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.

Posted in Jams and Jellies, Vegetarian Dishes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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 | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Jams and Jellies, Vegetarian Dishes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in breakfast Dishes, Cookies and cakes, Desserts, Vegetarian Dishes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Salads and Stuff | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Real Ice Cream

I had my first taste of something approaching real ice cream when I was seven or eight years old. We had moved into the country about four miles north of Hayward, but the milkman from West’s Dairy still delivered our milk twice a week just as he had in town. It was whole milk that had not been homogenized, just like God gave it to us from the friendly cows of Wisconsin.

One very cold morning, when I went to the front porch to bring in the milk bottles, I found them with the paper caps pushed out of the bottles and globs of frozen cream rising out of the tops. Mom explained that when the milk began freezing ice crystals formed that took up more space in the bottle than the milk. The cream in the milk had risen to the top, and the freezing milk pushed the cream out the top of the bottle.

With a teaspoon she gave my sisters and me a taste and had a little herself. It tasted wonderful, and I still judge every scoop of ice cream by that sample I enjoyed so long ago. That’s when I learned that real ice cream is basically frozen cream. Just consider what the name means.

I am not saying that I don’t enjoy many different brands and styles of ice cream available in shops and stores, but only a few are real ice cream. Unfortunately, many are made with chemicals that reduce the need for cream, slow the ice cream from melting or extend its shelf life.

If you want to test whether a commercial ice cream is real, let a little of it melt in a bowl. If the melted liquid looks like half and half or whipping cream, all is well. If it resembles something in the bottom of a paint can, there are a lot of strange chemicals in that puddle.

Making ice cream is easy if you have an ice cream freezer. We never had one when I was growing up, so Mom experimented with no-crank recipes using condensed milk as well as cream. I remember watching her carefully stirring half-frozen ice cream in those old aluminum ice cube trays with the removable dividers. It was a treat, but it didn’t compare with the ice cream from West’s Dairy in Hayward.

When West’s stopped delivering milk to customers in the country, we had to pick it up at the store in Hayward. One time, when I was eight or nine, Dad sent me in to buy the milk while he waited in the car. As I recall, a half gallon cost something like forty-seven cents. I am sure about the seven, because he gave me two pennies plus a couple of quarters.

When I got in the car, I was on top of the world, because the clerk had given me the pennies back along with the nickel change. This prompted my father to give me a lecture about honesty. “You know that is not your money, so take those pennies back in and explain that she made a mistake.” So I did, and I never forgot that lesson.

Incidentally, West’s Dairy is still making good ice cream in the same building on Second and Dakota in Hayward where we bought our milk. Jeff Miller bought the dairy with his partner in 2005 from Bruce West, who took over the business when his father retired. Jeff just published Scoop, a memoir about their first year in Hayward. It’s a fun read about living in a small town with some memorable passages involving people who resemble characters I knew sixty years ago.

But back to making real ice cream. After we received a hand-crank freezer from our best man and his wife at our wedding, we became serious ice cream makers. For the first few years of our marriage we lived in Virginia and Kentucky, two states where you needed to make your own ice cream if you wanted the real stuff.

Today we have an electric ice cream freezer, and we make ice cream only once or twice each summer. There are dozens of recipes for ice cream. Ours is simple.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups whipping cream
2 cups half and half
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Dash of salt
Ice
Salt

PROCEDURE:

At least three hours before you plan to make the ice cream, whisk together the cream, half and half, vanilla extract and salt. Put the mixture into the refrigerator to get it good and cold.

Put the freezer canister and beater into the freezer of your refrigerator a half hour before you plan to start making the ice cream.

Follow the directions you got with the freezer to pack the freezer with ice and salt to turn the cream into ice cream.

Eat and enjoy.

NOTES: Real ice cream is good plain, but fresh raspberries, strawberries or peaches don’t hurt. Topping a couple of scoops with homemade hot fudge sauce is another good way to go.

Some recipes call for more vanilla. Ignore them. You want to taste the cream.

