August 8, 2009

Mastering the Art of Hoosier Cooking

This afternoon we saw Julie and Julia. New Yorker Julie Powell works her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, blogs about her adventures, and discovers that she is a writer. She is rewarded with a book contract and a major motion picture starring Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep.

Why hasn’t this happened to me? I’ve been cooking my way through a stack of cookbooks for more than four decades.

Take the Apple Blossom Lutheran Church cookbook, for example. My grandmother’s recipe for Christmas rum balls is featured in the dessert section. The recipe calls for two teaspoons of rum flavoring. Flavoring? I think not. Eating one of those stout little gems made for a nice boost before Christmas Eve service, and is probably what encouraged Martin Luther to jump over the fence to retrieve Sister Katharina.

When I was a child, the church was known for homemade ice cream socials and fish fry’s. The Men’s Club recipe for potato salad is also included in this cookbook. I’m reprinting it here in case you are having people over tomorrow.

Potato Salad:
250 lbs. of potatoes
35 dozen eggs, boiled
10 stalks of celery
10 quarts of sweet pickles
10 large sweet onions

3 quarts of mustard
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
2 1/2 quarts of vinegar
10 cans of Milnot
5 lbs of sugar
4 1/2 gallons of Miracle Whip

Boil, peel, and chop potatoes. Add chopped eggs, celery, pickle and onions. Mix well. Mix all ingredients for salad dressing and put in large containers.

Another recipe in the cookbook calls for “one mango, chopped fine.” I know that “mango” means green pepper in Indiana, and in the rest of the world it means the fruit. Some of the other recipes from this cookbook are white sausage brain pudding, northern plain tomato rabbit, and a cake with a cup of hickory nuts. Where do you get hickory nuts?

The cookbook also contains a recipe for mincemeat, a distinctly German Lutheran hamburger, raisin, and sugary substance used to make pies. My grandmother and mother participated in mincemeat parties – more about socializing I think than piemaking.

Thumbing through this cookbook is like talking with three generations of women – my grandmother, my mother, and I all belonged to the church at different times between 1936 and 2002. Between the three of us, we knew most of the women represented in the cookbook.

Many featured in the cookbook have now found eternal reward, making lebkuchen with their sisters in the big German kitchen upstairs. For this mere mortal reviewing this cookbook is like visiting old friends whom I can still imagine laughing while washing and putting away dishes in the tiny church kitchen. Oh, for a piece of one of Bea's birthday cakes!

Husband, who has always been the gourmet and holiday cook in our family, has a folder of recipes he’s kept throughout the years, cultivated from various places.

Who can forget the pound cake he made that weighed about fourteen pounds, and had such a thick batter that he broke the mixer’s beaters? Lesson learned: don’t clip a untested recipe from the newspaper.

Husband also has recipes for distinctive dishes from his side of the family – such as persimmon pudding. A persimmon is an edible fruit known to the ancient Greeks as “the fruit of the gods.” To me it looks like a taut and wrinkly billiard ball and tastes about the same. I speak blasphemously and will be disowned by Husband’s side of the family. Isn’t it enough that I have accepted the ritualistic piling-on of noodles onto mashed potatoes and given up gravy forever? What’s more, I like it. I expect our Son to do the same.

Home-style cookbooks are famous for casseroles. One such recipe we’ve tried (possibly the inspiration for life-saving Lipitor) is Chicken Jeannette, Named for the elderly woman who concocted it, this casserole contains chicken, pimento, celery, mayonnaise, 2 cups of shredded cheese, and a bag of potato chips crumbled over the top. Bake in a 350 oven until your arteries harden.

Time to start peeling potatoes. Company’s coming. Quoth the raven.