Lihamurekepiiras—Finnish Meat Loaf in Sour Cream Pastry

Many years ago our niece Gina and her husband gave us a little spiral-bound cookbook, Fine Finnish Foods. Compiled by Gerry Kangas of Palo, Minnesota and published in 1988, it is still in print and includes a lot of recipes passed down from mothers to daughters.

Here is a beautiful main dish that tastes as good as it looks. Even better, it is surprisingly easy to make.

INGREDIENTS:

For the dough:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup chilled butter or margarine
1 large egg
1/2 cup sour cream

For the filling:
4 T butter
1/4 lb. mushrooms
2 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef, veal or pork
1 medium-small onion (about 2” in diameter)
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Cheddar or Swiss cheese
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
2 T milk

PROCEDURE:

Sift the flour and salt together. Cut the butter or margarine into the flour with a fork or pastry blender until the flour looks like coarse cornmeal. Beat the egg into the sour cream, then stir it into the flour mixture. Work the liquid into the dry ingredients until you have a soft ball. Wrap it in waxed paper or plastic film and refrigerate the dough for an hour.

Make the filling while the dough is cooling. Clean and chop the mushrooms into a quarter-inch dice. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet and sauté the mushrooms for about six minutes. Add the meat, onion, salt and pepper and cook them until the meat is done and the juices have evaporated. Lower the heat if necessary, so the meat and onions do not get crisp.

Preheat the oven to 375º and grease a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet.

Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the meat to cool for five or six minutes. Grate the cheese while the meat is cooling, then mix the cheese and milk with the meat.

Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a six by fourteen-inch rectangle. Put one rectangle on the cookie sheet and spoon the meat mixture into a ridge along the center of the dough. Shape the meat into a loaf, leaving about an inch of dough around the meat. Brush the exposed dough with a little milk.

Lay the second rectangle of dough on top of the loaf and trim the dough to make a neat rectangle. Seal the edges with a fork. Beat the egg and milk together and paint the dough. Prick holes on top to let the steam escape.

Bake the loaf for thirty-five to forty-five minutes until it is golden brown. Remove it from the oven, let it cool for a few minutes, then cut thick slices to produce six to eight servings.

Serve with sour cream and lingonberry or cranberry sauce.

NOTES: I have modified Mrs. Kangas’s recipe slightly by including a little salt and pepper and using only two and a half pounds of meat.

OPTIONS: If you like spicier foods, you can add a little more salt and pepper to the meat mixture, but be especially careful with the salt, as some cheeses are quite salty. Some recipes call for three or four tablespoons of finely chopped parsley along with garlic salt and Worcestershire sauce. Try them if you want, but the Finns like to keep things simple.

Posted in Main Dishes, Meats, Side dishes | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Pam’s Date Squares

Many years ago a lady who liked the recipe for Grandma Rang’s Date Cookies asked if I had a good recipe for date squares. I emailed two of my sisters for help and my youngest sister, Pam, came through with the recipe. She said that it was from one of her cookbooks and that it made delicious date squares.

When you go to a church potluck or the coffee table between worship services you will often find bars like this. Mom made bars with oatmeal crusts and fruit fillings all the time. I think that dates make the best filling, but apricots are a close second. You might want to substitute dried apricots for the dates sometime just to compare the results.

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp, baking soda
1 lb. dates
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. lemon juice

PROCEDURE:

Chop the dates into a half inch dice and put them into a saucepan. Add the water and sugar and cook the dates over medium to low heat until the mixture is clear. Stir often to keep the mixture from scorching. Stir in the lemon juice and set the pan aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350º and butter an eight by twelve rectangular or nine-inch square baking pan.

Sift the flour, salt and soda together in a medium-sized bowl. Cream the sugar gradually into the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the rolled oats and flour a quarter cup at a time to the creamed butter and sugar and mix well.

Press one half of the oat and flour dough in the bottom of the greased pan. Spread the date filling evenly over the bottom crust and cover it with the remaining dough. Bake for about twenty minutes or until the top begins to turn golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool a few minutes. Cut into squares while the pan is warm.