Posted in Desserts | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Aunt Lil’s Tuna Casserole—A Quilling Family Recipe

In 1934, Campbell’s Soup Company introduced Cream of Mushroom and Chicken Noodle soups to the American consumer. Today, these two products still rank in the top ten shelf-stable food items sold in grocery stores.

It’s easy to understand why these soups have remained so popular. They are excellent emergency foods. When I was a kid, if the family had a flat tire or some other problem and got home late, Mom could open a couple cans of chicken noodle or cream of mushroom soup, slice some homemade bread and leftover roast and have a meal on the table before Dad finished his beer.

But the success of these soups goes well beyond their consumption as soups per se. Shortly after buying her first can of cream of mushroom soup, some inventive housewife probably said, “I wonder what would happen if I mixed a can of soup and a can of tuna with these leftover noodles?”

What happened, of course, was that a family quickly became addicted to tuna noodle casserole. At the urging of her husband and offspring, she took the casserole to a church potluck and shared the good news that it was easy to make, cheap and popular with the kids. The rest is history.

Something very similar happened with chicken noodle soup. Now, after eighty years, there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of recipes that call for a can of condensed soup, water and whatever else might be available in the refrigerator or pantry. Campbell’s has of course published quite a few recipes as a way to increase sales, but their efforts are dwarfed by the many contributions of adventurous cooks who simply wanted new dishes for the family table.

When I asked our friend Lorrie for a recipe she remembered from her childhood, she came up with “Aunt Lil’s Tuna Casserole.” It’s a good example of how cooks created variations on the standard tuna noodle casserole. To be entirely honest, I wondered whether we would like this dish, but it turned out to be much tastier than we expected. You should give your family the opportunity to try it too.

Here is Lorrie’s introduction to the recipe:

“This dish was a staple when I was growing up, and as noted in the recipe, my Grandma Quilling used to add a drained can of Veg-All to make it a complete meal.  Of course she always had a dessert course, often something one of us had baked (that was often my duty, though Grandma and Aunt Camilla baked as well) or something canned the previous summer–usually applesauce or a peach half in an amazing heavy syrup…

“Aunt Lil’s identity is somewhat shrouded in mystery.  My mother claims to have met her, but my Grandpa Q. was an only child and my Grandma had two brothers.  Exactly whose aunt she was, no one is quite sure.”

Here is how to make Aunt Lil’s Tuna Casserole.  

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup rice
1 can tuna
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can chicken noodle soup
2 cans water
1 can Veg-All or or other canned mixed vegetables (optional)

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 375° and grease a nine by thirteen-inch flat casserole or baking pan.

Spread the rice evenly in the casserole or pan. Flake the tuna evenly over the rice.  Use a teaspoon to spoon the mushroom soup and then the chicken noodle soup evenly over the tuna and rice. Drain the vegetables and scatter them over the other ingredients. Rinse the cans with the water and pour it gently into the pan.

Bake uncovered for forty to fifty minutes or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is done.

Serve with salad, bread and dessert.

NOTES: When we shared this casserole with some friends, I included the vegetables. We all liked it, and a couple of us had seconds. However, we thought that it would be interesting to sprinkle some “crunchies” like crushed corn flakes on top.

Since tuna cans are smaller today than they were a few years ago, you might want to use two cans of tuna. Lorrie says that she sometimes uses two cans.

Although the original recipe does not call for vegetables, I think that her grandmother was right to add them. They add color and flavor.

Posted in Main Dishes, Meats | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rhubarb Bread Pudding

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I have learned to trust Jerri’s judgements about recipes. Not that I always follow her recommendations, but sometimes I like to live a little recklessly and once in a while, my intuition proves right.

Like me, Jerri hates to throw away food, so she was as interested as I in Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s Use it All: The Leftovers Cook Book where I found the recipe for calabacitas last month. Jerri put a bookmark at the the page for this recipe and suggested I try it.

