Elise Hofer Derstine's Food (and Farm) Story, part 1

"I want spiritual peace in my contribution to the world. Can I do all that just by raising chickens? Who knows. I’m here to find out." - Elise Hofer Derstine

Well now that we’ve got our cookie fix worked out for the time being, it seems some poultry and pig are in order, and of course another Mennonite Women’s Food Story. Today we’re talking Elise Hofer Derstine from Goshen, Indiana. Elise is talking the poultry and pig!

Elise Hofer Derstine. Photo by Libby Franklin

I first met Elise at Goshen College, sitting on the front porch of her house, probably eating cheese. Such was the Monday evening ritual during that time. There are a few things I could quickly sense about Elise even then: She exudes the being of a writer and a woman of trajectory, is a witty conversationalist and a clearly darn good cook.

Over the last few years I’ve kept up with Elise’s trajectory via good ole’ Facebook and certainly took note when the photos shifted from Washington DC urban life to pigs, chickens, and muck boots. She had clearly left city life for the the farm. Blue Heron Farm to be exact. So when I began reflecting on Mennonite food, Mennonite cookbooks and Mennonite women (oh and pork) Elise immediately came to mind. 

A more urban Elise perspective. Photo by Tim Hofer

The farmer-esque lens: Muck boots and Pigs. Photo by Rod Hofer

On that note, The Food (and Farm) Story of Elise Hofer Derstine, written by the farmer herself…


The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie... sweet, deep medallions you have coaxed the richest of flavor into, this cookie classic meeting its utmost potential. I can think of no better thank-you note to end The Week of Cookies and Gratitude on. 

I discovered this recipe a couple years ago in a Cooks Illustrated issue and have quite simply never looked back.I’ve actually shown up at a gathering, homemade walnut chocolate tart in hand, and been asked where the hell the chocolate chip cookies were. You can rest assured cookies were the things my hands held the next time around. Forgiveness was offered readily. 

The depth is in the details:  
1. The Butter: Use unsalted. Using salted butter doesn’t allow you to control the amount of salt in the dough and you can end up with an overly-salty cookie. Blek. 
Brown the butter. This browned butter, my dear friends, is the absolute key. It increases the chewiness, enhances flavor, and the smell alone will convince you of its sacredness.

2. The Brown Sugar: Use dark brown sugar. Light brown sugar is going to rob you of some rich flavor. To boost the caramel taste even further, this recipe uses more brown sugar than white.

3. The Resting and Whisking: This allows the sugars to dissolve more, and along with the butter and brown sugar, there’s that caramelization happening - totally invaluable.

4. The Salt: This is where I diverge from the Cooks Illustrated path a bit. They call for a standard table salt, but I went to the pantry one day for the salt and saw our little bag of Penzey’s coarse grey sea salt staring at me. Visions of sea salted caramels swirled in my head... What a divergence that was! The larger grain gives you an occasional bite of rich salt between the teeth, a lovely surprise amongst the cookie's sweetness. Alternatively, you can use fleur de sel, or any coarse salt really. Of course you can stick with the table salt - You’ll still have a crazy good cookie. 

5. The Chocolate: Splurge just this once and buy the Ghirardelli chocolate chips – it’s their shape and size that makes them the winner. Their width gives you chocolate in every bite. 

The shape of the chips gives you chocolate in every bite!

The perfect marriage: Chocolate and Neruda 

The eve of their making was just yesterday, and my task set forth was two-fold: 1) bake chocolate chip cookies, 2) write a love poem for my dear friend’s wedding next weekend. The combination seemed apparent and totally natural... I pulled out Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets for inspirational reading, and just can’t resist sharing a relevant excerpt from a favorite…

You are the daughter of the sea, oregano’s first cousin.
Swimmer, your body is pure as the water;
cook, your blood is quick as the soil.
Everything you do is full of flowers, rich with earth…

Naiad: cut your body into turquoise pieces,
they will bloom resurrected in the kitchen.
This is how you become everything that lives.

The bigger size helps with their superior texture

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated May & June 2009 issue

Yield: 16 cookies
Time: 40 minutes total, 20 minutes hands-on

1 ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (8 ¾ ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (5 ¼ ounces)
1 heaping teaspoon coarse grey sea salt (or 1 teaspoon table or kosher salt)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 ¾ cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and adjust oven rack to middle position. Whisk flour and baking soda together in mixing bowl and set aside. Note: If you have a scale, definitely use it for the flour. Too much flour will make these perfect cookies a bit imperfect. If you don’t own a scale... just get one.