NOTE: Don’t even think of using oleo for these bars.

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Alan’s Mom’s Chop Suey

    Maybe it was because my mother wanted to introduce her family to exotic foods, or perhaps the A & P was having a sale on cans of Chinese vegetables. All I know is that she started putting a big bowl of meat and strange vegetables on the table. Some of them looked like white worms. Mom told us they were bean sprouts, but we kids were still suspicious.

    Today I really like bean sprouts, but they were not my favorite until I got to the University of Wisconsin and discovered a neat little Chinese restaurant near Capitol Square. It was an inexpensive place to get a good meal on Sunday nights when the dining halls were closed, and in the 1960’s you and your date could each have a bottle of beer with your dinner.

    Bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, even tofu all rank pretty high on my list of enjoyable foods. Not as high as barbecued burnt ends, Esther’s sour cream raisin pie or nice medium rare steak, but close. I even like a plate of old-fashioned Chop Suey like Mom used to make.

    When our friend Alan mentioned that his mother’s Chop Suey recipe was still his favorite, I was interested in trying it. Alan obliged, I made it and can say that it is a lot like my mother used to make. It’s a recipe that puts a lot of food on the table without draining the food budget, and it introduces kids to some strange vegetables.

    I did make a few changes to the recipe. Alan’s mother specified veal instead of beef. I couldn’t find any and used beef. The only Chinese vegetables I could find were labelled Chop suey vegetables. Both worked fine. After dinner, Jerri and I both thought that the Chop suey was a little saltier than we preferred, so I reduced the salt to a quarter teaspoon and the soy sauce to two tablespoons.

    We were both pleasantly surprised at how tender, juicy and flavorful the meat was. It’s a good dish, and I can understand why Alan still likes it.

    INGREDIENTS:

    3/4 cup sliced onion
    2 T vegetable shortening or oil
    1/2 lb. boneless pork
    1/2 lb. boneless veal or beef
    2 – 3 cups hot water
    1/4 tsp. onion salt
    1 1/2 cups diced celery
    2 T soy sauce
    1/4 tsp. Accent
    1 4 oz. can mushrooms, undrained
    1 #2 1/2 can Chop Suey vegetables, undrained (29 oz., 3 1/2 cups)
    2 T cornstarch
    3 T cold water
    Freshly ground black pepper to taste

    PROCEDURE:

    Slice the meat into thin strips, an eighth to three sixteenths-inch thick and two to three inches long. Clean and chop the celery into half-inch pieces.

    Slice the onion into quarter-inch wide by two-inch long strips. Put two tablespoons shortening or oil in a covered skillet and cook the onions over moderate heat until they begin to turn golden. Remove the onions from the pan and brown the meat in the same pan. The meat should be slightly browned but not crisp. Bring about about three cups of water to a boil.

    After the meat has browned, cover the meat with hot water and stir in the onion salt, cover the skillet loosely and simmer the meat for thirty to forty minutes. Add the celery, soy sauce and Accent and simmer another fifteen minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, chow mein vegetables and browned onion.

    Mix two tablespoons cornstarch with three tablespoons cold water and add the mixture to the skillet along with a grind of black pepper. Bring back to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce is clear and thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

    Pour into a serving bowl and serve with white rice. Offer soy sauce at the table in case somebody would like extra seasoning.

    NOTES: Do not drain the mushrooms or vegetables. Omit the Accent if you wish. Alan’s mother’s directions said to pour the chop suey into a casserole and serve.

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Mrs. Komula’s Kropsu (Finnish Pancake)

Bill Komula’s grandfather, John Komula, homesteaded some nice clear land near Brantwood, Wisconsin in 1899. It looked pretty clear because loggers had cut the trees; unfortunately, they had left the rocks behind. John had emigrated from Sotkamo, a city in Eastern Finland, which shares many features with northern Wisconsin: Lakes, trees, rivers and rocks.

Both Finland and Wisconsin were once covered by glaciers which, when they melted, left plenty of rocks scattered over the landscape. Some places in Wisconsin have good soil with only a few rocks to keep a farmer alert, but near Brantwood picking rocks was a regular spring activity.

