Monthly Archives: September 2014

CHRISTMAS WON’T BE CHRISTMAS

Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was. – From Little Women.

It was the first book I ever owned, a copy of “Little Women” given to me by my mother when I was about ten or eleven. I read it over and over again, often enough to be able to recite entire paragraphs from memory. Owning a copy of “Little Women” caused something to explode within my heart. It was never enough, after that, just to read a book although I read library books voraciously. I wanted to OWN those favorite books as well. Perhaps a year or two later, my brother Jim gave me FIVE Nancy Drew books for Christmas. FIVE! What riches! What wealth!

Not surprisingly, you will have to agree, my house today is wall to wall bookcases filled with books throughout most of the house (ok, none in the kitchen or bathrooms) although you can often find a little stack of magazines or catalogues on the back of the toilet. And last year, Bob built a library that takes up half of the garage. I was unpacking books to go onto the shelves as fast as he finished a section. Finally, after two years, the rest of our books were unpacked and placed on shelves.(We moved into this house in November of 2008).  The garage library is primarily for fiction although I have a respectable collection of books – biographies and auto biographies about our first ladies and one entire section is devoted to American presidents. (I think I have more about John Fitzgerald and Jackie Kennedy than any other president. I think this is because he was the first American president – and she the first “First Lady” who really captured my attention. Next high on my list are books about President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.  We have made many trips to the Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley. But I also collect biographies and auto biographies about movie stars and this probably started when I began working at the SAG Health Plan in 1977.

I’ve also collected books – stories, biographies and—yes, even cookbooks—about African Americans (or Black Americans if you want to be more politically correct. I have found so many really wonderful stories written by African Americans. I believe this is an untapped resource of Americana fiction.

And yes, it started with an inexpensive copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. (I love Little Women so much that I have every film edition of this wonderful civil war era story. But, I have never figured out what pickled limes were; you may recall that Amy got in trouble at school for having a bag of pickled limes in her desk. The teacher confiscated the bag of pickled limes and threw them all out the school house window. I do a lot of canning  (and yes, I collect  cookbooks about canning, preserving, making jams, jellies and chutneys – but have never come across a recipe for making pickled limes!)

“Little Women” is one of those ageless stories that I enjoy watching during the holiday season – along with “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Elf”, “The Santa Clause” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

I have loved Christmas my entire life; when I was about ten years old I began taking my two younger brothers downtown – in Cincinnati – to do our Christmas shopping at the 5 & 10 cent stores. We did all our shopping in one day, along with visiting the department store Santas to get a peppermint stick – and then happily returned home on the trolley (or buses if they had replaced street cars by then) to surreptitiously slip upstairs to my bedroom and wrap our gifts – with wrapping paper my mother had saved from the year before. We ironed out gift wrap paper and ribbons to look “like new” again.  My two brothers and I have the most precious memories of those trips downtown. If we were able, we’d make another trip downtown to see the life-size nativity on display in Garfield Park.

And I think opening the presents, as wonderful as it was, might have been anti climatic to the trip downtown with my little brothers to buy Christmas presents for everyone in the family, with pennies and nickels we had saved or earned. We didn’t have an allowance and earning a bit of cash was always a challenge. My girlfriend Carol went downtown with us one year and in later years confessed that she was always jealous of us Schmidts, buying all our Christmas presents for about a dollar—total!  Well, there was also the five cent bus fare each way to take into consideration. And sometimes we even shared a grill cheese sandwich at the soda fountain counter in Woolworths.

How did we do it? I have no idea. Our little change purses were something like the loaves and fishes in the bible – there was always JUST enough to get something for everyone in the family – five of us children, our parents and our grandparents.

My love for Christmas rubbed off on Bob, my partner for the past 25 years. He became as enthusiastic as I, putting up trees (yes, plural – one year we had 8 trees up in the house in Arleta) and decorating everything in sight inside and outside of the house, while I baked cookies. One year we made a fantastic gingerbread house.  He was always as excited and pleased as I, when guests would arrive at our house and begin to ooh and ahh over the two trees standing on either side of our fireplace, the lighthouse tree in the dining room and the little kitchen-theme trees in the kitchen.   This will be my first Christmas without Bob to share it with.  Christmas won’t be Christmas without him.

I originally wrote this in November of 2011, two months after Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus. This year will mark the third Christmas without him.

Sandra Lee Smith

September 7, 2014

 

 

 

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CANNING SEASON – MAKING YOUR OWN SAUER KRAUT

There is, I confess, a kind of insanity that takes hold of me whenever I come into possession of any large quantity of fruit or vegetables—or, say, the owner of my favorite little grocery store in Burbank would offer me a couple of flats of ripe tomatoes for next to nothing. My freezer would still overflowing with frozen bags of pureed raspberries, from the last such windfall. It’s apparent, nothing else is going to fit into the freezer until I finish making up batches of jam. One wonderful holiday recipe is a chocolate-raspberry spread that I like to give away during the Christmas season.

