Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Return of Aunt Bill

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Vintage Cookbook

In preparation for the New Year, it was time to address the issue of Cannibal’s fish filter. Where was he in the tank?  For months the recirculation has been rather sluggish, probably a half a gallon of water per hour, the outflow just the right speed to cultivate algae growth.  The new filter was all about getting it done at nine gallons a minute.  Sounds like a water fall in the front room.  Looked like one too after installation.  The unit was tilted too far back and water was being pumped out of the tank onto the floor and fireplace.  Cannibal was not amused as his world was rapidly shrinking.  He kept searching for a corner with enough water to swim in.  Once the filter was properly aligned, the tank refilled and the floor mopped, Cannibal could dive and glide in ample water—a much happier aerated goldfish.

Ice Statue on a cold Christmas morn

Christmas morning was COLD.  Not everyone goes out to walk at 20 degrees, but I did see two joggers running incredibly fast.  Wherever plants had been watered, sheets of ice covered the sidewalks and ice veins streamed across streets.  Fountains became ice sculptures.

Sculpted meringue over vanilla custard with lavish amounts of shredded coconut has been the Christmas dessert in my family for years.  Most of the coconut cream pie custards gamely hold their shape.  Sweetened fluffy beaten egg whites on top give a snowy appearance perfect this time of year. Then there are the mutant pies, like when we lived in England and my husband’s new boss came for dinner.  The meringue with toasted coconut was actually a floating island above a milk-thin yellow pudding which sloshed around in the soggy pie crust.  Pieces of pie were served in bowls with spoons. The stuff of memories.  No one has forgotten that pie yet.

"It turned out" Coconut Cream Pie

The coconut cream pie recipe (we’re talking about the good ones that turned out) was in the Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book, circa 1942, edition 1950. Not just any cookbook, chapters have useful information about measuring ingredients, spices, equipment, table settings, decorations, canning, freezing, hints on carving meat and over 2,600 recipes.  What makes this book super special are my mother’s notes and additional recipes she added wherever there was extra space. Divinity is on the second page.  Peanut Butter fudge is across from page 775. 

The traditional Aunt Bill’s Brown Candy is not in this cookbook.  First published in The Daily Oklahoman newspaper ninety years ago, the confectionary was a creation of Edna Vance Adams (1893-1972). “You know I’ve always told you this is my memorial to a dear courageous friend who was Aunt Bill to all of us and who was never too occupied to give of herself.”

Edna was born in Missouri but her family moved to Oklahoma City.  Later she studied Home Economics at Oklahoma A&M College at Stillwater.  Struggling finances ended her pursuit of a college degree, but Edna got the job for writing a cooking column in 1929 with The Daily Oklahoman.  Her job took her many places both here and abroad.  In 1943 Edna moved to New York City and became food editor for McCall’s magazine while writing under the pen name Susan Adams.  During this time, she forged her one and only cookbook named the “How-to-Cook Book”.  Clever. Quite the entrepreneur, in the early 1950’s she produced the first televised daytime food show in this country.  Wherever she was, Aunt Susan always mentioned her recipes were for her nieces and nephews in Oklahoma!  The writer retired in the 1960s and moved to Colorado.  

On December 9th 2020 The Oklahoman’s food editor, Dave Cathey, presented both the traditional and microwave version of Aunt Bill’s in The Oklahoman Life Section.  Melba, longtime Oklahoman columnist, for decades has printed Aunt Bill’s Brown Candy recipe.  This year she was under the weather. Dave stepped in to help.

Melba Lovelace herself is amazing.  Besides the fact she comes from my neck of the woods (twenty miles from Wister). Melba was born in Red Oak ninety years ago, and was a graduate of Panola HS.  For 17 years she wrote “Melba’s Swap Shop” for The Daily Oklahoman before retiring in 1992.  This allowed her and her husband to travel extensively.  She turned her hand to radio, TV and has written 16 books about crafts, quilting, household hints and cooking.  Melba still writes a weekly column for The Oklahoman.  

Beating the Aunt Bill's

Aunt Bill’s Brown Candy was tackled in my kitchen this December.  As usual, it bubbled over during the first 15 minutes in the microwave, but cooperated from that point on.  When both beaters began waving white flags, the thick pecan, buttermilk candy was poured into a buttered pan to cool. Hours later, knife in hand, I began to cut the fudge into neat crisp squares.  Instead, the candy wrapped itself around the blade, determined to not let go. Aunt Bill’s Taffy. Several sheets of wax paper and three days later, freeform pieces of Aunt Bill’s were dry enough to package.  Can’t beat the flavor.  Perhaps it’s all the beating that makes this candy special.

Some families give sweaters or books.  My family does weather stations and rain gauges.  So far, we have erected three functioning units.  All the weather station info is coordinated at Maryland headquarters but is also linked through Weather Underground.  This allows the temperature, wind and rain data from other weather stations in the area to be checked or compared.

Weather Station

Our AcuRite 5-in-1 wireless station is mounted on a 20 foot long pole.  It has a self-emptying rain cup and measures moisture, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction.  An inside solar panel charges the system.  The monitor in the house on a wall is in direct line of sight.  Here the station information is displayed. So civilized.

Very convenient.  But I also am a CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network) volunteer.  We use professional outdoor rain gauges which measure from one hundredth of an inch to eleven inches of moisture.  We also must go outside each morning at 7 am to read the gauge.  Most mornings are no problem, but there are others with snow, ice or heavy T-storms.  

Today is National Science Fiction Day.  American author and Boston University Professor of biochemistry Isaac Asimov was born on January 2, 1920.  Can you imagine what your future might look like?  Think the weather will play a part?  Don’t fret.  Go make some Aunt Bill’s.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at