Sunday, August 29, 2010

While We Wait: Crullers

It seemed necessary to observe a local tradition. Almost too late but I managed to squeeze it in, the winning combination of crullers and watermelon. This isn't a tradition I grew up with but I understand it is something of a constant at local summer afternoon picnics and other social gatherings. Must they be served in tandem? I honestly don't know but when the topic of crullers came up at a recent gathering of Mennonite feminine folk, I gathered that it could possible be a breach of etiquette if one didn't pair the dynamic duo. So, in anticipation of the cruller making event, I stopped and purchased a healthy looking, organically grown watermelon.

The recipe says to make the dough and then let it sit for two hours. Why, I wondered? It doesn't need to rise. Maybe it just needs to wait. So I made the dough and waited for it to be ready and for my daughters to come and help me finish the process. This led me to some musings on the holy act of waiting.

Waiting for the dough, we say thank you for the anticipation of sweet bread.
Waiting for the train, we say thank you for the moment to rest.
Waiting for the diagnosis, we say thank you for every breath we take.
Wating for the pain to go away, we pause and remember the many others who suffer pain and we ask for healing.
Waiting for the sun to shine, we hope that our Chilean miner brothers will be brought to light quickly.
Wating for someone to change, we let go and realize we can only change ourselves and that is enough.
Waiting for peace, we look in the eyes of all we meet as we smile, because that is where peace begins.
Wating for those we love to come and visit, we say thank you for their sweet faces which brighten our days.

So, I waited and soon two of my daughters arrived to assist me with this project. I knew that crullers are deep fried (hmmm, state fair food?) so I anticipated that my daughter Amber with her affinity for funnel cakes, would enjoy these little golden offerings. She did and so did her sister Emily who usually frowns upon deep fried entrees. In fact, Emily did say, after 8-10 bites, "I can't stop!" She did of course, but they were particulary enticing warm, which you know if you have had occasion to have them just fresh. Eating some juicy watermelon alongside the cruller does provide a nice balance of heavy and light fare.

So, here is the recipe for crullers adaped slightly from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950)

1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup half and half
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
3 1/2 cups to 4 cups flour

Beat eggs, add cream and milk. Sift dry ingredients together. Add to liquid. Use just enough flour so that dough can be rolled but is still soft. When well mixed, let it stand for 2 hours. Here is where you wait.
Roll out 3/8 inches thick and cut into oblong strips 2 x 7 inches.
Cut 2 slashes through strips crosswise to aid in frying.
Fry in deep fat until light brown on both sides.
Roll in powdered sugar.

Serve with a big chunk of watermelon and know it was worth the wait!


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bake yourself a smile: Huckleberry Muffins

The little round and precious huckleberry was unknown to me until this summer. I am a verdant and curious disciple of the Mennonite Community Cookbook and I found within two recipes calling for huckleberries. Do you know where I can get huckleberries? I asked my mom. Yes, she replied, I have some in the freezer. Well of course she did. This shouldn't have surprised me. Mom's freezer is kind of like Mary Poppins satchel, she opens it and pulls out all kinds of things that amaze and astound me. She said she bought them at the Kauffman Museum here in Newton, so they must be growing locally. She sent me home with a bag of them and I made some huckleberry muffins.

The huckleberry isn't as sweet as its friend the blueberry. Still I liked it. There is room in my heart for almost anything that grows though so of course I would give it due respect. Besides its nice shape and growing prowess, there is the name. Huckleberry. Unlike some monikers, the word huckleberry does roll off the tongue. It is a playful word and fun to say. It suggests merriment and lightheartedness which we could all use a little bit of every day. So, I suggest you track down some huckleberries and bake yourself a smile.

I used graham flour in these muffins and really liked the outcome. Here is my variation of the recipe in the Mennonite Community Cookbook.

Huckleberry Muffins
2 cups flour (1 cup white flour, 1 cup graham flour)
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 T sugar
2 T honey
2 T melted butter
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 cup huckleberries

Reserve 3 T of flour to dust the berries. To remaining flour add baking powder, salt, sugar and honey.
Add beaten egg and melted butter to milk and combine with dry ingredients.
Fold in berries that have been "dusted" with flour.
Drop by spoonfuls into greased muffin tins.
Bake at 400 for 25 minutes.

Have fun with the huckleberries,

Monday, August 16, 2010

What We Want: Lemon Desire

Well first, I know that several months ago in a blog entry I made disparaging remarks about dishes containing the wiggly, nutritionally null product Jello. And here I am today sharing a recipe containing this very item. I found a recipe in Grandma's small cursive written on a page of her cookbook. It is one of many recipes she added to her personal copy of the Mennonite Community Cookbook. This inquiry into Grandma's cooking adventures wouldn't be complete if I didn't explore some of the scrawled entries she deemed worthy of adding to her well-used cookbook.

Besides, the name Lemon Desire led me to wonder. It didn't seem to fit the mostly practical or descriptive titles within the cookbook. I pondered where it may have come from. I tried to think of an occassion where I might have heard my grandma use the word desire. I can't think of one time. In fact, I can't even think of one time I heard her say she wanted something. I am sure she did. She just didn't seem to think much about what was missing from her life. She seemed rather, to be content with what was. What did she want?

If I had to draw inferences from the life I observed, I'd say she wanted to see people treated with dignity and respect. I'd say she wanted to feel the sun on her face, to use her arms and legs to do good work and to walk humbly with God. That is what I think she wanted. Good food, good health, and the love of family were also likely on her list. I have to believe that she obtained those things in her life because from what I observed she didn't spend a lot of time chasing things that were just distractions. It is an example worth following.

