Columns

Made with Love: Kitchen Memories

During the holidays my house smells like sugar and spice and everything nice. The aroma doesn’t come from scented candles; it emanates from the shortbread, sugar cookies, three kinds of fudge, and two loaves of Amish cinnamon bread I’ve made.

Shortbread and sugar cookies

The cinnamon bread cools in my mother’s aluminum pans. Last month, I wrote about the memories those pans hold for me and invited readers to share their stories of memory-laden kitchenware.

Below you’ll read about everything from pie tins to rolling pins, as readers reminisce about recipes, traditions and warm memories made in the kitchen.

Tom Peacock said his mother and grandmother were “pie goddesses.” It seems he inherited their skills, along with her flour sifter and Spode Christmas dishes.

“I baked my first pie (cherry) when I was around 12,” he wrote. “I picked the cherries from the next-door neighbor’s tree, pitted them with Mom’s old-school pitter, and the pie turned out nicely.”

From there he progressed to banana cream, pecan and blackberry cream pies.

“I did get to bake side by side with Mom, especially in her later years. The last few years before she went into assisted care, I did most of the Thanksgiving cooking using the skills I learned from her,” Peacock said.

Every baker knows you can’t make a good pie crust or sugar cookies without a quality rolling pin. John Kafentzis and his family use an irreplaceable one.

“A rolling pin from my grandmother is still very much in use at our house,” he said. “It was carved by her grandfather from a single piece of maple around 1920. It’s substantial. The family joke is that it was carved from the last tree in Kansas as that’s where they lived at the time.”

Pier Sanna’s mom was a pastry chef and taught Sanna to make everything from croissants to wedding cakes.

“After her death in 1980, I had first dibs on her bakeware – 50-plus-year-old cast iron pizza pans and cookie sheets. Try finding those at Williams Sonoma,” Sanna wrote. “Every time we use her bakeware, we suspect she is standing next to us smiling and resisting the urge to supervise.”

Jan Erickson uses a braising pot that her grandfather gave to her mother on her wedding day in 1947.

“I remember wonderful roasts, ribs, and so many favorite dishes coming from this pan,” Erickson said. “My grandparents did not have much money, but they splurged on this pot for my mom. Granddad told Mom that this pot would last her through her entire life. It surely did!

“I know my daughter wants this pot when I’m done with it, so it will continue in our family for years to come.”

Many of us revel in holiday baking traditions. For example, Leslie Olson Turner’s mother embraced her Norwegian roots when it came to Christmas cookies, making spritz cookies, berlinerkranser, rosettes, almond crescents and krumkake. Turner has continued the tradition, using her mother’s cookie press and rosette irons.

“I reserve the holidays to kick in my own version of a baking frenzy,” she wrote. “The krumkake iron I now use I inherited from my Aunt Sonja. It’s identical to the one my Mom had used – made of heavy-duty cast iron. And while I could have bought an electric one, it just wouldn’t have been the same.”

Michael Paul also continues cultural traditions. His great-grandmother was born in Hawaii to Portuguese immigrants.

“The Portuguese brought with them many new foods, including what is today known as Hawaiian sweet bread. Each Christmas, Nana Schultz would bake sweet bread for everyone, blessing each loaf with a cross and a tiny piece of garlic in the center of the cross as it went into the oven,” Paul wrote. “Today, I am just about the only one left in my family making this bread and the pickled pork also served at Christmas time.”

He still uses his grandmother’s metal measuring cups and Nana Schultz’s recipes.

“There’s no telling how old those recipes are. They came ‘around the horn’ from Portugal in the late 1800s,” Paul said.

Sometimes, the most practical items are treasured.

“After my dear mother passed away, going through her things there was one kitchen item, in particular, that was the golden ticket – the jar opener,” Julie Hoseid said. “Since I did most of the help for her, I rewarded myself with it, however, my sister and I are discussing shared custody.”

It seems pie-baking stirs up many memories.

“I’m not sure how old I was when Mom taught me her pumpkin pie filling tweaks, but I remember her setting me up at the kitchen table the first few times because I was too short to reach the countertop,” Carol Nelson wrote.

When Nelson married her, mother gave her the LustreCraft stainless mixing bowl, the pie plates that ensure an evenly baked crust, and her rolling pin. But it was her mother-in-law that gave her a never-fail pie crust recipe.

“Fifty-one years later, both moms have passed, but each time I take out my pie plates and the now-stained recipe card, I think of them, and their gifts of love to a new bride.”

Gail Justesen said her mother was known as one of the best pie-makers in Whitman County. When her mom was out of town, a teenage Justesen decided to step in and bake two pies for a pie social.

