Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #12

The Christmas Plum Pudding!

My childhood Christmas meant many things we called traditions after the fact. We would make our own decorations. Once, my mother made us string popcorn and cranberries because that’s what she did when she was young. Have you tried that? It’s torture. She told us when she was young her father would search high and low to bring each of the four children an orange. This was, in those times, quite exotic and a big expense. The orange would go in their stocking along with a couple of pennies. Here’s me thinking those stockings were lethal weapons between siblings. The lesson was we were to be happy with what we got and we were! Our parents tended to indulge us at Christmas.

Each year until 1968, we went to the Christmas tree lot and picked a tree. In 1968, the tree dried out so fast we couldn’t turn the lights on for fear of fire. From that time onward, we had a fake tree, a scotch pine, the long-needle variety, so tall we had to use a ladder to put the star on top. This was before they came prelit, too. Once the new tree came out of its box, it would never fit in again. Taking it from the attic would put my dad in his recliner the rest of the day. My mother would spray fake snow on the windows and make us clean it off in January. Fun times. In 1974, it was over eighty degrees outside, but hey – tradition – the fire was lit in the fireplace.

I think we must be looking forward to Christmas in this photo.

We listened to holiday music all day from my father’s vinyl collection. A small sampling included Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Tennessee Earnie Ford, and even The Chipmunks Sing Christmas songs. Each year, we had a Christmas open house for all the neighbors, the people from church and my father’s office staff. All of the things we did and looked forward to led up to the biggest tradition of all…my mother’s Christmas plum pudding, which was not a pudding and there were no plums. She always reminded us how it came from her mother’s old recipe from Scotland.

Every year, she would tweek it and declare it better than the one the year before. To be honest, I never cared for it and every year, I couldn’t tell you any different. It didn’t have a lot of flavor except for being sugary sweet with a hint of fruit cake. I have no idea if back then she got the suet at the store. It’s hard to find gradeA suet not full of birdseed, so I made my own.

At the grocery store, the butcher looked at me askance. Apparently, he isn’t asked for suet very often. He gave me a pound of fresh beef fat for free. I put it through the meat grinder at home and then boiled it in water for thirty minutes. After a night in the refrigerator, a pure, white layer of fat rose to the top. I seperated it from the rest and I had about a cup of suet.

In years previous to 2022 I might have attempted to create my mother’s recipe as it’s written despite that no one ever liked it. This year there has been a seismic shift in the price of everything. The candied fruit has always been what I would consider expensive, but this year it was catastrophically expensive. What had been two dollars for a small plastic container of candied cherries was now seven dollars or more. I get that in previous centuries this may have been the special Christmas pudding because of the trouble and expense of the candied fruits (in all likelihood, handmade ahead of time) and the mincemeat. My mother loved mincemeat, I could never stomach it. When I was young and couldn’t read, I always assumed mincemeat was made with meat. I was wrong. It’s some sort of combination of raisins, currants, and possibly dates (which remind me of giant cockroaches). It’s still a ‘no’ from me.

I’ve threatened to make my mother’s Christmas special many times and this year has been no exception. However, instead of my mother’s recipe, I broke with tradition and went with a recipe out of the Joy of Cooking cookbook, even eliminating some of the fruit from it because I only had a small pot to steam it in.

I also determined to use my instapot to steam it in. I had never done that before. My mother would steam hers in a small tin, wrapped in foil and inserted into a huge pot with water at the bottom, and set on low for three hours or all day or all night depending on what tweek she was using that year.

My recipe, with changes:

Bring to boil in a large saucepan: 2 cups of currants (I used Zante currants, which you can find in the dried fruit section of the store) with 2 cups of water. Cover tightly and simmer gently for 20 minutes, then uncover and stir, cooking until nearly all the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.

Combine in a large bowl: One and a half cups all-purpose flour, and 8 ounces finely chopped beef suet. Rub these two ingredients together lightly with your hands until the suet particles are seperated. (This is important.)

Add to the above flour mixture: 1 cup dark brown sugar, one and a half teaspoons ground cinnamon, one and a half teaspoons ground ginger, one half teaspoon ground cloves, one half teaspoon salt. Mix lightly until just blended. Use a light hand and your cake with be more of a cake and less of a brick. I will not admit to speaking from experience.

In another bowl, whisk together: Four large eggs, one third cup brandy or Cognac, and one third cup cream sherry. (Yum)

Combine the dry mixture with the wet mixture and add: one half cup of citron or a candied fruit of your choice. I love citron, so I dumped the entire carton in, which wasn’t much more than a half cup ($6.99 at Albertson’s on sale! Crazy.)

