Basket Maker – A Craft for the Ages

article-0-0E1706CF00000578-393_468x482Baskets have been part of households for thousands of years. When they came into use is difficult to know. Pottery, intact or in shards, can be dated by archeologists. Baskets, made of natural fibers, decayed long ago. A basket is made by intertwining material in a specific pattern. A deceptively simple design that holds itself together by the weave. The idea may have come from birds. The nest is a circle of grasses and mud woven together by a beak with instincts as a guide. The placement is so wise, it takes the strongest winds to knock them out of trees. Nests seem delicate yet are strong, as are baskets. There are many styles, techniques and materials for weaving. The uses are limitless from holding eggs to people in a hot air balloon as it floats up into the sky. Basket makers, also called weavers, carry forward a handcraft that connects us through the centuries from our humblest beginnings into modern times. The craft is alive and well in safe hands.

Sandy Salada, a basket maker in Latham NY, said baskets were made first by Native Americans. “They were made out of reeds and sewn together. The materials used in the south include sweet grass, palm leaves, and long pine needles. The coiling method is the oldest style. Some are so tightly sewn they can hold liquid without any seepage through the weave. They were made simply because of needing something to hold things.” The tradition is more popular in the American South. Salada is one of few teachers advertising workshops in the Northeast for the next generation of basket makers. Salada, a graduate of Mercyhurst University with a major in Art Education, started weaving twenty years ago. She teaches at her home studio, and a variety of locations around Albany. “Once you make a basket, you can understand what goes into it, especially the quality of the material and design. All are hand made no matter where they come from. Anyone from 10 to 70 years old can be taught. Some can make baskets, but few can teach. A good teacher has to have a passion for the craft, it’s not a job, its passing on a tradition.”

WilliamsClaire Williams, a costumed staff member at Old Sturbridge Village Living History Museum (OSV), learned the craft from a friend 35 years ago. OSV is a complete preserved working town from farm field to Parsons House in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. The village depicts life as it was in the 1830s. Williams “always has one going.” The basket is an intricate puzzle made from oak and ash tree splints, cattail leaves, reeds, or grasses. This material is known as the weaver. The dimensions and design are measured before a basket is started. The base is the most complex part as it must join the spokes around which the weaver is laced. The spokes are the skeleton of the basket. The handle is made from different woods and carved or steamed into its shape. The handle slides into the weaver and is notched into the rim. The rim is lashed on with twine. The finished piece has a stable base, is sturdy, balanced, lightweight and can last for years. Where the weave starts and new material is added as it is being constructed is hard to distinguish. It appears as one seamless piece. Depending on the complexity of the design, it may take from two to ten hours to complete.

Williams said that in the early days of settlement in Massachusetts, Native American women sold and repaired baskets in the towns. The most popular material is black ash. Willow, ash or reed come from a variety of places and countries. A few traditional crafters know how to harvest the tree and create the weavers. The felled ash tree is soaked in a pond for three months, taken out, debarked, and pounded with a mallet. The softened wood comes apart at the growth rings. These strips of wood are the weavers. The process can take five months to complete.

Williams said that, “I always thought it was a beautiful craft, an art, but something useful all the same. They are not just for décor. It’s an art form that should not be forgotten or lost.” Williams makes her own dye out of black walnut using a dilution of water to get just the right patina on the basket. Her most favorite one is the “cradle made for my first grandson Jacob. His name was etched into the wicker along with his brother Caleb’s a few years later.” She has a vibrant air. Her hands are surprisingly soft matching her expression of contentment with life as it is. “Weaving is very satisfying, relaxing. I enjoy knowing that what is done is a natural, useful product.”

Williams is happiest when able to be close to nature. Originally, from Putnam Connecticut, she married a dairy farmer from nearby Pomfret and worked at a sawmill in the business office. She raised one daughter and in retirement, volunteers in the rural environment of the living history museum. She does not consider basket making a chore but a way of life. “It’s a fulfilling past time. There is nothing better than to be weaving a basket on a stormy day. Puts me in a mood, so relaxing to watch the snow fly.”

Sheldon Farm Baskets
Sheldon Farm Baskets


Sources and Links

Sandy Salada – Sandy’s Fiber Arts

Sue Morello – Sheldon Farm Baskets

Old Sturbridge Village










$20 until Thursday; How to Enjoy a Good Meal on a Tightrope Budget

And so it goes, here it is the third week of the month and the storm of obligations is rising. The town water and telephone bill are due on the 31s. The mailbox gave a renew auto registration notice and I’m still trying to save money to replace the washing machine which died in November. In balancing this month’s income with expenses, the funds are there to cover the bills, but I didn’t count on the electric and cable bill to rise and forgot the health insurance expense is now $10  extra every week. The saying used to be nickel and dime, now it’s five and twenty dollar fees and fines. The car needs gas and after everything is laid out on the table, there is an almighty $20 for food until next Thursday. Is it possible to eat well on $20 this week? How far can I stretch the dollar? Dang it. This scenario is not unknown to many a working person. Piggy Bank