2. Cut up 4 Tablespoons of the butter into small cubes, place in large mixing bowl and set aside. Heat the remaining 10 Tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat until melted. Continue cooking, swirling the pan until the butter turns a dark golden brown and gives off that divine nutty, browned butter aroma, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Remove skillet from heat and, using a heatproof spatula, pour browned butter in with the 4 Tablespoons of butter you’d set aside. Stir until all butter is completely melted.

4. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to the bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Then add egg and egg yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth and no sugar lumps remain, about 30 seconds.

5. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk again for 30 seconds. Repeat this process of resting and whisking about 2 more times, until the mixture is thick, smooth, and beautifully glossy.

6. Using wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture just until flour is combined. Now stir in chocolate chips and give it a final stir, making sure no flour pockets remain and the chocolate chips are evenly distributed.

7. Divide dough into 16 portions, about 3 Tablespoons each. Place on large baking sheets lined with parchment paper, 8 balls per sheet. 

8. Bake one tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, about 10 to 12 minutes. Edges should have begun to set but centers should still be soft. Rotate the baking sheet halfway through to ensure even baking. Immediately transfer to wire baking rack to cool. Cookies will be fresh for about 36 hours, but trust me… they won’t last that long. 

My final Cookie Week delivery to a local reader

Thank you dear readers
May all chocolate gravitate towards you...


The Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

Synonyms for gratitude: thankfulness, appreciation, guerdon, acknowledgment, response, sense of indebtedness, requital, recognition, honor, grace.

My personal favorite: Guerdon. It just somehow sounds like the right kind of word for a baked good, a little fancy but still has a heartfelt roll off the tongue.

Thus... Cookie #2: Oatmeal Cookies of Guerdon

Stacks and Stacks of Thanks

If you're just tuning in - this is The Week of Cookies and Gratitude.  The motive for the sweet confectionary declaration? Tis YOU, who is reading this, for doing just that - reading! What is a blog, after all, that has no readers? What is a cookbook that calls forth no cooks?   

This Oatmeal Cookie of Guerdon is timeless, delicious... Plus I have a thing for raisins. In case you haven't noticed I also have a thing for recipes that come from my grandmothers, and this one is from Great Grandmother Edna Stoltzfus, my father's mother's mother. How sweet that she provides a list of optional variations that includes gumdrops. Gumdrops? Really? If you feel so inclined go ahead, but don't say I didn't warn you. 

The first time I ever made this cookie was during a visit to Charleston, South Carolina where my sister and her family live. My niece Sofia and I took an afternoon in the kitchen with these and added sprinkles, purely for aesthetics of course. There is rarely a thing so satisfying as watching a child delight in such a simple act as stirring, sprinkling, tasting. That these cookies hold this memory and also appear here is no coincidence.

May Sofia and I present... 

Oatmeal Cookies of Guerdon

Yield: about 32 cookies
Time: about 40 minutes total, 10 minutes hands-on

1 cup sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons milk
2 cups rolled oats

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour and soda into a bowl. Set aside. This is what we'll call your "dry ingredients". 

2. In large mixing bowl combine butter, both sugars, salt, egg, vanilla, and milk. Beat with electric mixer until smooth. 

3. Add dry ingredients and stir till flour is totally combined. Then fold in the oats and stir until the oats are evenly distributed. Note: This is where you'd also add in something of your liking, as in me with my raisins. I just threw in a big handful. 

4. Drop the dough by the spoonful onto a baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper. (Robert always says never to leave any dough for that ungrateful bowl. And I always take his advice. This is about you, not the bowl.) Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The cookie is done when it looks set in the middle.

5. Immediately transfer to baking rack and partake. Store remaining morsels in airtight container when cool.

Optional Variations
1. Chocolate Chips
2. Peanuts
3. Dates
4. Gumdrops
5. Raisins
6. Spices - 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Enjoy!! Thanks!!


A Sugar Cookie of Gratitude

I have officially declared this week The Week of Cookies and Gratitude.