“It was a rock farm,” Bill told me. “Picking rocks and shocking oats were my least favorite jobs.” I understood, for I had picked rocks and piled them on the stone boat at our neighbor’s farm when I was a boy. At least I was getting paid twenty-five cents a day for helping.

Bill’s reward was plenty of good Finnish food and learning Finnish from his grandfather. Bill’s grandmother had died when he was two weeks old, and John had given the farm to Bill’s father with the understanding that John would stay and help out. The old man spoke his native language as he and his grandson worked together. I wonder if Bill’s grandfather ever taught him the Finnish proverb that inspired so many immigrant farmers, “Oma tupa, oma lupa,” which means “One’s own home, one’s own master,” as they wrestled the rocks onto the sledge.

Since Bill’s mother had emigrated with her family from Kauhava, Finland, it is easy to understand why his first language was Finnish. Though he doesn’t speak it regularly here, when he and his wife Betty visited Sotkomo and Kauhava, people kept telling him that he didn’t have an American accent, and some people they visited in Helsinki recognized his accent as coming from Sotkomo.

Betty told me that she “didn’t have a drop of Scandinavian blood” in her ancestry, but she paid attention when her Finnish mother-in-law taught her how to make kropsu, the national baked pancake of Finland. She wrote the recipe neatly on a card and made notes on it as she cooked what became one of her family’s favorite treats. I’m sure that new daughters-in-law are still preserving family recipes as Betty did, though they may be typing them into apps on their smartphones or iPads.

Bill says that Betty learned to make kropsu just his like mother’s, so you can enjoy an authentic Finnish baked pancake in your home just by following Mrs. Komula’s recipe.

INGREDIENTS:

2 large eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 400º and put the butter in an 8 x 12 x 2 or 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking pan.

Break the eggs into a mixing bowl and beat them with a fork until they are lemon colored. Stir or sift the salt into the flour. Stir in a quarter cup of the flour mixture and two thirds cup of milk. Repeat until all the flour and milk have been stirred in. Put the pan in the oven to melt the butter and heat the pan.

Take the hot pan out of the oven. Make sure that the bottom of the pan is covered with butter. Stir most of the butter from the pan into the batter just enough to mix everything together. Pour the batter into the sizzling hot pan and bake the pancake for forty minutes.

Cut the hot kropsu into squares and serve with your favorite pancake toppings.

NOTES: Betty said that she made two pans of kropsu for breakfast, which was just enough for Bill, her and their three kids. Bill’s mother served it with maple syrup, and that’s how Betty serves it.

She told me that her mother-in-law said that the secret of success was “having a thin batter, beating only enough to mix the batter and having a very hot pan to bake it in.”

If you use regular butter, reduce the amount of salt to three-fourths teaspoon.

A note on pronunciation: If I heard Bill right, “kropsu” is pronounced “krrrupsuh” rather than “cropsue.” It’s a good word to practice rolling your “r’s” on.

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Wild Plum Jelly

Across the small field that had originally been his grandparents’ kitchen garden when my father was a boy was a thicket of wild plums. Our home was on the southwest forty of my great-grandparents’ farm, which had been sold off piecemeal after their deaths. The homestead was three blocks away from our house and belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Hagberg.

I mowed their lawn and occasionally brought them some trout or northerns that I caught in the Namekagon river which flowed past their house. They paid me a quarter to mow the lawn, but I never took any money for the fish. They were happy to share the plums with us.

My sisters and I picked plums there every fall. They were a joy to pick. It wasn’t hot, there were no biting bugs, it didn’t take very long to fill a pail, and you could stand up while you picked. Wild plums do have some thorns, but they aren’t very sharp and each branch has only a few of them. Believe me, plum thorns are a lot less dangerous than blackberry briars.

We would bring home two or three gallons of plums that Mom would turn into jelly. When I was growing up, I don’t remember ever tasting “store-bought” jam or jelly at home. Mom made jams mostly from blueberries, raspberries and blackberries; she used pin cherries, chokecherries, apples, crabapples and plums to make jelly.

