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Memories of mother’s cooking

By Staff | Jan 15, 2016

FRANCES STEVENS poses with the family’s Dalmatian at their farm home in Grundy County.



(Editor’s note: Farm News correspondent Jolene Stevens, of Sioux City, prepared a cookbook gathered from a myriad of recipes left behind after her mother’s death in 1990. She shares her memories of her mother in their farm home’s kitchen and some of the more unique recipes.)

SIOUX CITY – When snow and icy, wind-chilled temperatures visit human habitations, it sometimes sparks memories of good food and farm cooks who, no matter the weather, headed for their kitchens to keep their families fed.

So it was for my mother, Frances Stevens. I can still see her at the stove putting in the last batch of frosted creams (the recipe coming from a nearby neighbor) or heating up a soup or casserole in the kitchen of our 160-acre farm home near Morrison, in Grundy County.

THE COVER of the cookbook the author prepared after her mother’s death in 1990.

I can recall anxiously awaiting the frosted creams that remain even today one of my favorites, though infrequently baked, recipes Mother shared with me.

She accepted early on that despite her good and ongoing intentions for me to share her baking and cooking enjoyment, my tendency to be a tomboy and be outside helping Dad topped other interests.

Neither Mother, nor my dad, Bob Stevens, complained to their children about their farming days following their marriage in 1932. To the contrary in a way that I and my brother, Jim, felt ourselves very lucky to be farm kids, back then. The farm was passed down from my mother’s family and was where she was born.

After her death in 1990, I collected many of her recipes for a cookbook, “From My Kitchen, Love Mother.”

I can imagine her looking over my shoulder as I write. She’d no doubt be dismayed that I, a definitely non-culinary expert, would be finding her worthy of a page in Farm News.

Mother, as true of many longtime farm cooks, was not always one to write everything down. She was a “try it out” cook.

If she or the family liked what came from the stovetop or oven, the recipe was a keeper. Otherwise it was discarded.

In compiling her cookbook tribute, I discovered recipes all around the kitchen and in many forms.

Included were pages torn from newspapers, hastily written recipes copied down while visiting with friends on the old, wooden wall-type phone.

Others came from her favorite radio cooking broadcasts.

The assortment included index cards found stashed within pages of a vast array of shelved cookbooks from community organizations and local churches.

This process gave me a glimpse into Mother’s enjoyment in canning as well as preparing meals.

There were the old-fashioned basement shelves heavily stocked with the season’s latest efforts, such as pickles or canned meat and vegetables, long before the days of deep freezers.

Among these were her canned beets, promising that when the beets were eaten the remaining juice would find its way into preparation of still another of her tasty preparations, the bright pink, pickled eggs – an Easter-time favorite.

“Let’s see what we can find, and we can probably make it,” was a frequent phrase I’d hear from Mother when it came to consulting her cookbooks, accenting a rural family’s practicality.

Included amongst such recipes were stain removers, mixing white wash or homemade ant killers, and fish dough bait and catfish bait brought along on family fishing vacations in Minnesota.

Bertha’s chocolate mashed potato cake

1 cup shortening

1 teaspoons cloves

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups raisins

2 level teaspoon soda

1 cup nuts

3 tablespoons chocolate

2 cups mashed potatoes

2 cups flour

(Have potatoes warm)

1 3/4 cups sour milk

4 eggs

1 teaspoon nutmeg

salt (pinch)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream sugar and shortening. Add eggs and beat well.

Add remaining ingredients.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 50 minutes, testing occasionally for doneness.

Makes a large cake with 9- by 13-inch sheet pan suggested.

Cherry (or strawberry) squares

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup margarine

Stir up well with spoon or dough blender, leaving large lumps.

Spread half in a greased 6- by 9-inch Pyrex dish.

Spread 1 can of cherry or strawberry pie filling over dough, sprinkling 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar on top.

Sprinkle remaining mixture over filling.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes.

Frosted creams

1/2 cup shortening

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup molasses

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

2/3 cup sour milk or buttermilk

1 cup raisins

Cream shortening and sugar in large bowl until fluffy.

Beat in molasses and egg.

Combine dry ingredients and add gradually to creamed mixture alternately with milk mixing well after each addition.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, testing occasionally for doneness.

(I double this recipe using a cookie sheet for large batch.)

Potato chip cookies

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon soda

3 sticks margarine

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups potato chips

1 cup chopped nuts (broken, but not too fine)

Cream margarine and sugar well.

Add vanilla and eggs and mix well.

Add flour, soda and baking powder.

Add nuts and potato chips.

Make small rounds and flatten slightly using a large tablespoon.

Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

Ammonia cookies

2 cups sugar

4 cups flour

2 cups butter

2 teaspoons baking ammonia, also known as ammonium carbonate

1 egg

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch of salt

Mix and form in balls.

Bake on ungreased pan (with wax paper if desired) at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes on greased cookie sheet.

Fish dough bait

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons syrup

Mix above and add to two parts flour to one part cornmeal to make a stiff dough.

Catfish bait

2 eggs

2 tablespoons canned pumpkin

1 over-ripe banana

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 package wheat germ

Sometimes cotton can be added to above.

Mix, make balls and refrigerate.

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