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Growing up cooking

By Staff | Aug 30, 2013

CORY PETERSON chops parsley in her Spencer kitchen. Peterson said that her aunt, Myrna Johnston, who was an editor for the “New Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook,” thought dishes looked nicer with parsley.

SPENCER – Cory Peterson said she was going to grow up cooking – that’s all there was to it.

Peterson’s mother was a home economics major, and she also had an aunt, Myrna Johnston, who was on the team of editors and directors who revised the original “Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook” into the “New Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.”

Peterson, who has a 1953 copy of the original title, has one of the books dated 1976, which she received when she was in college. A couple of the opening pages in the 1976 edition were autographed by Johnston and read, “To Cory, the next home economist, with lots of parsley!”

“She always thought parsley made everything look pretty, so that’s why she wrote that,” Peterson said as she displayed the pages that are special to her.

The forward in Petersons’ 1976 version is one that was removed and replaced by Johnston.

PIE DESIGNS was a skill Peterson said she learned from her mother, Doris Gillette, of Spencer.

Peterson said that during Johnston’s time on the editing team, her signature was at the bottom of that page in every cookbook, and in later years it was changed to, “The Editors.”

Because of that exchange of pages, Peterson’s copy now reads, “Myrna Johnston” at the bottom of the forward, as it appeared in earlier editions.

The books are two of Peterson’s most treasured possessions.

“Aunt Myrna designed the cover all those years ago,” Peterson said. “She said she chose the red and white checkered pattern because she was in a retail chain store and saw a tablecloth like that, and she really liked it.

“She said it was going to be the next cover of the new cookbook.”

Peterson, who originally started college as a med student, switched her major to home economics and went on to work in college residence halls in Iowa and Illinois after graduation.

She met her husband, Steve Peterson, on a blind date in Des Moines, and six months later they were married. That was 31 years ago.

Peterson’s mother, Doris Gillette, of Spencer, graduated from Iowa State University in 1954 with a degree in home economics. Peterson said she herself was in the kitchen “helping” her mother by the age of 4 or 5.

Peterson said her mother often worked outside on the farm, as did Peterson when she was growing up. But often times Peterson found herself in the kitchen making the noon meal for the family, who were getting the farming done.

“I remember the surprised face my mother had the first time she came into the house and I had dinner ready,” she said. “I was junior-high-aged or so then. She couldn’t believe it.

“I had made roast, potatoes and pie.”

One of the many cooking lessons Peterson carries with her is the designs her mother taught her on pies.

She likes to create a wheat design and said she thinks of her mother every time she does it.

Also, when making pie crust, Peterson said she uses lard to make sure it will come out light and flaky.

Writers and photographers from Successful Farming magazine visited the Gillette home in Spencer in 1960 and did a story with photos on the family’s kitchen.

Peterson said it must have been very modern at the time, and that the photographer took a picture of the kitchen with she and her mother in it.

“I must have been 4 years old at the time,” she said, holding an enlargement of that picture and pointing out the place near the kitchen counter where she always stood to help.

Along with learning the basics of cooking, she said the most important thing she learned from her mother is that she could do anything she wanted.

It was her mother who encouraged her to take a mechanical drawing class in high school.

“I was the only girl, and the pressure was on,” she said with a laugh. “I did well, though. I really enjoyed the class and I got an A-plus in it.”

She said her family likes a lot of basic food – roast and potatoes, creamed potatoes and ham, her mother’s meatballs, homemade macaroni and cheese, and cornbread.

It’s what Peterson grew up cooking.

“The goulash I make is my own creation, though,” she said, “and I tend not to follow a recipe exactly.”

Their Christmas tradition is making cream of potato soup, she said. It began on a Christmas Eve when their children were small.

In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, she had forgotten to get groceries to make something special for supper. There wasn’t much around, so she gathered potatoes and made soup. They loved it so much that they do it every Christmas now.

Peterson said her mother-in-law was also a good cook with Swedish background. She said she never got the hang of Swedish baking.