Yes, it is official. Why the gratitude?  For you, the one reading this. My gratitude is for YOU... Thank you for reading this!

It frequently occurs to me how much joy your reading brings. Watching that magical blogger graph track the number of people reading the Shoofly... just warms my tender baking heart. Reading your comments lightens any heavy day and keeps me coming back to this here keyboard. So I think it's high time I told you - How grateful I am to have you here! Let's have a cookie!

I figure nothing says a hearty THANKS like a cookie. Right? Goodness yes.
If I could, I'd send you each a few of these homemade declarations of delicious, but alas... time and distance are among us. What I can do is give you a few super amazing recipes and give a few of my neighbors and local readers the results.

Cookie #1:  Keturah's Sugar Cookie. 

The original recipe. No need for a tweak

Anyone who spent a moment of childhood in Keturah's kitchen speaks of these morsels. Sherry, my aunt
who was one of those lucky souls, wrote a descriptive paper for school in 1988...  She chose Keturah's kitchen! Here's an excerpt from the sweet, vividly-written paper...

"During the spring and summer time, she always had her windows open... If Grandma was baking the day that I visited, the aroma of freshly baked whole wheat bread or lemon flavored sugar cookies made my mouth water. Your taste buds were usually satisfied with a sample of her work and a glass of ice cold milk... Her old green glazed cookie jar, with flowers of red and yellow, was always filled with cookies."

The glorious elements that make these sugar cookies memorable: LEMON RIND and NUTMEG.

The two flavors that make a world of difference

With lemon and nutmeg, these are no longer your average sugar cookies which, let's just say it, are all too often overly crisp, overly sweet, and overly unremarkable. Keturah has most definitely not given us your average sugar cookie.

With no further ado. Except for another heartfelt THANKS from me to you....

My Thank You Note

Keturah's Sugar Cookies

Yield: 20 cookies
Time: 30 minutes total

1/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 heaping teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg (more or less to your taste)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon milk
1 cup sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In medium-sized mixing bowl, combine butter, salt, lemon rind, nutmeg, and sugar. Cream with mixer until the butter appears to be "thrown" against the side of the bowl by the mixer. (This will make sense when you do it.)
Note: I grated whole nutmeg as I envision it's what Keturah did and I wanted the cookie as genuine as possible. 

2. Add egg and milk and mix till thoroughly combined.

3. For clarification (as I always get confused on the whole sifting and measuring bit) - Sifted flour takes up more volume than unsifted flour.  In this recipe, if you don't sift you're going to have too much flour and a tough cookie dough. Pre-sift the flour before you measure it. Then sift it again with the baking soda and powder added.

4. Add these sifted dry ingredients to the cookie dough and stir till flour is totally combined.

5. Drop onto ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through to ensure even baking. They are done when the cookie looks set in the middle and edges just start to brown. You want a lovely pale, not a golden brown.

6. Immediately transfer cookies to cooling rack and sprinkle with sugar. Store in airtight container when cool.

I channeled my little inner farm girl and ate the decadent afternoon snack with milk and summer's fruit. Out on the grass amongst my garden and beaming pear tree.

The cookie: Soft pillowy bites. Brilliant flavor profile.
Me: Full of gratitude.

The garden's Tiffen Mennonite Heirloom

Enjoy these morsels of gratitude and do tell... how did they taste?!


Diaries & Beet Goat Cheese Salad

"The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip... " - Tom Robbins

"Memory is elusive - Capture it." - The Bert Company from their Five Year Diary

I’m staring at the stacks of stuff from Kansas that still needs to be distilled…
The literal stack of photos, cookbooks, church history books, genealogy lines, food memoirs.
The sound wave stacks of audio recordings from my baking lessons and interviews.
The existential stacks in my head - on identity, geography, domesticity, feminism, the melancholy nature of the beetroot.

Last weekend I got another stack of goods I've been anxiously anticipating - Keturah’s diaries.
21 diaries total.  Spanning 42 years. 1940 to 1982.
Plus an address book from 1965 and a wedding guest album.

Keturah's 21 diaries, address book, and guest album

If you’ve been following along, you may remember Keturah by way of her recipe cards which fed my fascination and inspired a lemon pie. You may remember she is my step great grandmother on my mother’s side. You may remember that calling her an icon in the family would be an understatement.