“The first two I cooked too long: the crust was brittle, apple filling overflowed. The next batch, the crust was raw and the filling soupy,” she recalled.

But Justesen kept trying – making seven pies in all before she had two that were pie social-worthy. Her dad didn’t mind gobbling up the mistakes.

“My friends moan when they think of making pies and usually cave to the store-bought pie crusts. However, I love to make them and am so thankful for the ‘pie genes’ I received from my mom,” said Justesen.

I’m not the only one with aluminum bread pans. Lisa Meiners treasures four that belonged to her mother.

“My mother passed away Aug. 1, just four months shy of her 100th birthday,” Meiners wrote. “She raised six children in Alaska and was a wonderful cook and baker. We always had homemade bread. Four of Mom’s bread pans moved with her from Alaska to Washington. I’m the only one of her five daughters who bakes bread regularly, and now have the honor of owning those bread pans that were used to bake loaves of love every week.”

So readers, as you sit at your holiday table this week, I hope you’ll enjoy more than just delicious food. Sometimes sharing memories and traditions with those you love is the most satisfying feast of all.

Columns

Baking with Mom

The lightweight aluminum pans aren’t beautiful. Scratched and slightly dented, they’re certainly nothing you would find at Williams Sonoma. They aren’t even nonstick.

Nevertheless, my freezer is filled with pumpkin bread, chocolate zucchini bread and beer-cheese bread, all turned out by these stalwart pans.

When my mother moved into a retirement community, it fell to me to sort out her kitchen – choosing what I wanted, what my siblings and their children might want, and what would be left for the estate sale.

Mom’s four kids are all long-married with established homes and kitchens, so most of her goods weren’t wanted or needed by any of us.

But the loaf pans that had churned out countless batches of banana bread – well, I knew I would use them, and I have.

I don’t have any cozy memories of Saturday baking with my mother. The kitchen was her domain, and I wasn’t invited to learn by her side. It could be that I wasn’t interested in spending my Saturdays mixing and measuring. Honestly, I don’t remember. But I must have learned something by osmosis because I’ve spent the past 35 years feeding copious amounts of family and friends.

Mom wasn’t stingy with her recipes. My cookbooks are filled with her handwritten notes for gingersnaps, pie crust, snickerdoodles and other tasty treats. It’s just that we never baked them together. In fact, when my sons were young, and I was working, it was my mother who baked weekly treats for them – a way to lure them to Grandma’s house for a visit and a hug.

She still misses baking. Still wakes up with a start thinking she’s left something in the oven too long.

Recently, I showed her a photo of the pans.

“Do you remember where you got these?” I asked. “I know you’ve had them since I was tiny.”

But her memories are clouded now. Dates and times blend and blur.

No matter.

On Thanksgiving, I’ll welcome her to my table set with her harvest gold cloth and the lovely Noritake china my father bought for her in Japan. I’ll lay out her silver flatware that I used to polish every holiday as a child. It seems some chores are yours for a lifetime.

I’ll roll out her pie crust recipe with her red-handled rolling pin and fill the crust with fragrant apples, cinnamon and cloves.

And perhaps after all these years, it will feel like I’m finally baking with Mom.

Columns

Go home chicken, you’re drunk

Tears poured from my eyes as I thumbed through the pages. My sides ached with laughter. I snorted. I guffawed. I giggled.

Who would think a cookbook could provoke such hilarity?

Just when I caught my breath, I spotted a recipe for Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky, and I howled again.

But first a little background. My mother collected recipes like there might not ever be another Dorothy Dean column or Campbell’s soup cookbook. She clipped them from newspapers, magazines, flour bags and shortening cans. She filed them in index card boxes and three-ring binders. Cookbooks lined a shelf in her kitchen and filled drawers in her buffet. Even after my dad died and she didn’t have anyone to cook for, she kept on clipping.

Her cookies were legendary. For years, she supplied my boys with enough baked goods to feed a small platoon. Her dessert plates were the first to be emptied at every church potluck.

In recent years, she tried to downsize. I’m not sure which sibling ended up with her battered copy of Irma Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking,” but she gave me my grandmother’s vintage “Good Housekeeping Cookbook” and her own copy of “Better Homes and Garden Cookbook,” which I still haul out every time I bake apple pies.

My recipe box is filled with her handwritten recipe cards.

When she moved into a retirement home, the cookbooks and clipping collection had to go. I didn’t have time to sort through her recipe-filled envelopes, but somehow I snagged a cookbook and brought it home before her house sold.