Maybe I was a squirrel in a former life. What else can account for stocking up, canning, dehydrating, and freezing far more food than we can possibly consume?

Or, if not a squirrel in a former life, I would like to believe that this is something I inherited from my German/Hungarian paternal grandparents—who would butcher a hog once a year and make up lots of sausages. My grandfather converted one of their garages into a “smoke house” where he had the hams hanging from the rafters. (This isn’t something I remember – but my sister Becky did, and told the story often enough).    

Years ago, we acquired a very large stoneware crock. I believe it originally belonged to my younger sister Susie’s mother-in-law, Vera. It could hold something like over 30 quarts when it was filled. In March, to honor St. Patrick’s day, cabbage can often be bought locally for 10 cents a pound. (I lost this big crock when Bob backed the car into it turning my car around in the driveway).

Our first attempt to make our own sauerkraut turned out ok, although the finished product turned a little dark—undoubtedly from using regular salt instead of canning salt. The following year, some friends who moved to Texas but with whom I shared a love of canning and exchanged recipes, happened to find a close-out sale of canning salt, pickling ingredients and I don’t know what all, at their local Walmart store and bought everything they had. They sent me a big box of these things, and I believe I must have a lifetime supply of canning salt on hand, now.

 There is very little to making your own sauerkraut—what it does take a lot of is elbow grease. You have to shred the cabbage very fine and then for about every 5 pounds of shredded cabbage, mix in about 3 tablespoons of canning salt. Then it gets packed into the sterilized crock. You weigh it down—Bob made a round piece of wood with a handle that just fits inside the crock—but we wrapped the wood up in layers of plastic. On top of that we’d prop 4 or 5 filled 2-liter bottles of soda pop, stick it in a corner of the pantry and let it ferment for six weeks. At the end of six weeks, voila—you have sauerkraut.

 In colder climates, the crock of sauerkraut can be kept in a fruit cellar and eaten as is. But, here in Southern California, the summers get very hot (and we don’t have cellars) so that at this point, the sauerkraut needs to be canned. This means heating the sauerkraut in a big pot, while boiling quart jars in another large pot.

When the sauerkraut is simmering, (185 to 210 degrees), it can be packed into the hot sterilized quart jars, sealed, and then submerged in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.

We entered our sauerkraut in the Los Angeles county fair in 1990 and won a blue ribbon for it.

People either love sauerkraut or they hate it—there doesn’t seem to be any middle of the road.

All the years I was growing up, my mother made sauerkraut and pork, with mashed potatoes and peas for New Years eve supper, which was served late, probably around midnight. According to William Woys Weaver, the author of SAUERKRAUT YANKEE”, sauerkraut with pork was eaten on New Year’s Day by the Pennsylvania Dutch people, for good luck. I remember one New Year’s Eve, when I was about 15—I was babysitting for neighbors a block away from home. Around midnight, there was a knock on the door; there stood one of my brothers, with a plateful of sauerkraut and pork, mashed potatoes and gravy, sent over by my mother. I cried in the sauerkraut as I ate my good luck supper.

Weaver says that sauerkraut was something one learned to make as a child, that for the Pennsylvania Dutch people, the art of sauerkraut was practically second nature.

He says that Philadelphia writer Eliza Leslie was one of the first to publicize Pennsylvania-German sauerkaut in her cookbook, but that the earliest recipes appeared in newspapers and agriculture journals. Ms. Leslie was a famous cookbook author of the 1800s, including “Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry Cakes and Sweetmeats” by “A Lady of Philadelphia”, which is now available in facsimile edition from Applewood Books.

According to Weaver, “…sauerkraut is so intermeshed with Pennsylvania-German ethnic identity, that it always makes it appearance anytime Pennsylvania German foods are specifically called for…” During the Civil War, it gave birth to the name “Sauerkraut Yankees”.

Weaver tells this following story: “There is a twist of irony in this because history turned the joke around on the South. When Confederate troops captured Chambersburg in the summer of 1863, one of the first things the famished rebels demanded from the inhabitants were barrels of sauerkraut. The Dutch could only smile and shrug their shoulders. No one in his right mind made sauerkraut in the summer…”

 I was enchanted by the discovery of a little recipe booklet called “ONE NATION UNDER SAUERKRAUT”, published by the people of Waynesville, Ohio for their annual Ohio sauerkraut festival. I’ve been to Waynesville—one of my brothers used to live near there, and my sisters and I spent one wonderful summer day visiting the many antique stores in Waynesville.

