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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Old recipes and a pinch of this and that

Scarlet Stone
Posted 3/13/24

These past few days I have been sifting through recipes for an upcoming spring family gathering at an eccentric aunt’s. I got the notion to bake up some of our favorites and bring them for …

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Old recipes and a pinch of this and that


These past few days I have been sifting through recipes for an upcoming spring family gathering at an eccentric aunt’s. I got the notion to bake up some of our favorites and bring them for everyone to enjoy. Years before mother left the planet, I became the primary holiday cook and baker, except for every Christmas my mother did rally and make what we siblings refer to as the “diabetes bars.” These had the traditional butter, flour, nut crust and then a brown sugar, toffee layer covered with melted chocolate chips and more nuts that successfully fueled a big sugar high. After they were baked, the bars were stored in the red and green patterned cookie tin. I must make those for sure and put them in the tin even though Christmas has come and gone because to serve them any other way just wouldn’t be right. This recipe, like so many others of mom’s, could be found in a kitchen drawer in a yellow pocket folder full of 8-1/2 x 11” copy sheets that she brought home from the school where she taught first grade. The teachers took turns bringing treats for the lounge accompanied by copies of the recipe to hand out to anyone interested.
An absolute spring and summer family favorite was “money cake.” This recipe entered our lives in the 1960s from a former classmate of my father’s whose name was Minerva. Her nickname however was “money” and the name stuck with the cake. Everyone has eaten this in one form or another. It’s the box yellow cake mix with the pineapple, Mandarin oranges, and whip cream on top that was all the rage years ago, and like Cher, has staying power and will forever be appearing at parties, potlucks, and funerals. The money cake will be made onsite however, as it doesn’t travel well but I have some concerns. Auntie and her live-in, Frank, recently moved, and with their arduous downsizing process I’m not sure she will have an electric mixer or even a 9x13 pan anymore. On top of that when Frank became zealous for the Mediterranean diet a couple years ago, coupled with both continuing to reduce when Ozempic came on the scene, those staples from their previous ideal Betty Crocker kitchen may have been the first things on the garage sale table. I had better phone ahead and check on that.
One recipe that does not fit on an index card is my grandmother’s mincemeat. There are 21 ingredients listed beginning with 2 cups of chopped lean meat with a note that says “venison neck is best but beef will do.” It’s an expensive recipe to make calling for all of the dried fruits, marmalades, various peels, coffee and cider but well worth it. Gran made this before Thanksgiving, and it matured in glass jars prior to being used for pies and cookie fillings at Christmas. It is by far the best mincemeat I have ever tasted, and I developed a taste for it at a young age, popping Gran’s filled tarts into my mouth.
I have yet to attempt making potica from the recipe I wrote down while in high school learning to make the Slovenian staple. We were at my friend’s home on the east end of Aurora and her mother, who was our home economics teacher, taught us the process with maximum detail. I remember that day of instruction like it was yesterday, and we were on our toes as she made us measure everything so exact. She was a great teacher and the potica turned out perfect.
Let’s not forget the recipes for creating food with non-traditional utensils. I have a recipe for chocolate waffle cookies from a college friend’s farm in central Iowa. I have baked these on several occasions, and they are great tasting cookies but I don’t have my waffle iron any longer. Maybe I could use my Rowenta steam iron and press balls of dough between parchment papers. I’d back off on using the steam feature to avoid sogginess of course. Seriously though, if you think about it, Iowa farm wives would barely have enough time to get all their basic work done let alone locate a waffle iron and bake four cookies at a time while standing close by with the fork ready to pluck them off only to be gobbled down by six sons and a mean ugly daughter standing next to the table. Some of this stuff really doesn’t seem practical especially for some of us who are slowly downsizing. There are simply too many gadgets and not enough storage space.
The most mysterious discovery is that I somehow acquired the barbecue recipe from the old Ting Town restaurant that used to be just west of Chisholm. Even though I lived in that area for a few years in the 90s, I can’t remember who gave me the recipe and have never used it.
Nowadays people don’t use recipe boxes as much because they find things on the Internet to cook or bake, but it’s just not the same. I would miss the little “a pinch of salt or a dash, a smidge, a toss” of this or that ingredient that were written on the side margins by me or another person, not to mention how meaningful it is to see the actual handwriting of friends or long-ago deceased relatives. A piece of them lives on in these recipes for sure. My oldest enduring recipe collection still remains in mom’s hand-painted recipe box that has the larger sized index cards.
Yes, the maternal goddesses in our lives; moms, grands, aunties, and teachers may gift us with their riches which can be anything from China, stainless serving sets, zig-zag afghans, jewelry…but we can’t forget the recipes. My former mother-in-law made amazing fried chicken served with buttery milk potatoes and carrots from their garden. That was over forty years ago but I still remember the taste of her cooking. In addition, all her holiday desserts were fabulously divine and puffed and fluffed from start to finish.
I can remember phases of my life through the various recipes too. There are several that I have from my rugged Alaska period in the 80s including salmon recipes and holistic crafted cracker creations, seedy breads, and some vegetarian dishes from a friend I met while living high on top of a ridge overlooking Fairbanks to the south and the Goldstream Valley to the north. None of us hippie types living on the ridge had running water so I remember doing dishes after cooking was an arduous task. During the long dark winters indoor projects like experimenting with recipes was fun. Years later after my life resembled a traveling circus, I moved to Ely and belonged to a weekly women’s motivational group called “healthy choices” that introduced me to things like quinoa, farro, and couscous, not to mention bok choy and dragon leaf kale. That phase of my life generated some healthy know-how to be sure and funky grains are always welcome in my kitchen.  Let it be known however, I never was, and never will be a fan of tofu. Now it’s time to do some spring baking.