Plums have a lot of juicy flesh that makes it easy to get the juice you need, and the juice makes a beautiful rosy jelly that is a joy to serve and eat.

INGREDIENTS:

5 1/2 cups plum juice
1/2 tsp. butter
6 1/2 cups sugar
1 box Sure-Jell fruit pectin

PROCEDURE

Wash a gallon of plums and remove any stems, leaves or split fruit. Put the plums in an eight to ten quart pot and add four cups of water. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the plums, stirring occasionally, for twenty to thirty minutes. Most of the plums will burst open to release their juice. Turn off the heat. Stir well but do not try to mash the fruit.

Line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth or a dish towel. Put the colander in a large bowl and spoon the fruit and juice into the colander. When the liquid draining through the cloth layers reaches the bottom of the colander, pour the juice into another bowl and continue adding more plum mixture to the colander until you have emptied the pot.

You can stir the fruit in the colander but do not squeeze the cloth unless you want a very cloudy jelly. You should end up with at least five and a half cups of juice. If you need more juice, return the fruit mixture from the colander to the pot, add a cup of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for a minute or two over low heat, stirring constantly, and then spoon the mixture back into the cloth-lined colander.

You can use the juice immediately to make jelly or store it in the refrigerator for a day or two or even freeze it and make the jelly months later.

Making plum jelly is a snap. Start by sterilizing nine one cup jelly jars and lids. The easiest way to do this is to put the washed jars upside down in a baking pan on the stove top. Add about three-quarters of an inch of water and bring it to a boil. Continue boiling for three or four minutes, then turn off the heat and allow the jars to stand in the hot water for another five minutes. Transfer the jars from the water to a rack and allow them to drip for a few minutes. Stand them upright on wax paper when you are ready to fill them.

Measure the sugar into a bowl and set it aside. Put the juice, butter and Sure-Jell into a soup pot or Dutch oven, set it over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for a minute or two, reduce the heat to a low boil and skim off the foam Stir in the sugar and keep stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a full boil that you can’t stir down. Reduce the heat slightly and keep the liquid boiling hard for four minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and skim off any foam. Fill the jars and seal them with paraffin or canning lids if you are going to preserve your jelly with a hot water bath. If you are using paraffin, add a second thin layer of wax after the jars are cool.

NOTES: Plums contain quite a lot of pectin, so if you have more than five and a half cups of juice, feel free to use up to six cups, but remember to sterilize an extra jar if you do.

A breeze or shower can knock plums to the ground when they are nearly ripe. They will continue to ripen on the ground with no damage, and you can safely harvest fallen plums. Just make sure that you wash the fruit well before you extract the juice.

If you need to extract a bit more juice, it is a good idea to rinse your straining cloth well before spooning the reheated mixture back into the colander.

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Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Gumbo is a stew that was invented in Louisiana sometime before 1764, because there is a reference to gumbo in the notes about an interrogation of Julia (Comba), a slave questioned about her knowledge of a runaway slave named Louis, on September 4, 1764. The name may have come from an African word for okra or from a Native American word for sassafras, and both are used for thickening many gumbos.

What is known for certain is that millions of people love gumbo, and I am one of them. There are almost as many recipes for gumbos as there are cooks. This one is from Leon E. Soniat’s La Bouche Creole, the cookbook where I found my recipe for Shrimp Etouffée. It is full of flavor without being spicy hot unless you add lots of filé powder.

Though the list of ingredients is rather long, making gumbo is easy. The roux takes some time, but if you keep the heat low, you can prepare the vegetables and still have time to taste the wine you plan to serve for dinner. A gewürztraminer or riesling goes well with chicken and sausage gumbo. It should be chilled, so put the bottles in the fridge after the vegetables are simmering in the broth.

