Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Old Fashioned Milk Pie. Yes, Milk Pie

As promised much too long ago, here is another of Gramma Walker’s recipes. I’m putting the recipe right at the top of this blog because when I’m looking for a recipe I generally don’t feel like reading 1500 words about how busy Marsha’s Monday was or all the steps Joe Bob takes to set up his outdoor oven. I want the recipe straightforward and upfront, so here it is. 

Granny Runt’s Old Fashioned Milk Pie

  • 1  Cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 Cup flour
  • 2  Cups homogenized milk 
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Put sugar and flour in 8" unbaked pie crust.   Stir with your fingers until well mixed.  Add milk (and vanilla) and stir. Sprinkle nutmeg over top. Bake at 375 for about 45  minutes. This may not be real thick. Skip to the bottom for my revised recipe.

My gramma’s recipe for milk pie was included in a collection of her recipes passed over to me by my cousins. I show the recipe as written except I inserted (and vanilla). I did this with good reason because vanilla wasn’t mentioned in the instructions, so I left it out and had to sprinkle it in after the pie had been in the oven for a while —- OOPS!

When I baked this for the first time, I used a store-bought pie shell because I’m lazy and don’t enjoy making pie crust. My mom was a master at pie crust and so is my sister — she is the star pie maker in Ninilchik, Alaska. The store-bought pie crusts bake up very nicely. I used an eight-inch, old enamelware pie plate probably much like Granny Runt would have used seventy years ago. 

In making this pie, I followed the instructions precisely with 2% milk, all-purpose flour, and white sugar. This seems like a variation on custard pie and I was tempted to drop in an egg but stayed true to the recipe. I even stirred the mixture with my fingers. However, I did hit one snag — a different one than forgetting the vanilla. When I added the milk, I found only room for one cup, and after I stirred the mixture I still could only sneak in an additional quarter cup. I’m guessing the milk amount is a guesstimate as pie pans come in different depths, and to be fair, I didn’t measure to confirm that my pan was an eight-inch pie pan. 

As I write the pie is filling the kitchen with that rich aroma of vanilla and nutmeg which holds great promise, and at thirty minutes I could see the edges of the milk filling were starting to thicken. I am baking in a convection oven so I reduced the temperature to 350 F, which seems to be working just fine. 

For the sake of comparison, I have looked on the interweb for other recipes for Old Fashioned Milk Pie and found several. They all seem about the same except some are Guucied up with half & half, cinnamon, and/or brown sugar. I did find that most of them referenced an undefined amount of milk. That was reassuring. 

At the end of 45 minutes, the pie seemed not quite ready so I left it in the oven for a bit longer. As the pie cooks it lifts and bubbles. I found one recipe that said the pie was done when the center bubbled up and the center fell back down to its original level.  That makes sense to me. I also plan to let the pie sit at room temp and cool before slicing. To keep my itchy fingers out of it, I’ll go outside and do some chores while it cools.

The pie came out firm and moist, tasty too. I even figured out the one cautionary note in the recipe, ‘it may not be real thick’. I thought that this meant the filling may come out running, but I think it meant the pie would be thin, as in shallow. And it isn’t very thick, only about a half-inch, but a tasty half-inch.

Each taste of this simple pie reminds me of its origin. A pie that could be made with only the basics found in even the poorest kitchen. Lard and flour for crust and thickening, milk and sugar, maybe some nutmeg or cinnamon. That's all you needed to make a fine desert. My grandparents grew up poor, but they didn’t live poor. They had the humor, work ethic, and traditions to make poverty a way of life for midwestern subsistence farmers. Try this fine simple pie and think of my Granny Runt when you eat it.  She had a style like no other. 


Granny Runt’s Old Fashioned Milk Pie 2022 version

  • 1  Cup          granulated sugar 
  • 1/4 Cup         flour
  • About 1.5 cup homogenized milk 
  • 1 tsp          vanilla
  • Options:      sub some brown sugar, cream, half & half, or cinnamon.
  1. Put sugar and flour in 8" unbaked pie crust. Stir with your fingers until well mixed.  
  2. Add vanilla and enough milk to fill pie pan and stir. 
  3. Sprinkle nutmeg over  top. 
  4. Bake at 375 (350 convection) for about 45 - 60 minutes until center bubbles up and falls back on itself. 
  5. This is definitely a pie you want a cookie sheet under as it bakes. This may not be real thick.  
  6. Let it cool before cutting and serving. 