Ah, but I didn’t know about their sauerkraut festival! The author of “One Nation Under Sauerkraut”, Dennis Dalton, provided some fascinating facts about sauerkraut—that cabbage has been an important food crop to mankind for more than 5,000 years—that at one time it was so highly revered in Egypt that it was worshipped during certain religious rites—that the formula for sauerkraut (an Austrian word meaning sour cabbage) was invented by China’s Emperor Shih Huang-Ti. It was developed as a result of an economic need to stretch the rice diets of coolies constructing China’s Great Wall over 2,200 years ago. That third century sauerkraut little resembled the Teutonic variety of present times. Chinese cooks achieved fermentation by pickling whole cabbage leaves in wine.

 It was sometime during the latter part of the 16th century that someone stumbled onto fermenting cabbage with ordinary salt.

Sauerkraut reached American tables and became a part of the nation’s menu after the Dutch colonized New York.

However, it was the Pennsylvania Dutch who immortalized it in table fare, story and song, a people who have an old saying “He is as Dutch as sauerkraut”.

 We “put up” (canned) 30 quarts of sauerkraut in 2009. I swore this was it; that I was never going to make sauerkraut again. Bob always shrugged and smiled and said “you always say that”. I will say this, neither he nor I have ever had scurvy. **

Bob (who really was my sous chef) passed away in September of 2011. I think I opened the last of the jars of sauerkraut when my penpal Bev & her husband came to visit the winter of 2012—maybe, just maybe I will attempt making sauerkraut again next spring—if I can find someone to help shred the cabbage! A few years ago – maybe in 2010 – we bought a huge crock that has a specially designed lid that keeps the contents “sealed” while it is fermenting.

 This summer has found me canning tomatoes and tomato juice, with the bounty of tomatoes from my son Kelly’s garden. LAST year when we were tired of picking tomatoes, he and I picked all the green cherry tomatoes we could find before he pulled out all the vines to go into the trash. I looked up and found a recipe for pickling cherry tomatoes –

Ok, you can’t be too rich or too thin (or to paraphrase Wallace Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor back in the 1930s) …have too many pint or quart jars waiting to be filled.

 

— Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

KINGS IN THE KITCHEN BY GERTRUDE BOOTH

Published in 1961,  KINGS IN THE KITCHEN was a distinct surprise as I began turning the pages the other day—I could read a different cookbook every day for the next five years and never get caught up, thanks to my penpal in Michigan who keeps me well supplied.

In the dust jacket, Gertrude Booth explains, “the traditional rule of the pot and pan domain is woman. But when something really special is created in the kitchen—the piece de resistance, the chef d’oeuvre of a meal—it’s a man’s job and every woman knows it. Here, collected in one volume by Gertrude Booth are the favorite recipes of more than one hundred and seventy men of distinction…”

She notes that “Affluence has opened the spice boxes of the Indies and the teapot of the Orient. The invasion of conquers, notably gourmets such as Napoleon Bonaparte, left a trail of changed eating habits in every land they visited. And always it has been the man of importance who has been the inspiration or the creator of the dish delectable. Whether he is the head of a royal house or the man in a woman’s life, he is a king in his own right—in his own kitchen—who by pomp or circumstance has glorified the kingdom of the kitchen….”

(Before I continue, let me point out that this book was published in 1961, some time before Women’s lib came along. AND it should be noted that now we have the Food Network and a many female chefs as well as male—so take those comments in consideration with the decade in which Booth’s book was published).

Gertrude Booth collected recipes from men such as the President of the United States (Eisenhower), his cabinet, ambassadors, governors, military officers, heads of industry, writers, artists, television and radio stars, publishers, editors, doctors and “hosts of other famous men from America and abroad…”

Gertrude Booth has spent years selecting and testing these fascinating recipes—and while many of the recipe contributors are names I am no longer familiar with—the recipes themselves are a great collection. Note the publishers, “Not only is this volume an intriguing glimpse of the tastes of successful and distinguished men, it is also complete and comprehensive cook book which includes recipes for everything from hors d’oeuvres to beverages, soups to sauces, fish to pheasant. These are the dishes which are served at the most famous tables in the world—the drinks which are consumed at the gayest cocktail parties and the desserts which are prepared for the most important guests…”

KINGS IN THE KITCHEN is available on Amazon.com with prices started just under $4.00. I am fortunate that my copy is in like-new condition with its dust jacket intact. FYI—I checked for any copies Albris.com might have and unfortunately, they don’t have any at all.

This is a great addition to your cookbook collection.

Review by Sandra Lee Smith