Category Archives: My Life

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!]

Spilling the Beans on My DNA

DNA strand

DNA strand from pixabay moving to the Ancestors in Aprons newsletter.

MOVING DNA INFO TO THE NEWSLETTER

I will NOT tell you about DNA tests and DNA results at Ancestors in Aprons website.  Where will I spill the beans??

I have recently received the results of my Ancestry DNA test. And guess where I come from?  (Hint: You can find out in a previous newsletter, and updates in this week’s newsletter

Aside from the fact that trying to understand what the DNA report says, and the fact that it provides an enormous distraction from the ancestors I’m trying to write about here—

Well, it is fascinating.  But I have decided that although I am distracted, Ancestors in Aprons is not going to get distracted  by this new toy. Ancestors in Aprons is about stories. So I may mention my new findings if DNA analysis can add some understanding to the stories I’m telling, but it will not become a major topic.

I’m not hiding anything from you. I’m just sharing in a different place.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE WEEKLY ANCESTORS IN APRONS NEWSLETTER

If you want to*:

  • Follow my DNA journey;
  • Get a summary of each week’s posts;
  • Take a peek at past posts;
  • See an updated list of ancestral surnames in my line;
  • Cook like an ancestor from a list of categorized recipes;
  • Peek behind the scenes at how I work with other people to do research;
  • And read frequent bonus content.

Now using DNA to help tell the story of my family. Subscribe to the newsletter for Ancestors in Aprons. http://eepurl.com/w0msD

*Even though there is a long list of valuable content–it takes up only a small space in your mailbox.

If you’re not sure, you can take a look at last week’s newsletter here, and find out where I come from or this week’s newsletter and what family names I’m matching with.

Chocolate Swirl Bars–A Slice of my Life

Most kids love to cook. Once when I was a Cub Scout den mother, I asked the boys whether they would rather do a science experiment or cook something–cooking won by a landslide.  This recipe for Chocolate Swirl Bars meets the kid-friendly test.  The measurements allow you to work a bit on math if you want.  Relatively few ingredients means it is easy to mix up.  And best of all, they LOVE the action of swirling the chocolate into the peanut butter dough.

chocolate swirl bar

Bar cookies with peanut butter and chocolate chips.

Note: If you’re making chocolate swirl bars with grandchildren or a group of kids, be sure to check for peanut allergies before you start. Unfortunately, one of my grandsons and one of my great-grandsons would be unable to eat these.

I know they are popular with kids, because my youngest son started making them when he was in eighth grade.  He liked making the chocolate swirl bars, and turned it into a business.  We discussed the cost of the ingredients, which he had to figure out and then return to me from his earnings.

The inspiration for starting a business could have come from Junior Achievement–a school program that helped kids in high school start their own business.  His older son had quite a company going, supervising a group of kids who made macrame’ plant hangers back when macrame’ was all the rage.

At the time, my husband also acted as an advisor for a J.A. group at another high school.  I still have a spatter guard for a skillet and a hamburger press, both made by teens, as reminders of those projects.

But COOKIES! A much better business, in my humble opinion.

My son baked a batch and took small samples of the cookies door to door in our neighborhood, fed them to the neighbors and took orders for a dozen cookies.  I don’t know how long before his interest flagged, but it may very well have been the beginning of a lasting talent in salesmanship.

Whether you cook them yourself, or find some kids to do the baking, you’ll find that the only problem with these chocolate swirl bars is waiting until they are cool enough to come out of the pan. The smell is heavenly. The taste likewise. Can you eat just one?

Other kid-friendly cookie recipes:

Peanut butter cookies

Pumpkin Cookies

Rhema’s Raisin Bars

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Swirl Cookies

Serves 24
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 40 minutes
Total time 1 hour
Allergy Egg, Peanuts, Wheat
Meal type Dessert
Easy to make Peanut Butter- Chocolate Chip Swirl Bars look great and taste as good as they look.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup butter (softened)
  • 3/4 cups brown sugar (tightly packed)
  • 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10-12 oz chocolate chips

Directions

1. Beat well the first four ingredients.
2. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
3. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in separate bowl, then beat into the peanut butter mixture.
4. Spread into greased 9" x 13" pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top, as evenly as possible.
5. Bake 5 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven, and draw knife through batter to make marbled effect with chocolate.
6. Return to oven and bake for 30-40 minutes in preheated 350 degree oven, until brown on edges, and almost solid in center. (Will continue to firm up out of oven.)
7. Cool on wire rack for ten minutes, then cut in squares. Put cookies on a cooling rack until completely cool. Freeze or store in airtight container.
8.

Note

You can use either semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips and either smooth or crunchy peanut butter in these delicious cookies.  Kids love to make them and get creative with the marbleing.