Pies are her ‘thing’
By KAREN SCHWALLER
SWEA CITY – Jane Preston has a bit of cattle decor in her home, since raising cattle is part of what their family does in this rural northwestern Kossuth County community.
But the sign hanging in her kitchen is one of her favorites. It reads, “Pie Fixes Everything.” And for Preston, making pie is something she does often for her family and for some of their church’s events that call for it.
“My mom taught me how to make pie when I was very young,” said Preston, as she made her way around her own kitchen, measuring ingredients that would become a coconut cream pie. “I always make pies for my dad for his birthday.”
Preston, a stay-at-home farm wife and mother, cooks daily for her husband, Paul Preston, and their two grown sons who farm with them – Jared and Chad Preston.
She said they’re more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of crew to feed, so she seeks out recipes from many resources to get the job done.
She looks through newspaper and magazines, collects recipes from friends and colleagues and at their church, and tends to go back to the same couple of cookbooks when she wants to make something special.
“I love church cookbooks,” she said, getting out the two that make their way to her counter top most often. “You can’t beat them.”
Those cookbooks include two Swea City churches: a pair from Immanuel Lutheran Church’s 125th anniversary cookbook, printed in 2000, and the local Methodist Church cookbook, printed in 1999.
As she went about making her coconut cream pie, she said she simply could not be as useful in her kitchen without her stand mixer.
“I think there would be a lot of other things I would give up before I would have to do without that mixer,” she said, pointing out that it’s excellent for making meringue start out light and airy.
Preston said one of her family’s favorite dishes is a potato dish that calls for red potatoes (chunked) and Vidalia onions, covered with seasoned salt and topped with butter.
“The more (seasoned salt), the better,” she said. “It tastes best if you make it good and red.
“You can put it on the barbecue grill or in the oven.”
The Prestons grill often in the summer, cooking beef and pork, mostly.
“I always try to fix extra food so the guys have something they can come in and heat up if they’re in a hurry,” she said.
During the fall when meals are taken to the field, Preston said she does a lot of crockpot cooking, and goes the extra mile to make sure her guys can really take a break.
She puts the prepared food into a converted school bus and makes the trip to wherever they are working.
“It works good because if it’s really nasty outside they can have a place to sit down and eat,” Preston said. “It has a picnic table in it and a couple of couches and a counter for serving the food.
“The best part is that it has an automatic transmission.”
Something Preston has learned in her years of cooking lies in the basic necessities of cooking.
“Don’t skimp on your ingredients,” she said.
The secret for her coconut cream pie is to use whole milk because she said it makes the filling richer and to use a combination of granulated sugar and powdered sugar to make the meringue.
“It doesn’t weep as much that way,” she said, adding that before she had her stand mixer, her meringue height was only, “so-so.”
Their sons, who have a show cow/calf operation, also like her strawberry pie.
“Sometimes I use a graham cracker crust on my different pies just because it’s easy, quick and good,” she said. “I listen to other good pie bakers when I get the chance, like at church celebrations.
“A lot of good pies always come in for that. There are good mentors all over.”
Together with their sons, the Prestons raise corn, soybeans and some hay, along with their cattle operations. She said she enjoys having their family close.
“It’s a blessing having our children so close to us and having our boys farm with us,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to see the next generation continue the tradition.”
The Prestons’ daughter and son-in-law, Erin and Tony Brown, and their two sons, Jacob and Carter, live in nearby Armstrong.
Preston is active in a church, being president of the Ladies’ Aide and being the chairman of the church’s service group, along with other groups and clubs that keep her busy.
Philly cheesesteak loose meat sandwiches
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 medium onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoon steak sauce
Salt and pepper
Sliced Provolone cheese
Brown ground beef and drain. Add onion, pepper, broth, steak sauce, salt and pepper.
Simmer until onion and pepper are tender. Serve on buns and top with cheese.
Shrimp and vegetable medley
2 cups cauliflower
2 large carrots, sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
4 to 6 green onions, chopped
1/2 to 1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 pound salad shrimp
Ripe olives, optional
Dressing (for the medley)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Par boil the cauliflower and carrots in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain.
Combine rest of ingredients in a bowl.
Place dressing ingredients in a jar and shake well.
Pour over salad, toss and refrigerate.
1 cup margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon soda,
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups oatmeal.
Mix well. Pat in a lightly greased jelly roll pan. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Remove from oven. Spread 1/2 jar of butterscotch caramel sauce on hot crust . Sprinkle with 1 cup of mini M&Ms and 1 cup of mini chocolate chips.
Melt two squares of almond bark in the microwave and drizzle over the top of the bars.
Vanilla cream pie
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups whole milk
4 to 5 slightly beaten egg yolks
4 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In heavy sauce pan mix sugar, cornstarch and salt together. Add milk and cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.
Add small amount of hot mixture to egg yolks. Add egg yolks to rest of mixture. Cook until well combined and thick.
Remove from heat and add extracts and butter.
Pour into a baked 10 inch or two 8-inch pie shells. Top with meringue. Bake at 325 degrees until nicely browned.
Note: Coconut cream pie variation: Add 1 to 1 1/2 cups flake coconut to hot filling. Banana cream pie variation: Omit coconut extract. Slice 2 bananas into baked pie shell and top with filling. Best if eaten the same day so the bananas don’t get dark and mushy.
5 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Using a wire whip, whip egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Gradually add sugar until it is blended well and stiff peaks form. Add vanilla.
Spoon onto hot filling and bake at 325 degrees until nicely browned.
Preston said she turns the oven off and props the oven door open slightly with a wooden spoon and lets the pie cool slowly in the oven for an hour or two.
This assures the meringue stays nice and high and does not shrink or weep.
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