Mother Bailey’s Kitchen

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She preferred to be called Mother Bailey. She was a stately Scottish woman; tall and handsome with wild blonde-gray hair that no matter how desperately she tried to secure it, frizzed and blew in all directions. Her eyes were a steely-blue and reminded me of thin ice over a lake. Much like her homeland she was rugged and sturdy.

Though she gave an air of fixed and singular determination, she was known for her wicked sense of humor that was subtle and witty. I was often a recipient of this humor and rarely caught on until I saw the glint in her eyes. She seemed to draw delight in my simple trusting nature.

Mother Bailey was a devout Presbyterian and followed the rules of her church, one of which she believed included frugality. She wasted nothing and bordered on the edge of hoarding, except that she willingly gave away whatever she had.

She lived in Pennsylvania with her English Cocker Spaniel named Tillie, also a blonde. This particular area of Pennsylvania reminded her of home; hilly, rocky, windswept and a neighborhood clannish in nature. Her only frustration with the region was her inability to grow a decent patch of heather in the garden. I wondered if this inability was due more to the activities of her energetic dog than the environment. Whenever we would walk about the sloping gardens, care would need to be taken so as not to sprain an ankle in one of the many digs Tillie left behind.

Listening to Mother Bailey talk gave rise to wonder and curiosity about her native land. Her tongue would roll and lilt as she spoke of land and sea. Words like glens and straths or firths and links peppered her descriptions. I would set a mental note to check the encyclopedias when I got home.

Being Scottish, and as I mentioned, frugal in every regard, Mother Bailey repurposed everything—long before it was fashionable. And her home reflected this habit, especially her kitchen. It was a galley style kitchen with one end open to the central hallway and the other open to the dining area with a half-wall counter dividing the room.

Every surface, shelf and ledge were filled to capacity with half-hazard stacks categorically organized. A colorful mountain of seasonal and holiday napkins, some only slightly used, spilled over onto the canning jars filled with plastic cutlery—being utilized more frequently than the drawer of pristine flatware.

The white porcelain enamelware table, with red edged extender leaves and chrome legs, bore the brunt of the stacking. Only a small half-moon space at the front edge of the leaf remained open for her to work. The organized clutter sloped up and away to rest against the gold floral papered wall.

Boxes of loose tea and half used tea-balls rested nearest the front. Emptied bread bags lay half folded under the casual mound of English muffins, bannock cakes, and partial loaves of assorted breads. Cartons and cans filled the remaining space in an uphill climb with the summit of the pile stacked with steel cut oats imported from Scotland. Mother Bailey was a bit of a snob when it came to her beloved oats.

When I had come to visit her one afternoon, she had intended to make chowder for our ‘sup’. With bacon fat leftover from breakfast, she sautéed the onions as we talked. A barely concealed fear of a kitchen fire raced through my thoughts as I observed the nearness of her stacks to the lighted range. Rummaging through the cans on the counter to her right she pulled out whole corn and from the freezer a bag of lima beans. Opening them she added them to the pot. I had not eaten limas before and asked if they were like navy or black beans. “Tis neither” was all she said while dipping a wooden spoon into the stock, pulling up a plump green lima for me to taste. I enjoyed its creaminess, like butter wrapped in a pale green skin.

Mother Bailey explained that succotash was a baked dish of corn, limas and evaporated milk. She had adapted the ingredients to make chowder, “for the soups are healthier you know.” A practical woman, she often used boxed potato flakes when she had no leftover mashed. This is an adaptation of her recipe, God rest her soul.

 Succotash Chowder

4 strips thick bacon, diced, fried and drained, reserving about 1 tbl. of the grease

1 medium onion, diced

30-36 oz. chicken broth (2 large cartons or cans) or equivalent using bouillon paste

¼ tsp celery seed

¼ tsp thyme

10 oz. frozen lima beans (or canned, drained)

10 oz. frozen whole kernel corn (or canned drained), or for a sweeter chowder use corn stripped from the cob

1-1 ¼ c. potato flakes, or equivalent leftover mashed thinned with some of the milk

1 c  half-and-half, or  equivalent whole milk (do not use skim or low fat) mixed with a small can of evaporated milk

Pepper to taste 

Cook the bacon bits until well done but not overly hard. In soup kettle add the bacon drippings and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the broth, celery seed, thyme, limas and corn. Boil gently for 15 minutes. Whisk into soup the milk and potatoes. Add bacon bits. Add pepper to taste and simmer until thickened.

I usually use leftover mashed potatoes for this chowder. I find that boxed potatoes work very well to thicken up a soup, but use them in moderation for you can quickly wind up with a succotash mud. You can also use corn starch to thicken.