INGREDIENTS:

3 to 4 lbs. chicken cut into serving pieces
5 T vegetable oil or lard
6 T all-purpose flour
2 large onions (3 1/2 to 4”)
1 green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
3 large cloves garlic
1 1/2 lbs. andouille or smoked sausage
6 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2 tsp. crushed thyme
3 bay leaves
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. crushed basil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped green onions
filé powder (optional)

PROCEDURE:

Heat the oil or lard in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Fry the chicken until the pieces are browned. Remove them from the pan and set them aside on paper towels on a platter or baking pan. Cut the sausage into bite-sized pieces and fry them for four or five minutes. Remove them from the Dutch oven with a slotted spoon.

Reduce the heat to low and add the flour to the oil in the pan. Use a wooden spoon to mix the flour with the oil and cook very slowly. Continue stirring and cooking until you have a brown roux about the color of milk chocolate. This can take up to a half hour.

Clean and chop the vegetables while the roux is cooking, stopping often to stir it. Remove the stem and root ends from the onions along with the dry outer layer and mince them into an eighth-inch dice. Cut the pepper in half lengthwise. Remove the stem, seeds and white membranes and chop the pepper into a quarter to half-inch dice. Chop the celery into half-inch pieces. Put the prepared vegetables into a bowl.

Add the chopped onions, pepper and celery to the roux and cook five or six minutes until the vegetables are limp.

Peel and mince the garlic. When the vegetables are limp, stir in the chicken stock, then add the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, cloves, allspice, cayenne, basil, salt and pepper. Raise the heat to medium and bring the pan to a boil while stirring continuously, then reduce the heat to low and simmer the gumbo for forty-five minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally.

Return the chicken and sausage to the Dutch oven and simmer the gumbo until the chicken is tender, usually twenty to thirty minutes.

Clean and chop the green onions into a quarter inch dice. When the chicken is done, remove the Dutch oven from the heat and stir in the onions. Cover and let the gumbo sit for ten to fifteen minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve in bowls over rice with a green salad and some good bread. Add a pinch or two of filé powder to each plateful if you wish.

NOTES: If you are confident about your skill at making roux, you can turn the heat up, stir like crazy and have it done in under ten minutes. But if you end up with a black mess and have to start over, don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Posted in Main Dishes | Tagged | 3 Comments

Chokecherry Jelly

“Woof!” said the bear and raced north. “Woof!” said my mother as she ran south. My father thought it was funny. He loved telling the story of how Mom was so focused on picking blackberries that she didn’t notice the black bear eating berries in the same patch. The bear was also oblivious to my mother until both of them reached up for some high-hanging fruit and stood face to face just a few feet apart.

Mom would always explain that she heard someone picking berries near her but assumed that it was Dad. Though she was a bit suspicious, she accepted my father’s statement that he never saw the bear until both it and Mom were running full speed away from each other. “I didn’t know Ma could run that fast,” he would say, and laugh even more.

Bears are like us: They love ripe fruit. When they eat blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, they actually help berry pickers like us. Their trails through the patches make it easier for us to pick our share. But when they start gorging themselves on plums, apples or chokecherries, they can do some damage.

When we see a particularly nice bunch of fruit just out of reach, we fetch a ladder or simply move to another tree. Bears don’t use ladders and they see no reason to leave a tree loaded with fruit. Black bears, the kind we have in our area of the country, are excellent climbers. They simply dig their claws into the bark, shinny up the tree and crawl onto the branches loaded with fruit.

When you add a couple hundred pounds of bear to the fruit on the branch, it breaks and sends the bear to the ground. It also puts the fruit within easy reach. I have seen branches broken off over ten feet above the ground with no evidence of injured bears, so they obviously have learned the way to do this safely.

Chokecherries must be a special favorite of black bears, for on an afternoon walk, one sees dozens of the trees with skirts of broken branches surrounding the trunks. However, if you chance upon a plum thicket or apple orchard at at a deserted farmstead, you will find the same kind of damage. What we really see is the result of the bears’ need to put on fat to last them through their winter hibernation.

I don’t hibernate, and I certainly don’t need to add any more fat to my well-rounded figure, but like the bears, I really enjoy the flavor of wild berries. Give me blueberries for pie, raspberries for jam and chokecherries for jelly. And that means you have to imitate a bear and pick some chokecherries. You won’t need to break any branches. Look for a row of young chokecherry trees along a field or road. Trees that are five to eight feet tall are often the most productive with flexible branches that you can pull down without hurting the tree.