Pour into your prepared cake tin. I lined my pan with greased tin foil so it would be easy to release from the pan. You could use a cheesecake pan with a release instead. I steamed mine in the instapot with two cups of water at the bottom and my small cake pan sitting on a tall silicone trivet with lifting handles, see photo above. I pressed steam, high pressure, and set it for two hours with natural release.

You can see the result in the top photo, the blue around it is fire because yes, I set it on fire with cognac. I also made a whiskey hard sauce to pour on top. See below.

Whiskey Hard Sauce

Melt in an heavy saucepan over low heat: one stick of unsalted butter

Stir in: one cup of sugar, one fourth cup bourbon or some other whiskey, one eighth teaspoon salt.

Cook, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and remove from the heat.

In a seperate bowl whisk: one large egg until frothy and slowly whisk the egg into the hot butter sauce and return to stove and bring to a simmer. Stir until the mixture is thickened.


We had the neighbors over to taste the Christmas Plum pudding – explaining that it was not a pudding and no plums were harmed in the making of it. They were very impressed with the fire, not so impressed with the taste. The consensus was that it tasted like a raison cake-slash-fruit cake with the consistency of a bread pudding. It wasn’t horrible.

Unlike my mother, I won’t be making it again. God rest ye Merry gentlemen. Please enjoy your own figgy pudding and have the merriest of Christmases.

Latest News for June 2022

The photo was taken in Natchitoches, Louisiana. It’s pronounced Nac.a.desh. The old legend is that there were twin boys born to a native American chief. He wanted to grant each child land. So, Natchitoches was granted land on the east side of the red river and Nacogdoches was granted the land on the west side of the river. Nacogdoches is a town in Texas. Might be more legend than true, but it’s what we were always told, and two weeks ago, my husband and I visited Natchitoches for the first time. The two towns are really quaint and both use the same color brick for the cobbled streets.

I have a new grand boy, and now have three grand boys and two grand girls. They are all so sweet and fun to be around. Their ages start at ten, then six, five, almost two, and almost one. What a sweet pack of good kids. I do not post their names or their pictures on the internet, not on Twitter, Insta-gram, or FB. I know all my friends would rave over them, but I don’t want them to ever end up on inter-webs of any kind. It’s called protection.

I haven’t quit reading. I read between one and two books a week. There has only been one book I quit reading because the violence in the book was directed towards women and their little ones. Not something I want to read about – it’s too much like non-fiction. My tastes are still all about the mystery. If you want to see my book reviews, please become a “friend” on Goodreads. Here is a link to copy and paste:

I am still cooking my mother’s recipes. My next installment from my mother’s cookbook will be her recipe for dinner rolls. I’ve already made them, took the photos then had to get a new computer. Sometimes everything will not transfer over to a new computer. I believe the photos did transfer and were put somewhere I can’t seem to locate. So my plan is just to start over and redo the photos. Of course this will never be what you would call a hardship. The dinner rolls are good, too, so not a problem to re-create.

Instead, I’m going to make my mother’s favorite holiday delight, a Christmas Plum pudding. And I’ve finally figured out how to transfer photos to my desktop.

The above photo is me and my older brother Bobby. He passed away unexpectedly September 2021.

Since we spoke last, I’ve had some health issues, not Covid. I did get the jab and a year later, my arm still hurts. Weird, but true. I’ll be honest the thing that happened is a congenital knee problem. I called it my Knee-monia. At the end, my knees were bone on bone, but my right one developed bone spurs and yowzers, I could barely walk. Knee replacement time last November. They don’t ever tell you how very painful bone surgery of any kind is. I hope I never develop bone spurs on the left side because I’d rather not ever go through that again. Alls well now.

I’m in the process of copying all my old transcripts to my computer to get rid of paper files. Much of it is painful prose, but I’m working to make it better. Perhaps my next project will be to put some of it here, after it’s cleaned up. Not all of it. Sometimes there’s only so much that can be done! Stay tuned, beautiful reader.

Here’s a new website that features my book, and a few books I recommend – SHEPHERD.COM

Do visit the website for more lists of great books! This is a great website to follow to find exact books you’re looking for. Here’s my list below.