The Pantry

To clarify for the reader, I am a foodie and keep the pantry stocked with a few essentials. A good pantry might have: bread crumbs, butter, carrots, flour (King Arthur), eggs, garlic, milk (soy or almond), nuts, oatmeal, pasta or egg/noodles, peanut butter, rice and shallots.  Salt and pepper are always at hand. For herbs, an Italian blend is helpful along with chili powder, cinnamon, ginger, thyme and vanilla. For oil, I highly recommend only Olive Oil from Italy or California. Italy regulates the Olive Oil industry and 100% of product is in the bottle. California does not regulate production, however, they do not blend other oils into the bottle. The only other ingredient that might be on hand is soy sauce. A simple marinade in soy sauce, ginger, garlic and pepper is fab for chicken or pork. For all ingredients, I  recommend stocking better quality products as it is important to enjoy the meal and feel nourished even if the budget is tight. Grocery store bands are often the same quality without the advertising budgeted in to the cost. Try to buy products that are made in USA, Canada or Italy. Better still, if you have an ethnic market in the city, stop their first. I am blessed to have a Mediterranean and Italian Market nearby. Overall, I find Italian products to be of higher quality.

Grocery List

Cheddar Cheese Blend 2.59
Chicken Stock 1.99
Frozen Vegetables 1.69
Half ‘n half 1.19
Indian Foods 4.00
Mineral Water 1.39
Pork (2 bone in thick cut) 4.05
Rice Pilaf 1.25
Tea 2.49
Yams 1.07
Total Cost 21.71

As the list reveals, I went over budget. Eliminating the tea and mineral water would bring it to less than $20. Also, I live in Massachusetts and transportation costs may be higher than in other parts of the country.

Meal Plan

This meal plan could last for 4 – 5 servings for one person. While it can be a little dull to eat the same foods for every meal, they are wholesome and tasty. My pantry stocks saved the day. I prefer to drink tea with breakfast and sparkling mineral water with meals. I had a bag of oranges and apples on hand.

Breakfast – Toasted homemade cinnamon bread with peanut butter

To start, I baked a loaf of bread blending in a cup of milk and an egg to give it a higher amount of protein and enhance the flavor. As cinnamon is on-hand, I made a butter rub of cinnamon mixed with raisins and rolled this into the loaf on the last rise. This is done by rolling out the dough and using a spatula spreading the mix on top and rolling together. The loaf is placed in a shaped bread pan for the last rise before baking. Click here for a more detailed recipe.

Breakfast – The other alternative is oatmeal from the pantry. Mix with milk and honey, blend in raisins and cinnamon for delicious flavors.

Lunch – Homemade Vegetable Soup, Macaroni & Cheese

A good base for any soup is diced carrot, garlic and shallot. In a soup pot heated with oil, add the aromatics along with salt, pepper and herbs of choice. Sautee until the shallot is clear, about 3 minutes at medium heat. Add the chicken stock, add the pasta or egg noodles and bring to a boil slowly. Cook pasta to al dente or about 9 minutes. At the end, stir in the thawed frozen vegetable blend and a can of black beans. The liquid in the beans will thicken the broth. If you prefer rice, cook the rice separately and blend into the finished soup.

Macaroni & Cheese is easy to make. First, cook two cups of elbow noodles al dente. Drain in a colander but reserve ¼ cup of pasta water. Butter a baking dish large enough to hold the noodles comfortably. In a large pot, melt 2 tablespoons of butter on medium heat, stir in 1 ½ tablespoons of flour with black pepper. This is a roux. Add the half and half to this mixture and cook slowly until thickens. About 8 minutes. Blend in the cheese and stir until it is all melted together. Pour the noodles into the baking dish, blend in the pasta water if the noodles are dry, pour the cheese over the noodles and blend together well. Sprinkle with a light coating of bread crumbs. Bake in a 350◦ oven for about 30 minutes or until it just starts to turn light light brown.

Dinner – Cooked yams with pork and rice

Cut two pounds of yams into chunky bites. I do not peel the yam, only wash well. Blend together ½ cup orange juice, ¼ cup honey and ¼ cup brown sugar. Pour over potatoes and stir. Drop about 6 tablespoons of butter on top.  Slow cook in a crock pot for at least 6 hours. If you do not have a slow cooker, these yams can be baked in the oven in a covered pot at a low, slow heat of 300◦. Add extra liquid.

The pork is cooked separately, after marinating in soy sauce, garlic, ginger and pepper for at least 24 hours. Bake the pork on parchment paper turning once until done. Pork can be bone in or not. After the meal, the bone may be saved for part of a soup stock.

Rice, Near East has a nice, inexpensive rice pilaf mix which can be enhanced with celery, slivered almonds, etc…

Dinner – To add variety and finish out the extra days meals, I purchased pre-made Indian foods. I simply had to boil rice or noodles for the base of the meal, boil the pouch in water for five minutes and pour over rice or noodles. This is a vegetarian meal packed with fresh flavors and an unusual blend of spices. One pouch was enough for one meal.  Or, if you are very frugal, it could be stretched to two. The varieties were Kitchens of India and Kohinoor. I enjoyed Red Kidney Bean Curry and Awadhi Aloo Mutter

I am quite sure there are many variations on this idea. The key component to success is a general enjoyment of cooking and food. As much as possible, I prefer to cook from scratch. The foods came from the local Hanaford’s Market and/or Ocean State Job Lot. These are vendors easily located in Massachusetts.