Favorite dishes in our family originate in many places. Grandmother kitchens, as well as mother kitchens, mother-in-law kitchens, and those of friends have produced satisfying and tasty concoctions that remain favorites through generations. It’s surprising how often friends will exchange recipes that work their way onto the list of favorites.
I thumbed through the cards in my file and noted several that have achieved staying power. One was a main dish that has a name begging creative upgrade: “Hamburger on French Bread.” Through the years we have referred to this as “Topped French Bread,” or “French Bread Pizza.” Nothing seems to stick with permanence.
The recipe card was written in my mother’s handwriting, noting that its source was the mother of our good childhood friends, Fredia. Sixty years ago, my sisters and I belonged to a 4-H club and enjoyed getting together for learning projects with friends that we still keep in touch with today. I recall Fredia as an active 4-H project leader, sharing several recipes that had staying power, just like the friendship between our families.
On my latest trip to the grocery store, a display just inside the door offered French bread loaves at a special price. I took it as a sign that the “French Bread Pizza-zz” was next on the Comfort Food list. For many years, French bread loaves were offered in foil wrappers that could be used in the oven. No longer. But I discovered that the long narrow loaves fit nicely, in a diagonal orientation, in 13” x 9” cake pans, which is what I used to prepare this favorite main dish.
Here’s what you need to make this satisfying dish:
Cut a loaf of French bread in half, long ways.
Mix a pound of lean ground beef with 1/3 cup evaporated milk, 1/4 cup of crushed crackers, 1 egg, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 1 1/2 tsp prepared mustard, 1 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. A handy tool is a potato masher.
Spread ½ of the meat mixture on each half of the bread.
Wrap in foil, or place in a 13 x 9 pan and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
Bake 20 minutes at 350 F.
Sprinkle ½ cup grated cheese on each half of the loaf. Bake 5 minutes longer.
Slice into desired servings and enjoy.
This recipe is a keeper. My grandson’s comment at dinnertime: “We need to make this more often!”
Perhaps every grandmother bakes cookies. Mine sure did. And there was this one recipe that in my mind was unique to Grandma Georgia. Her recipe for Brown Sugar Raisin Cookies wouldn’t have stood out as special to me, just looking through recipes. Though I am fond of brown sugar concoctions, I have never really taken to raisins. But this cookie wouldn’t be the same without them. In her recipe file, she labeled them “Ola’s Cookies”. Her youngest sister was named Ola. She must have thought fondly of Ola whenever she baked a batch of these cookies. I think of Grandma Georgia. To me, the flavor speaks of delicious odors filling her simple house, her hearty laughter, and her ready hugs. These cookies say “Grandma” as clearly as anything ever could.
I must tell you that the mix of flavors–lemon, brown sugar, and stewed raisins– grows on you and it’s nearly impossible to eat just one. I will also let you know that for years after Grandma Georgia shared this prize recipe with my mother, we could not figure out her secret. Ours never quite ended up the same as Grandma’s cookies. However once upon a time she divulged her little secret (a bit resentfully, as if everyone should just know how to do this.) She always baked a test cookie before she put a sheet of them into the oven. After baking one, if it didn’t turn out light and fluffy, she added more flour. So we learned that recipes aren’t cut in stone. They are meant to be adjusted to preferences and current conditions.
Suffice it to say that the cookies turn out much better (more like Grandma’s) if the dough is very stiff to start with. You don’t want them spreading out too much during the baking process.
Grandma Georgia’s Brown Sugar Raisin Cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Measure a cup of raisin into a saucepan. Cover them with water and simmer them gently while you prepare the rest of the cookie dough.
Cream together 1 cup Crisco and 2 cups brown sugar. Note: I learned a few months ago that genuine Crisco has a component of palm oil in it, which is not environmentally friendly, given that much land in tropical countries is altered to produce the palm trees to meet palm oil demand. I used 1 cup of real butter instead with no detriment to the finished product.
Measure 3 1/2 cups sifted flour and sift with 2 tsp soda and 2 tsp cream of tartar. Mix the dry ingredients into the dough.
Drain the raisins after they are soft and plump. Add them to the cookie dough, and add 1 cup nutmeats, if desired.
Mix well with your hands. “Makes them soft,” wrote Grandma Georgia.
Drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet.
Bake 10 – 15 minutes in the pre-heated oven.
This recipe makes 4 to 5 dozen delicious cookies that provide a taste into the past, a simple, wholesome life filled with love and laughter.
