My mother loved to cook but with four children she found herself barely able to manage more than a few tried and true go-to recipes a week. To cut corner and save time she would clip magazine and newspaper recipes to tape into her recipe notebooks.
Here I am…I promised to cook her very own recipes, which are handwritten on 6 x 4 index cards and taped into the same notebook. Today, though I thought I would try one of those clipped recipes because I happened to have all the ingredients on hand.
Certain recipes can be a huge deal, like my mother’s plum pudding, or her from-scratch sponge cake. Then, there is the classic “dump” cake. I’ve tried a multitude of dump cake recipes over the years. This one, as you can see it is in the tiniest print possible, is the best one by far.
The ingredients are simple:
2 cups applesauce (I used unsweetened)
a 16 oz. can of crushed pineapple
1 butter recipe box cake mix
1 CUP of melted butter (yes, that’s two sticks…don’t skimp. This isn’t diet food!)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Coat a 13 x 9 baking dish (I used a glass one) with oil spray (Pam). Preheat the oven to 350 degree (F.) Dump the applesauce into the baking dish, spread. Dump the pineapple from the can (don’t drain) onto the applesauce. Sprinkle the dry cake mix over the fruit. Pour the melted butter evenly over the top. DO NOT MIX any of it. Sprinkle with chopped nuts (I used roasted pecans.) Bake for 1 hour. Your house will smell lovely.
My earliest recollection of my mother’s cooking was that there was a lot of food and it was good. We often had relatives at dinner. My mother would cook a large meal and we might eat leftovers for a few days after. Sundays after church we would run across the field from the white stucco church building on Spencer Highway in South Houston to our house, an asbestos tiled two bedroom, one bath house frame house painted bright yellow with white trim. We knew we would find some good cooking smells coming from the kitchen.
Here’s a picture of the house. It had a white pebble roof. My brothers and I would swing onto the roof from a nearby tree and use the rocks as ammunition in our never-ending battles with invading armies of terrifying gorillas. Of course we weren’t supposed to get on the roof. The rocks would fall off. My father kept a bucket of tar in the back yard to slather on if a leak developed and then he would plant more white pebbles in the tar. The bucket would warm up in the summer sun and we would grab handfuls of tar to make things – usually a mess.
Every Sunday there was waiting in the hot oven a ham, or a pork shoulder, or a roast. It would be our only real meat for the rest of the week. Not that we were lacking. We always had food, but that was down to my mother’s creativity. A lot can be done with leftovers. Then there was baloney, or Spam, or hot dogs.
In this photo the grownups and the smallest children were dining in the soon to be completed living room of my grandparents’s new house. That is a cement mixer in the back. The blue and white willow china was Nannie’s everyday dishes. I have the coffee pot and espresso cups from the set.
The other technicolor picture is the “kids” table. I’m at the far right in the blue and my cousin Karen is next to me on one side and my oldest brother is on the other side. Going the other way is cousin Paul, Kathy, brother Jon, and cousin Mark. This is a quick run down memory lane, but my cousins and brothers may appreciate the nod to the past.
As I grew and became more aware of others I came to realize that my mother liked to find recipes where she could save time using canned ingredients. Some of her favorite recipes in those days would not be very appealing these days when we have such lovely fresh things to cook with and so much choice! Today’s recipe I’m going to take one of my mother’s “canned” goods concoctions and substitute one fresh ingredient. I hope you like it.
Mary’s Snappy Asparagus
Ingrediants: 1 can asparagus
1 can Cambell’s Cheddar Cheese Soup
1 can French Fried Onions
As you can see I’ve substituted the canned asparagus with fresh asparagus. Canned asparagus is mushy. The soup along with the mushy canned vegetable would be not very appetizing.
In order for this recipe to come out as my mother would have planned, I will have to cook the asparagus. I choose to saute these stalks in olive oil using a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.
I’ve found young stalks. It is February when asparagus is ready to be cut here in the south. If the stalks do not make an audible “snap” when bent they have been sitting too long in the store or are too tough to eat. By September the stalks you find in the grocery are thick as my thumb.
You must cut the ends off way up the stem to get to the tender more edible part. With this young asparagus all I’m going to have to cut is a few inches from the bottom and rinse in cold water to knock the dust off. Then I will cut into inch long pieces to saute.
Yum! I actually like asparagus raw. Tastes like sunshine!
The recipe calls for layering the asparagus and the cheese soup. But my efforts layering the cheese soup were comical.
The soup from the can is thick. I found that mixing the two together was better.
Put the onion on top and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. You can also put this in the microwave on high for five minutes. I sprinkled some cheddar cheese on top, too.
Here is the end result. It turned out very tasty. I served it alongside lemon pepper chicken tenders and bow-tie macaroni with mushroom seasoning from House of Seasons.
