Category Archives: Family

GROWING UP PRACTICALLY GREENLESS

In the midst of a recent exchange with one of my email pals, it crossed my mind that we grew up, in the 30s, 40s. and 50s with a dearth of fresh vegetables. I never tasted fresh spinach before moving to California. Ditto fresh asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts or bell peppers. In the Cincinnati of my childhood, bell peppers were called “mangoes” (it’s a long story; I’ll spare you for now). Other fresh vegetables we never had: artichokes, eggplant, cauliflower, Kohlrabi, mushrooms, okra, parsnips, rutabagas, any kind of squash, turnips or zucchini.

As a child of the 40s and 50s in a family of five children, we had carrots and potatoes with stewed chicken on Sunday, served with my mother’s library paste rice that I loathed but not very long ago discovered my brother Bill actually liked it. I didn’t like rice until I was married and began discovering rice pilaf, brown rice and a wealth of other rice dishes. Then I realized that it wasn’t the rice that I loathed; it was the way my mother cooked it. It was the same thing with cabbage. My mother began cooking cabbage around 9 am in the morning, for supper at 6 pm. It was cabbage slime.

The wonder of it all is that I learned how to make corned beef and cabbage on my own—and liked it. (Cut into wedges, cooked gently until just done in a crockpot with the pre-cooked corned beef). Sometimes, such as on a Sunday dinner, we had a simple green lettuce salad with a vinaigrette mixed in, otherwise we didn’t have salads. Cottage cheese was often on the table and considered a salad.

We sometimes had canned asparagus, canned peas, canned beets, canned corn, canned tomatoes and canned string beans—all of which I liked but it took fresh asparagus, peas, beets and corn and beans to awaken my taste buds and make me love those vegetables. I think we might have had corn on the cob once a year but I wouldn’t swear to it.

After being gifted with my maternal grandmother’s cookbook from my cousin Renee on one of my visits to Cincinnati, I had an inkling that my mother’s cooking was largely her mother’s cooking some of which is reflected in Grandma Beckman’s late 1800s cookbook.

The one thing my mother made “from scratch” regularly was bread – two large loaves of it baked in a large black speckled roasting pan twice a week. Oh, how I envied kids with sandwiches made from Wonder Bread! Our sliced bread sandwiches were at least six inches thick. However, that being said – if you happened to be in the kitchen when my mother took a loaf of bread out of the oven and she sliced off an end for you to try with a little margarine—now that was heaven!

One dish I loved was canned peas made with a white cream sauce (like a Bechamel sauce). My mother used evaporated milk in the sauce (mixed in with the liquid from the canned peas) and I loved it. Years later discovered my sister Becky loved peas made this way too. When we had salmon patties (made from canned salmon) on a Friday, it was usually with creamed peas. Growing up, I didn’t know there was any such thing as fresh salmon—not in the Midwest it wasn’t. And I don’t remember ever having any kind of other fish, fresh or otherwise.

And speaking of peas, one of the ladies in my support group says she had peas, usually with pearl onions, almost every Sunday while visiting her grandfather and she became sick of them.

For the life of me I can’t remember my mother ever making fried chicken—the only kind of chicken I remember having was stewed—and once in a blue moon, my mother made French fries, draining them on brown paper bags that were torn open to lay flat. I really learned how to make fried chicken from my mother in law, Bertha Smith, who was from Bluefield West Virginia. I also learned how to make white gravy from her (wonderful with fried chicken when you have all those drippings and bits and pieces from the chicken).

Throughout the years when my sons were growing up, I made fried chicken at least once a week but I cut up two chickens to fry—to have with biscuits and gravy. (There was a good reason for frying at least two chickens at a time; my then-husband and sons often brought strays home for dinner (friends who didn’t have anywhere to go for dinner).

Everyone knew what time we had dinner and many of them just happened to show up at that time—no one was ever turned away. And it was a simple matter to make a double or triple batch of buttermilk biscuits and a vat of white gravy.  We always had a salad and some kind of vegetable—thinking back, I know they all liked corn so that was probably on the table the most often—but not canned! I became an advocate for fresh and frozen veggies.

I just thought of something else I want to add to this – my son Kelly has been on a fairly strict food plan for several years now. He sees a doctor in the San Fernando Valley (that his father recommended to him) because Kelly had so many digestive problems. He went on this “diet” which allows potatoes – he can have them baked or mashed – but no milk in the mashing and only margarine to go on it. He went down 3 pants sizes and the puffiness went out of his face. he can have almost any kind of meat except pork & he can eat a lot of salads, which he does. If they are coming over here to eat I generally make baked potatoes. When Keara makes mashed potatoes for them, she just uses the potato water mashing them.

And I haven’t made chocolate chip cookies since Christmas because he will EAT them even when he SHOULDN’T.

Occasionally my mother made a kidney stew that was served with wide cooked noodles; I liked it well enough until I learned where the kidneys came from and what their purpose was. We also had liver & onions every so often—something I liked and when I was first married, it was a meal you could make for next to nothing. Calves liver was cheap (not so much anymore) and a few brown onions were cheap as well.