I did and we both liked it. The rhubarb and lemon juice flavor the rather bland sweetness of the bread and custard and the custard smooths the taste of the rhubarb. If you like either rhubarb or bread pudding, chances are good that you will enjoy it too, especially if it’s warm and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups diced rhubarb
1/2 cup plus 2 T sugar
2 cups dried bread cubes
1/2 to 1 T lemon zest
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1 cup milk
1 large egg

PROCEDURE:

Clean and chop the rhubarb into a quarter to half-inch dice. Cut the dried bread into half-inch cubes. Wash and grate the yellow zest from a lemon and squeeze the juice from the fruit.

Preheat the oven to 375º and grease a one to one and a half-quart casserole or soufflé dish. Put a pan with an inch of hot water into the oven.

Mix the rhubarb and bread cubes in a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and lemon zest, then dribble the lemon juice over the mixture and mix everything thoroughly.

In a smaller bowl, beat the egg until it is lemon yellow, add the milk and beat them together. Pour the milk over the rhubarb and bread mixture and stir it well. Put the pudding into the casserole and smooth the top with a spatula.

Carefully set the casserole into the pan of hot water and bake the pudding for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Check for doneness with a knife inserted near the center of the pudding. It should come out nearly clean.

NOTES: Dieckmann’s recipe calls for only a half-cup of sugar, but we thought that the pudding was a little too tart. Feel free to try it with just a half cup and adjust the sugar the next time you make the pudding if you agree with us.

Jerri thought that the lemon zest overpowered the flavor of the rhubarb. “I like the flavor of rhubarb,” says she, so I adjusted the recipe to give you the choice of using less zest.

Whole milk works best for making custards and puddings. If you have only reduced fat milk in the refrigerator but do have some cream or half and half, add a couple of tablespoons of either to the cup before you fill it with milk.

Posted in Desserts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Jerri’s Yellow Squash Casserole

One of the first cookbooks we bought after our marriage came as a bonus for joining a book club. It is called House and Garden’s New Cook Book. Our copy was printed in the United States of America in 1967. It’s a handsome book filled with recipes that sound intriguing—names like “Gigot en Croute” and “Veal Calvados” are representative—but the first recipe seemed like an awful lot of work, and we couldn’t lay our hands on any calvados for the second.

The upshot was that we didn’t cook many of the recipes in the book. Jerri did find one that became a staple summer dish in the Rang household, however. It’s called “Arabian Squash Casserole” in the book, but we just call it “Yellow Squash Casserole.” The original recipe called for peeling the squash, but after making it that way, Jerri tried unpeeled young yellow squash. The skin adds color and, we think, flavor to the dish.

Jerri also reduced the quantities of ingredients to make a side dish that will serve four to six people. It goes well with just about any kind of meat from barbecued ribs to roast chicken.

INGREDIENTS:

2 lbs. yellow summer squash
2 tsp. salt
1 cup grated medium or sharp Cheddar cheese
2/3 cup cottage cheese
3 large eggs
2/3 cup bread crumbs
2 T minced parsley
1/3 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 T butter

PROCEDURE:

Wash and remove the stems and blossom scars from the squash. Grate the squash into a mixing bowl and mix it with the salt. Let it stand for twenty to thirty minutes. Preheat the oven to 350º.

While the grated squash is resting, wash and mince the parsley and set it aside. Grease a two quart casserole and grate the cheese, then drain the squash thoroughly in a colander. Press as much liquid out of the squash as you can.

Melt about three tablespoons of butter in a small dish or pan. Beat the eggs in the mixing bowl until they are lemon colored, then stir in the grated squash along with the cheeses, bread crumbs, parsley and pepper. Mix everything thoroughly and spoon the batter into the casserole. Pour the butter evenly over the top and bake at 350º for an hour.

NOTES: You can use either straight or crookneck yellow squash for this casserole. Choose ones no larger than two inches in diameter. If you do have larger squash, you may want to peel them. When we have done this, we have left narrow stripes of the yellow skin on the squash.

Posted in Side dishes, Vegetarian Dishes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment