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  • Mary Kay

Angels Baking Memories...in My Kitchen

How many Angels do you have baking in your kitchen?

I have at least 12 - count them. They include my Great Grandmothers, my Mother, two Grandmothers, one Sister, three Nieces, Mother-in-Law, Husband, two Brothers, and many more. They've created with food in so many ways, cooking on wood, electric and gas stoves; baking, sauteing, slow-cooking, roasting, grilling, air frying, etc. At this point, I am honoring 8 of them throughout my writings, exploring family stories with the recipes. The Angels featured below are the main ones, but you may see others featured in my blog from time to time. Sometimes I will run across another recipe that fits well into my blog, and therefore, have a new Angel baking beside me.


This is a fun way for me to reminisce about and to share my family stories through recipes. These recipes are a reflection of how food brings a family together. I hope you take the time to enjoy your family recipes and the Angels in your kitchen. I am sure there are stories out there for you to discover. It's an honor for me to bake with and to remember my Angels.


Great Grandmother Melissa & her 100+ year old dinner roll recipe

For many years I have been making the same homemade bun recipe that my Mother made for every single family get together since before I was born, as well as other events, including my wedding. These are not real sweet buns, but good crusty dinner rolls with light fluffy insides. You can make them in a variety of sizes and shapes for buttering warm out of the oven as a snack, as a side with a turkey dinner or later as sandwiches with leftovers. Everybody wanted Mom to bring her dinner buns to family get togethers. It was not until I was married that I realized that this just wasn't Mom's recipe, but that her Mother and her Grandmother, Melissa, also had made them for years. I never had the pleasure of getting to know her, but this means, that with me and my siblings making the buns, they have evolved into a 6-generation legacy. Since Great Grandma Melissa lived from 1870 - 1955, the recipe has to be well over 100 years by now. The recipe has been baked in old wood stoked ovens, gas ovens and electric ovens and maybe even adjusted for a more modern bread maker. Probably the only change that has been made in the recipe is the type of lard that was available. Great Grandma Melissa and Gram H would have had fresh lard rendered on their farms. Mom used lard from the store and I use white shortening from the store. I don't know anything about Great Grandma other than Melissa was my Mother's Grandmother and favorite blood relative. When Mom talked about her, I could tell that they had a very special relationship.


Gram H (Daughter of Melissa and Mom's Mom)

Gram H (her Mother was Melissa) taught in a number of one room schools, after graduating from the Normal School Teachers College) in Eau Claire around 1915. It was the forerunner to the Wisconsin State University - Eau Claire and the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire. She was born on a farm and married into another farm family, so she was a hard worker all her life, supporting her family through a teacher's salary as well as feeding the family and hired hands. I remember the day they built an inside bathroom in the farmhouse. It was quite an event! However, through the summer months, when we kids stayed at the farm, we were still relegated to using the outdoor biffy and chamber pots under the beds upstairs at night. I had fun cooking and baking with her as a little child in her kitchen which featured a two burner woodburning stove top. Off to the side was a propane fueled 4-burner stove top and oven.


Born in the 1890's she had a lot of stories to tell about the stage coaches she rode in before the automobile came about. She was one of the few farmwives that I ever saw drive a car. In fact, when Gram and Gramps went anywhere it seemed she did the driving. I always figured that Gramps did so much driving of the tractors on the farm, that he was tired of driving.


Her claim to fame was her baking. I loved her apple pie. The crust was so flaky and sweet. She would use a paring knife to cut special swirls in her pie crust tops to allow steam to be released during the baking process. I always looked for those trademark swirls at big picnics and family events because I hated to take a chance on other pies that just were not as good as hers. I would beg her to let me go down to the outside cellar to get canned meats or pickles for dinner or canned apples for pie. Her dirt floor cellar was a treasure trove of canned food and even salted pork kept in 10-20 gallon covered stone jars. She always had something in the oven or cooking on the stove - her home smelled so good.


This Gram was more prim and proper. She was forever and patiently teaching me, whether it was cooking, baking, sewing, knitting, crocheting, or correcting grammar. I loved to sit with her and her farm wife neighbors when they would gather for an afternoon to work on a quilt; I would be making clothing for the tiny little people in the wooden doll house on her front porch. But, if I said, "Huh" too much - she had absolutely no patience for that.


Gram W (My Father's Mother)

Shorty is what some people lovingly called her. At 4'11" it was pretty exciting, as grandkids, to grow taller than her. She grew up in northern Minnesota near an Indian Reservation with her single Mother and twin Sister. After marrying, her little family lived in Illinois, and Wisconsin, finally finding a small produce farm to raise their kids on. Their house was tiny, with short cupboards that Grampa made to fit their short statures. Grampa wasn't much taller than 5'.


I have memories of that little farmhouse which had electricity, but never had running water or an indoor bathroom or central heating. Of course, there was no AC. But there was a shaded front porch on which we would sit to wile away the hot evening hours talking or playing games. The inside of the outdoor biffy walls were lined with big tattered pictures of kitties which were out of larger sized magazines like 'Look" and other magazine of the early 20th Century.


The living room had a pot belly stove and her kitchen was equipped with a wood burning range with oven. Of course there were no burners - just lids to take off the top and put wood in. The entire surface of the stove top was hot enough to cook or boil anything, depending on how hot you stoked the stove. That range heated served two purposes - to cook on and to heat the entire kitchen. If you sat too far away, you would be very cold in the winter. For water, we would traipse down the steps to the electric water pump near the creek to pump water and bring it up for drinking and washing dishes. Of course, a large pot of water was kept warm on the woodstove all day to be dipped into for washing and doing the dishes. There was actually a small hand pump at the dry sink to pump cold drinking water. As a kid it was a lot of fun, but I'm sure it was a tough life for a growing family.


In the 1950's Grandpa passed away and Gram moved into an apartment in town. But, every spring we would help her open up the farmhouse for the summer and spend many days with her and many friends from town.


This Gram was a giggler. She loved to tell stories and laugh about them. This is the Gram that we would get in trouble with. If she was babysitting us, she would let us stay up much later at night than we were supposed to. We would run around outside in our pjs, laughing and giggling. Of course, Mom always knew what we had been doing - how else would we have gotten grass stains on our pajamas?


As a kid, I spent many hours foraging in the woods with her for elderberries, blackberries, special leaves and herbs for cooking, and dandelion greens for salad. Her specialties in the kitchen included molasses among other cookies and cooking squirrels for Dad. "Dagnabit" was one of her favorite expressions when something didn't cook right as she had planned.


Mom (Melissa's Granddaughter and my Mom)

Now, I realize that 5 kids growing up together will have differing viewpoints about our parents. I think we all agree on one thing - that to Mom, it was very important to have family get togethers with our extended family and friends, family dinners every Sunday after church, celebrate birthdays, keep a clean house, and hold the family together while Dad was out of town for days, working on the railroad. When I was in Junior High, she and a girlfriend took a job in the medical field to help bring in money to support our growing family. Mom grew up on a farm during the depression, about 10 miles from town and learned to butcher chickens (which she adamantly refused to eat until the day she died), garden, take care of pigs, cows, and of course, bake and cook for a large family. She had 4 siblings and also helped serve up food for hired hands, including the annual threshers who made the rounds to farms in the farming neighborhood to harvest the corn, soybeans, etc.


It was a time when farm kids didn't always have the opportunity to go to high school, just grade school. There were no buses to transport them into town. But, as a teacher, her Mother understood the value of education and made arrangements to trade her for a cousin who lived in town. So, Gram H connected with her brother who lived in town and they made arrangements to trade children for much of the school year so Mom could attend high school in the 1940's.


It was also a time when boys quit high school and went into the military because the United States was getting involved in WW II. That was a pretty young age for someone to lose friends to war. Her scrapbook from the time has so many newspaper clippings of neighbor boys who had enlisted, gotten wounded or even killed. That included two of her brothers who enlisted. It was a tough time for everyone.


She passed on many skills, including cooking, vegetable gardening, flower gardening, cleaning, choosing the best fruit and vegetables in the produce section in the grocery store, how to compare prices of canned goods, making people feel comfortable in our home, and visiting elderly relatives who needed a little companionship and help around their homes. She was the one who instilled the idea community service in me. It started with helping relatives, and expanded to community service for non-profit organizations.


One thing she veered way away from was teaching me how to drive a car. She left that up to my brothers and Gram, which was just fine with me. She and I might now have survived in the same vehicle during those days - you see, I was a know it all teen. I'm sure you can understand.


One thing she spread was her love of the Packers and Badgers. If you ever wanted to meet a rabid fan, she was it. She could be found every Saturday during football season at the Badger stadium for over 30 years until the year she passed away. She was the little lady all dressed red with two canes, trudging up all the outside ramps to her season ticket seats on the upper level. She refused to take the elevator until the last year of her life. I think she felt pretty special to be taken up the many levels by a special elevator attendant. And, when she got to her seats right located by the opening to level JJ opening, the usher would announce that the game could begin now that Mrs. W had arrived (She always smiled when referred to her by her title of Mrs.). I remember one time we were a little late, and he told her they had held the game just for her arrival. Note: Here's what a rabid Badger fan she was: She traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska to a conference I was attending for a week. One evening after classes, I took her to the Nebraska Cornhuskers stadium. Get this - She hated that team so much that she actually walked over to the stadium and spit on the stadium wall. - HA! I quick looked around to make sure we were not going to be accosted by some Cornhusker fan.


So, that's Mom, a very giving person, loved her family, and was one of the best cooks I could have learned from...and a rabid football fan.


