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Here no songs are sung except those written before 1920 -- nor is any food prepared or served except in the way it was done in the period of 1820 to 1920. That's the bottom line at the Ozark Folk Center, where the heritage of that hill-country culture is recreated in music, crafts, leather working, quilting, dance, humor, and other facets of life as it was years ago.
What was once a depressed area has been revitalized and a fast-fading way of life has been preserved in this rugged Ozark terrain, 150 miles north of Little Rock. Owned by the town of Mountain View, the Ozark Folk Center is operated as an Arkansas State Park. All the center's buildings, numbering nearly 50, are made from native stone and cedar. And they're scattered over an 80-acre area amid woods spiked with red haw, wild plum, locust, service berry, and huckleberry.
Against this forest backdrop, townspeople from Mountain View and neighboring communities share their crafts and music with visitors. It's a place where laughs are tossed about freely as craftspeople spin tales, turn out tunes on their dulcimers, and tell visiting families how to make brooms, keep bees, split shingles, and create cornhusk dolls.
At the fairs and exhibits no commercial displays are permitted, and no products made from kits or synthetics appear. The handcrafts of centuries gone by still have an appeal for Ozark artisans -- and for today's city folk who come to the area to browse and buy.
Situated as they are in a little isolated pocket of beautiful hill country, the people here are still involved with nature and the land. Many are descendants of the Irish and Scottish settlers who got no farther than the Ozarks on their move west when the nation was settled.
They are the last of the mountain folk who know the stories of their past, the secrets of their crafts, and the cooking ``receipts'' handed down from great-grandmothers before them, and the lively old songs.
The early settlers in the Ozarks considered banjos and fiddles almost as important as seeds, spinning wheels, and plowshares. No matter what the occasion -- a good harvest, a wedding, or a quiet winter evening by a crackling fire, agile Ozarkers picked, twanged, and sawed off tunes on their instruments.
People here have stayed close to the simple ways of living and many remember the days when there was no refrigeration and no electricity; when cooking was maneuvered over the fickle heat of the fireplace or wood-burning stove.
From the center's kitchen comes the aroma of baking biscuits and corn bread, the sweet, spicy fragrance of cinnamon, clove, apples, and peaches.
These scents mingle with those from garden patches of lavender and rosemary, pumpkin and persimmon, bordering an old-fashioned kitchen where cordwood is stacked outside the door.
Two ladies in long dresses ladle hot fruit preserves into jelly jars. ``I can't remember a time when we didn't have hot biscuits for breakfast at home,'' says Julia Case, as she shoves another stick of wood into the cast-iron cookstove.
She and Arline Grisette cook daily with old-fashioned utensils, using pots and pans, grinders and choppers, and other tools dating back to the 1820s. For them, this kind of cooking poses no problem. They do it easily and naturally.
``It's not so hard cooking on a wood stove once you get the hang of it,'' Mrs. Case says. `` 'Course you have to turn your biscuits so they won't come out burned to a crisp on one side and pale white on the other. You have to watch your oven and remember every time you open the door you're losing heat.''
When it comes to cooking something large like a turkey or chicken, ``years ago we didn't bake it the way you do today,'' she explains. ``We stew our turkeys first until the meat is tender, then we add the dressing and put it in the oven to brown.''
Mrs. Case still does it this way today. ``I like the old-fashioned way,'' she says. ``To make the dressing I start by baking my old-fashioned corn bread and crumble it, and I add any cold biscuits I have left over. I cook the onions in butter until they're soft and add them to the crumbled bread with salt and pepper and an egg or two. I like lots of sage for seasoning.''
While some people use the water the turkey is stewed in for the gravy, Mrs. Case makes a cream gravy. Then she adds the giblets ``all chopped up'' and some hard-boiled eggs.
``We used to like wild turkey,'' she adds. ``We'd slice the breast meat in large pieces, roll it in flour, and fry it.''
After a sample of Mrs. Case's delicious preserves and a quick tour of the herb, flower, and vegetable gardens that weave throughout the folk center grounds, I talked with Billy Joe Tatum, a naturalist who forages for wild food. Mrs. Tatum explains that people in these hills are not possessed by the frantic desire to cut down on cooking and speed up the preparation time of serving meals.
``It's easy to get taken in by the convenience of foods in the supermarket,'' she says. ``But I believe in buying food because it's delightful to eat -- not because it's easy to fix.
``Many of us still find good sense in the philosophy and principles of those who lived here before us,'' she adds. ``Like the earlier people, we have a need to be saving, to prepare for the winter, a need that is dormant in easy times.
``It shows in our careful use of plants from the garden, in the wiseness of food preparation. We look around to see what there is to eat that's growing wild. Perhaps this will be the year to try acorn flour or dandelion root coffee.
``When this happens we have a keener feel for the first people who lived here and there's a sense of continuity with them.''
Billie Joe tells of making fall and holiday wreaths and runners of ivy and rosemary, garden sage and lavender blossoms. ``We love to give something made by hand at home -- pot holders from nieces and nephews, pieces of embroidery, knitting, and applique' from aunts. And there are inexpensive goodies to give -- pickled beans and candied fruit peels.''
These recipes are from Billie Joe Tatum's ``Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook,'' edited by Helen Witty, (Workman Publishers, $6.95). Baked Persimmon Pudding 3 eggs 1 3/4 cups milk 2 cups persimmon pulp, fresh, or frozen and thawed 2 cups flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground cinammon 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg 1/2 cup sugar 2 tablespoons melted butter Topping 1 cup heavy cream 2 to 4 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Beat eggs with whisk until well blended, then beat in milk, then persimmon pulp.
Sift together flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar. Gradually beat dry ingredients into liquid mixture until smooth. Stir in butter.
Pour into greased, shallow 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake 1 hour, until nicely browned and slightly crusty. Cool in pan.
Cut in squares. Serve topped with cream whipped until stiff with sugar to taste. Serves 8 to 10. Wild Onions With Apples 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 cups wild onion bulbs, thinly sliced 6 cooking apples, peeled, cored, quartered 2 teaspoons salt 2 tablespoons sugar Water if needed
Fry onions in oil until soft and yellow. Add apples, salt, and sugar. Cover and steam 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water if necessary to keep from sticking. Serve hot. Serves 6. This dish goes well with pork and turkey. Apple-Spearmint Salad 6 crisp red or yellow apples, washed Juice of 2 lemons 2 cups, packed spearmint leaves, washed, drained 1/2 cup raisins 1/2 cup black walnuts, walnuts, or pecans, broken up 1/2 cup mayonnaise
Cut up apples but leave skins on. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Tear or snip mint leaves into bits to increase flavor.
Combine and toss apples, raisins, nuts, and mint. Add mayonnaise and toss briskly. Serve in a sparkling clear glass salad bowl. Serves 8.
Phyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor.