The Gift of Keturah's Collection

What can you tell about a woman by looking at her collection of recipes?  
Her favorite dessert?  Favorite color?  Favorite season? 
Her income level?  Country of origin?  Religion?  Education? 
Her fat preference - butter, lard, or oil?  Meat preference - pig, poultry, or cow? 
Her girlfriend's names?  Spouse's names?  Mother's name? 
Can they tell her story? 

Keturah's biscuit recipe

My brother Matt lives in Kansas, as does most of my very large extended family. More than occasionally I have moments of envy about Matt’s proximity to the place. I'm having one now, even as I sit sipping this perfect Americano in this sweet Portland cafe.

According to my cousin Joanna, who possesses the skill of making me belly laugh on command, Kansas looks a bit like a “buzz cut of blond hair” right now.  I had asked her yesterday what the wheat fields look like, thinking it was way too early for harvest.  Shows how long I’ve been gone... This buzz cut means harvest is over.  This buzz cut means they’re about to burn the fields.  And the burning of the fields means the spectacular evening visual where a horizon line of flames hangs in front of an amazing Kansas sunset.  I’d like to take my Americano there for the evening, thanks.

Matt, in his infinite kindness, brought me an amazing gift a few weeks ago. He brought me the story of our late Great Grandma Keturah, or at least chapter 1. He brought her collection of recipes!

Keturah and Joanna (my aforementioned cousin)

Keturah is my mother's step-grandmother. I'm told those who knew her well called her Tura. She has intriuged me for as long as I can remember. I was only 4 years old when she died though - I have no actual memories of her. But every person in my family tells the most vivid stories of Keturah, their eyes relaxing in the telling of her. There was clearly something to this woman. My mother talks of her long, white hair that she would wash once a week with rain water and then braid to the side so she could wrap it around the crown of her head like an ivory halo. My grandmother, Joan Dreier, who we'll meet very soon, talks mostly of her in the kitchen and how everything she knew she learned from Keturah.
Great Grandpa Fred's first wife, Luella, died of pneumonia when all of their children were young. Keturah came to the farm to help with the kids and the rest is history. More on that fascinating narrative in the next post.

Back to Matt and his gift... we were going to be seeing each other in South Carolina where my family meets for our annual vacation together. It was a fantastic week and it was fantastic timing. I asked Matt a gigantic favor - "Bring me Keturah", I said. 

For the sake of Culinary Posterity... my nephew on ice cream during our South Carolina Trip
My niece... the utter joy of cold cream and chocolate is infectious. 

I was hoping Matt would just make copies of the recipe cards in Keturah’s collection.  They're a vital part of this whole cookbook project after all.  My Aunt Diane has the old recipe box in Kansas, and we decided the mail is no place for this legend.  Hence the favor from Matt.

But instead of some black and white copies from the local Kinkos that you can barely read, Matt brought me 2 cds filled to the brim with scanned  recipe cards.  I do realize I just used italics on the word "scanned". And I also realize it’s weird to italicize the seemingly undeserving word “scanned” in most settings.  But trust me – the italics are appropriate here.  What scanned meant for me is that I get to perfectly behold the detail of Keturah’s quite feminine, beautifully looping handwriting. I get to examine the stains, and spills, the scotch tape, the color of her pencil or marker, or even the occasional typewriter, all from my Americano in Portland.  I get to answer some of the questions I posed about who this woman was, answers that plain ole' copies would have robbed us of.

Perhaps my favorite 

Each of these cards has the perfume of a good story.  And butter.  And lard.  
My hat tips to you Matt. 
My hat runneth over.

Keturah's famous sugar cookie my mother remembers

Aunt Diane once wrote to me, “I think you need to come feel it [the box of recipes] and look at it and see the stain marks and just come to Kansas.”   Looking at my computer screen is not the palpable experience of sitting and feeling the cream-colored cards over coffee with Diane, but they were still completely visceral.  I devoured them on the plane ride home and have been eating them up ever since. 

Keturah's favorite dessert: Lemon Pie.
She was clearly having a love affair with all things cookie, lemon pie, and chocolate. Especially lemon pie.  I’m not kidding… Of the 90 total recipes, a whopping 71 were desserts of various kinds.  (This is somewhat logical knowing that how to cook simple farm-style meat and vegetables were likely passed down in the oral history, as opposed to pastry which requires more exactness in measurements).

However, of these 71 desserts, there were 7 different versions of lemon pie.  Anyone who owns 7 different handwritten versions of lemon pie (that’s 10% of your desserts) is totally intriguing to me.

Keturah's 7 lemon pie recipes

Keturah also clearly had a substantial, solid circle of women she was cooking with.  Easily deduced by the fact that on almost every card she gives credit to its maker.  There’s Floy, Joan, Bella, Velma, Lillie, Fannie, Anon, Mamie, Mrs. Zook, Mrs. Bird, and on and on.
There’s Bertha’s salad, Lulu’s relish, Enola’s pickles, Mrs. Haiber’s fruit cookies, Alma June’s rolls, Enola’s springerli, Viola’s gnepp.