The best British books of suspense that will keep you up reading all night

Rebecca Nolen Author Of Deadly ThymeBy Rebecca Nolen

Deadly Thyme

By R.L. Nolen

Deadly Thyme

Buy this book at:


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Books I Recommend

The Chestnut Man

By Soren Sveistrup

The Chestnut Man

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Left You Dead, (DI Roy Grace #17)

By Peter James

Left You Dead, 17

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A Litter of Bones

By JD Kirk

A Litter of Bones

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The Night Hunter

By Caro Ramsay

The Night Hunter

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The Blackhouse: The Lewis Trilogy

By Peter May

The Blackhouse: The Lewis Trilogy

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Random Book Lists

The best books about the Vikings

Dawn M. Hadley and Julian D. Richards Author Of The Viking Great Army and the Making of EnglandDawn M. Hadley and Julian D. Richards

The best books on Stalin and the Second World War

Sean McMeekin Author Of Stalin's War: A New History of World War IISean McMeekin

The best books on the background of the Pilgrim fathers

Derek Wilson Author Of The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from FableDerek Wilson

The best books on real conspiracies

Jan Stocklassa Author Of The Man Who Played with Fire: Stieg Larsson's Lost Files and the Hunt for an AssassinJan Stocklassa

Cooking My Mother’s recipes #11

Dip Ole – add a fiesta to your next meal!

This recipe is from the 1970s

To be honest, I have no idea what ‘enchilada dip’ is. I searched the store for enchilada dip, enchilada sauce, a dry packet of seasoning, anything, and came up with cans of enchilada sauce. I can’t imagine adding an entire 12 oz. can of sauce to the other ingredients. You would have soup.

So I settled on a pouch of guacamole sauce, which had the same ingredients, but less of it. I can hear you say “Guacamole is not enchiladas.” Yes, I know. I’m tweeking it, though not in an R-rated way. I only added three tablespoons of it to the other ingredients.

This recipe makes enough for a party, a large party. So mix all this together and invite some friends over.

It’s time to invite friends over.

My mother and father would invite people over almost weekly. I never appreciated their hospitality for what it was in those days. I was always somewhat introverted. Perhaps the carnival of friends, neighbors, and siblings made me a friendlier person. We lived off the beaten path, you might say. To my friends at church, I lived in “the sticks” and it was too far to drive without making it a ‘plan’. So you see, I could have been a serious introvert and grown into a shy, reclusive adult if my parents had not been so generous with their time and home.

My older brother is not in the photo

My older brother, Bobby and me.

Cousins. This was taken in 1976 at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary in South Houston. I was in Chicago at the time.
I love this photo of my mother and I. I don’t remember when this was taken, but I assume 1970s. Must be a national park.
Walking on Galveston beach with brothers Jeff and Jon 1970s
Very 1970s
My mom at a costume party

My mom could be fun. I miss how she could laugh at just about anything.

So, enjoy the generous amount of dip this recipe makes.

Add some chips. Make some tacos to go with it. Make it a party!

It was good!!!

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #10

It’s been a while.

During the summer of 2018, I went with my friends Denise Ditto Satterfield and her kind husband, Frank, to London, England. It was a research trip for me for my working manuscript, a prequel to Deadly Thyme. The novel is set in 2007 Harrow and there is a parallel story set in 1940. Of course a couple of murders have DS Jon Graham confused and angry.

This photo is from a tourist station in the heart of London. My Scottish cousins (my mother’s side) as we wait to board the red double-decker you can’t see. Fiona is my third cousin. I’m wearing the hat. Seriously, we look like we’re related.

Fiona, Cathy, and me.
York, England – Matt Sheperd

Here is a photo of my distant cousin in York. He is from my father’s side. If you knew my grandfather Robert Thompson Sr. You would say they look alike. Matt is (I’m pretty sure) my grandfather’s great-grand nephew.

Now, here’s where things get really interesting. I thought part of my book would be set in York. Turns out that (very interesting) storyline detracted from the general forward pace of the story. So, the York storyline is going to be it’s own book in the series. WhooHoo! Here’s a picture of the cathedral. We didn’t go in, but standing outside trying to imagine how the workers put it together centuries ago.

Just after our train trip from London to York, I got news that my big dog, my best bud, the sweet Big Boy had died at home. Devastated does not describe how I felt. I lost my stuffing for a while.

Slipping in a good photo of my daughter and the big guy.

But not to be left out is the picture of Harrow school because most of Deadly Haste takes place around and near it. Remember that, I have no idea when the final draft will be ready to publish, but I’m working on it.