Since they grow in small clusters on the branches, chokecherries are very easy to pick. Just strip them from the clusters and drop them in your container. The fully ripe cherries will be a lovely dark purple, almost black, but some will be pink or red. You want a few underripe cherries to add extra pectin to the juice, so don’t worry about them as you strip the cherries from the trees.

You will need about three quarts of cherries for a batch of jelly. Once you have learned how to strip the fruit from the clusters and have located some trees loaded with ripe fruit not yet harvested by a bear, you should be able to pick enough cherries in an hour or a little more.

Here’s the recipe.

INGREDIENTS:

5 cups chokecherry juice
6 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. butter
1 package Sure-Jell Fruit Pectin
Paraffin or lids and rings to seal the jars

PROCEDURE:

Wash the cherries and remove any leaves or other debris. Put the cherries into a Dutch oven or other large kettle and cover them with cold water. Bring the cherries to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer them for twenty-five to thirty minutes. Crush them with a potato masher after they have simmered for twenty minutes or so.

Wash and sterilize nine one cup jelly jars and lids. The easiest way to do this is to put the washed jars upside down in a baking pan on the stove top. Add about three-quarters of an inch of water and bring it to a boil. Continue boiling for three or four minutes, then turn off the heat and allow the jars to stand in the hot water for another five minutes. Transfer the jars from the water to a rack and allow them to drip for a few minutes. Stand them upright on wax paper when you are ready to fill them.

Line a colander with several layers of dampened cheesecloth or a tea towel. Set the colander in a large bowl and ladle the cherries and juice into the colander. From time to time you will need to empty the bowl under the colander. Pour the juice into another bowl until you have collected at least five cups of juice.

You can stir the cherries gently with a wooden spoon to help release juice, but do not squeeze the cloth or towel. If necessary, you can return the strained pulp and seeds to the large pot, add a half cup of water and reheat the mixture, stirring often, to obtain more juice. If you do this, rinse out the cloth or towel before straining the reheated mixture.

Put five cups of juice, a half teaspoon of butter and the Sure-Jell into a three or four quart saucepan over moderate heat. Stir occasionally until the mixture comes to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for three or four minutes. Skim any foam. Add the sugar and bring the mixture to a hard boil. Stir the jelly while it boils for four minutes.

If you are sealing the jars with paraffin, this is a good time to melt it in a small pan over low heat.

Remove the pan of juice from the heat, skim any foam off the top of the jelly and fill the jars. Seal the jars with a thin layer of paraffin or close them with lids and sterilize the filled jars in a hot water bath. If you are using paraffin, put a second thin layer of the wax after the jars are cool.

NOTES: Don’t use liquid pectin like Certo®. I am not sure why, but when I substituted Certo® for the Sure-Jell crystals, the chokecherry jelly refused to jell. It tasted fine, so I called it syrup and gave it to friends. About six months later, I found a jar that I had overlooked in the pantry and decided to use it with some pancakes. Probably just to irritate me, it had turned to jelly! So if you are willing to wait long enough you might get by with liquid pectin.

A note on picking berries in bear country: Contrary to what you may have been told about bears, bears don’t want anything more to do with you than you probably want to do with them. If they know that you are approaching, they will get out of your way. That’s why fishermen in Alaska wear a bell on their fishing vests or whistle while they walk the bear trails along the streams.

Once in a great while a bear does attack someone, but dogs kill or injure far more people every year in the United States than bears have killed or injured in the past fifty years. Incidentally, dogs provoke bear attacks. They challenge bears, then run away and lead the bears to their owners. You really do not want to try to reason with a bear irritated by your sassy dog.

Leave your dog at home and make human-type noises if you don’t want to come face to face with a bear. The only times I have seen bears in the woods was when I was quietly stalking trout. If Mom had been telling Dad how nice the berries were, the bear would have found a different place for lunch.