Monday, December 13, 2021

Rice Pudding, Eating Dessert from Granny Runt


A while back I came across a bunch of recipes of Grandma Walker’s that my cousins had shared with me, and thought it would be fun to make some of the foods in the collection. Most of the recipes are desserts and of the simple egg-sugar-flour-milk variety common to cooks without money or access to fancy ingredients. Some were familiar like rice pudding and bread pudding; others like vinegar pie were not. 

My Grandma Walker, also known as Granny Goodwitch or Granny Runt was an upbeat little bundle of energy who everyone loved. She grew up poor and married Clarence Walker a poor sharecropper. They started married life with a dozen chickens and lease on a small farm. Her recipes reflect the kind of treats foods that people make with just the basics available on a small subsistence farm. Some recipes showed up on our homestead table, but others, like Milk Pie, are completely new to me. 

The first recipe I tried from this collection is rice pudding which is something Mom used to make and I always enjoyed. Who doesn’t like something sweet with sugar-cinnamon, and raisins? It’s been ages since I had it, but I could remember the sweet cinnamon raisin flavors and the creamy texture. A great winter dessert that probably can be made from things you have in your pantry.

                                                Rice Pudding

3 C cooked rice 

3 eggs

1 pint whole milk

1 C cooked raisins if desired 

1h C sugar

1 tsp salt, flavor with vanilla, nutmeg or cinnamon 

Beat eggs, add sugar and milk, mix.

Stir in rice, raisins, and seasoning, bake until set at 350 in a 2-quart casserole dish.

I followed the recipe exactly except that I figured I didn’t need to cook the raisins; I just poured hot water on them so they’d soften and swell. As with many of Granny’s recipes, the instructions are vague and a little trial and error might be needed to get the texture and taste you like. When I made this I found the rice a little dry, but I think that was because I let the rice get a little too dry when I cooked it. The cinnamon makes a nice toasty color on the top and the eggs make a custardy texture. This is good hot or cold and even makes a tasty breakfast. 

 Next up, Milk Pie!  

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Stories from the Kitchen Table

 One of the most powerful memory makers is food, and the meals of my family especially those homestead meals of my childhood are solid frames for the stories of my life. From cornbread and beans to fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy there is a story behind each meal and a meal behind each story. The reach of these stories was extended a while back when my cousins sent me several pages of Grandma Walker's recipes. Granny Goodwitch as she was affectionally called, had written down some of her old-time favorites and shared them with her granddaughters before she passed. These recipes, mostly deserts, harken back to a time when a lot of recipes were based on what was on hand. My grandparents were farmers in southern Ohio, and Gramma didn't have a lot varied of ingredients to draw from. I decided this winter to honor my grandma and mother and duplicate their recipes in my kitchen and share them with you. Some may seem familiar and others, not so much. We'll make slumgullion and milk-pie, devise our own recipe for moose track stew, and track down hard-to-find items like Kitchen Bouquet.

This week, Grandson Sawyer helped me make slumgullion, which I thought was a word my mom had made up, but it turns out this is an actual term for a skillet dinner of ground meat and macaroni, the precursor of Hamburger Helper. Slumgullion was a go-to meal for mom and busy weeknight dinners and she really liked it after she got an electric skillet (avocado green of course). I didn't have a recipe from mom and I'm sure it's one of those dishes that she usually threw together. A quick search of the internet and brought forth a plethora of slumgullion recipes with variety as wide as American taste buds. Sawyer and I settled on one that looked the most like what mom would have made, and it had the critical element of being a one-pot recipe. Yes, you cook the macaroni in the skillet. We didn't have moose meat, but we had a pound of ground bison which made a good choice, though budding chef, Sawyer, wanted more flavor in the meat. Our adaptation is below.



1 tbsp olive oil

Half cup diced onion

2 garlic cloves or minced /Granulated garlic

1 lb lean ground beef/Italian sausage

1/2 tsp italian seasoning

1/2 tsp oregano

1/8 tsp sea salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

14.5 oz can diced tomatoes

14.5 oz can water

8 oz elbow macaroni

grated parmesan or asiogo cheese for garnish

Brown meat, onion, and garlic. Add seasoning, tomato, macaroni and water. Cover cook, simmer until pasta is done. Stir occasionally and add water if needed. Feel free to add spinach, peas, or kale (that's the green in the photo).