My husband and I would go to my parent’s house at least once a month when our kids were little. My parents didn’t live far from us. Because my mother loved to cook for others she would invite us over for supper more often, like when she had cooked a big meal. Beginning in the late 90’s I would see a crock jar full of fermenting fruit on her baker’s rack.
When I asked what it was she said she’d gotten a new recipe from one of her GMC camper’s club friends. They loved traveling around Texas in their GMC camper. There was a group who would meetup regularly at the various state parks. Mom said the recipe was German and the fruit in the jar was fermenting for it.
When she first made it, I wasn’t a big fan. It tasted a little “off”. It was too doughy and didn’t have much flavor. As years went by the cake kept getting better and better. It’s as if she wouldn’t accept that she couldn’t get it perfect, so she kept tweaking, and making us taste the result. The last time she made it, it was heavenly. It tasted like a chewy, gooey butter cake with fruit. It was melt-in-your-mouth good.
The above picture of fruit I had left fermenting in a closed glass jar for six weeks. It’s a pretty glass jar, more like a candy jar. My concoction was a combination of canned peaches and canned pineapple. I put a cup of rum and a half cup of brandy along with the sugar and the syrup from the cans.
The recipe as you see it here has no flavoring in it. I made this as it is stated and when it came out, it was pretty awful. I think this must be her original recipe that she wrote down so long ago.
1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 3 teas. baking powder, 3/4 cup milk, 1/2 teas salt, 1/2 stick butter.
So to tweak: the fruit was good. I think you should add a 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and add melted butter, lowering the milk amount.
You’re probably wondering what the staining is on the paper. This recipe book is over fifty years old. My mother has recipes cut out from newspapers and old magazines included. Some of those papers are not acid-free and bleed their chemicals a little into the other papers.
You want to start your Rumtopf six weeks or more ahead of making this recipe. You can google it, but take it from me, some fruits are not good at staying firm and identifiable in six weeks of soaking up rum. Or maybe it’s from taking random tastings of the rum that makes the fruit look fuzzy. Never mind. Remember to stir the mixture weekly. Don’t use apples, they get mealy. Pineapple and peaches work, either fresh or from a can. You can use them individually or by themselves. Apricots work. Pears get a little lost, so add some nice firm peaches to hold their hands. Try adding some dried cherries to the mix for a pretty contrast, because it may as well be pretty while it’s sitting on your counter for six weeks.
So this is a picture of the cake before I put the Rumtopf on top and baked it. I forgot to take a picture of the finished cake. Picture the same picture a bit browner with fruit dotting the top. Honestly, this wasnt’ as good as what my mother was making in the end. Imagine this with a brown crust and dotted with fruit.
The weather has been in the news here in Houston. This past week we had so much ice the streets of downtown were empty. So when my husband said he was going to the downtown YMCA, I told him I didn’t think it was open. He said the website said it was open. He went. It was closed.
I wanted to post about it with a picture of our fountain.
At one point the entire lower part froze solid. It’s never done that before. Note the melted elephant ear plant. We generally have sub-tropical weather. So our sub-tropic plants don’t like it when it gets into the 20’s.
I hope you’ve kept yourself entertained this week. Here’s a picture of some Harvey rain damage – from water seeping into the window and me not catching it in time to save my art papers. Our damage was so mild compared to so many in Houston.
Next week I’ll print another recipe from my mother’s cookbook.
It’s Christmas and my mother’s been gone four years now. I think of her most at this time because it was her and my father’s favorite season. They loved Christmas and New Years.
They were married on January 8. When my father died on January 7 at the age of 80 my mother remarked they were one day short of their 60th wedding anniversary. I said, what’s one day. You were married sixty years. No, she said, we were married 59 years. And that was the end of the discussion. So like her to be precise.
One thing she wasn’t precise in was her recipes. Don’t get me wrong, she did know a thing or two about cooking. But I rarely saw her use a measuring cup. She would experiment until they were right enough to write, but she still hardly ever used exact measurements when she was doing the actual cooking. So at this time I am starting a new series. I’m going to attempt to cook every recipe she wrote down in her recipe book.
Cooking my mother’s recipe’s came about because I found this cookbook where she’d been storing her handwritten recipes. I thought of all the times she’d cooked them. I remember so many of these. In her later years she wasn’t able to cook these but she continued to cook small bites until she was forced to go into the nursing home. She didn’t want to go, but when she got there, she loved it….more people to tell her stories to! It was a beautiful place.
So going over the recipes I thought – how would my mother do this? Or, what would my mother say about this? Or, how would my mother feel about this? You see, my mother cooked with a passion. So for the love or her cooking and for my mother – I give you the first in a series.