And finally, I realize that home economists have decided that sealing jams and jelly with paraffin is not safe and say that you should use a hot water bath. However, our grandmothers and mothers used paraffin, and we have been using it for nearly fifty years without any problems. Whichever method you choose, make sure your jars are clean and sterile before filling them.

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Leftover Chicken Spaghetti Sauce

“When a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick,” says Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. In our home when I was growing up, we could have said, “When Mom puts a chicken on the table, it disappears.”

However, when we roast a chicken (or buy a rotisserie chicken) today, we often have lots of chicken left on the platter. Now what do we do?

I think that cold chicken sandwiches are wonderful but not everyone likes them as much as I do. Here is a tasty alternative from Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s Use It All: The Leftovers Cook Book. Her recipe calls for just a half cup of leftover chicken, but I like meat on my spaghetti, and using a cupful will get rid of that bird in the fridge faster.

INGREDIENTS:

2 T olive oil
1 medium onion (2 to 3 inches)
1/2 cup water
1/2 to 1 cup leftover chicken
1/2 tsp. sage
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

PROCEDURE:

Clean and chop the onion to a quarter-inch dice. Chop the chicken to a half inch dice. Grate about a half cup of Parmesan cheese.

Start the spaghetti water and cook the spaghetti according to directions on the package.

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onion and water and simmer three or four minutes until the onion is soft. Stir in the chicken, salt, sage and wine and simmer six or seven minutes until the liquid is reduced by about half.

Spoon the sauce over the spaghetti, sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese and serve with green salad and good bread. Pass extra Parmesan at the table.

NOTES: Sauvignon blanc and chardonnay are both acceptable wines for this dish. If you want to make the dish taste even more Italian, pinot grigio would be a good choice.

Like millions of Americans, we have a plastic jar with a green top in our refrigerator. According to the label it contains “100% REAL grated Parmesan” cheese. The cap is ingeniously designed to make it easy to sprinkle cheese on a pizza or dump lots of it into commercial spaghetti sauces.

I use this cheese-in-a-jar and appreciate the convenience, but when I am making pasta dishes that call for Parmesan cheese like Spaghetti alla Carbonara or Seafood Fettucine, I use our cheese grater on a wedge of well-aged Parmesan. You can buy a plastic rotary cheese grater for under ten dollars. The first time you use it, you will discover that the cheese in that jar with the green top has lost a lot of its flavor.

Freshly grated Parmesan turns this simple chicken spaghetti sauce into something you won’t be afraid to serve to friends.

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Georgia’s Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Until she retired a few years ago, Jerri was an active member of the St. Croix Valley Music Teachers Association. The members are professional music teachers and performers, and most meetings feature a program of interest to people who believe that music is an important part of education.

But lest you think that music teachers are concerned only with symphonies, operas, art songs or other types of classical music, consider the fact that members took turns to provide a homemade dessert for attendees at each meeting. In addition to making sweet sounds in the studio, music teachers make sweet treats in the kitchen.

One day Jerri was so impressed with the dessert that she came home with the recipe jotted down on the back of the meeting agenda. It was a coffee cake made by Georgia, one of Jerri’s friends who taught piano in Ellsworth, Wisconsin.

INGREDIENTS:

For the streusel topping and cake:
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine
1/4 cup butter
1 large egg
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

For the topping:
8 oz. soft cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
1 tsp. almond extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup raspberry jam
1/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds

PROCEDURE:

First, soften a package of cheese. Preheat the oven to 325º and grease a nine by nine by two-inch baking pan.

Next, make the topping and batter. Start by stirring the flour and three-fourths cup of sugar together and cutting in the margarine and butter as if you were making a crumb mixture for biscuit dough. Set aside one cup of the mixture to use as part of the topping.

Mix the salt, baking powder and baking soda into the crumb mixture. Beat one egg until it is lemon colored. Beat the egg and a teaspoon of almond extract into the sour cream, then beat the liquid into the crumb mixture. Beat vigorously until you have a smooth, thick batter. Spread the batter evenly into the greased pan.

Next make the topping by stirring another egg and a second teaspoon of almond extract into the cream cheese. Stir in a quarter cup of sugar and beat until smooth and creamy. Spread the mixture over the batter.

