatoes in the period June 20-30, so it won’t be too terribly long.


Slice away the bottom quarter of a large tomato and carefully remove any core that remains in the large section along with enough flesh to leave a cavity that will hold an egg. Place the tomato “container” atop a greased baking sheet or pan and carefully break a small or medium egg into it. Bake at 350 degrees until the egg sets to a point just short of the consistency your desire. Remove from the oven, sprinkle liberally with sharp, shredded cheddar cheese, then place back in the oven until the cheese melts. Eat piping hot.



Slice away the bottom of tomatoes and then sprinkle liberally with a mixture of Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. You can buy crumbs but heels from a loaf of bread, given a quick whirl in a processor, are much cheaper and work just as well. Bake at 375 degrees until the cheese/bread topping begins to turn brown and eat hot from the oven. If you have them, try leftover biscuits or crumbled cornbread as your crumb base.



In the heat of summer, when tomatoes are abundant but thoughts of dealing with an oven or stove, cause dismay, here’s a grand way to use fresh tomatoes.


2 or 3 large tomatoes, diced (a ulu is ideal for this task)

¼ cup finely chopped chives

½ cup chopped pimento olives

1 minced garlic clove

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients in a plastic or glass bowl, whisk gently, and let stand in refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.


*Fresh mozzarella makes a nice addition to the salsa.

*This is a nice accompaniment to grill burgers.



Years ago a cousin, Joyce Casada Bryant, brought this dish to a family reunion. It drew rave reviews in a setting where a whole bunch of splendid cooks vie to outdo one another.


1 refrigerated pie crust

8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

2 tablespoons chopped basil

4 large tomatoes, cored, peeled and sliced ½ inch thick

1 large Vidalia onion, sliced

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

Fit the crust in a pan and spread the cheese over the crust. Sprinkle with basil and then top with slices of onions and tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then drizzle with the olive oil. Bake for 30 (or a bit longer if the pie is “shaky”) minutes in a 400-degree oven. Slice and serve.



I’ve been an avid reader all my life and consider the fact that I grew up in a home without a television a blessing. That helped lead me to a lifelong love affair with books at an early age. I’ve always got a book (sometimes several at once) going, and because of the current pandemic situation that’s even more the case than usual. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve read in the last month or so, and maybe some of you will want to do the same with me. There’s no real rhyme or reason to what I’ve read—just something on my shelves that caught my eye or a book which came to my attention during some type of research.

I’ve read some biographies (a favorite of mine) including David Donald’s one of Abraham Lincoln, Scott Berg’s Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius (Perkins worked for Scribner’s his entire career and was the man who edited the books of giants such as Ernest Hemingway, Marjorie Rawlings, Thomas Wolfe, and S. S. Van Dine), and a life of Elspeth Huxley by C. S. Nicholls. Huxley is certainly less recognizable than “Honest Able” and maybe, for American readers, even so than Perkins. Yet she’s a favorite of mine who wrote prolifically over the course of her long life, mostly on east Africa. The Flame Trees of Thika and The Mottled Lizard rank among her best-known books, and the former was made into a seven-part series for British television. Reading about Perkins came about because I’ve had a lifelong resistance to Thomas Wolfe, never mind that he hailed from the part of the world where I grew up. That hasn’t changed; I find Wolfe deadly and mainly a fine antidote for insomnia. Perkins in turn led me back to S. S. Van Dine (the pen name of W. H. Wright), a mystery writer I enjoyed as a teenager. I renewed the acquaintance a few days ago by following the endeavors of his detective, Philo Vance, in The Benson Murder Case.

Other recent reading includes Richard Grant’s  Ghost Riders (the book’s U. S. title is American Nomads), one of several fine travel books he has written; The Wild Trees by Richard Preston (about giant redwoods and a special breed of people who have explored the ecosystem which exist high up in these giants), and The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash. Add to that The Legend of Nance Dude by Maurice Stanley (Nance Dude was a murderess who lived in my native Smokies—this book is quasi-fiction and not very well done), and several books (such as Kill or Be Killed, Men of the Field, and The Elephant Hunters of Lado) by W. Robert Foran for an upcoming column in Sporting Classics (he wrote primarily on African hunting and great hunters) and you have a pretty good cross-section.

Finally, I just re-read Harry Middleton’s The Bright Country. Harry was a cherished friend who left us far too soon but gave a lasting legacy in the form of some great books, tops among which are The Earth Is Enough and On the Spine of Time. The latter is set in the Smokies. Many think these books are autobiographical, and they certainly have those overtones, but there is a great deal of fiction. I read The Bright Country again because a profile of Harry will form the final chapter in a book I’m now completing which profiles some forty individuals who either lived in the Smokies or had deep connections to the region. Harry was a shy, almost reclusive figure who communicated best with the written word. This book came after he lost his job, his marriage went awry, and he moved to the Denver area for a time. The title notwithstanding, it is a dark and depressing book, although it is also compelling and provides real insight into Harry’s troubled situation. If you read it, balance this book’s gloom with some of the glory found in the others I mention.


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