Cooks' Exchange: Welcome memories and an unexpected treasure trove of recipes

Many thanks to those of you who shared similar interests and delights during the past few weeks while I celebrated a quarter of a century responding to your requests. Letters, emails, phone calls and being approached in public will keep me smiling for a long time. The high points have been the higher than ever imagined back in April of 1993 when it all began, and the only low points were not being able to deliver certain requests or, unfortunately, an error that may have appeared along the way.

During this frame of nostalgia, my friend Marty Robbins called to say that he had something I might be interested in. Because he has been so instrumental in the success of America’s Best Flowers in Cottage Grove becoming one of the largest greenhouses in Dane County, I wondered if it was a plant or a flower.

Instead, it was a large heavy cardboard box filled with food-related items saved by the late Iva Breneman who lived and farmed for many years with her husband, Lloyd, near Pardeeville. She was active in Columbia County Homemakers, 4-H, was a great hostess and “one of the best cooks” Robbins has ever known. In fact, he claims he called her a “foodie” long before the term became popular. Breneman’s daughter, Carol Gieck from Sun Prairie, who has been a good friend of his for more than 50 years, sorted through a treasure trove that her mother saved through the years and anything to do with food was delivered to Robbins, who is also quite a cook in his own kitchen.

Bursting with nostalgia, the box was filled with clippings and books, multiple newsletters from homemakers groups in Columbia County, 4-H, articles and recipes from the State Journal, Portage Daily Register and many cook-off and bake-off contests from the area, many dating back 40 years or more. After selecting certain things for himself, he wondered if I might be interested in the leftovers and mentioned that one of the State Journal articles included a picture of me with the Wisconsin Air and Army National Guard (Madison area) Officers’ Wives cookbook I spearheaded back in 1976 in celebration of the country’s Bicentennial.

One of the countless recipes included in Iva’s collection of newsletters was a rhubarb pie using maraschino cherries submitted by Paula Biely of Portage. With rhubarb season fast approaching and due to my love of maraschino cherries, this seemed to satisfy my curiosity to share with you. It also has me thinking about adding chopped maraschino cherries to my own favorite rhubarb filling.

Rhubarb pie

Crust:

  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter

Cut with pastry blender until crumbly. Press into 9-inch pie pan (side and bottom).

Rhubarb filling:

  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca
  • 1 tablespoon maraschino cherry juice
  • 3 maraschino cherries, cut up
  • 2 cups rhubarb, cut up
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Mix together sour cream, tapioca, cherry juice, and cut up cherries; let stand while preparing the rest. Mix rhubarb, sugar and butter together. Blend together sour cream and rhubarb mixtures and pour into crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.

Back to recent requests, a recipe known as slumgullion mentioned a few weeks ago stirred the interest of Mike Repas, another good friend who should win a trophy for all the recipes he has shared through the years. He remembers the word mentioned in “It Happened on 5th Avenue”, a Christmas film shown every holiday season on TCM. Described as being a simple and soupy dish similar to a stew, it apparently goes back in time in certain British neighborhoods.

Slumgullion

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (80/20)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cans of mushrooms, drained, or about 12 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • 14.5 ounce can of stewed tomatoes
  • Small head of green cabbage, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound box of elbow macaroni

Brown meat in a large skillet over a medium flame. As meat begins to brown, add onion and continue cooking until onion wilts. Drain any excess fat and transfer to a large soup pot. Stir in remaining ingredients, except macaroni, and  bring back to a quick boil, lower flame and bring mixture to low and slow simmer. Continue the simmer for up to 30 minutes.

In another pot, boil elbow macaroni until al dente. Save a cup or two of the pasta water, then drain pasta. Add pasta to the soup pot and mix everything. If you think it is too thick, add pasta water to thin a little at a time. Allow to simmer for another 15 minutes and serve. This is nice with thick cut slices of Vienna or Italian bread and a fresh salad of greens.

Note: Mike claims you can use more tomatoes if you like. To save time and have one less pan to clean, add elbow macaroni directly to the simmering soup and continue to simmer until the pasta is al dente. Add a little water if you think it needs thinning and serve. This dish is great as a leftover by just reheating to serve, but don’t allow it to boil or the pasta will get “goopy.” 

Reader Sarah Furseth once clipped a recipe from here for Mother’s cry baby cookies. She made them once, didn’t think they were good enough to make again. After throwing away the recipe, she continued nibbling on them and they seemed to develop a deeper flavor in the  days that followed. Because they also remained “nice and soft,” she decided to spread frosting as a filling between two cookies rather than on top. The result was perfect allowing them to be stacked in a container. Anxious to make them again, she needed the recipe again, and here it is.

Mother’s cry baby cookies

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons shortening (lard)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup milk

Frosting:

  • 1 stick softened margarine
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

In large bowl, mix first three ingredients and add well-beaten eggs. Mix dry ingredients together and add 2 or 3 cups to first mixture.

Add milk and the rest of the flour mixture. Mix until smooth. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. When cooled, frost with the powdered sugar frosting, which need not be real stiff to spread. Makes 6 to 8 dozen.

Recent request: Mentioning Rennebohm’s recently stirred a reader’s memory about a “glorious”chocolate pie they served there many years ago. Does anyone have the recipe?

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