Enjoy…or as Mother Baily would say, “mealtainn!

Image from pixabay.com

Parsnips and Apples Soup, a Sweeter Fare for Meatless Fridays

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I love apples! Seriously. Love them almost more than chocolate. Biting into a warm, crisp, just picked apple in autumn is only one step away from doing the same in summer with tomatoes.

Living in Michigan, where apple production ranks number three in the States, the harvest of this fruit peaks in late September through early October. There are so many apples to choose from that I would have a great time every week at the farm markets buying mixed bags. I’ve long since given up storing a bushel of apples through the winter, buying instead a few specialty varieties each week.

Apples are wonderful to teach the youngest of children about our faith. When you cut an apple in half along the equatorial plane, the cross section in the core looks like a star; the five-pointed Epiphany Star. The five seeds inside the five-pointed star stand for the five wounds of Christ.

Children love stars, and while stars are not traditionally associated with the Lenten season, there is a weekly program for children, six and up, called The Seven Stars of Lent. This worship resource helps to prepare children’s’ hearts to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.

A second apple story used to teach about the Trinity is cut an apple in half from top to bottom and note the three parts: skin, meat and seeds. The outer skin represents the Father who encompasses all, Jesus is the meat of the fruit that feeds us, and the seeds are the Holy Spirit that when planted, will bring new life. An apple wouldn’t be an apple if any one of these elements was missing; so, too, with the Trinity.

Now, since you’re cutting up all those apples for educational purposes, how about a recipe! This is a savory and sweet soup more for the adult pallet; try cutting the spices by half for kids.

Parsnip and Apple Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped sweet onion (Vidalia is best)

2 1/2 cups (about a pound) peeled and chopped Pink Lady apples (or any slightly tart apple is fine—Granny Smiths are too sour!)

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 1/2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon dry

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) chopped peeled parsnip

1 clove garlic finely chopped

4 cups chicken broth

1 cup apple cider (don’t use apple juice)

1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sour cream dollops when serving

In a stock pot, sauté onions in oil until tender. Add apples, curry, ginger, and cardamom.  Simmer for about a minute to dissolve spices, stirring constantly. Add broth, parsnips, garlic, and cider. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until parsnips are tender. CAREFULLY blend soup until smooth using a blender (or use an immersion blender). Serve with sour cream.

A side note here, I like to use oven roasted parsnips. They tend to be sweeter and lend a fuller flavor to the soup. Of course, your stove-top cooking time will be reduced.

Photo morguefile.com, by marybaird.

A Childhood with Oxtail Soup

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As a child, my first memory of a soup is Oxtail. Not so much for its flavor—though it is delicious—but for the adventure at my grandmother’s side. [Skip to end for recipe.}

In late winter, after Christmas and before Lent, I would often spend a weekend at my maternal grandparents’ house. I delighted in the quietness and solitude that their home afforded.

When I was too small to help prepare foods, I would sit at grandma’s side on the bench to the kitchen table and chatter as she sliced and diced. My job was to carefully scoop up the prepared veggies with my pudgy hands and dump them in the fluted glass custard bowls. So much did I hunger for grandmother’s love that even when she chopped the onions I would not move away, no matter how much the stinging created tears.

Often, early in the morning before she even began preparing the vegetables for soup, we would hop in her brown and white Fairlane and head for the local butcher’s. Walking through the shop door next to my grandmother, I would feel slightly nauseated by the strong feculent scent and visual display of raw bloodied meats. My dizziness was exacerbated by the whirring heat venting out from under the glass cases as I stood in my snowsuit.

This particular butcher’s shop fed the ethnic appetites of the surrounding communities just outside Detroit. It was a time when religious affiliations mattered little and moral values spoke volumes. His display of goods was not nearly as polite as the governmentally regulated meat counters we see today. Besides the usual wurst’s, burger, and chops, I would stare at rows of blue-grey tongues of beef, plump veined mountain oysters, puddles of purple bloodied livers in silver trays, wrinkled kidneys and tripe, sinewy pig’s feet, and whole plucked chickens. There were other pieces of animal anatomy available for purchase, though I never ventured that far down the display case, staying instead near my grandmother’s side.

Grandma could ask for any number of meat items, but for this soup she would ask for eight joints high on the tail—“they are meatier you know” she would say to no one in particular. The butcher would nod and then disappear through double white doors. After a few minutes and multiple hard whacks he’d return with several joints on a reddish-brown sheet for grandmother to inspect. Her approval resulted in the bundle being wrapped in white paper and tied with string. If the butcher shop was not too busy, I would often get my own little trussed bundle.

