Thursday, December 31, 2009

Soup for a Snowy Day

It has been a beautiful holiday season, light snow falling gracefully and leisurely, just as the ground threatens to turn brown again. Yesterday, seemed the perfect day to enjoy "a soup" as my mother calls it. My mother says, "I will make a soup" whereas I would say 'I will make some soup." I don't know what the difference is but it is a usage I find endearing. I think of her soups as entities, really, ready to be set out to provide nourishment and warmth. I guess I think of mine as just, well, an attempt at cooking. But that is why I am on this journey, to learn from the wisdom of those before me, who knew something I did not. That gathering fresh items for "a soup" is holy work. Our kitchens and our flat, wooden tables are holy ground.

Chicken Corn Soup is a familiar food item. I remember eating it at mom's table and in Shipshewana, Indiana. It is delicious! So, I set out to Prairie Harvest, purveyor of whole/bulk/local foods to find a nice chicken. Alas, no date of birth, but it was a supple young thing guaranteed to be organic and vegetarian fed. I like that in a bird. I brought it home and set it above the flame in a big pot. The aroma was soon wafting generously throughout the house.

This recipe calls for rivels to be added to the soup about 7 minutes before you serve it. A word of caution-don't make those rivels too big. I was dropping great globs of dough into the boiling substance when Derek, family friend who graced the kitchen with his presence during this leg of the journey, found a picture in the cookbook with a caption, that described "chicken corn soup thickened with tiny rivels." He read this aloud to me and I made the necessary adjustment. With rivels, as in most of life, more is less.

Chicken and Corn Soup
1 whole chicken
4 qts of cold water
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery and leaves
3 cups of corn
2 hard cooked eggs
salt and pepper
Cook chicken slowly until it is tender. Add salt after about 15 minutes. Mine was tender after about 45 minutes of slowly boiling.
Remove chicken from bones and strain broth through a fine sieve..
Take meat from bones and chop fine, add to broth.
Add the corn, chopped celery and onion.

To make rivels:
1 cup flour
1 egg
1/4 cup milk.
Rub this mixture together with 2 forks until well blended and drop into boiling soup.
cover and boil slowly for 7 minutes.

I wasn't at all sure about these rivels. It seemed risky to introduce a doughy substance into the mix, but even when I was making them too big, they were soon bobbing happily and surreptitously in the boiling broth. They do add thickening to the soup and make the eating even more enjoyable.

This recipe was adapted from the Chicken and Corn Soup recipe submitted by Mrs. B. L Bucher and Ruth Slaymaker to the the Mennonite Community Cookbook. (1950)
An appreciative nod to Derek Hamm for his encouragement and timely assistance.

With gratefulness to the many women who recognized the importance of hearth, home, and a healthy fragrant soup,

Monday, December 28, 2009

In search of a one -year- old hen

I got up and wanted to make something with chicken because we have plenty of it in the freezer. There was a recipe for chicken corn soup with rivels (coming soon) but we didn't have all the necessary ingredients. As I looked at other recipes I noticed one which called for "1 chicken (preferably a one-year-old hen)". I imagine when this cookbook was originally published it was highly plausible that a woman like myself could have gone into the backyard and selected the particular hen which was close to her first birthday. Perhaps I would have said to that feminine fowl, "Happy Birthday Ms. Hen, you are about to be served straight up with a twist of pepper." I admit to being a bit envious of those who could guarantee that degree of freshness on their family dining table.

I read this interesting ingredient request to a few family members. They laughed. One of my daughters suggested that perhaps it meant you bought a chicken at the store and let it sit around a year or so. The idea of having your own horde of hens to harvest didn't even occur to her. In her lifetime, she hasn't known a soul with their own crop of poultry out the back door. So, to the grocery store I go. When I get a whole chicken I will be making some chicken soup. I am going to check the packaging carefully. Who knows? Maybe there is a DOB on there somewhere.

I did make a hearty Chicken Salad with some chicken breasts that I baked and chopped.

3 cups diced, cooked chicken
1 1/2 cups diced celery
3 hard-cooked eggs
3 sweet pickles, chopped
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2/3 cup mayonnaise
3 T cream.
Cut the cooked chicken. Chop celery, pickles, and eggs and add to chicken. Add seasoning. (I took the liberty of adding about a teaspoon of seasoned salt) Add cream to mayonnaise, when smooth, mix with chicken. We ate this salad on bagels. It was very tasty! I love the creamy mayo dressing and also the chunkiness of the salad.

This recipe was adapted from the Chicken Salad recipe submitted to the Mennonite Community Cookbook by Sadie Eash and Mrs. P. R. Kennel. Thank you ladies.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Comfort Food and Cracker Pudding

Today I found a recipe for a pudding that my mom used to make so I decided to try it. It is actually made from cracker crumbs, but it contains the exotic and tropical ingredient coconut, which saves it from blandness. Sometimes a girl wants comfort food with a kick.