My Sister Nancy

So, what can I say about my only (younger) sister other than she latched on to the cooking bug, too. When we were younger, I was more into creating dinners and learning about all the recipes from Mom, and the Grams. Nancy took on learning about tempering chocolate and creating some of the most beautiful handmade chocolates with creative centers. Every holiday she would bring a big Tupperware container of these beauties which were tough to stay out of. We were always waiting to see what new chocolate creations she had developed.


As Mom got older and it was getting to be too much work for her to host the family holiday dinners, Nancy and my brother and I would take turns hosting, We would include all our siblings, their children, in-laws, out-laws, aunts, uncles and special neighbors. There even came a time when Mom no longer had the energy to make the infamous dinner buns. Then, my brothers and sister and I would take up the mantle of that tradition. Mine never seemed to turn out as well as Mom's. The flavor was there, but they just didn't seem to rise as well as hers. Maybe it was because I didn't have her huge yellow Tupperware bowl to mix them in and to raise the dough. "Whatever," as she would say.


Nancy and I would take Mom and our two Grams for our annual leaf peeper rides around the Mississippi River Valley, to Laura Ingalls Wilder's home town of Plum City, the bluffs around Maiden Rock, Wi and even south toward Madison. They were relaxing days to appreciate the colorful hills and bluffs nature had created, and of course, to hunt for another ice cream shoppe - our favorite being at Nelson, Wi. Nancy and I continue that tradition with road trips all year round, reconnecting with some of those long ago visits and creating more of our own traditions by exploring restaurants and for unique foods, parks, shoppes, apple orchards, quilt and knit shoppes in small towns.


Niece Justine

Married to a young man from Egypt, Justine has spread her creative wings in cooking to include spices and recipes never introduced to our family before. It's an adventure of new aromas every time I visit their home. My nose detects many new wonderful smells of which never revealed to me before. It's a combination of middle eastern spices in food I've never had a chance to enjoy. The marriage of unique vegetables, meats and spices are enjoyable to eat, as I learn the history behind many of the combinations. The spices she uses range from musky to hot and spicy. The pureed soups are different for me since I grew up with diced vegetables. Mom never owned a food processor, so I don't think she ever thought to puree any of the many different soups she made (It would have been a very easy way for her to "hide" vegetables that we kids did not necessarily appreciate.).






Niece Elizabeth

Elizabeth has also been bitten by the baking bug, since she has shown a sincere interest in learning about the baking and cooking my Mother, her Grandmother, used to surround her family with. She has proudly produced many of her own favorites at family get togethers and enjoys sharing new recipes and newly discovered ingredients. Our family recipe book which my sister created includes some of Elizabeth's - Date Filled Cookies which came from her her Grandma and Grandpa Rose, Cream Puffs, Pecan Balls, Chicken and Rice Pitas, Easy Chili, Quick Stroganoff and Fantastic Meatballs. She definitely like to create new recipes and try different combinations. With her creative brain, it's fun to find out what she's working on in the kitchen. We will definitely explore some of her recipes through my blog. She and her husband love to entertain, and are not afraid to make different recipes for us to try.




Niece Kylie

As a very young girl, Kylie spent a lot of time with her Gram (my Mother) in the kitchen cooking up treats like cookies and buns and cakes. Many times I would stop in after work to find them in their own little world, with themselves and the kitchen floor dusted with flour and giggling. Sometimes I would find them huddled together in the living room stitching something they were making or mending. They seemed to fit well, Mom teaching her how to knit, crochet, sew, cook and bake, and telling her stories about life on the farm. They really connected over the Laura Ingalls books, with Mom taking her and her brother to see the Ingalls museum at Pepin, Wi and visiting the Ingalls home recreation between Pepin and Plum City. They even shared the entire series of books over the years, with Mom relating her own life ton the farm o the books.


As an accomplished entrepreneur, Kylie has developed her own successful food blog, featuring delicious meals, at MidwestFoodie.com. Working with interesting spices and herbs you can find unique and easy to create oven meals, stovetop meals, soups and hand foods like pizza for busy families. Her little daughter even gets involved in some of the pictures and videos, thus exploring and passing on different food cultures to another generation.


Credits:

Thank you to my brother, Dale, for his artistic creativity to present the photos of my family, the collage of Angels and my food blog. It was with his creative ideas that help communicate the overall theme of the blog - AngelsBakingMemories.com.


Thank you to Dare Devil Consulting for their guidance in laying out the website, blog, Facebook page, logo and continuing to answer my beginner questions to help make this blog better for the users.


Thank you to all the Angels, past and present. for contributing recipes, and for giving me permission to use their likenesses.


Thank you to everyone for visiting my food blog. This is a fun way for me to reminisce about and to share family stories through recipes. These recipes are a reflection of how food brings a family together. I hope you take the time to enjoy your own family recipes. I am sure there are stories there to be discovered, and Angels, too.


Thank you!

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