Upon returning home she would set about preparing the vegetables with me dutifully at her side. Once the slicing and dicing was completed, she would pull out a large brushed aluminum stock pot, the bottom darkened with use, and, setting it on the back unit, would tip it to one side as she lit the burner with a wooden match. Adding the stock that had been thawed the night before, she would set about cooking our supper.

This recipe tastes very much the same as when my grandmother would make it. Oxtails in the 1950s were considered marginal foods and very inexpensive. Today they cost almost as much as sirloin. Though expensive, try to use them rather than stewing beef, for they add a unique flavor to the soup that cannot be duplicated.

Oxtail Soup

64 oz. beef stock (8-10 cups): Use homemade, prepackaged, or (my favorite) paste dissolved in water. Bouillon cubes may be used but they make the broth excessively salty and often bitter.

6-8 beef tail joints

½ large sweet onion, about a cup, diced and divided in half

2 celery stalks with leaves, diced

1 large carrot (unpeeled), diced

3 whole cloves or ¼ tsp. ground

½ tsp. salt (omit if using paste or bouillon)

¼ tsp. allspice (up to ½ tsp. to desired taste)

1/8 tsp. ground bay leaf

1-12 oz. can diced tomatoes, or better yet, home canned or frozen tomatoes

1-12 oz. can tomato juice, or 2 small 5.5 oz. cans

½ c. dry pearl barley, for thicker soup use up to 1 c.

1-10 oz. bag frozen peas and carrots or ¾ c. each fresh, do not use peas in pods.

Place stock in large soup pot; add beef tail joints, celery, carrot, and ½ of diced onion. Bring to boil, turn down heat and simmer until meat is tender, about two hours. Remove joints to cool. Meanwhile, puree stock. Remove meat from joints, discard bone and return meat to soup. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a low boil and simmer until barley is tender–about 20-30 minutes.

Leftover soup thickens; use tomato juice, white wine, or beef broth to thin, do NOT use water.

I rarely use the salt suggested in this recipe because of the sodium content in store-bought stocks and tomato juice. You can add fresh ground pepper to the soup when serving if desired, but avoid adding it to the soup when it is cooking. The pepper when added during cooking seems to dull the flavor of the allspice and cloves.

A brown rice mix can be substituted if you don’t like the nutty taste or chewy texture of barley. I have also used wild rice and loved it! Allow wild rice to cook for 30 minutes after you puree the soup and before you return the meat to the pot.

Image from Wikimedia.org, public domain, Stillleben mit Deckelterrine, brauner Tonschale, Brot und Weinglas. Öl auf Leinwand, 18th century.

A Winter’s Soup

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As an avid vegetable gardener I have often kept a root cellar, or something similar, for storing harvested produce. In one house it was literally a hand dug portion of the basements exposed to tree roots and in another a field-stone basement. Putting food by just seems like a natural progression for those of us who celebrate life with soil between our hands.

At one time I lived in an old farm house on a double lot. My vegetable patch wasn’t very big, although it sure felt like twenty acres come harvest time. Many of my homegrown root vegetables—potatoes, carrots, parsnips, garlic and onions—would be set for storage in a cool dark corner of the basement.

In this farm house, I’d head down the back kitchen stairs into the Michigan basement—hand dug, dirt floor, fieldstone walls—and from inside the cellar, unlock the bulk-head doors over the cement steps that lead outside. I could then carry into the basement directly from the gardens bins and bags of barely cleaned root vegetables for storage.

A lot of these old fieldstone basements were formed with a ledge about four feet up. I’m not sure why, but thank the Good Lord for a perfect place to set the produce. The overhead beams were old and as hard as the stones, so twine was threaded between them and the up-stairs floor-boards to hang the garlic and onions; the herbs went into the attic. Once everything was hauled into place, the mouse traps would be set. Michigan basements are known for harboring the neighborhood mouse population.

There was also a fair amount of tomato canning that took place. That is until I got the upright freezer and stopped the boiling-pots-in-August insanity. I never made sauces with the tomatoes after that, preferring to freezer-pack them fresh and often unpeeled. When they thawed out, the skins just slipped off and the added flavor from them was worth the mess.

Feeling a bit out of sorts as the dark days of winter wore on, I would often look through cookbooks and old magazines for meal options. The publications from the Christmas season always showed fancy foods and fabulous families, neither of which were part of my world. The days were dark, and I was feeling much like the produce in the basement waiting for purposefulness.

I needed to do something, I needed to share. I had no idea who would be the recipient of the food I was fixing to cook, but I knew the Holy Spirit would make a suggestion.