I began to make the pudding, a multi step process. By today's standards, it could be considered labor intensive. But it was another trip down memory lane. I was mixing, stirring, and measuring and remembering standing beside my mom while I assisted her. I had never done the whole process, just the parts she assigned me to do. I was looking at the thickening substance and thinking that it didn't look like mom's or grandma's. I leaned over and inhaled, relief, it smelled like my mom's. God bless the olfactory system -it cannot tell a lie.

I ate it warm, I ate it cold, I fed it to my husband who doesn't necessarily like coconut. He smiled, said it was good and willingly ate more. Did I mention that he is very sweet? I will take my mother some later and thank her for letting me help her so many tmes before I could do it all by myself.

Cracker Pudding
4 cups milk
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups coarse cracker crumbs
1 cup shredded coconut
1 tsp vanilla

Scald milk. (very hot, almost boiling, bubbles beginning to form on the sides of the pan)
Beat egg yolks and add sugar.
Add this mixture gradually to scalded milk. Stir constantly.
Allow to cook for one minute and then add cracker crumbs and coconut. Stir until cracker crumbs are soft and mixture is thick. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
Pour into a buttered baking dish.
Spread with meringue made by beating 3 T sugar into stiffly beaten egg whites.
Bake at 350 until meringue is a golden brown.

I remember beating those egg whites and asking mom, "Is this ENOUGH?" and she would say, "Keep going until they peak, Ellen." So, as you beat those egg whites, think snow capped peaks of fluffy meringue to top off your paradise pudding.

With fond memories of Grandma Yutzy and my Mama Herr,
Happy Cooking and Eating!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Starting Simply

I spent an evening with Julie and Julia recently and was inspired by the love of food and the love of cooking that unfolded before me. I sat enamored and salivating on my couch. I loved this movie and admired the devotion of both cooks. What kind of culinary journey would I want to embark on? I remembered that I have in my possession, a copy of my grandmother's torn and tattered testament to all things deliciously Mennonite. The Mennonite Community Cookbook, original copyright 1950. My grandmother, Ida Kauffman Yutzy, used this cookbook for many years. My mother gave it to me many years ago after my grandmother's death. My mom had a newer edition and thought I might like my grandma's. This copy is falling apart and stained on pages of her favorite recipes. Inscribed on the covers and title pages are handwritten recipes, one of which I will share here.

A few words about the Mennonites. I am one and I realized recently, when asked to produce a cultural autobiography for a class, that being Mennonite is largely what defines me, Even though I teach at a Catholic school and most of my friends, including my sweet husband aren't Mennonite, it is largely what inspires and defines me. People who still think of Mennonites and Amish as one and the same, say "REALLY?" when they find out I am a Mennonite. They seem to just think I am the way I am because I grew up in the 60's. I wasn't old enough to have been a hippie then and all that irresponsible behavior wouldn't have completely worked for me. I have a proclivity toward appreciating the simple, and a heart for helping the needy. I believe in peace, love, food, and lots of good produce. I admit to a moderate thirst for red wine and lattes as well. My husband says I may be more of a "Starbucks Mennonite."

I have a recent rebirth of appreciation and fondness for my cultural and spiritual background. I strive to keep the family meal alive. So, I am starting out on a journey through the land of cream, lard, noodles and corn to revisit some recipes from my past. I have the memory of my Grandma Yutzy, with her full apron, housedress, and white head covering to guide me. Grandma was not warm, but she was kind and she always fed us well. She hummed hymns as she worked around her house. It is an honor to have her manual of love in food form, to be my guide for this year of Mennonite cooking.

My first recipe is not part of the cookbook, as most of my recipes will be, but is one that is written by hand on the inside cover page. I selected it because my own mother has made it for as long as I can remember as a special Christmas treat. This year I made it for the first time in my own kitchen. I called my mother to check on the kind of pan I was using and she reminded me of the baking time and frequent stirrings. "Every 15 minutes for 2 hours? Sounds like a commitment, " I said. The results are well worth it.

It is called Scramble. It is the best party mix I have ever tasted. I have always wondered if Scramble is the name my grandma gave it because I have never seen another recipe with this name.


2 lbs mixed nuts

1 12 oz. bite size shredded wheat squares

1 10 oz oat cereal

1 6 1/2 oz rice squares

1 5 oz pretzel sticks

2 cups vegetable oil

2 T Worcestershire sauce

1 T garlic salt

1 T seasoned salt

Miz all ingredients in a large roaster. Bake at 250 for 2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes.

That's right. two hours, every 15 minutes. Stir it sisters and brothers.

Peace be with you,