A bit of Grandma’s life wisdom:
“When I was younger and my feelings got hurt or a problem was hard to solve, I would get my hoe, and I would hoe and hoe, as hard as I could, until the problem didn’t seem so big. I used to have a wonderful garden!”
COVID season provided ample opportunity for reflection. Who am I anyway? Or who are WE? How did we get here? Where are we headed?
Much of my ruminating led to angst. We don’t know for sure where we are headed. Events of the last year placed a lot of lifelong assumptions, assurances, and dreams under the scrutinizing lens of a societal microscope and we came up lacking—lacking equality and justice, lacking compassion, lacking financial security and equity. In other areas we have far too much—distrust of each other, division, despair.
Through it however, I discovered that an open mind, willingness to embrace new ideas and habits, reinforcing resilience, and following new paths to adventure were good medicine. Laughter with friends, online or masked, helped also.
Another of my go-to tactics was to remember good times and loved ones who have departed. I recall they made it through difficult days—or even years—and that helps. If they did, so can we.
I discovered one good way to access memories is through food. I am no gourmet chef. In fact, I am one of those people who really HATES to cook. I have always looked at food preparation as a necessary inconvenience. However, I discovered that preparing family favorites passed along by loved ones was therapeutic. I delighted in preparing dishes that make me think of lost family members. Call it comfort food. The stories behind favorite family recipes, their origins and evolution, offer warm fuzzies in the way of good memories, as well.
Today I launch a new thread in my blog–Comfort Food recipes, brought to me by dear friends and beloved family members. Many of the originals live in my recipe box, and when I read the ingredients and instructions, penned in my grandmother’s or mother’s handwriting, it’s as if they are just around the corner, waiting to share some familiar conversational topics. In “Comfort Foods” I will share food stories also, the memories associated with the recipes, and how they came to be favorites.
I start the series with a favorite from my Grandma Georgia, “Peach Seed Jelly.” Yes, you read that right. It is jelly made from a pan of peach seeds. Though I don’t know its origin, I can visualize Grandma Georgia tending to those peaches from her wild peach tree on the west side of the wheat field. After canning the sliced peaches, she discovered how to make use of them down to the leftover seeds, probably with a little help from her friends.
This story has to start in the springtime. After the recent polar weather we experienced, I look forward to this year’s spring. Will the fruit trees bloom again this year? Will the balmy weather allow them to produce fruit again? A few years ago, I learned that the flowering tree at the corner of a building my dad built on the property next door was a peach tree. Prior to that I assumed it to be an ornamental plum since it had never produced fruit in the three decades that we’ve lived here. As it grew, it gifted us with cascades of blossoms during several springs. The fruit finally showed up, and for the last two years, branches were laden with delicate, small white peaches. There was enough to collect and can for the winter, along with several pints of white peach jam.
The story could stop there. But it doesn’t. When I was a child, Grandma Georgia shared a recipe for “Peach Seed Jelly” that my mother utilized several times. Mother discovered that you don’t have to make the jelly during the summer’s canning season. Peach seeds can be frozen and kept a year or two—until there are enough to make a good batch of jelly. When the peach jam jars are empty, and canned peaches nearly depleted, winter is a perfect time to thaw out those peach seeds and make jelly.
Cover the peach seeds with boiling water and simmer on the stove for about five minutes. Let the seeds stand overnight in this water.
Next morning strain and measure the juice.The seeds will now be relegated to the compost bin, or offered to the hens to peck over.
Add 1 package of fruit pectin to each three cups of juice. For this batch, I measured 9 cups of juice, so I needed three packages of pectin.
Bring this to a vigorous boil, stirring constantly.
Add equal parts of sugar as juice. 9 cups juice requires 9 cups sugar. However, I have reliably had better luck with a ratio of 4:3 sugar to juice. 9 cups juice to 12 cups sugar.
Cook at the boiling point until drops sheet off a spoon in the jell test.
This takes maybe 15 – 20 minutes.
I have never been certain when this point is reached, or even identifying drops “sheeting” off the spoon but I discovered that you can test a spoonful on a lid or small dish. Place it in the refrigerator for a minute to see if it jells.
When it’s ready, seal the jelly in pint jars. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.
This is a delightful jelly, with a flavor that cannot be duplicated in any purchased peach jelly or jam. One year, after a top-ranking ribbon at the county fair, my daughter took it to the state fair. No doubt about it, Peach Seed Jelly is a family favorite. After a successful batch, we get quite protective of it. We have even been known to ration its use by novices, just in case they don’t find it as desirable as we do!