7.08.2011

My Elusive Lemon (and more on Keturah)

I head to Kansas in two short weeks for a short week-long trip.  I'm trying to plan well so as to savor it all, despite the brevity of it.  It's only seven days after all. Seven days with which to squeeze in interviews and cooking with both my grandmothers, a couple cousins, a great aunt, and Emily, the baker at Newton's legendary bakery - The Breadbasket. Wednesdays are vareniky days she tells me.

The flatness is fascinating
Seven days to visit that Mennonite museum out in the middle of nowhere for which you have to have an appointment. Except the small town of Hillsboro apparently had to let go of their curator so the tour guide is actually a volunteer Mennonite historian, Peggy, who by phone sounds reasonably overwhelmed. Her adult kids will be in from out of town that week... I have to just call when I get there.

Seven days to visit the archives which I've sadly found out are closed for the month of July so hopefully someone will just "let me in"...I have to call when I get there.

I don't think we're in Portland anymore.

Seven days in 107 degree weather, my photographer/brother Matt in tow to savor it all, despite the brevity of it.  Because at the end of those short, hot seven days I return home to Portland, far from the wheat fields and dairy farms of my grandmothers.

The fields of my grandmothers


On the Progress of Keturah's Lemon Pie:
I have to make a confession... I've never actually made lemon pie before this occasion. Or lemon chiffon. I've never chiffoned anything really.  But I've made lots of pies and custards and cakes. That's got to count for something. So how hard could it be?
Right. Never underestimate the power of pastry in the hands of Mennonite women on a farm.


So Wednesday evening, my lovely friend Joleen came over for the evening, and unbeknownst to her that evening was the evening of lemon pie. I knew she would be more than ok with the situation - she's a pie fanatic and a culinary school alumni.  To my great fortune, her expertise was a huge asset on this lemon pie evening as the 1934 recipe I chose from Keturah was more than a bit puzzling. 

Joleen and our lemon pies. Ok tartlets.

I won't bore you with the nitty, gritty, citrus-themed details of the entire process, but suffice to say there was a lot of scratching of heads over this handwritten card from 1934.  In my recipe-testing defense there was no oven temperature given, and several other factors confounded us a bit:  At face value the filling looks like the construct of a custard. Look closer - it's a cake in a pie shell.  But not enough flour to be a cake. Custard thickened with flour? So economical of her! 

Taste-tested. Still needing work.

All that to say, I'm working on it. Apologies if you were planning on making Keturah's Lemon Cake Pie tomorrow for your anticipating guests. But rest assured that if all goes as planned, tomorrow afternoon I will bake the perfect lemon pie and then I will have the perfect lemon pie recipe for you. Tell your guests to calm down. Sheesh.  

On Keturah:
The recipe Joleen and I baked from was written the year she married Fred Dreier, my great grandfather - 1934.  Keturah was born in Pennsylvania, apparently spent some of her childhood in Ohio, and then moved to central Kansas, where she took care of her ailing mother till her mother died in 1933. Which prompted her to find a new way to pass the time.

September 4, 1933 - Keturah's mother dies. 14 months later, Tura marries Grandpa Fred.  To pass the time after her mother's death, she went to Grandpa Fred's farm to help the widower with his children and essentially stayed for the long haul. (Note: In the last post I said that all 5 of his children were quite young. Not true. The oldest, Kenneth, was 21. The youngest, Alvin, my grandfather, was 7.)  Fred's first wife, Luella, had died of pneumonia the same year Keturah's mother died - 1933.

My grandfather Alvin, Keturah's youngest "son",  in his old blue Ford farm truck

My cousin Joanna wrote a college paper that tells the story of Luella's death. She tells it so well, why reinvent the wheel...
"In 1933, Kenneth Dreier and his fiancee Velma Prather planned to marry. Shortly before the wedding, disaster struck, as Luella fell ill with pneumonia. She was not able to attend the wedding and grew sicker by the day. The doctor from Newton was called to the house to administer treatment. When he arrived, he announced that he had forgotten a crucial item for treating Luella. He sent Delbert, who was 19 at the time, (Delbert is Joanna's grandfather, my great uncle) back to Newton to retrieve the item. He stressed the urgency of the situation to Delb who took it to heart. Breaking every traffic law and speed limit, he arrived at the hospital, was met by the nurse at the door and hurried home to his ailing mother with the essential remedy in hand. When he reached home, (as the story goes) he said, 'I hurried as fast as I could,' to the doctor. The doctor replied, 'You weren't fast enough.' Luella had died." 

Enter Keturah Kauffman from the neighboring Mennonite community. Apparently she had a way with kids. This much is clear... the two youngest, Nelson and Alvin, recounted they liked her so much, they'd chase her Model A car up the dirt road as she left each day. I guess Fred took a liking to her as well. 

Grandpa, brother Matt, sister Jenny

The Dreier family, my mother's side, was not historically Mennonite.  German - Yes. Mennonite - No. They were a farming family in the middle of an area that a LOT of Mennonites moved to in the late 1800s. But Keturah brought the Mennonite to the Dreiers' front doorstep and farmhouse kitchen. Her long hair and refusal to condone playing ball on Sunday was symbolic of the culture. Her cooking was as well. Visitors from every Menno corner of the country came through the farmhouse because of Keturah's presence there. 
Mennonite - No. 
Mennonite-influenced - Yes. 

She married a non-Mennonite man. It was 1934. Gulp.  Her conservative Mennonite church shunned her. Excommunicated. No more. I cannot imagine that kind of shift:  Age 40, your mother dies, you marry a farmer with 5 children (3 of whom are young and ornery), and sign on to a dairy and acres and acres of wheat fields.  Oh and then you get shunned from your church. Big year I'd say.

Genealogy websites list her baptism as "Evangelical Reformed", and she's buried in the Highland United Church of Christ cemetery where most of the Dreiers are buried.  Her mother is buried in West Liberty Mennonite Cemetery in McPherson County, a mere 30 miles away.


Keturah and Fred had one son together in 1936. Paul Albert Dreier. She was 42 when he was born. She was 42 when he died. Paul was 5 days old.  Nevertheless Keturah was a mother through and through, and by all accounts, fiercely qualified to be so.


As you can probably tell, I'm still piecing together the details of Keturah's life which can be difficult when she's not a blood relative, and I'm in Portland. The info is 1,731 miles away.  I do know Keturah's best cooking student quite well though, my Grandma Joan Dreier, who I interviewed just yesterday.

Another cousin of mine, Marcy, sent me this sweet note about Keturah. Seems a fitting end: "I worked at Schowalter Villa when Tura lived there. I was assigned the evening cook position the summer of my junior year in high school at the tender age of 16! Grandma Tura lived in assisted living and she would look to see when I was scheduled and then come into the kitchen when I arrived to teach me how to cook! She wanted to make sure any relation of hers was gonna get it right!"

Promise: Lemon Pie. There's going to be some serious chiffoning going on.
 

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