So, after returning to Houston and the empty house, I don’t know how I moved past that. The house was a grief echo chamber. My husband, who stayed home to care for the animals, was as bad off as I was. (Thank you, Frank and Denise for putting up with my sad self in England. The bike tour was fantastic, really!)

The decision to move elsewhere wasn’t a hard one. So we began renovating our 1910 house to sell. Yes, they are using the neighbor’s yard to take and replace siding and windows on that side.

It was a huge project. Huge. There has never been a bigger project in the history of anywhere! Trust me. Everything on the outside was made new, the kitchen made better, a new bathroom upstairs. Original flooring sanded and polished. It was so pretty inside and out. Goodbye old beautiful lady…

And this is an earlier (not long after we moved in in 2010) before picture. Do you see Big Boy?

Hello apartment living while my husband took care of his aging parents.

His mother passed away and his step-brother moved his step-father to Tyler, TX.

So things were really quiet for a while, but our apartment was nice and there were a ton of amenities to enjoy. Then came the monster from the East, Covid. No more amenities for you, my pretties! Apartment living turned a bit claustrophobic. I learned to do watercolors.

The smoky mountains

I finished a painting I’d been working on a while.

Our son got married. He and the wife live in Fort Worth. The daughter’s family (and four grandkids) live in Lafayette, LA. My husband’s brother moved away to Arkansas. So we decided with most of the family living away, let’s move to Louisiana to be near the grands. Goodness! The mean virus really helped a lot of people to realize we all need loved ones near. Perhaps my son and his wife will see the light and move over here, too. Ha! Ha! Doubt it.

I don’t know, I love nostalgia. I guess you knew that, what with all my blog posts, an all.

The top photo is our house now and the bottom photo is my grandparent’s Iowa house back in the 1940s. I remember the arched garden entrance on the right on my grandparents house. I don’t know why I was so enamored with that feature as a child, but I was. I don’t know if you can see it in the feature photo behind my mother.

Oh, but I forgot the OTHER highlight of moving to LA. (besides getting to play with my precious grands throughout the week.)

Meet George Bailey! Big Boy 2.0 He’s about to have a wonderful life!

All these photos are to answer, where have you been for over two years?

I know. I know. You didn’t sign on here to hear all about me. PishShaw! You want a recipe from my mother.

a photo of my parents Mary and Robbie probably in 1947

You tuned in for a vintage recipe and you will have the best, right here.

Prince of Wales cake (recipe from 1941)

I chose the Prince of Wales cake because I remember my mother making it often because it’s a good basic spice cake. Here is a picture of the recipe from her cookbook.

It’s not readable. Here is the recipe:

1 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup butter (full) – that might mean real as opposed to margarine, which was the popular choice in her day.

1 1/2 cup sour milk (surely that means sour cream). I used sour cream. Maybe that’s why both times the cake seemed dry. Perhaps I should have used buttermilk. What do you think?

1 full cup ground raisons

3 eggs

1/2 t. grnd nutmeg

1 1/2 t. baking soda

1/2 t. grnd cinnamon

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 t. grnd. cloves

1/2 t. allspice

Smear cake pan with crisco and then dust with flour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream the sugar and butter.

Beat the eggs and add the soda to the sour milk/cream. Mix all dry spices into the flour. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients and pour into prepared pan.

Bake for 30 minutes, depending on the pan. The Bundt pan I used extended that time to 45 minutes. Honestly, it’s anyone’s guess. I think my mother must have assumed anyone who attempted this cake would know how to bake one.

Me? I’ve never been exceptionally good at following directions. I tried this cake recipe two times and both times the cake was dry. But that isn’t how my mother’s cake was, so please try this and get back to me on how I can make it better. Here’s a picture of the finished product. It did TASTE good!

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #9

The above photo is of my youngest brother, Jeff, my mother, and my grandmother in our kitchen. My grandmother was actually the gumbo queen in our family. The photo below looks like it was taken at one of our Christmas open houses.Scan_20181105 (7)


One of the most iconic recipes in the South is gumbo. The dictionary’s definition of gumbo is “a soup or stew thickened with okra”. I take issue with this for two reasons. First, there are variations of gumbo by region in the south and some Louisiana gumbos do not have any okra at all. Second, the okra isn’t the only thing that can thicken the gumbo. Roux thickens gumbo, too. Or you can be like me and use both.

My mother had a gumbo recipe in her cookbook. You will find that all gumbo recipes are best if you make them using ingredients you love. For instance, I don’t use chicken or sausage in my gumbo, because I prefer only seafood. You may like chicken and sausage better. Either way, yours will be tasty. There’s a secret ingredient or two I’ll share at the end.