Every Christmas that I can ever remember my parents would have a lavish open house. I say lavish, our first home was a little square frame house in South Houston, Texas, with a crack in the foundation an inch wide at which my brothers and I would set traps for lizards on the inside of the house! My mother’s open houses were magical filled with good food, and fun decorations, like the paper fireplace stuck to the wall with tape, the electric “burning” logs giving no heat, the paper streamers made from painted grocery sacks, and the popcorn and cranberry chains we spent hours stringing and placed delicately around the real tree. We always had a real tree and it would perfume the house with the scent of Christmas. It was still a lavish affair in my child eyes. Later down the road of life our houses grew as did the Christmas open houses.
My mother spent days on food preparation. We four kids helped decorate cookies, of course, but we had little to do with the actual food that made the banquet such an affair to remember. I’m thinking of the hot plum pudding, and the steaming wassail, the candies from around the world, the honeyed ham, or the finger sandwiches. I will try to recreate for you each of these things as time goes by.
Each of my endeavors to cook these recipes will come with step by step photos to give you an idea about what it looks like.
The first recipe I will do is one I have made for years with my mother’s blessing. Mine never reached the level of deliciousness that my mother’s would though. You’ll have to try this and make your own adjustments to fit your tastes.
This is my Christmas gift to you, my dear readers: Mary’s Shrimp Dip
1- 8oz Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1 cup Hellman’s Mayonaise
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 lemon (the juice and lemon jest)
1 cup diced shrimp (my mother would say make large enough pieces to look like there’s shrimp in that dip!)
Cook the shrimp. I use the frozen E-Z Peel large shrimp. You can find them in a lot of stores. Bring the water to a roiling boil. Add 3 tablespoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of liquid Cajun Shrimp boil. Add the raw shrimp to the water all at once. (You don’t have to thaw first). Bring to another boil – about a minute or two, let boil for a minute. Turn off and let soak for five minutes. Drain, cool, peel and chop.
Mix it altogether.
It’s always better the next day so make it ahead of the party.
Even if the party is just you, this is so delicious it’s like a party in a bowl.
Remember, don’t increase the lemon if you increase the amount of the dip. (learned that the hard way! Plus, I didn’t read the little side note my mother made. “when doubling only use 1/2 lemon.)
I haven’t been keeping this diary up as I have not had time.
Events have moved very rapidly the last month. Peace is more practically assured. The Germans signed an armistice last Monday, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It meant almost unconditional surrender. Praise God.
First, Bulgaria gave up, then Austria, then Hungary collapsed. Then, Turkey caved in and finally November 11, the Germans signed the armistice.
Mary quit her job at Melanes and we moved to a room at 720 N. 13th, but did not like it. We found another nicer room now. I pay only $2.50 a week. We were paying $4.00 a week at the last place.
The papers this A.M. stated that the army would be demobilized rapidly & also the order of the demobilization. I rather think I will come under the second division, that of C.O’s.
The weather was fair and cloudy this evening. I worked in corrals this A.M., in the train cars this P.M., and fed the horses their oats tonight. I had to fee oats yesterday, too. So did not go to town till later. I went to the Methodist church last evening. It was a kind of new experience for us & yet I don’t think it hurt us any.
Sometimes I think we are too exclusive and don’t let our light shine in places where we could. Paul used to go to the synagogues. If the opportunity came he “preached Christ unto them.” If I could just preach Christ unto them. I am not earnest enough nor steady enough. I am too much of a vacillating Christian, one time hot & another time cold. It is a terrible thing to be that way.
It’s been a warm day. I worked in the corrals this A.M. This P.M. I helped to make gravel walks around the barracks. Went downtown this evening. Mary is still at Milanes. I don’t know how much longer she will stay there.
This is a memorable day for us as it is the anniversary of our betrothal. I would like to be with her tonight, but could not as she was busy all evening. Little Girl, I wish there was some work you could get where you were free in the evening.
With this job, she is so tied up with the children there. The evenings are the busy time of the day. I can’t see her except for about four evenings a week. Of course this is better than if she were up in Waterloo & I were way down here in camp.
We have been talking over going up to Ft. Worth for Bible conference the eighteenth through the twentieth of this month, but there is so much of this Spanish influenza around that we don’t know whether to go or not. We have a few cases here in camp. There is a great deal scattered over the country in the various camps. Continue reading My Grandfather’s Words: Friday October 4, 1918→
Weather has been cool at night and warm in the day time lately. The routine work here goes on about the same. They have thousands of tons of hay stored here now. The great sheds are full and they are stacking outside now.
The people of the Methodist church gave a kind of social for the Remount men on Friday evening last. Mary and I went. It was rather nice. They had some recitations and a few songs. Then they had sandwiches & coffee. It was so very nice of the church to entertain us that way.
Last evening, the church people were out here again. They gave us some entertainment, then we were all invited out to the church again next Friday evening. I don’t know whether I will go to the next event or not. Mary is not so well and my back is troubling me again.
They are going to start a G.M. School here & I have enrolled for it. I wish they would start soon. It seems that I am getting stagnant. My brain is dull & slow & I must do or have something to get it working again. This school will help me to get polished up again.