This was a hit with Nana and the grandkids and it carried the flavors I remember from my teen years in Anchorage.  This recipe is also very adaptable. Here are some variations worth trying:

  • Use Italian sausage and/or flavored canned tomatoes
  • Make it chili mac by using taco seasoning and adding beans.
  • Add any variety of vegetables to make the dish healthier
Mom would also make this with bacon and tomato paste, two staples that were always around our pantry even when times were lean. This is one of the first dishes I learned to make when started getting involved in meal prep as a teen. Mom work and Peggy, David, and I had to pick up chores around the house, and I quickly learned that cooking was more fun than cleaning up. When I was younger and there were seven or eight of us at the dinner table, mom had to have recipes that really stretched her resources to fill all the hungry bellies. At the homestead, we bought macaroni in fifteen-pound boxes, tomato paste by the case and bacon by the full slab, with the skin on. That bacon rind shows up in later recipes. Stay tuned.  And while you wait, try making old-fashioned slumgullion for the hungry bodies at your table. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

A Few Cross Words about the Last Crossword

Big disappointment this month when I opened my morning paper and found a letter from the Anchorage Daily News stating that they will no longer be delivering hardcopy newspapers to the Kenai Peninsula. Bam, that’s a punch in the gut. After all these years no more newspapers in my driveway. 

This morning I walked out to the end of my driveway at Bear Lake and picked up my Anchorage newspaper for the last time. Yes, as of today the ADN will not be delivered to the Kenai Peninsula. I found it a bit ironic that I opened this last paper and saw their lead story was from Seward. Our gold medalist, Lydia Jacoby was at the top of the front page. At least that paper came to our driveways and people can save Lydia’s front-page picture. Not after today. 

ADN claims there are “circumstances beyond our control” forcing them to cease delivery on the Peninsula. Good grief, call it what it is, a business decision. No one told them they couldn’t deliver papers in Seward, Homer, Kenai. The roads aren’t closed. It’s just a business decision, which I guess I understand, but I’m still going to miss reading a hard-copy newspaper and working the New York Times crossword. 

Yeah, I’m even going to miss walking out the driveway on dark cold mornings to search for my paper in the snowbanks at the end of the drive. They didn’t offer the option of higher subscription rates. It’s just boom, they’re gone. And now people have nothing to start their fire with in the morning, nothing to crumble up and clean the glass door of the woodstove. The Seward Journal is a fine paper but it’s weekly, and there isn’t enough of it to do all the chores that newspapers do around our house: drop cloth, puppy training, tinder for your charcoal starter, packing paper, fun paper hats, and liner for pantry shelves. It’s going to take some adjustment. 

It’s not just the practical loss; I have a lot of angst mixed with this loss of paper delivery. When I was at my weakest this winter, I started my fight against cancer every morning by walking out the driveway for the paper. Somedays that was a long walk that took my breath away, and some days I didn’t feel like bundling up and tromping out through the snow, but I made it part of my treatment program. I got so I looked forward to walking that fifty yards to fetch the paper and coming back to the house for coffee, crossword, and first breakfast. 

Yeah, for fifteen-ninety-nine I can read the paper online, but really, it’s not the same, especially doing the crossword that way. And I can’t see paying them that kind of money for news I can find for free in other places. Yeah, I’ll miss some of their feature stories, and I’d have to print out the crossword somewhere else -- after I finish sulking -- but really I’m sad to see the end of a daily paper delivered to my driveway. I’m a pretty modern, techy guy but some things are hard to get used to, and this is one of them. 

On the bright side. Maybe I’ll get more writing done if I don’t have a crossword to solve every morning. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Biscuits, Sourdough, and Small Town Cookin'

 Like many people this year I spent some of my time in isolated self-quarantine in the kitchen trying my hand at baking. For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed cooking, and to my wife’s joy, I do most of the cooking at the Walker compound. This year I extended my repertoire to baking. Before now my baking interests were limited to cornbread and biscuits, the foundation of oven work in the Walker family. This year I got into sourdough big time and can finally turn out a good loaf that looks and tastes table-worthy. 
I have been intrigued by the ideas of sourdough biscuits, an attempt to marry my new interest to my family traditions. Online research turned up lots of recipes most of which were too involved for me to attempt. Biscuits are q quick bread, not just quick to cook but quick and easy to make whether the baker is bleary-eyed at six am or faced with extra company for dinner and no bread in the house. 