In case you can’t read this, the ingredients are as follows: One big ham bone, or chopped ham (2 cups). Simmer in water. (She says add the 2 cups crawfish tails and/or cleaned shrimp here. But experience tells me those little morsels will become rubber. Best wait until the end to add them.) 2 cans stewed tomatoes. (I use diced canned and fresh tomatoes.) 1 whole green pepper seeded and chopped. 6 garlic cloves, minced. 3 cups cooked, diced chicken. (I don’t use chicken or sausage in my gumbo, only seafood.) 2 Tablespoons Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning.  6 whole bay leaves (I take umbrage here. I can not stand bay leaves. Nope. This isn’t the proper gumbo flavor in my opinion, but you may love bay leaf, so I’ll be quiet.) Bring to a simmer and stir often and serve over rice. She forgot to put okra. She always used okra, so she forgot to write that in. We all love okra in our family. In southern families where there wasn’t a lot of money, okra was an easy, nutritious vegetable to grow.

My mother was from the Midwest, where every good soup or stew had a ham bone in it. But southern gumbo doesn’t always have a ham bone in its broth. I’m afraid I went a little “hog-wild” and excluded the ham bone, opting instead to add bacon grease to the roux, as I used two boxes of store-bought chicken broth.

And you need a good roux for your gumbo.

Here is how I make Roux: Peel the raw shrimp, saving the shells, and put the shrimp in the refrigerator to keep very fresh. (At this point I’m going to put my fresh fish fillets in milk in the fridge, this takes the “fishy” flavor out.)SAM_1948


Take the shrimp shells (we always call them peels) and put them in the fry pan and add about two cups of water. Boil until the shells are very soft. Strain through cheesecloth to make sure and get the little bits of shell out, discard the shells. Reserve the liquid.

Add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of bacon grease (light tasting olive oil if you’re afraid of bacon grease, or even butter if you love the flavor) in your pan and turn the heat to medium.



Stir and stir and add a little more bacon grease so the mixture doesn’t burn. Keep stirring . It will turn a pleasant brown or caramel color. This is roux. You add it to the boiling gumbo at the end.

Okay, so you’ve done the roux. Set it aside.

So now, for the gumbo:

You’ve got your seafood keeping cold in the refrigerator. Good. Shrimp, fish, crab, whatever is fresh. If using crab – boil them and clean them first. Then, add the crab still in the shell to the broth. It can cook along with all the veggies. The crab shell adds good flavor, and picking the crab meat out at the end is part of the experience.

Your broth is important. If you want to make your broth ahead of time that is fine, or use the boxed broths from the store. I never use anything stronger than chicken broth, in other words, don’t use beef broth. I want to add the shrimp water to the broth.

Honestly using a ham bone to make your broth is fine, it makes a good broth, but watch your salt content. You don’t want it overly salty.

Bring the broth to a nice simmer and add the pepper, the garlic, the tomatoes (note on tomatoes, adding these as a flavor is a creole gumbo, adding them as a vegetable is grandma’s gumbo) Okra. Use fresh okra. (Edited to add: frozen chopped okra is okay, but pick the okra ends out). Always make sure as you slice up your okra that you use okra that the knife slices right through. If the okra is too tough for your knife, it’s going to be too tough to eat.SAM_1952

Okra, to me, makes a gumbo a better gumbo, but I was raised in Texas eating my mother’s and my grandmother’s gumbo. (I have been working for years to make a gumbo similar to my grandmother’s.) She died with her recipe. I think the entire family has been working on this for all these years, too. It was THAT good!

SAM_1951Here is a picture of Tony’s Chachere’s Cajun seasoning. You can get it on Amazon if you can’t find it in the store.

But the real secret ingredient and the other thing my mother forgot to mention in her recipe is the gumbo file. That’s pronounced ‘fee’ lay’. File is made from ground sassafras leaves. It is also a flavoring in the old-fashioned fizzy drink sarsaparilla. Without file you will have a nice seafood bouillabaisse. I’m sure you can find gumbo file online, too. You just have to look for it.

So now you’re going to bring all your veggies to a nice boil for about thirty-five minutes. You want the okra and pepper to be very tender. If you love spice, add a tiny bit of Tabasco to your gumbo. A tiny bit, I say, because one extra drop and whooo-eee, call the fire department! SAM_1963

Now, you can add your fish fillets, they will break in pieces as they cook, and always add your shrimp last. When you see the fish is flaking, and the shrimp are a nice pink, add your roux and stir.