But she said her mother-in-law’s beef burgers, freezer corn and ham balls still show up on her family’a table.

Her favorite recipe from her mother is rhubarb custard pie.

Peterson grows her own herbs in a pot on the deck outside her kitchen door. It reminds her of her aunt Johnston, whom she said would be proud as she chops fresh parsley to make her dinners “look pretty.”

Cream of potato soup

(Peterson said this recipe is fast, easy and delicious. Adapted from “Better Homes and Gardens Soups & Stews” cookbook, 1978 edition.)

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons dry onion flakes

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Few dashes of pepper

1 cup warm milk

1 cup diced potatoes

1/2 teaspoons dried dill weed

Place chicken broth, onion flakes and potatoes in sauce pan. Simmer until potatoes are tender.

In separate sauce pan, melt butter and remove from heat. Add flour, salt and pepper. Add milk and stir, making sure there are no lumps.

Place back on medium heat and stir until mixture is thick and bubbly. Let bubble for a couple of minutes.

Remove from heat and pour into the pot of potatoes and broth.

Add dill weed, stir and serve with croutons for garnish if desired.

Peterson likes to serve this with toasted Italian herb bread.

Peach pie

(Adapted from the “Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 1976 edition)


3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

5 cups sliced fresh peaches

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Mix dry ingredients. Fill 9-inch pastry shell with sliced fruit, then sprinkle mixed dry ingredients evenly over the top, dot with butter.

Use water to moisten edges of bottom crust. Top with vented crust, press to bottom crust along edge of pie plate and crimp to seal. Bake on middle oven rack at 400 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until done.

Lard crust for 9-inch, two-crust pie

(Adapted from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, 1977 edition)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup lard

4 to 5 tablespoons cold water

Cut lard into dry ingredients until lard pieces are pea-sized.

Sprinkle in water (1 tablespoon at a time) and mix until flour is moistened and dough can be formed into a ball.

Divide dough in half. Form into balls and pat to form round discs.

On generously floured surface, roll dough out in circular shape 2 inches larger than inverted pie pan. Place first half in pie pan, add filling, place second half on top of filling.

Press edges to seal crusts and flute to finish. Sprinkle top with sugar to add extra flavor and color.

Cory’s quick goulash

1 pound ground beef

1 46-ounce can tomato juice

1 cup dry elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons dried onion flakes

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon oregano powder

Brown ground beef in soup pot, drain and return to pot. Add tomato juice, dry macaroni, onion flakes, sugar and oregano.

Cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until macaroni is tender.

Salt and pepper to taste. Place on serving dish and garnish with chopped parsley if desired.

Note: Peterson said she likes to serve this recipe with boiled potatoes and cheesy green beans for a quick and satisfying meal for hungry farmers.

Easy cheesy green beans

1 can green beans

2 teaspoons butter or margarine

1 slice American cheese

Heat green beans in sauce pan. Remove from heat, drain liquid.

Add butter and cheese. Stir until cheese is melted, and serve.

Ham balls

2 1/2 pounds ground ham

1 1/2 poundd ground lean pork

2 pounds ground lean beef

3 cups crushed graham crackers

3 eggs

2 cups milk

Mix all ingredients and form into balls. (Usually makes 25 to 27 meatballs.)

Baste with sauce and bake uncovered in 350 degree oven from 60 to 75 minutes.


2 cans undiluted tomato soup

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

3/4 cup vinegar or pineapple juice

2 teaspoons dry mustard

Mix and pour over ham balls before baking.

Loose meat beef burgers

1 1/2 to 2 pounds hamburger

3/4 teaspoon chili powder

2 tablespoon onion flakes

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup catsup (Peterson adds more to taste)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoon quick cooking oatmeal

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Brown ground beef and drain. Return to pan and add other ingredients.

Simmer until oatmeal is soft and desired consistency is reached.

Additional water may need to be added as it simmers.

Serve on hamburger buns.

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