I was looking through one of those community cookbooks that we found at an estate sale and came across an interesting and simple, biscuit recipe. It seems every community big enough to have a name has produced a community cookbook, and they must be a staple around the United States. Travel the country and you’ll these little stapled or plastic-bound books with the favorite recipes of the town's most confident cooks, and the recipes usually have a regional flavor. And, because these are labors of love by amateur editors, they are fraught with typos, redundancies, and confusing instructions. Thrift stores, yard sales, and Aunt Martha are great sources for them if you are looking for interesting local recipes. Obviously, these recipes aren’t tested like the ones in the recipe book you paid thirty-nine ninety-five for, and sometimes they are confusing or incorrect. They also are full of vagaries like the biscuit recipe I found, “Bake until done.”
As I said, I was looking for a simple biscuit recipe that used my sourdough starter for flavor and leavening. This one had promise. Simple procedures and a short ingredient list.

Yes, I told myself, this is just what I’m looking for. The Instructions were simple too.
I had some starter brewing on the kitchen counter, so last night I decided to make a test batch of sourdough biscuits using this recipe. But I have to say, that looks like a hell of a lot of flour. My gut was telling me that even with the vagaries of sourdough starter this recipe couldn’t take more than two cups. I started with one cup of flour with more flour on standby, added the dry ingredients mix them, and then added a tablespoon of coconut oil since I didn’t have shortening. —I left shortening behind long ago. Butter or coconut oil is healthier and tastier. Olive or canola oil might work too. Then I added my sourdough starter and stirred. This made a nice firm dough that didn’t seem to need any more flour. I shaped eight small biscuits by hand and rolled them in oil as instructed. I baked them at 425 in my toaster oven which took about ten minutes. 
These raised well, turned golden brown and tasted great with a nice burst of sour flavor. 
I wouldn’t go to the trouble of rolling these in oil. In the future, I will oil my hands while shaping my biscuits and this will add enough oil for that crispy brown crust. 
Here’s my revised recipe for those of you who want to try it. I won’t go into the gastronomic and microbiological rabbit hole of sourdough starters you can find plenty of those elsewhere. 

                                            Quick and Simple Sourdough Biscuits

1 cup active sourdough starter

1-1.5 cup flour 

1 teaspoon each of baking soda, salt, & sugar

1 tablespoon of shortening

Cooking oil for coating

              1. Mix dry ingredients
              2. Add starter and mix into a firm dough
              3. Divide dough into eight equal parts and with Oil on your hands form eight, round biscuits (These could be cut with a biscuit cutter too I imagine and brushed with oil)
              4. Fit biscuits close together in a baking pan and press each down to about 1/2 inch tall. 
              5. Let rest on the counter for 30-40 minutes
              6. Bake at 425 until golden brown, about 9-10 minutes

These can be prepared overnight and the baking pan set in the fridge or somewhere else cool until morning to bake and serve hot at breakfast. 

So there you have it, a sourdough biscuit that is easy and tasty. Don’t be afraid to add a quarter cup of shredded cheese or other snappy flavors. I can imagine using this as a basis for some sourdough scones — more on that later. Keep an eye out for those community cookbooks; you just might find a culinary treasure. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Voting is So Political!

I voted yesterday, down at City Hall where early voting is taking place. I had to show my driver’s license and complete a form that asked for my name, address, and phone number, then I received a ballot and voted. I guess because 2020 is such a twisted, atypical year I paid more attention to the whole process that I usually do when I vote. 
Like everything this year, voting has suddenly become political. All this attention to the voting process can distract us from thinking about how we voted not HOW we voted. I thought I’d go political myself and tell you why I voted the way I did. 

I voted against the two Don’s for similar reasons, Don Young and Don Trump have both been in Washington too long —Don Young longer than I’ve been married. Seriously, We need a new representative and Alyse Galvin has my vote as a levelheaded, hardworking woman with good ideas. Thank you, Don, time to move on. 