The gumbo is done and you’re now in for a real treat. Serve it up with a bowl of hot rice. Be sure to let me know how your gumbo experience turns out.Scan_20181105 (4)

Here’s a photo of my beloved grandmother with fish that my brother Jon, in the photo, and my grandfather caught. Looks like catfish and some flounder. The photo looks to be about from 1967. You can bet there was a big fish fry, and likely some gumbo for the entire extended family.

I hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful this year. Have a happy one.

Here are my grandparents at Thanksgiving.Scan_20181105 (6)

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes ~ Photos

I haven’t been able to sit and share with you all summer although I have been cooking my mother’s recipes. I will be adding more recipes. I thought for today, Labor Day 2018, I would share old photos of my mother and father. The feature photo was taken at their 50th wedding anniversary party.

I’ll start with Grandpa Leask and my Uncle Glenn.Scan_20180902 (26)

Here’s a photo of my mother chasing geese with her older sister Kay.Scan_20180902 (19)

Here’s a photo of my mother with her little brother, and a white dog.Scan_20180902 (20)

They are in the front yard of this house.Scan_20180902 (13)

Scan_20180902 (11)Skip ahead a few years and my mother is standing in almost the exact spot.

This coat my mother is wearing is a muskrat coat she purchased after saving up a long time at her first job. She gave it to me when I went to school in Chicago.Scan_20180902 (10)

Scan_20180902 (7)

I love my mother’s plaid dress.

Here’s my dad in plaid around the same year.Scan_20180902 (17)

These photos were taken the same year 1943. My Dad in Houston, TX and my mother in Waterloo, Iowa.Scan_20180902 (15)Scan_20180902 (18)

Scan_20180902 (14)

Here’s one of my favorites of my mother.

My mother and father are standing on the street in front of Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Waterloo, with my brother Bobby.Scan_20180902 (28)

This photo was taken in 2004.Scan_20180902 (2)

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #8

Ginger Snaps

I wanted to post some photos of my father on this Father’s Day. My mother wouldn’t have been the great cook she was without him. Even when, at the end of his life he couldn’t eat, he looked out at the spread that Thanksgiving day and proclaimed to all the family present, “Your mother is such a wonderful cook!” We had no idea he was so sick. He died two months later.

Scan_20180617 (5)He was born in South Africa, but grew up in San Antonio and South Houston. He shared a passion for mechanics with his father. He didn’t do so well academically. His worst subject was English. I believe he could hardly read his entire life. His dyslexia must have been off the scale.

He was brilliant. He could put anything together by looking at it. He had no patience until he was an old man. He loved a good practical joke. When he was young, he and some friends took a preacher’s car and pushed it off a cliff. It took a long time for the preacher to find his car. My father and his friends winched it out of the gully and fixed it up good as new.  My father was in the Navy during WWII, but saw no action. He helped repair and build ships in Chicago and San Diego. He didn’t like to talk about his service. My mother said it was because he felt ashamed that he didn’t get shipped to the front lines, though the war was mostly at an end by the time he was in.

Scan_20180617 (3)He loved my mother most dearly for all of their sixty years together. She loved to cook for him.This ginger snap recipe is one my mother made often. They are easy to whip together. Mind you, the recipe is down to the bare bones, so I will explain some things I learned, because I made them several times to get them just right.

The ingredients are easy:

SAM_1936When my mother says shortening she means “Crisco”. Do not substitute. This is a cardinal rule with Crisco. That’s always the case, but in this instance, here’s what happened to me.

I first made the recipe with coconut oil because I had no Crisco. The cookies tasted fine but had a strange consistency – like powder when you bit into them. I guess that means, they weren’t that good. I took them to school with me though, and someone ate them. Bless them.

SAM_1937The next effort to making them, I used butter, because I still had no Crisco. They were delicious, but a bit like hard-tack to bite into. So again, for this recipe…use Crisco.

Finally, I used Crisco. Perfect consistency. A bit chewy on the inside, and crisp on the outside.

The ingredients are precise – don’t use two eggs, only one. When it says twelve minutes at 375 degrees F. it means just that.

Also, don’t leave the dough in the fridge overnight, and then think it will be easy to pull out of the bowl. No. The dough when chilled is hard and non pliable, like dried paste. Leave in the fridge only 15 minutes. I don’t have to tell you the lengths I went to trying to get that first batch out of the bowl after leaving in the fridge overnight. I just had no time the evening before to bake them.

