By Susan Schlabach, The Home Place
I’ve always been intrigued with the evolution of recipes and food culture. Recently my brother reprinted an old church cookbook (1958) and gave one to all his sisters. I paged through recipes from individuals who have long since left cooking behind; bless them. I flitted through the recipes briefly, momentarily more intrigued with the names of the ladies who submitted them. I mentally paged through whether they were still with us or not. I saw recipes my mom used to make, like mayonnaise or salad dressing cake, oatmeal cake. Bob Andy pie, graham cracker fluﬀ, and cream puﬀs. I smiled a bit condescendingly at recipe titles like Yellow Salad and Green Salad and Orange Salad.
And yet. I find that I do have oldie goldies I turn to - time after time after time. I find them on vanilla spattered recipe cards, or a spiral cookbook with missing covers. Recipes that seem to surface when comfort is called for. Like this past weekend when my married children came home and I was feeling all nostalgic-like about old things and stories their grandmother told about the 1918 influenza pandemic. And dishes their father is especially fond of. That’s why I paged to Strawberry Tapioca Pudding and sprung that surprise on them. They hadn’t eaten tapioca for years. Their sister had recently concocted the new fangled Chia Seed Pudding, almost like a tapioca wannabe, but finer in texture and well, healthier. And, for sure not as comforting.
Another old recipe that warms my heart every time is my mother’s old fashioned cream pie. Lots of real heavy cream. She was known for this one. It really doesn’t get any better than this. It makes custard pie feel anemic. And her rhubarb custard. It does seem the sentimental food was a lot about pies, now that I think about it. Mom would bake on a Saturday morning, and then deliver pies to folks in town who’d placed orders. What I remember is - as a five year old, feeling dwarfed by the mountain of dishes. And the little dough cut oﬀ’s we’d roll with cinnamon and sugar and bake afterwards for our treat. My dad had strong opinions about what a pie’s appearance ought to be when it’s done. There must be a sugary dusting and a golden color on top. He was bold enough to say that if a lady’s pie was white on top, she must not know how! Mom was strict about a full pie. Because fruit pies have a tendency to boil over while baking, she was careful not to overfill. She dealt with it this way: If the lid had rounded somewhat while baking, she poured hot fruit filling in through one of the vent holes afterward, to make it honestly plump. It wouldn’t do to have a gap between the body of the pie and the lid. Small wonder she was the acclaimed pie lady!
I inherited her aluminum pie paddle (to assist when getting the pie out of a hot oven) and a wooden carry case my dad made for her that houses like 6 pies for safe transport, and am quite proud of both. And yet, when our family opened our bakery in southwestern Ohio in 2006, I said too forcefully, “I’ll bake most anything, but pies.” I was remembering the dirty dishes.
And the labor-intensive crust maneuvers. But of course, you know that not many weeks later my daughters and I were rolling out pie crusts by the dozens. Today we use a pie crust press we can’t live without (see Birds Hill Enterprises -Manitoba). It literally saved our lives and our wrists. Our bakery girls can turn out a hundred pies in a very short time, single-crust or double.
With all due respect to Romaine lettuce and creme brûlée and pesto and cilantro and chicken bacon ranch pizza, today’s post is about the old, the comforting, the stable, the proven, and the memories. I don’t think my mother knew the meanings of most of those words, let alone how to eat or prepare them. And it seems like maybe fat grams and carbohydrates didn’t exist back then either. Yet I love the marriage of old and modern and muse often about what will feel “old” to my children when they’re my age?
Some years ago, we siblings and our spouses explored rural Switzerland, Germany and Holland. While there, we discovered some of the local foods to feel strangely familiar and for sure like something we’d have eaten at grandma’s house. So it is that 300 years later, the pastries, the pork and sauerkraut, the pickles and fried potatoes maintain a common thread in our own kitchens. I never felt that same kinship with food when traveling in Latin America or the Middle East. Arugula and quinoa have their place and I love messing around with oriental pad Thai. But for sentimentality, comfort, and memories, my children will know what apple dumplings are, and baked turkey dressing. I will reach for the old cookbook from time to time and while they thank me for the rhubarb custard pie, I’ll tell them again about their grandmother baking pies for the townsfolk, and how she got the brown-on-top look, all while we washed the dishes.
- 1 unbaked (9 in.) pie shell 2 cups diced rhubarb
- 1 TBL melted butter 1 cup sugar
- 2 TBL flour
- 2 eggs
- Cover rhubarb with boiling water and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Pour oﬀ water and pour rhubarb into pie shell. Combine remaining ingredients in blender and blend until well mixed. Pour over rhubarb. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 for 30 minutes.
- ½ cup pearl tapioca
- 1 cup sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 3 oz. strawberry Jell-O
- 1 cups cut up fresh strawberries (or frozen)
- 1½ cups whipped cream (or whipped topping)
- Soak ½ cup pearl tapioca in water overnight. Use at least 3 cups water. This reduces cooking time later. After soaking, pour oﬀ all water.
- Bring 3 cups water to boil, add soaked, strained tapioca. Simmer over low heat about 10 minutes, stirring often. Boil until tapioca balls are basically transparent.Add sugar, salt and Jell-O to hot, cooked tapioca. Cool completely before adding fruit. Lightly stir in whipped cream. Serves 12.
- You can change this flavor to a variety of other flavors such as raspberry, peach, etc. Use matching fruits and Jell-O flavors.