Why did I vote for not-my-first-choice Biden? Because Don Trump has divided our country and never reached out to bring us together. He is a nasty, mercurial liar —a dangerous man. Joe Biden has a better chance of bringing us together. 

I’m voted for Al Gross because he has a commitment and knowledge to help fix the health care problem. This is the number one issue in America right now. How do we pay for and provide health care to all Americans? This is priority one and Gross has the best tools to do that. We need to fix the ACA and make sure health care is affordable and accessible to all.

On the Alaska stage!

Proposition One would change the oil tax structure: I don’t know the right answer to the oil tax problem, but if the oil companies are spending millions to stop Prop 1, it must be better for us than them. I voted yes. 

Proposition Two: Yes, we need to try open primaries and rank choice voting because 1) we are not a two-party state and 2) we often vote for the person, not the party. AND Yes, we need transparency in campaign financing. Besides, what’s the risk of trying something new? The biggest argument against this seems to be from the two political parties that most of us don’t belong to. 

Anyway That's where I stand, think before you vote, and maybe do some research on the issues and the candidates. Vote!
because only those who vote have the right to complain about their government.


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Rainy Day Food Plans

A cold wet day at the lake with swans, scaups, and golden eyes practicing touch-and-goes through the rain. A land otter was working the shore last night, feeding on salmon smolt, popping up like a seal periodically to stare at me through the rain. It’s the kind of day for soup or a good pot of beans. 
I’ve always been a fan of beans, — as a kid, I even would drink the hot bean juice ladled off the top of the pot— and chilly, damp day calls a pot of it simmering on the stove with cornbread in the oven. It’s one of those meals I grew up with and kept loving as an adult. I know for some people the food of their childhood has no appeal when they grow up, but for me a pot of beans simmered with a ham bone or bacon rind is full of flavor and memory. 
  American tradition holds a pot of beans in low esteem and harkens back to the Great Depression or other times when food was dear and meat was a luxury unless you could butcher a moose, pluck a chicken, or hook a salmon. For me, it’s a memory of the finest days of my childhood when we were all together in our green-log cabin with dad at one end of the table and mom at the other, anchoring our vessel in any storm. 
Back in early April the grocery store ran out of dry beans and cornmeal needed to make complementary cornbread. Such a run on stable food made me wonder if people were really eating that much cornbread and beans or just stocking up for the apocalypse. Or maybe I’m not the only one that is comforted by such basic foods. 
My mom bought beans in twenty-five-pound bags and the same for cornmeal. She was from Kentucky where she was taught that only livestock and white trash ate yellow corn. Upstanding white folk ate white cornmeal. Needless to say, by the time we were Alaska homesteaders we had moved beyond that and in fact I think we all preferred the coarse texture and flavor of the yellow cornmeal. Cornbread is a quick bread with simple recipes that pairs nicely with a big bowl of beans. Sometimes we split a chunk of cornbread and ladled the beans over the top, my sister liked to smear her cornbread with butter and crumble it on top of her beans. Now I like to keep them separate. 
  Mom had to make a ton of cornbread because there were seven of us a the table and sometimes a local stray. Not only did we need enough for the meal but also for dessert. Dessert was a chunk of cornbread spread with butter and rhubarb jam or honey. Not my dad and I, dad liked to crumble his cornbread into a tall milk glass, add a spoon of sugar, and top it off with milk. I followed suit, and we ate our makeshift pudding with a spoon out of our milk glass. 
  Beans are easy to cook and they can be pretty bland without flavoring, but Mom would add ham hocks or an old ham bone with trimmings and some chopped onion. OF course, we didn’t always have those luxuries around, but we did buy bacon by the slab. Slab bacon came with the fatty skin attached and she would filet that bacon skin from the rest of the slab and slice it to simmer in the beans. Some clove and bay leave added to the smoky flavor of the bacon rind, and the rind turned tender and tasty. With the hot cornbread, some diced onion, and a bowl of cottage cheese the table was set. Yes, we topped our bowls of beans with a dollop of cottage cheese —and for me a good sprinkle of pepper. 
Let it rain, I say. Let’s dig out the bean you stashed for emergencies, and make a skillet full of cornbread.