SAM_1939So the next time I rolled the dough into a long tube shape. Much easier to slice and lay out on the cooking sheet. If the dough is cool, it’s very thick. Trying to scoop and roll them into a ball with a spoon is a bit like trying to spoon out very frozen ice cream, needs to warm a bit first. Just roll into a roll and wrap in wax paper or a parchment sheet.  If you don’t cool in the fridge for fifteen minutes the dough is very sticky and uncooperative. Cooled, it is very easy to slice and lay out on the pan.

When I take cookies out of the oven, I always flip them over, because the heat from the pan continues to brown them on the bottom. This insures an even color all around.

The end result was really good. These are cookies that are guaranteed to bring back good memories for you. For me, the ginger and molasses in this recipe reminds me of so many great holidays with my parents. I think you can see some empty spots on the pan of cookies.SAM_1941

Note: Everything is so easy to buy at the grocery. Cooking from scratch is going to a lot of trouble, going an extra step or two. So many times we are busy and feel pressed for time. Indeed, time is a precious commodity. Even getting a decent home-cooked meal ready every evening can feel like a burden. Just keep in mind, the reason we would cook a cookie recipe is to share our good memories with our loved ones. I remember when my son was very small he asked me how I made whatever it was we were eating that evening and I told him that I had made the recipe from scratch. He looked at me with that adorable four year-old matter-of-fact way he had and said, “I don’t know where you get scratch, but I hope you can find it and make it again.”

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #7

The photo above is of my parents at the completion of their first home. My father built it with his GI low-rate loan. This photo is likely circa 1950.

Spaghetti sauce

I found this recipe dated 1990, but I remember my mother cooking spaghetti sauce long before this. I suppose she always went by “feel” with her ingredients, so must have decided to write it down later. This recipe makes a big pot, so have some freezer containers handy. .


There was a time back in the 60s when my mother used the Lawry’s Spaghetti sauce pack to make sauce. You know what I’m talking about – those little packets you can still find in the “packets” section of the store near the canned meats? It must have been a craze back then, all the little packets, and frozen TV dinners, and other “things” to make life easier, that didn’t work out that way. The Lawry’s spaghetti sauce was not bad, but this homemade recipe will knock your socks off.

From 1973 to 1975 I worked as a baker in the kitchen of the college I attended, Emmaus Bible College in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. I worked under an Italian head cook named Ruth Calgano (I may have that spelling wrong, sorry). She was a stickler about her red sauce. She taught me that a little sweetness in the sauce makes it better, so she always added honey. She called it her secret ingredient. She also said time and again, never cook the meat in the sauce, you add it after. I can picture her waving her hand at me as she said in heavily accented English, “Don’t cook the meat with the sauce!”

Okay. Okay.SAM_1923

I had never seen this recipe for red sauce until I was looking in the book for something I could cook that wasn’t sweet. So here goes the tomato sauce adventure!

I went to the grocery store to get all fresh herbs because I like to use them instead of the dried. Of all things, my grocery store had just closed due to a power failure. So here I am at home with a bunch of dried herbs, and no celery. However, I find I have dried celery leaves – yes, it’s a thing – and my dried herbs are not too over their use-by date.

10 cups is a whole lot of tomatoes, and I only have six of them. So I will have to use the cans of crushed and diced tomatoes in my pantry. I will cut the added salt by half because tomatoes in the can have added salt, and flavor.

Did you know they add the tomato flavor to the canned tomatoes? It’s true. Here’s a little side story: My political science teacher at the University of Houston told the class one day that because of the way the large tomato farms had developed automated machines to pick the tomatoes, the tomatoes would burst all over the place. So the tomato had to be genetically modified to have a tougher skin so the machines didn’t crush them. These little genetically modified tomato were more square, and had tougher skin to withstand the mass pickings. Unfortunately, they no longer tasted like tomatoes. To this day, even true “heirloom” varieties now have little flavor, though they are getting closer to having flavor again. Even with scientist presently trying to reverse the action of the sixties, tomatoes do not have the rich sweetness I remember the fruit having as I picked them from my grandmother’s garden – though those did tend to bust during the picking. That had nothing to do with the fact that little hands tend to grasp tightly.