With the holidays approaching, I finally sat down to go through it. The 270-page cookbook has no cover, no back and no title. I have no idea who produced it. I think I grabbed it because it features Mom’s handwritten commentary. Some recipes had checkmarks or stars. Some said “try,” and others had “good!” written next to them.

The source of my amusement came from the many, many recipes that called for some kind of booze.

Mom is such a stringent teetotaler that she’s never even purchased cooking wine or sherry. She certainly never had the ingredients for Drunk Chicken, or Bourbon-Pecan cake, or New Bacardi Chocolate Rum cake. And even if she had the ingredients for Beer and Sauerkraut Fudge Cake, I can’t imagine that she’d inflict that on anyone.

It’s wasn’t only the alcohol-laden recipes that gave me giggles, just the names of some of the recipes induced mirth.

Creeping Crust Cobbler anyone? How about some Liver Surprise? (Spoiler alert, the surprise is cinnamon, or maybe it’s the applesauce.) Beef Birds with Olive Gravy gave me pause, but Carrot Loaf- a Meat Substitute made me queasy for hours. The recipe calls for rice, carrots, eggs, milk and peanut butter!

Not every recipe proved as stomach-churning. Amazed, I discovered the original source for Mom’s Five-Hour Stew, her Busy Day Chicken and Rice, and the zucchini fritter recipe I’d assumed was my grandmother’s. The titleless cookbook is proving to be a treasure.

My husband enjoys my culinary escapades, but he was a bit bewildered last week when he called and asked about our dinner plans.

“I thought about making Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky,” I said.”But catching a pheasant and getting it drunk, seemed like a lot of work. And how can you tell if a pheasant’s spunky?”

“Uh…” Derek murmured.

“Nevermind,” I continued. “We had some poultry in the freezer, but you’d better come home soon.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because the chicken’s already drunk,” I replied.

Unlike my mother, I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the recipe.

Columns

Zucchini: The Sequel

“We went on vacation – the squash did not,” Cindy Hval said in an email about Tuesday’s harvest, shown. “It’s like the zucchini are mocking me.” (Cindy Hval / The Spokesman-Review) “We went on vacation – the squash did not,” Cindy Hval said about Tuesday’s harvest, shown. “It’s like the zucchini are mocking me.”

Every great adventure deserves and sometimes demands a sequel. Such is the case with my previous column about surplus squash.

When I wrote about the Great Zucchini Invasion of 2017, readers responded with recipes, suggestions of where to donate the surplus, and offers to take some zucchini off my hands – or countertops.

It turned out that reader response to the column was as prolific as, well, zucchini.

The irony was in the few days after the column ran: My harvest trickled down to near nothing. In fact, I almost put away the grater and the freezer bags, but then I blinked. Yep. More zucchini and the giveaway began anew.

A Facebook friend stopped by to take a few. My monthly writers group met at my home – each writer took home helpful critiques, encouraging words. And zucchini.

I hosted my annual Great Gazebo Girlfriend Gathering and sent the ladies home with a squash or two, except for one friend who sneaked out without taking her fair share. That’s OK. I know where she lives.

And, of course, we celebrated National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch day on Aug. 8. We may have celebrated a bit too much as most of our neighbors are still avoiding us.

Yet the zucchini just kept on coming. An online commenter offered this solution: “Cindy, if you put your surplus crop in a box at curbside with a FREE label, no one will take them. But if you label the zucchini $1 each, someone will steal them after dark. Problem solved.”

Others requested some of the recipes I mentioned in the column, so I’ve included a few of those here.

Speaking of recipes, a reader offered to send me a recipe for zucchini relish and pickles. Both sound wonderful, but the recipe requires canning and I’m not quite that desperate. Yet.

One reader offered to trade farm fresh eggs for zucchini, and I just may take her up on that.

Others suggested nonprofit organizations that might welcome fresh produce.

Mary Ellen Gaffney-Brown said Meals on Wheels gives out fresh produce every Wednesday. I called the organization to confirm and discovered that they often welcome veggie donations, but cautioned readers to call first.

Barbara Hill notified me of a wonderful program run by Refugee Connections. These folks actually come to your garden, glean it, and then donate the produce to the East Central Community Center.

Another fun way to share garden goodness is to take it to your local library for a produce swap. The summer bounty program sponsored by Spokane County Library District invites folks to bring their extra fresh produce to select branches, and take home something different from another garden. Leftovers are taken to a local food bank and the produce swaps continue in September.

So if you find yourself swimming in surplus squash, don’t despair. It turns out there are plenty of ways to share the wealth. That said, sequels are fine, but I’m really hoping the Great Zucchini Invasion won’t become a trilogy.