Kitchen epicenter of farm life
By KAREN SCHWALLER
LAKE PARK – Donna Elser has been married to a farmer for 49 years. In that time she has vacuumed untold volumes of corn from her carpet and helped worked cattle.
She looked after their children and was part of the team who gave them an understanding of the life that happens there.
“There’s nothing like living on a farm,” she said.
As a farm wife and mother, Elser has cooked many meals to keep everyone going. But as a newlywed, it was her sister, Maxine Elser, who taught her the art of making gravy without lumps.
“It’s a shock for a young bride’s system,” she said with a laugh, adding that there was a lot to do in those early farming days.
Those were the days of morning lunches, picking and snipping green beans before dinner, making the noon lunch, finishing the dishes around 2 p.m., then baking something for the afternoon.
Back then, she said, they used to make everything by hand, including big breakfasts, followed by farm dinners and supper.
Today, she said, they eat much smaller meals.
Even with all of that responsibility in the kitchen, Elser said it was baking for her family that she really enjoyed.
“Some of my best memories are when the kids would get off the bus and come in for something to eat,” she said. “I baked every day back then.
“The kids would love to play while all the guys had lunch.”
Elser said she enjoyed baking more than she did cooking, though there was plenty of both to be done.
One of her favorite kitchen appliances over the years became the microwave.
“It was wonderful because then you didn’t have to keep things warm in the oven until they came in late,” she said.
As a stay-home mother for many years, Elser said it was a privilege to get to know most of the ladies in the Lake Park community, as well as her neighbors.
“We would meet through Bible studies,” Elser said, “making crafts for hospital favors and similar activities.
“It was fun getting to know the neighbors. Now, people don’t do that as much.”
Elser went to work during the 1980s farm crisis as a nurse.
Doing so, she said, helped their oldest daughter learn more responsibility at home – both in the kitchen and in watching the younger children.
Elser said she cooks by taste most of the time and said cooking for volume was something she learned over time.
Today, she is one member of a team that cooks and contributes a roaster full of soup for one of her church’s weekly soup suppers during Lent.
“It took a lot of perfecting to make that much soup from scratch,” she said.
One of her favorite cooking methods is the slow-cooker, which she said she uses often during the fall.
Some of the Elser family’s favorite foods over the years have included pizza, chicken stir-fry and roast with potatoes and vegetables.
Elser and her husband, Bob Elser, are grain farmers today.
They have four children and eight grandchildren, whom she enjoys seeing as much as possible.
Though farm life has offered its challenges, Elser said, she enjoys the peace and quiet of the farm-now that the cows are gone and the children are grown-and looks back on those busy years with fond memories.
“Life is full of trials and adventures,” she said. “But they make you stronger.”
1 1/2 pounds hamburger
1 onion, chopped
1 14-ounce can pizza sauce
1 14-ounce jar spaghetti sauce
1 12-ounce package noodles
4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
Brown hamburger and onion. Drain and add pizza and spaghetti sauce.
Cook noodles in boiling water. Drain. Layer ingredients by placing noodles in slow-cooker first, then meat and sauce, followed by cheeses.
Can add green peppers and mushrooms if desired.
Repeat layers until everything is used. Heat on high for 30 minutes, followed by 60 minutes on low.
Quilter’s day stew
1 1/2 pounds of stew beef
9 carrots, sliced
6 celery stalks, cut small
1 package onion soup mix
1 small can tomato paste
5 potatoes, cut small
4 yellow onions, chopped
2 cups water
Mix all ingredients in slow-cooker and cook on medium for no less than six hours.
(Note: Elser said she often uses ranch steaks instead of stew meat, cutting them into small pieces. She said they are always tender and have wonderful flavor.)
Sour cream coffee cake
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
1 8-ounce carton sour cream
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon, mixed with 2 heaping teaspoons sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bundt pan well. Sprinkle half the cinnamon/sugar mixture over entire bundt pan until coated. Set aside.
In medium bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and sour cream. Mix well. Add flour one cup at a time. Stir in vanilla and baking soda until evenly mixed.
Pour half the batter into coated pan.
Sprinkle remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture over batter. Spoon remaining batter into pan.
Bake 45 minutes. Turn out onto plate immediately.
(Note: Elser said the cake is also good with 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans mixed with the cinnamon-sugar mixture in the first half of the batter. She said it’s also good with an icing glaze.)
Baked cinnamon bread custard
14 slices cinnamon bread, 1/2-inch thick
3 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
3 cups milk
2 cups half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla
Arrange bread in double layer in lightly greased 9-by13-inch pan. (Cut bread as needed to cover bottom of pan.)
Whisk together eggs, egg yolks and sugar. Gradually add milk, half and half, and vanilla.
Pour mixture over bread. Bake in 375-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.
Dust with powdered sugar while warm. Serve.
(Note: Elser said she tends to bake this closer to 40 to 50 minutes, and adds a little extra cinnamon.)
cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup half and half
2 tablespoon water
2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cook on low until smooth and creamy. Serve warm.
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4 cups oil
2 teaspoon vanilla
1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple
2 cups ripe bananas
Mix just until everything is blended. Bake one hour at 350 degrees.
Caramel, apple salad
6 small apples, cored and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 8-ounce can unsweetened crushed pineapple (do not drain)
1 1-ounce box sugar-free butterscotch instant pudding mix, unprepared
1 cup mini marshmallows
1/4 cup chopped peanuts (optional)
1 8-ounce container fat-free whipped topping
In large bowl, mix first five ingredients. Stir well.
Gently fold in whipped topping. Transfer to another bowl and chill.
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