Enough with the side story. Here’s a sweet photo of my mother with her grandfather Leask in front of his home in Mason City, Iowa.Scan_20180515 (2)

Back to the task at hand. I chopped 3 medium sized onions. They are especially pungent and I do cry. While these are sauteing in a tablespoon of good olive oil, I put my celery leaves in water, along with all my dried herbs and garlic. Somehow I think this might reconstitute them. I’m dreaming, but I do it anyway.SAM_1927

To peel the tomatoes I drop them in boiling water and watch carefully until the skin splits. I put them in ice water to stop them continuing to cook. I rub the peel off and chop them up and add them to my 20 oz. of crushed tomatoes in a bowl, which I set aside.SAM_1929

I am not going to use white sugar, sorry Momma. I don’t have any honey either, so I use molasses. Also, I don’t have any chili pepper (I don’t really know what that is.). I use cayenne instead, but only half a teaspoon of it because I want the sauce edible!! The onions are now a nice golden color, so I add my reconstituted mess of herbs. Now it looks like pesto. I add the tomatoes and the other ingredients together in a large pan. It has the consistency of marinara sauce. Very lumpy.SAM_1930

As soon as it is bubbly, I turn the fire to low and put a lid on it. I sit next to it and watch another episode of the Inspector Lynly series on Britbox from the laptop in the kitchen. We live in such an amazing era.

After an hour the liquid has been reduced somewhat. It smells delicious. In order to smooth the sauce out I use an immersion blender. I have found that the immersion blender is something I would rather not do without. That and the rice cooker seem extravagant until you have them and find yourself using them all the time. Besides if you put hot liquid in a blender it will explode. I won’t explain how I know this is true.SAM_1932

I wish you could taste it. This is awesome-sauce – despite all my dried ingredients, and despite no sugar or chili pepper. It made a large amount so I put two thirds of it in freezer containers and into the freezer.

I had some ground sirloin in the fridge – so I sauteed it (in a separate pan, NOT with the sauce!) I cooked some spaghetti and combined the meat with the cooked sauce and added it. Another good recipe from my mom. YUM!Scan_20180515 (4)

To the right is my mother at twelve. Her school picture.

Scan_20180515 (6)

In honor of mother’s day, the above photo is my mother’s mother. Grandma Hollopeter taken sometime in the 1940s. Perhaps out at the farm in Dunkerton, Iowa. There was no note on the back to tell me this is true or not.

BONUS RECIPE:  I also had a package of frozen brussel sprouts. They came in a “steam” bag so I microwaved them. Then I also microwaved some bacon until it was crisp, chopped it up, put it in with the cooked sprouts and added a tablespoon of unsweetened applesauce, and half a cup of heavy whipping cream. It went well with the spaghetti. Try it, you’ll like it.

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #2 (Redo)

The feature photo was taken by my mother. I believe it is Christmas of 1962 because my youngest brother is so small. He would have been about sixteen months here. We are sitting on the front porch of the Ave B. house in South Houston.

My mother would often work on recipes over and over again until they were great. The thing about the Rumtopf cake recipe I have in #2 is that this would likely be the original recipe. The last time she made this cake was when she would have been in her seventies and it was remarkable.

I wanted to redo the Rumtopf cake because the original cake recipe wasn’t very good. So I’m combining the dump cake recipe with the rumtopf fruit that marinated in an expensive (for me) bottle of Calvados.


I used crushed pineapple from a can and dried tart cherries from Trader Joe’s. Yummy all by itself. I added a cup of white sugar and the entire bottle, which at this point came to about two cups of the Calvados. You can substitute Triple Sec, but I wouldn’t. I stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved.

I stir the mixture once a week. Six weeks go by.

Check the recipe under My Mother’s Recipes #4. This is the dump cake recipe. I’m going to use it for the cake part.

With a few differences such as using a box of white cake this time and one and a half sticks of butter, and no nuts, the recipe is the same. I buttered a glass 9′ X 13′ casserole dish. I poured about two cups of the fermented fruit mixture into the dish. It smells divine. Okay, I tasted it. It’s delicious. It would also make a great ice cream topping.

I have a little left in the jar that I pour into a freezer container and freeze. I don’t want a bit of it go to waste. My mother would be proud.20180308_174036

Sprinkle dry box cake mixture over the top of the fruit evenly. Pour the one and a half sticks melted butter over the top of that. Yes, I know the recipe calls for two sticks of butter – or one cup – but the fruit had plenty of liquid in it to make up the difference, so I cut a quarter cup of butter and called it “diet”!

Bake for one hour at 350 degree F. Oh wow, it smells delightful! It’s obvious I couldn’t take the photo of a complete cake fast enough. Except for the six week wait for the fruit to ferment properly, this is a quick cake to make. Enjoy!20180308_174016

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