Category Archives: Food

Tacos Arrive in Mennonite Country: A Slice of My Life

Since it is Cinco de Mayo, I got to thinking about Mexican food. Today we take for granted that tacos and enchiladas and chimichangas and burritos show up in weekly menus as often as the German- and British-derived foods I grew up on. But there was that time in 1966 when I introduced an Ohio family to (American) Mexican food. There was that time when farmer Adam Bair, my husband’s uncle, could not get enough tacos.

Uncle Adam Bair with Kenneth Paul, Brent and Mike Badertscher about 1966.

The success of tacos at a family reunion of Badertschers and Kohlers and Bairs in rural Wayne County, Ohio, provides a perfect illustration of the way that American food preferences change.

In the late spring of 1966, my husband Ken and I traveled back to our home state of Ohio to visit the relatives we had left behind when we moved to Arizona. We had married in 1960 and moved to Arizona in 1963. Ken’s mother’s family gathered at their home which was surrounded by farms and just down the road from a center of Mennonite culture, Kidron Ohio. All the women would bring a dish to share. They would perhaps make a noodle casserole with the obligatory mushroom soup. Or perhaps they made a J-ello salad with cabbage and carrots. Surely some melt-in-your mouth desserts like raisin pie or dump cake would appear. There would be a platter of ham slices and Swiss cheese and home made rolls.

noodle casserole

Noodle Casserole, photo from Flickr used with Creative Commons license.

My mother-in-law told me that there would be plenty of food. Since I came from so far away, I would not be expected to provide a dish. But that did not seem right to me. For one thing, I loved to cook. For another, I wanted to be a part of the family.

When we moved to Arizona I quickly began to explore the new-to-me everyday cuisine of Sonora, Mexico. Sonora was just down the road. From Scottsdale where we lived, we would drive south through Tucson and on to Nogales, the border town. And Mexican restaurants were popular in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. (We were later to move to Tucson, much closer to the border. As a town founded by the Spanish in 1776, Tucson was much more oriented culturally (and by cuisine) to Mexico.)

To put this in perspective, in the 1960s, ethnic foods and restaurants other than Italian and Americanized Chinese were just beginning to make inroads. Although there were plenty of Mexican restaurants in Arizona there were none in this county. No one at that family gathering had ever been to a Mexican restaurant. There were no Taco Bells in Ohio until 1970. There were no frozen Mexican dinners. There were no tortillas. And that explains why it was perhaps foolhardy of me to decide that I should make tacos for the family. [Note: My mother had been serving us “tamales” from a can in the 50s, but they bear little resemblance to real Mexican food.]

Tacos were simple to throw together, and a dish that I could make without recipes. All I needed was corn tortillas, some oil to cook them in, ground beef, tomatoes, onion, lettuce, and cheese for the filling. Salsa? Hot sauce? Not for these people who had never seen, let alone tasted tacos and enchiladas. [I may be wrong about that–my sister-in-law thinks that I did bring a bottle of salsa back from the store where I found the tortillas. Any cousins remember?]

Ken and I set out to get some tortillas. There were none in the grocery store in nearby Dalton. I don’t remember if we checked nearby Orrville, but they wouldn’t have had them either. So we went further afield–all the way to Mansfield, Ohio, nearly 50 miles away. We checked a couple of stores and they had no tortillas. Dejected, I tried one more store, perusing the freezer case–and there were frozen tortillas! Frankly, I don’t remember if I also found a can of Hatch green chiles to mix in with the meat, but I would have been cautious about using peppers, anyhow. Perhaps I diced a green bell pepper from my mother-in-law’s garden.

Back we went to my in-laws’ home, hoping the tortillas would thaw overnight. The next morning, I stirred the ground beef and diced onions in a hot skillet. I chopped tomatoes, and lettuce and grated cheese. (Plenty of cheese in Mennonite country, even if there was no queso blanco or Monterey Jack.) When the family members began to arrive, I fried tortillas in a inch of hot oil in a large skillet. I maneuvered them with tongs to form an envelope that could be stuffed with the ground beef. and vegetables.



Taco photo from Flickr with Creative Commons license.

Of course I had second thoughts once the familiar casserole dishes began to arrive. Would I alienate myself from these folks by bringing them alien food? Would they spurn the crispy taco shells spilling contents all over with every bite? Could I compete with J-ello salads?

As I watched anxiously, everyone cautiously took a taco from the warming pan I had put in a low oven. They said they liked them. But Uncle Adam, the German-Swiss farmer who defined the word “raw-boned” wrapped his big hand around one taco. And another and then another. I wound up back in the kitchen making more even more tacos. Ole’!

Of course by the mid 1980s, Mexican restaurants had spread to Ohio. One could find the ingredients to make them at home in every grocery store. But I am proud to say that in 1961. I introduced tacos to a bunch of people who lived in Wayne County, Ohio. They may even be celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Kidron, Ohio today.

HAPPY CINCO de MAYO!

[Note: I have made a couple of additions since receiving comments on this post. Keep the comments coming!]