Keturah and Fred Dreier


Wiggle Glacé and Potatoes

Wednesday night at around 6:40pm my front door opened and the sound of a large pit bull's paws in my front hall resounded - quick and excited. The excitement was mutual - those footsteps meant Lucy. And Lucy meant the arrival of friends for Wiggle Glacé supper. 

Lucy, the benevolent pit bull

10 minutes later the garage door opened which meant the arrival of Eric. I love that sound. I stopped tending the whirring potatoes to greet him and chuckled at the stereotypicalness of this domestic moment. 

It is then that the kitchen morphs from my quiet sanctuary where moments ago I was meditatively snapping beans, measuring milk and cleanings greens to a flurry of chatter, clinking glasses, animal noises, and laughter. I love this transformation - There is some sense of relief that both exist so closely together. 

A little while later we finally sit down for our meal and though it was in that first bite that the named purpose for our gathering begun, we had really reached our goal the moment we all entered the kitchen. Isn't it true of all meals? My teacher, Robert Reynolds, wrote a sweet cookbook not long ago that addressed this feeling of mine. It's titled, An Excuse to be Together. Seems to me that says it all. 

The Portland, Oregon Wiggle Glacé Supper

The Hesston, Kansas Wiggle Glacé Supper

Wiggle Glacé is said to be an "old German recipe", which makes sense I suppose - the recipe is from my great-grandmother, Edna Stoltzfus, who was of German descent.  However, the translation of Wiggle Glacé is most sensical in French. 
Wiggle, in English, French or German, is just that: To move back and forth with quick irregular motion. 
Glacé in French: "having a smooth, glazed or glossy surface, such as certain silks or leather."   

This photo immediately came to mind..

Grandma Belle Boyts prepping the noodle

Glossy. Like certain silks.

Edna is my father's mother's mother and her Wiggle Glacé made it into the legendary Mennonite Community Cookbook, page 101, the middle of the page, the formula for the meal.
Frankly, the credit to "Mrs. Aaron Stoltzfus" makes me a cringe a tiny bit every time I turn to her page. Her name was Edna. But I digress.

Page 101

I remember my grandmother Belle making these at her home in Indiana when I was a small girl. There is this vivid image of the exact stove, the pot, even which burner on the stove (front right corner in case you were wondering). Those swirls floating around in the rich-smelling stock etched the things into my memory. The taste of them sealed the deal. Always paired with mashed potatoes, the dumpling seems to melt in your mouth, all the elements coming together. True fascination about the likes of such swirls was born in those moments.

The glossy, wiggling swirls

Those swirls are actually much more simple to accomplish than they look. Not that long ago I was quite intimidated by the idea of making my own noodles, much less rolling them up that way. It just seemed too complicated, too tedious, too finicky. Oh how wrong I was. Let me reassure you. If not me, you'll surely be reassured upon tasting.

Here's the construct of a Wiggle Glacé supper:

CHICKEN STOCK = Chicken + 3 Vegetables + 2 Herbs 

NOODLES = Eggs + Salt + Water + Flour  

MASHED POTATOES = Potatoes + Butter + Salt + Milk 

The noodle, pre-assembly. So simple. 

So let us begin...
By the way, for the ease of grocery list-making there is a list of ingredients at the bottom of this page. A list completes me.

Wiggle Glacé
An Old German Dish
Adapted from Mennonite Community Cookbook

Yield: 6-8 servings

The Chicken Stock
Note: I add vegetables to my stock, but you're free to leave them out. My grandmother does. 
Also this can made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated. Of course you can make it anytime and freeze it, which is what I prefer to do. 

1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds
2 carrots, broken into chunks
2 celery stalks, broken into chunks
1 onion, quartered
4 sprigs of parsley
4 sprigs of thyme

1. Remove the organs of the chicken if the butcher has not done so already.

2. Place all vegetables, herbs and the chicken in large pot. cover with water till your hand is covered when you're pushing the chicken down.

3. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce heat to low. A froth will form at the surface in the beginning. Skim this with a spoon and discard it.

4. Allow the stock to simmer for at least 90 minutes. Then strain the stock either through a fine mesh sieve or a cheesecloth. Discard the vegetables and herbs. Do NOT throw out that chicken! That chicken is kind of a big deal.