I had a fair amount of pot roast left from the previous night’s dinner. To this day, I still haven’t figured out how to make a small roast! I decided that this would be the protein I needed in a soup. I grabbed a stock pot from under the sink and headed to the basement with my old black lab slowly following me down the steep stairs.

Loaded with the produce I would need, back up to the kitchen I went. The pot was so heavy that I plopped it down every other step until I got to the linoleum. Up and onto the counter it went, and out the veggies came into the sink that I now started to fill with cold water.

I had a sweet potato in the fridge; one of the magazine recipes had used sweet potatoes instead of white ones in a stew. It sounded like a nice note to add, so I pulled that out along with the meat, celery and seasonings.

With the wooden handled veggie brush, a Fuller Brush housewarming gift from long ago, I scrubbed the skins of the potatoes and carrots. Peeling the parsnips and store bought rutabaga; I set them all together on the over-sized walnut cutting board next to the cabbage.

Having already rinsed the kettle and set it on the stove to dry, I dumped in the stock and lit the burner and donning my apron, albeit a little late, I set about combining the soup. This recipe has fewer servings than the first over-excited-to-share version.

Winter Roots Beef Soup

6 cups beef broth (avoid cubes of bouillon, they give the root veggies an odd saltiness though bouillon paste works fine)

½ to 1 lb. leftover beef roast, diced

1 large potato diced, peeled if the skin is tough

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

½ rutabaga, peeled and diced

2 parsnips, peeled and diced

¼ head red cabbage (or green) shredded

14-16 oz. diced tomatoes, frozen or canned

2 stalks celery, diced

2 large cloves garlic, minced

¼ -½ sweet onion, finely sliced and then cut slices in half

¼ tsp. celery seed

¼ tsp. thyme

1 tbl. parsley flakes, or ¼ c. fresh parsley, diced

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Literally, dump all of it together into a stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until potatoes are tender. Serve.

This is a hearty soup with a rich beefy flavor. You can use leftover turkey breast (only!) or chicken by switch the broth to 3 c. vegetable and 3 c. beef. Realize that using chicken or turkey stock changes the taste significantly, and not for the better in my opinion. Leftover pork does not work well at all.

I often freeze leftover roasts in anticipation of making this soup knowing that I can easily double or triple the ingredients. But be mindful of the herbs and seasoning if tripling. Double them first, and then after simmering a while, taste to see if want to add more.

Acts 14:17 …yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.

Image Morguefile.com.

Mother Mary Would Love this Blueberry Pie!

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Summer celebrations are great fun! The weather is usually perfect for outdoor gatherings with foods made fresh from whatever is in abundance.

Here in Michigan, from June-September, the blueberries are in—big and plump and full of flavor. No more of the little half-pint containers trucked-in from states far, far away. Nope. For eight to ten weeks 2 lb. cartons show up at the market, and the berries find their way into just about everything, from breakfasts to sauces at dinner.

The harvest is at its peak by mid-August, about the time of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. My tradition for this holy day is to bake something special—don’t all celebrations need a special treat?—using blueberries, of course.

This year I offer you a favorite pie, made only in mid-summer when the blueberries are most flavorful and their skins, being fresh,  are still thin.

Blueberry and Sour Cream Pie

9” pie shell, unbaked (Yes, I buy mine)

Filling:

1 c. sour cream

1 egg beaten

1 tsp. corn starch

2 tbl. flour

¼ tsp. salt

1 ¼ c.sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

3-3 1/2 c. fresh blueberries

Topping: using a fork, mix together and refrigerate while pie bakes

2 tbl. sugar

3 tbl. flour

3 tbl. soft butter (the real stuff!)

3-4 tbl. chopped walnuts, can substitute with pecans or almonds

Preheat oven to 400º

Press out crust into a deep 9” pie pan. (HINT: To be sure the pan will hold ALL of the ingredients, measure our 4 ½ c. of water and pour it in the pie pan. If it holds the water, the pan is big enough.)

Combine the first seven ingredients and mix on low for about 3-4 minutes. The mixture should be smooth and creamy. Gently fold in the blueberries and pour in to pie shell. Bake for 40-45 minutes (the center should be set, not soupy).

Remove from oven and sprinkle topping—which will be kind of sticky—on pie. Place it back in the oven and bake another 15-20 minutes, until topping browns.

Cool completely on a rack so filling sets. And don’t be bummed that, like most pies, it shrinks down when cooled.

Serves 8 (Ha! Usually)

This pie is tender and flavorful and best served  without whipped cream or ice cream on top…but then again, ice cream on the side is always welcomed!

Images Pixabay.com, CCO Creative Commons.