Just a Trifle, Nobody’s Fool

Trifle in Hattie Morgan’s cut glass bowl

It all started when I made a cake that didn’t quite turn out right. In trying to get the cake to cook through to the middle, the entire cake got a bit too dry. We ate most of the cake, but I didn’t want to throw the rest out. Then I remembered that I’d been meaning to try making a trifle.

What is a Trifle?

Trifle recipes today generally call for ladyfingers, but the general construction can be quite flexible. Basically, you will have some kind of cake, moistened with some kind of liquid, spread with some kind of preserves or jelly, layered with custard (and more recently, fruit and maybe nuts) and topped with a layer of whipped cream.

The trifle will show off its colorful layers best in a glass dish with plain sides. Thus, you can buy a dish specifically for trifle, like this one by Libby’s glass, advertised at Amazon.

A Bit of History of Trifle

1585 The Gud Huswife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson, who apparently mansplained to huswifes how to cook.

1774 Hannah Glasse added jelly to the Trifle in her book, The Art of Cookery. (see her recipe below.)

Scots have their Tipsy Laird (tipsy Lord), with whiskey to moisten the cake. That name morphed to a more democratic Tipsy Parson or Tipsy Squire in Colonial America.

A neighbor who dropped by to sample my trifle said that in her mother’s case, the cake would macerate for several days and everyone in the household might add a few drops of booze to the cake. She called it Tipsy Cake. Appropriately, her family lived in the South, and the dessert is commonly called Tipsy Cake in the South.

So what’s this about Fools? Although the term is used interchangeably, the fool does not have pudding and cake–just a tangy fruit, cooked and cooled, mixed with whipped cream. But Fools originated about the same time as trifles and both feature whipped cream.

I want to share an earlier recipe for Trifle, but in case you are impatient to start cooking, I’ll jump to the modern recipe first.

Trifle with strawberries
Print

Strawberry Trifle

The traditional English trifle made with a different fruit juice, strawberries and almonds and a  pudding mix.
Course Dessert
Cuisine British
Keyword fruit, pudding, trifle, whipped cream
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Cooling Time 2 hours
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 10

Ingredients

  • pieces dry or stale cake equivalent of 9″ layer cake
  • 1/4 cup fruit juice or sherry
  • 1/4 cup rasberry preserves or flavor of your choice
  • 1 pkg pudding mix
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup heavy or whipping cream
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4-1/2 cup almonds, sliced

Instructions

  • Make pudding mix according to instructions.  If cooked, let cool in refrigerator with plastic wrap spread across top to prevent 
  • Cut cake in one inch cubes. Lay the cake cubes out on a cookie sheet and brush with the liquid.
  • Spoon dabs of preserves on cake and spread with back of spoon.
  • When pudding is cool, start layering in deep glass bowl–cake, then pudding, scatter some almonds, then fruit–2 or three layers according to size of bowl.
  • Whip cream with sugar and vanilla.  Spread on top or drop swirls in decorative pattern.  Top with whole strawberries, almonds, or other fruit or garnish.
  • Put whole bowl into refrigerator for an hour or until ready to serve.

Notes

Times given assume you have the cake on hand and use a  boxed pudding mix. Allow more time, if you are baking a cake to use, or are making custard from scratch.
Some recipes for decorations include flowers.  Fruits other than or in addition to strawberries might include sliced bananas, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries.
Brandy or sherry are traditional, but I used cranberry-mango juice for a very good taste.

18th Century Version–Hannah Glasse

To Make a Trifle

Cover the bottom of your dish or bowl with Naples biscuits broke in pieces, mackeroons brlke in halves, and ratafia cakes. Just wet them all through with sack, then make a good boiled custard, not too thick and when cold pour it over it, then put a syllabub over that. You may garnish it with ratafia cakes, currant jelly, and flowers and strew different coloured nonpareils over it. Note, these are bought at confectioners.

Glossary

Naples biscuits:  no longer used–a cookie made with egg whites and flavored with rose water.

mackaroonsMrs. Glasse provides a recipe for a cookie made with almonds pounded fine (like almond flour) , sugar and eggs whites 

ratafia: Almond liqueur, and the flavoring in ratafia cakes or biscuits.

syllabub: A drink or dessert of whipped cream with wine or other acidic drink. Mrs. Glasse has several recipes, including one for “solid syllabub, which I imagine is the type you would use for the trifle.

sack: no longer used term for a fortified wine, although sherry is close.

I hope you’ll have fun trying your own version of trifle, and will come back and share your results in our comment section.

Creamy Potato Soup

Creamy Potato Soup Makes Perfect Winter Comfort Food

Creamy potato soup
Jars of creamy potato soup and vegetable soup 2018

If you don’t want the history–scroll down to find the kinda sorta recipe for creamy potato soup.

I was on a soup-making binge since we had some of what passes for winter weather here in southern Arizona. The creamy potato soup is particularly well suited to cold weather when you want something filling and comfort-making. And the vegetable soup made me think of my German ancestors, for whom soup is a regular meal. Check out the German Buttermilk Potato Soup I wrote about earlier. And I thought of pioneer families who no doubt threw a lot of ingredients into the pot that was kept simmering on the fire all winter for a perennial vegetable soup.