Mind you, those were not the days of “Hey, email me that recipe.” or “Text me those ingredients”. Those were the days in which getting a recipe from your friend was a face to face, at the kitchen table, coffee cup in hand, pencil in the other, listening to Lillie about how to get the that lemon shiffon just right. It makes my heart happy to think of.

If you'd like to read a complete list of the women Keturah credited on her cards, take a peak at the new page next to Resources. You'll find just that. And please let me know if you know anyone on this list. I'd love to hear more about her story or email you the recipe she was credited for. Too bad we can't sit with coffee and pencils... I'd love that too.

The new banner for the blog is from one of the recipe cards, the Biscuit to be exact. The beautiful image on the end is from a painting by one of my very talented sisters, Sarah

In other wonderful Shoofly Project news... Keturah's diaries have been found!  Some folks in my family thought they were lost but blessed Facebook helped me track them down. And they were right under my nose up in Seattle! I can't wait to read that story too.

Up next: More on Keturah's fascinating story and a recipe for one of her many lemon pies. I think I'll do the one with the smiley face. :) 


The Food Story of Kate Stoltzfus - part 2

aka Grandma Showalter's Vegetable Soup

I adore this whole cross-country cooking thing, especially when it's with the likes of Kate Stoltzfus, who shared her beautiful food story in the last post.  Kate's choice of recipes - Grandma Showalter's Vegetable Soup - came connected with such a sweet story as well as Kate's hard work to get it figured out with no original written source to go by. Bravo Kate!  That it was absolutely delicious is an added bonus. This dish is down the vein of Swiss-German Mennonite in case you're curious.  Look at this to read more on that.

Before we go any further, Kate's words on the dish...
Every year at Christmastime, my family would make the long trek from Goshen, Indiana to Harrisonburg, Virginia to visit my grandparents. My Grandma Showalter would always have vegetable soup (most of the ingredients were frozen or canned from her garden) on the stove for us when we arrived. Nothing could be more satisfying after a 10-hour drive.
I'd like to thank my mom and Aunt Sadie for helping me "hack" this recipe. I'm pretty sure Grandma didn't use an official recipe so it's fitting I didn't start with one either. Her mantra: Good Ingredients = Good Results.

This dish showcases the vegetables of this season so beautifully, as I'm sure she knew. Why else cook it for your beloveds? It was simultaneously hearty and delicate, and although it sounds winter-esque, it also was perfect for this early summer. The ham hock brought it depth. The red pepper brought it an incredible interesting factor. All the veggies brought the color. On the morning of its making, my trip to the farmer's market had me glowing - pearly Walla Walla onions, bright little carrots. Not to mention the dark red cherries and intensely pink peonies. They all promised me good things, and Kate's grandmother's mantra was ringing in my ears...


The Food Story of Kate Stoltzfus - part 1

Spend a moment or so with someone and ask them to tell their food story. I love the stuff you hear. It's not all borscht and butter and beef. It's relationships savored, travels embarked upon, kind acts done for neighbors, ecstatic celebration, hungry grief, or a just another Sunday spent at a stove.

Today I get to share just such a food story again. It's from one of the many wonderful folks I've been talking to about this here project. This pattern of stories is what I'm calling "Mennonite Women Serious about Food". With no further ado, meet my lovely friend, Kate Stoltzfus, and her rich food story!

An Indiana native, Kate grew up Mennonite, though is now practicing at a Unitarian church, calling Pittsburgh home and calling herself a Mennotarian. Purely Mennonite on Sunday morning or not, the food sticks to one's ribs, in the best possible way, and Kate is no exception. Spend any length of time perusing her e-life and you'll see cookies mailed across country to folks who've made donations to her favorite cause, photos of pasta-making at her Kitchen Co-cop, her vegetable-of-the-week choice, or the beautiful table setting that could only be Kate.

I met Kate at Goshen College many moons ago and was particularly drawn to hanging out with this woman when I saw what she could do with a peacock feather.

just a few of Kate's peacock creations

Even then, she had a reputation for her skills at the stove and I'm relieved she continues on in her Pittsburgh kitchen. So I knew when I started this book endeavor that I needed to call Kate, and how grateful I am for following that lead!
The name - The Shoofly Project - her inspiration
This whole sharing of interviews theme - she's my muse.
The sweetness of "Productive Sundays" - that's her too. (read on to learn about that)

Kate is surely an artist through and through, revealing the potential of any material good she touches, as all good painters, seamstresses, or chefs do. A short list of her current transformation gigs:
Blogger. Mustard-creator. Massage therapist. Purse-designer. Jewelry-maker. Marketing guru. Building-renovator. I'm sure I'm missing a few.

So do enjoy Kate's food story! Maybe she'll be your next muse too...


Put a Bird On It.