So, here it is. Lemon Desire. If you don't like lemon the name is an oxymoron. If you like lemon, you will likely find some pleasure in this sweet and light dessert. But the pleasure is temporary. What do we really want? I think I know now, what I really want. To be grateful, each moment, for being exactly where I am.

Lemon Desire
1/2 cup sugar
1 pkg lemon jello
1 1/4 cup hot water for jello
2 or 3 T lemon juice and grated lemon rind
1 can evaporated milk, chilled
2 cups graham crackers, crushed

Put 1/2 cups of graham crackers in a 9x9 pan. Make jello and chill until it starts to get firm. Whip evaporated milk and add juice and rind. Fold in jello. Pour on top of graham cracker crumbs. Sprinkle 1/2 cup crumbs on top. Chill until serving.

Hoping you find your heart's desire,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Happy Endings: Elderberry Pie

Sometimes you really need a happy ending. You find yourself on a bad date or with a dentist's drill in your mouth doing overtime. Or you become entangled in a messy conflict and the skies are all cloudy and gray either outside or in your heart. What to do? Well, when we can keep an overactive ego in check or when we are gifted with that wonderful equalizer, perspective, we just enjoy the journey knowing that this is what it is all about. Sometimes, though, being human, we just bear down and hope for a surprising positive ending. I don't know about you but I seem to need a healthy dose of "it was all worth it" benedictions to keep me keeping on. So, even when the happy ending isn't there, I tend to invent it. You might know what I mean. Well, I learned a lot... Someday, this will be a great story... Better to have loved and lost... The thing is, redemption is a powerful thing. All my favorite stories, fiction and non-fiction, have a common thread. That thread is a theme about the power of the human spirit rising above the muck and mire of difficult times and making her own happy ending.

This is what I am thinking about today and it relates to what I was thinking about last week when I made the elderberry pie. This pie was recommended by the Muellers of North Newton. They even offered their own homegrown elderberries. I was a bit worried about this undertaking simply because I hadn't ever made one. Berneil kindly shared her baking tips and the recipe below reflects her adapted instructions as I carried them out to the best of my understanding. So, in my own mostly Mennonite kitchen, I baked this pie and pulled it from the oven. It looked a fright. I got the crust a bit too brown and it was really messy. I left it to cool on the stovetop. I asked my husband after a period of heavy silence. "Did you see my pie?" "Yes, he replied, "but I was kind of afraid to say anything. Might this be a redo?" I was afraid so. But alas, it cooled and settled down a bit and I even started to think the mostly filling covered crust and crumb topping looked good that way. I took a bite and it was (surprise) delicious. It was tangy but sweet and I loved the small crunchiness of the elderberries. Very good pie and for sure one I want to make again. In fact, every July, when the elderberries are plentiful, I want to make an elderberry pie. To celebrate happy endings.

Elderberry Pie

2 1/2 cups elderberrries
3/4 cup sugar
2 T flour
1/8 tsp salt
3 T lemon juice

Pie pastry for 9 inch crust

Crumb Topping
4 T flour
3 T sugar
2 T butter

Line a pie pan with pastry. Prebake at 425 for 8 minutes. Mix filling ingredients together and bring to a boil in a saucepan. (I let it cook for about 5 minutes or so). Pour cooked filling into prebaked crust. Mix crumb topping with two knifes until small crumbs are formed. Bake at 425 for another 10 minutes and then turn down the oven to 350 until the pie begins spilling over.This requires that you check it periodically. My pie did runneth over after 8 minutes I think. Remove from the oven and cool.

Happy Endings,

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fascination: Pecan Squares

"The world fascinates me."
Andy Warhol

I love this quote and quite agree. The world fascinates me too. That's why I don't watch much TV or why often I just want to find out where others have been and what they think, know or remember. Wherever I go there is so much to see and hear that is illuminating. The world's inhabitants are fascinating creatures. Show me a room full of people and I see beauty and stories and lots of common threads. This was so true on Sunday at the Kauffman Museum. We gathered together to talk about memories and cooking and a very special book.

People came for various reasons I believe. I know a few attended because they are related to me and I had asked them 6 times if they were coming! (thank you) Some came because they were curious about some aspect of the cooking/blogging/history part of it. But many came because of their memories of the Mennonite Community Cookbook. Some folks came clutching this treasured cookbook, ready with page numbers of their favorite recipes. There were stories of receiving the book, traveling abroad with the book, cooking from it and knowing the author or illustrator. The stories told aloud to the larger group or to me personally after the program were each precious and rare. I loved hearing them. They are still trickling in with suggestions for recipes or offers of information and each one is like seeing a new star in the sky. Each shared experience is a story with meaning and a connection to a source of love or happiness. Keeping these stories alive is one way we give meaning to growing older I think.

I made these pecan squares to share at this time on Sunday afternoon at the museum. It was a fascinating experience and the appreciation for the memories bubbled over and spilled out and made me eager to learn more. I have suggestions, new information and even some elderberries that will provide me with more cooking experiences to continue on this journey.

Here is a recipe for some bars that were served at that gathering...

Pecan Squares
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup margarine
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans

Cream butter, margarine and sugar together.
Add egg and beat until fluffy.
Add flour and work well into mixture.
Spread in a buttered 9 X 13 pan.
Beat remaining egg and spread over mixture with a brush. Spread the egg all the way to the edges of the dough.
Sprinkle with brown sugar and top with chopped nuts.
Bake at 350 for 25-27 minutes.
Cut into small squares.

This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook. I confess, I had to make it twice, learning some things after the first time. So, my learned lessons are reflected in this adapted recipe. These are good, not the most memorable thing you may ever eat, but tasty and fairly efficient to make.

Thanks for sharing in this fascinating journey,