Use a teaspoon to dab small globs of raspberry jam evenly over the cheese mixture, then sprinkle with the reserved crumb mixture and top everything with the slivered almonds.

Bake for about an hour. Test for doneness at fifty-five minutes by pressing gently with the tip of your finger near the center of the cake. If the cake springs back it is done.

NOTES: With a teaspoon of almond extract in the batter and another in the topping, this coffee cake reminds me of one of my favorite Danish pastries, but it is much easier to make. Just remember to reserve a cup of the crumb mixture before you begin adding the liquids.

Georgia’s recipe called for for cream cheese, but I prefer to use Neufchatel cheese whenever possible, since it has less fat. When I made this coffee cake, the ladies at Jerri’s bridge group said it tasted good, so the Neufchatel appears to be fine in this recipe.

Georgia noted that you can use other jams or preserves if you wish. Blueberry might be a good choice.

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Jerri’s Cucumber and Tomato Salad

“Everyone knows how to make cucumber and tomato salad,” said Jerri when I told her I was going to post her recipe. It is a simple thing to make and takes only five minutes or so, but if everyone knew how to make it, why did I keep seeing so many plastic deli containers filled with cucumber and tomato salad?

It couldn’t be the time or expense. Stopping at the supermarket, standing in line at the deli and waiting to check out will take at least ten minutes and probably longer if you get behind me when I am trying to find a dime in my pocket to give the clerk the exact change. As for the cost, the ingredients are inexpensive, especially in season. If you are as blessed with gardener friends as we are, the cucumbers and tomatoes are often free and tastier than most of the ones you buy.

Someone might say, “But I don’t have any olive oil, vinegar, basil or oregano.” All I can say is “You should,” because these are ingredients you can use in so many ways. You can buy the herbs in bulk packages at a supermarket or food coop at a reasonable price, and they last a long time. Adding some olive oil, basil and oregano to a jar of commercial spaghetti sauce or sprinkled on a frozen pizza can turn an ordinary meal into a special dinner, and you need a bottle of vinegar in the house anyway to clean your coffee maker from time to time.

The one thing that may be keeping a lot of people from making their own cucumber and tomato salad is a lack of confidence in their tastebuds. Since virtually all of us have tastebuds that work, it is merely a matter of letting them tell you whether something tastes good or not. A fine chef or gourmet food critic will have tastebuds that are more sensitive than ours, but the important thing is always, “Does it taste good to me?”

When you make your first batch of cucumber and tomato salad, follow the recipe below as best you can. However, your cucumbers or tomatoes may be a little smaller or larger than Jerri would call medium. If they are smaller, your salad may be a little saltier than you like or have a little too much oil or vinegar. You can fix that by adding more cucumber or tomato. If they are larger, add more seasonings. It’s simple. Trust your tastebuds.

Grab your peeler and a sharp knife and make yourself a bowl of a great salad for a summer dinner.

INGREDIENTS:

2 medium cucumbers
2 Roma tomatoes
2 T chopped onion
1 T fresh basil or 1 tsp. dried crushed basil
1 tsp. fresh oregano or 1/3 tsp. dried crushed oregano
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 T cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
A grind of black pepper

PROCEDURE:

Wash and peel the cucumbers, leaving some thin green strips of peel for color. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds if you wish. Then slice the cucumbers into quarter-inch half rounds. Put them in a mixing bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Let them stand while preparing the other ingredients.

Wash and remove the stem scar from the tomatoes. Chop them into bite-sized pieces. Chop about two tablespoons of onion into a quarter-inch dice. If you are using fresh herbs, wash and chop the basil and oregano.

Stir the vegetables and herbs together in the mixing bowl. Sprinkle the olive oil, vinegar and pepper over the salad and mix gently but thoroughly. Let it stand a minute and stir again.

Taste and adjust the seasonings to suit.

NOTES: This salad is almost good enough to justify keeping an herb garden in your home year round, but it tastes good with dried herbs too. We use fresh in the summer and dried in the winter.

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