I wouldn't be so bold as to say that roasted chicken is an heirloom Mennonite recipe. But that's just the point- "Mennonite food", in my opinion, is a rather fluid concept. Putting a bird in an oven is virtually universal. Plus I really love roasted chicken... sometimes that's just enough.

Also I have a firm belief that all people everywhere should know how to roast a chicken. Getting the one technique dialed gives you so much... perfect for a lazy Tuesday night, a fancy Friday dinner party or a Sunday family supper. It can be a one pot meal or the main course in an elaborate dining experience. The decision on vegetables, sauces, herbs are all yours. Room for creativity is boundless.

But every recipe you'll find for the dish is the one the chef swears by: Brine the bird. Brining not needed. Salt that little sucker before roasting. Only season after. Take out the wishbone. Or not. Put butter underneath the skin of the breast. Or not. Stuff the cavity with bread cubes, pancetta and chicken livers. Truss the chicken. Trussing... whatever. Rotate it while roasting. Rotating... maybe next time... It's an exhausting effort trying to sort through what really is going to deliver good results and what's a sham. So I'll just tell you... All of them. They are all going to deliver a delicious roasted chicken as long as it's not raw or overcooked and as long as you use salt somewhere. Ok there's also the recipe that said to put it in vinegar and a stick of oleo... I'd stay away from that one.

So here's what I did on my lazy Tuesday night. It was a rainy Tuesday in Portland so it all seemed appropriate. I had a chicken - a small, whole, 4.5 pound chicken. If you're lost, tell the butcher what you're doing with the bird. A good butcher will lead you to your mark.
I like to roast my chicken on a bed of veggies, especially on a lazy Tuesday night. So I looked around my kitchen and used what I had. Eric had to laugh at my choice of sweet potato as there's a running joke about my usage of the root. "You and a sweet potato are like Portland and birds," he says. Check out Portlandia for the reference and this will all make sense.

The idea of the dish was being led by Thomas Keller, accompanied by moi. The result was a beautiful marriage - the perfectly seasoned meat with a crisp exterior.
Just the smell of the veggies had me impatient for suppertime.
The mushrooms gently cut their way to us from the kitchen.
The garlic and thyme sang of the garden.
Accompany this recipe with your own ingenuity. I'm confident it will sing as well.

Whole Roasted Chicken and Veggies
Lightly adapted from Keller, Thomas. Ad Hoc at Home. New York: Artisan, 2009.

Yield: 2 generous servings with a bit of leftovers, or 4 small servings
Total time: about 20 minutes hands-on, about 80 minutes cooking and resting time

One 4-1/2 pound chicken (but any size will do)
Salt and ground black pepper
1 large sweet potato, cut in large chunks
3 medium-sized red potatoes, halved
1 pound cremini mushrooms
1-1/2 onions, quartered
7-8 whole garlic cloves, peeled
6 thyme springs
1/4 cup olive oil

1. Remove the chicken from the frig and let rest at room temperature for up to 2 hours. Note: This isn't vital but does decrease cooking time.

2. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Fahrenheit.

3. To prepare the bird: (See above options for ideas. The following was my own take) Generously season the cavity of the bird with salt and pepper. Add 3 of the garlic cloves and 3 sprigs of the thyme and massage the cavity, lightly smashing the garlic as you massage. Leave them inside for flavor. If you want to stuff the bird with something else, do so now. Any meat you stuff it with should be precooked though.

4. Truss the chicken. Note: The purpose of trussing is for aesthetics and to help keep the juices inside the bird. Having said that, you can skip this step and it won't hurt.

5. Combine all the vegetables in a large mixing bowl: sweet potatoes, red potatoes, the 5 remaining garlic cloves, mushrooms, onions, and the 3 remaining sprigs of thyme. Toss with 1/4 cup olive oil and seasoning of salt and pepper.

6. Return to the chicken and very generously season it with salt and pepper. This is also the time to put a pad of butter underneath the skin of the breast if you'd like.

7. Put all the vegetables in a roasting pan or cast iron skillet and nestle the bird in the middle. Cut the 2 Tablespoons of butter into small chunks and place on top of the chicken.

8. Put the chicken in the oven and roast at 475 for about 15 minutes. Turn down the temperature to 450 after 15 minutes. Roast for approximately 1 hour. The bird is done when the juices run clear as you separate the thigh from the breast. A meat thermometer should register 160 degrees. Remove from the oven and allow to rest covered with foil and a tea towel for 15 minutes. Note: If it's on the very edge of being done, go ahead and pull it as it will cook slightly more as it rests. Check again after rest period to ensure this though.

9. Reheat the vegetables over medium heat in the same pan.

10. For service, take off the trussing string, cut the bird into serving sizes, and arrange with veggies.

In other Shoofly Project news... I'll be e-cooking and talking with Kate Stoltzfus from Pittsburgh soon! I can't wait to see what she and her Mennonite roots have baking!