5. With the liquid:  If you're not making this in advance, skim the fat that glistens on the surface once you've removed the chicken from the liquid. Do NOT throw out that fat! Set it aside for later. If you are making the stock in advance, skim the fat off once it's cooled. A layer of the fat will form on the surface, which makes for easier skimming. Again don't throw it away.

6. With the chicken: Remove the meat from the bones when it is cool enough to handle and cut it into small pieces. Refrigerate or freeze the meat if you're doing this in advance. Otherwise, add it to the stock.
Note: If you have made the stock in advance, bring it to a boil when you're starting and then reduce to simmer. This will ensure you're serving a safe food. No body wants to go home with e. coli on the mind. Once it's simmering, add the chicken. 

7. Season the stock with salt, bringing it up to taste. This is important to do now because if you wait till you've added your noodles it will be difficult to stir.

The Noodles (Swirls)
Note: The primary key to a noodle is the dough's balance between wet and dry. Too wet and you'll have sticky dough. Too dry and you won't be able to roll it. The antidote is either flour or water. 
This portion of the recipe was changed a bit to get a more tender dough per the advice from Grandma Belle...another redeeming souvenir from my travels in Kansas.

3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons water
2 cups flour
4 Tablespoons minced parsley
1 cup fine bread crumbs (Note: You can make these by putting toast in a blender or food processor.)
4 Tablespoons butter
Chicken fat you set aside

1. Melt the butter in a medium skillet. Then add bread crumbs and stir till crumbs are thoroughly moistened. Set aside.

2. In mixing bowl, beat eggs, salt, and water together till combined.

3. Add the flour about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing between each addition with a wooden spoon. Dough should form a ball and this is where the balance of wet/dry is measured. Does it stick to your spoon relentlessly? Add just a bit of flour and work it in. Or is there lots of flour at the bottom of the bowl, unable to stick to the ball? Add just a bit of water.

4. Roll out the dough in a rectangle-resembling shape on a large cutting board, adding flour as needed to ensure it's not sticking to the board or your rolling pin.

5. Spoon some of that chicken fat on the surface till its glossy like silk. Evenly distribute bread crumbs and sprinkle about 2 Tablespoons of the minced parsley on top. Now marvel at that beauty you've created. Take a photo.

6. Roll it up like a cinnamon roll, moving the wider side of the rectangle in. When you get to the end of the roll, seal it up with either water or chicken fat.  Now cut the beauty into about 1 inch pieces. Take another photo.

Bringing the whole thing together...
1.  Slide the pieces of dough into the simmering chicken stock (which has the chicken in it). Cover and cook on low for about 20 minutes. The swirls will float to the top and bounce around buoyantly.

2. To ensure the noodles are cooked through, remove a piece and cut in half. If it's not done, there will be a white, flour-looking center in the dough. Cook 5 more minutes or so and check again. There should be no white center.

3. Add remaining minced parsley.

Amish Style Mashed potatoes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

6 large russet potatoes, peeled, quartered, and rinsed
6 Tablespoons butter
1 cup milk, warmed

1. Cover potatoes with water completely. Bring to boil and then reduce to medium-high. Cook till a knife goes through the potato easily with no resistance.

2. Strain the potatoes and add 2 Tablespoons butter. Begin mashing with mixer, adding milk and salt gradually, tasting as you go. Cover and set aside.

3. Brown remaining 4 Tablespoons in skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly. You know it's ready when it turns a dark brown and the aroma turns nutty and deep. This may be the absolute best thing I've ever smelled so don't take it off too early. You'll miss this heavenly thing.

4. Place potatoes in serving bowl and drizzle browned butter over the top.

Bringing the whole thing together... 
Serve the Wiggle Glacé over a spoonful of the mashed potatoes. A green on the side is perfect. I chose a mix of greens from the garden and outdoor seating. Both greens were indeed perfect. 
Enjoy the swirls, the melting, your creation. 
Enjoy the togetherness this excuse has brought you. 
And do tell... How was it? 

Grocery list for a Wiggle Glacé supper: 
1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 onion
1 bunch of parsley
4 sprigs of thyme
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour 
1 cup bread crumbs
12 Tablespoons butter
6 Russet potatoes
1 cup milk