(by Mary Jones)
Dowries are outdated, and hope chests are passé, something I wouldn’t have anyway since I’m never getting married. I’m not sure why I feel this way, but I’m adamant about it and have been for many years. The concept of marriage makes me feel claustrophobic. No one seems to mind that I am so opposed to the idea. They just smile. My mother's reaction was to laugh about my not wanting to get married. I think she knew it was an independent streak, something I might change my mind about, and not a rejection of her choice.
Nevertheless, I have an antique trunk that my parents gave me, which I’m filling with things: a recipe book of my own; a Good Housekeeping Junior Cook Book; the horrible, lopsided, demonic apron that I had to make in Home Ec class and brought me to tears (it may explain my collection of vintage aprons); books; horse statues; and miniature porcelain figurines. My mom is an excellent seamstress. I hate sewing. My mom is an excellent cook. I love cooking.
The kitchen was always a warm place for us, no arguments, no strife, just pure joy. The aroma of my mom’s cooking, a task that she loved and did almost every day, brought me out of my room and into a place where we connected with each other and the rest of the family. There’s nothing like a kitchen with cooks to bring everyone together, to bring happiness to a home. Cooking wasn’t just something I liked to do for my family, although I loved their compliments, and seeing them go back for seconds.
Cooking was competition! Competition with all the other cooks who entered their concoctions in the Orange Show Fair. Each year I would try to find something new to add to my repertoire and to my recipe book. It was a thrill to enter the giant building in San Bernardino, California, filled with rows and rows of food placed on plates covered with Saran Wrap, and to find mine with a blue, red, or white ribbon. I filed them away in my scrapbook alongside the ribbons I won in horseback riding competitions.
Many of the recipes came from my mother, passed down from her Danish mother, and her mother’s Danish mother, and so on and so on. Some were just good down-home country cooking. “Porcupines” were a favorite: meatballs bound with rice and eggs, cooked in an enamel pan with gravy, onions, and carrots. Liver and onions, seared in an iron skillet on the stovetop, was one of my least favorites. Elk, venison, and moose stew made an appearance (yes, we ate Bambi and Bullwinkle, and their heads hung on the wall of our den). But desserts were my specialty: lemon meringue pie with a graham cracker crust, cookies for every holiday cut from vintage cookie cutters. My mother gave me many of her cookie cutters over the years and some of her cookware, all of which I cherish.
It wasn't often that my mother asked my advice, especially when it came to cooking, but when she asked about a recipe, it was a great moment of connection and pride for me.
One thing I know: A recipe is always better when cooked with love.
Grandma's Chicken and Dumplings
3/4 c. boiling water
1/3 c. butter
1 c. flour
pinch of salt
3 - 4 large eggs
1 whole chicken or 3 chicken breasts, cooked
8 c. chicken broth
1 bouillon cube
salt to taste
4 large carrots, sliced
4 celery stalks, sliced
1 c. onion, diced
Bring water to boil, and add butter and flour
Stir until mixture is thickened and leaves the sides of pan.
Let cool until lukewarm, then stir in eggs one at a time.
Remove skin and bones from cooked chicken, and cut into cubes or small pieces.
In a large pot, bring chicken broth and bouillon cube to a boil.
Season with salt if necessary, and add vegetables and cooked chicken.
Cook over medium-high heat for 20 minutes.
Drop small teaspoonfuls in soup and boil for 5 - 10 minutes.
2 lb. ground beef
1 c. Minute Rice
garlic salt, onion salt, seasoning salt, or salt and pepper to taste
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
Mix ground beef and rice.
Add seasonings to taste.
Form mixture into small meatballs.
Coat a cast iron skillet with a film of vegetable oil, and brown the meatballs on all sides.
Place in a baking or roasting pan that has a lid.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In the same pan that was used to brown the meatballs, add the soup and 3/4 can of water.
Cook until browned and somewhat reduced. Pour soup mixture over meatballs and bake, covered, for 40 - 45 minutes, until fully cooked.
Serve over rice or potatoes.