But I also thought about my mother and grandmother and their soup-making, which as far as I experienced, consisted of opening a can. The Campbell Soup company took over soup entirely by the mid-century era when convenience was everything in the kitchen. Which sometimes meant nutrition and taste took a back seat. Not only that, but for a while every recipe seemed to call for a can of mushroom soup.

I still have a lot of those canned-soup-based recipes in my recipe box, but now I just look at them and go “Yuck!”

Even today, canned cream of tomato soup accounts for the highest quantity of any stable canned food sold in grocery stores.

They first produced canned soup in 1879. In looking at the company’s history, I learned that the co-founder with Joseph Cambell was an Abraham Anderson. (Darn! I wish I could claim I’m related to that guy through my mother’s paternal line.)

Mid Century Cookbook And the Can

Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook 1953
I checked Better Homes and Gardens cookbook–one of the favorites of that period. I saw that although the book does give instructions for making broth from scratch, it also instructs the homemaker to make jellied consomme by chilling a can of condensed consomme, and garnishing with lemon and parsley.

In the meager 6 pages dedicated to soup, the editors include half a column devoted to “Canned-soup combinations,” for those daring housewives who dared to go beyond merely opening a can and adding water. Be adventurous! Mix two different kinds of canned soup!

  • Berkshire Soup: 1 can corn chowder and 1 can of celery soup with 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of milk.
  • Celery-Chicken Soup: 1 can chicken soup and 1 can celery soup with 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of milk.
  • For those wanting a real gourmet experience: Creole Clam Bisque: 1 can clam chowder with 1 can chicken gumbo and 1 can of light cream.

There are more, but you get the idea.

Even a couple of the “from scratch” soup recipes use a canned soup as a base.

Canned vs. Home Cooked

Canned Soup
Old style cash register and canned goods in a butcher shop in New Ulm, Minnesota. Public Domain photo from EPA.

I was so accustomed to the idea of convenience food, that I filled shelves with condensed soups for decades. Finally I woke up and read the labels. All that sodium! The lack of distinctive flavoring! I reformed and started making my own. Not only are they usually delicious, but soup serves as a great recycling tool for veggies that are about to reach their expiration date.

Tips for Creamy Potato Soup

Hence creamy potato soup. I can’t give you an exact recipe for creamy potato soup–or for the other soups that I am going to share in this series. But I hope that will encourage you to use your own good instincts to use what you have on hand, satisfy the particular tastes of your family.

TImid? Just taste, taste, taste. When my grandson came over and made chicken noodle soup, I gave him a cup full of teaspoons, so that he could taste many times, each time using a clean spoon. Some people use a box of plastic throw-away spoons.

However you handle it–taste, taste, taste as you go along and let that suggest what needs to be added. Just remember that once you get too much of something like salt or basil, it is difficult to drown it out, so add seasonings a little at a time.

One more tip–this soup cooks quickly, not like the simmer-all-day kind of soup.

Creamy Potato Soup Kind-of-sort-of Recipe

Creamy Potato Soup
Creamy Potato Soup

Soup –at least in my kitchen–never wants to stick to a recipe, so think of this as guidance rather than iron clad instructions.

Peel a few potatoes (3 or 4 depending on size of potato and how much soup you want to make). You can really use any kind of potatoes, but mealy baking potatoes will tend to disintegrate. Dice the potatoes Peel and slice fairly thin a carrot or two. Do the same with a stalk of celery. Chop onion if you want to include it.

Brown the carrot, celery and onion in some butter. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes briefly in water. They should resist being speared by a fork so they won’t fall apart in the rest of the cooking.

Dump the potato water (or some of it) along with the potatoes and other vegetables into a large pot and add 32 oz or so of chicken or vegetable broth. Now comes the fun part–decide how you want the soup to taste, add salt, pepper and herbs to make it a French (tarragon, for instance); Italian (mixed Italian herbs); German–include a piece of star anise in the simmering soup; Greek–oregano and lemon, etc. Smoked paprika is a great seasoning for potato soup.

Simmer just until the vegetables are gently cooked. (This doesn’t take long since everything is diced in small pieces.) At this point if you want a smooth soup instead of the bumps and lumps, use a stick blender to smooth it out. Of course you can use a regular food processor, but that means pouring hot soup back and forth, which does not sound appealing to me. I prefer to process only about half of the soup, so there are still some lumps.

Pour in a couple cups of half and half (you can use heavier cream, or stir in sour cream at the end of the process, too). Meanwhile grate a cup or two of cheddar cheese. When the soup is warm through, stir in the cheese and let it melt in.

Add-ons or garnishes to consider for your creamy potato soup: diced crisply fried bacon or ham; sour cream; scallions; parsley .

I stored the leftover soup in the refrigerator for a few days. I purposely did not make a huge batch, because you can’t freeze it. A creamy soup like this separates in freezing. Not a pretty sight.

1/2 of creamy potato soup
1/2 of creamy potato soup goes in a jar for the refrigerator.

Put a creamy, filling, quick-cooking comfort food like Creamy Potato Soup definitely belongs on your table this winter. What seasoning will you use?

More Soup:

Next up: Winter Vegetable