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.