Cooking for a crew
By KAREN SCHWALLER
SUTHERLAND – Vicki Witte likes to cook. And when she does, she feels the honor of preparing meals in her 97-year-old kitchen – the same kitchen in which her grandmother cooked for her family and groups of threshers so many years ago.
“This is it,” she said as she stepped into her small kitchen. “And she cooked breads and pies and fried chicken and all those kinds of things for all those men when they were threshing, out of this little kitchen.”
When she’s not cooking at home, Witte cooks for workers at a large heifer ranch near Sutherland called City View.
There she works in an on-site kitchen three days a week, preparing noon-time meals for 10 to 15 workers most of the year.
Another woman prepares their meals on the other two days of the week.
“I’ve waitressed in different restaurants and I worked for a caterer once,” Witte said, “and once you’ve fed 100 people at a time, what’s 15?”
When the City View operation changes from the year-around job of feeding and maintaining heifers, to adding the long and arduous task of chopping corn in the fall, it brings on more workers and longer hours for everyone. At that time of year, she feeds anywhere from 25 to 35 people, six days a week.
The meals at that time of year are sack lunches at noon and supper time, because, she said, the workers are busy and it’s difficult for them to stop the operation to eat.
She tries to put together lunches that are easy for workers to eat on the go.
“At that time of year,” she said, “bars can’t have frostings on. Things like that. It’s just too messy for them to eat on the go.”
But when workers not chopping corn, Witte makes plenty of hot meals for them.
“I make things like tater tot casserole, shepherd’s pie, chicken casseroles – I use a lot of hamburger,” she said. “I also make pork loin, roasts, soup, and grill hamburgers for them.”
One of the things she enjoys about cooking for the City View crew is that all seem to appreciate her efforts.
“They never complain about what I fix,” she said. “Some of them probably don’t like all the things I make, but nobody ever says a word. They’re very easy to cook for.”
Witte said her cooking skills came from her stepmother, since her own mother died when Witte was 9. She watched her German grandmother prepare heavier meals like chicken, potatoes and gravy, but it was her stepmother, Kathryn, who gave her the real scoop on the basics of cooking.
“The rest of it came from the people in the restaurants I worked for,” Witte said.
Interestingly, she said she hardly measures ingredients that go into the dishes she prepares.
“I always go by taste,” she said. “I make a coleslaw that people seem to like, and it’s all done by taste.
“I just dump things in. That’s what one of the cooks at a cafe in Peterson used to do, so that’s what I learned to do.”
Witte uses four main cookbooks to feed her crew at City View. These include a cookbook from the New Life Church in Sioux Center, a cookbook from the Royal Jaycee Women (dated 1979); the Sutherland Centennial Cookbook (dated 2008) and what she treasurers as an oldie, but a goodie that she keeps close by, the 1959 Maple Grove Ladies’ Aid Society Cookbook, also from Sutherland.
“A lot of the recipes in those books are what I’d consider good, useable recipes for a farming area,” Witte said. “The ones I like to use are not fancy, but are good, basic recipes.”
Her other ongoing project is a gift shop located on her farm northeast of Sutherland called Country Road Gifts. Now in it’s 11th year, the shop features gift items, plus clothing for women and men, accessories and jewelry, books, home decor, bedding and more.
She has a Christmas open house each December, and said she sees enough traffic through the shop during the year to make it a worthwhile endeavor. It’s something that helps keep her busy in the winter, which she appreciates.
When she’s not busy with those things, Witte enjoys creating hand-made greeting cards and note cards. She said she gives away about 150 of them each year.
Ham, turkey, roast beef
Cooked bacon slices
Spread hoagie buns with a mixture of butter and a little mustard (to taste). Layer meats onto sandwich, top with cheese and cooked bacon slices. Wrap in foil and bake in 325-degree oven until cheese is melted and sandwich is heated through, checking every 10 minutes (so the bun doesn’t get too hard).
1 head cauliflower
Florets from 2 bunches broccoli
Bacon bits to taste
One handful of shredded cheddar cheese
One bottle Ranch dressing
Cut up vegetables. Toss with bacon bits and cheese.
Pour dressing over them to taste.
Peach pie salad
1 can peach pie filling (cut up peaches)
1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
1 large can pineapple tidbits, drained
2 apples, cut up
Red grapes to taste
Combine and serve. (Witte said apricot pie filling also tastes great in this recipe.)
1 stick butter
1 box yellow cake mix
6 ounces chocolate chips
1/2 of large bag of mini marshmallows
4 cups Rice Krispies
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Melt butter in jelly roll pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix over butter and spread out.
Sprinkle the following ingredients over the crust, in order given – chocolate chips, marshmallows, Rice Krispies, sweetened condensed milk.
Bake at 350 degrees for 22 minutes.
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