However, I just don’t remember many side dishes of vegetables. My mother would ‘pickle’ a can of red beets—which my father liked. I didn’t like beets until I began cooking fresh ones myself, cooking the green tops as well as the beets. Now shoestring red beets are one of my favorite “sides” on a salad. And while checking through some old cookbooks, I have discovered that my mother was making Harvard Beets with those canned red beets
.
Now might be a good time to tell my “mango” story; backing up first – in Cincinnati in the 40s and 50s, bell peppers were called “mangoes” – the how and why of it is something I have written about on my blog before. We had “filled mangoes” probably several times a month when bell peppers were in season. It was something my mother could make using a small amount of ground beef; you hollowed out the bell peppers (mangoes) and filled them with ground beef mixed with uncooked rice and maybe an egg mixed into it. Tomato sauce was poured over it all and cooked in the oven. Voila – stuffed mangoes.

Well, shortly after we moved to California in 1961, my then-husband Jim and I became acquainted with a couple named Jim & Teresa, we often had meals at their apartment. Teresa was from Louisiana and an excellent cook. So – one night when we were there for dinner and I was chatting with Teresa in the kitchen, she asked me what kind of dishes I liked to make. “Well, for one, stuffed mangoes” I replied. (I had never even heard of any other kind of “mango”) – it took a lot of explaining before I understood that what WE called stuffed mangoes—wasn’t made with mangoes at all—they were made with bell peppers. I never referred to stuffed bell peppers as “mangoes” again.

(*I wish I could find Teresa again. I happened to see her and her daughter Connie in the early 1980s at a park when I was working at SAG in the summer and was staying with girlfriend Mary Jaynne at the time. I think Theresa was divorced by then. Well, I digress—people come and go from your life in California, more so than people you know from your childhood elsewhere and who are still living in places like my hometown of Cincinnati). ***

I think, I will make and freeze stuffed peppers when Kelly”s veggie garden goes into overdrive this year. I diced a lot of the bell peppers and froze them like that –and I still have some in the freezer. He has become quite the gardener.

This reminds me of another one of my mother’s frequent vegetable dishes when we were growing up – it was a kind of stewed canned tomato that had bread mixed in with it. The closest thing I can find for that is a Better Homes & Gardens recipe for “scalloped tomatoes” that contained several slices of toasted bread cut into cubes. I think my mother’s version would have contained cut up homemade bread that wasn’t toasted.

I have written about my mother’s one and only cookbook, an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook but I think my mother only used it for baked things, like cookies; I took over that cookbook years ago—when I was about ten years old.

My mother had a few recipes in a recipe box that I now have. Despite being practically greenless as we grew up, somehow the whole bunch of us (six siblings) managed to grow up without breaking any arms or legs. I had a calcium deficiency that was diagnosed when my teeth kept crumbling until a doctor suggested I have them pulled and dentures made. So, at the age of 25, I acquired dentures. And oddly enough, despite taking four falls last year when I was recuperating from an illness—I didn’t break any bones. My doctors thought it remarkable that I didn’t break anything. (I think I was having problems with balance for about six months last year).

As for my mother, I want to add that when we were growing up in the 30s, 40s and into the 50s, my mother had a grocery allowance of $10.00 a week, which explains the homemade bread and meals made with organ meats such as kidneys and liver. Fresh vegetables had to cost more than canned at that time. She did the best she could with what she had.

I understand how it was—for many years of my marriage and before I went back to work in 1977, I had to make do with very little and do the best I could.

–Sandra Lee Smith

Surely Synchronicity!  Received this from girlfriend Doreen:

EATING IN THE FIFTIES

Pasta had not been invented.  It was macaroni or spaghetti.  Curry was a surname.  A take-away was a mathematical problem.  Pizza? Sounds like a leaning tower somewhere.  Bananas and oranges only appeared at Christmas time.  All chips were plain.

Rice was a milk pudding, and never, ever part of our dinner.

A Big Mac was what we wore when it was raining. Brown bread was something only poor people ate.  Oil was for lubricating, fat was for cooking.  Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves and never green.  Cubed sugar was regarded as posh.  Chickens didn’t have fingers in those days.

None of us had ever heard of yogurt.  Healthy food consisted of anything edible.  Cooking outside was called camping.  Seaweed was not a recognized food.  ‘Kebab’ was not even a word, never mind a food. Sugar enjoyed a good press in those days, and was regarded as being white gold.  Prunes were medicinal.

Surprisingly muesli was readily available. It was called cattle feed.  Pineapples came in chunks in a tin; we had only ever seen a picture of a real one.  Water came out of the tap. If someone had suggested bottling it and charging more than gasoline for it they would have become a laughing stock.  The one thing that we never ever had on/at our table in the fifties…was elbows or hats!

TOO MANY BOOKS?

TOO MANY BOOKS?

To paraphrase the Duchess of Windsor (the former Wallace Simpson for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in
1936) “you can’t be too rich or too poor….or have too many cookbooks”*

*Amongst my collection of favorite books are those about monarchs of Great Britain—and their wives/husbands or children.

I never imagined that the thought (having too many books) ever crossed my mind – until recently when I started finding it more difficult to find enough shelf space for my books.

As a child, I didn’t have any books to call my own. (I’d often read the same library books over and over again).

My very first book was a copy of Little Women that my mother gave to me one Christmas. I read and re-read little women until I could recite whole pages by heart. I’d give my book to one of my two best girlfriends and then when we had a squabble, I’d ask for it back. It went back and forth a few times.

Then one Christmas, my brother Jim gave me five brand-spanking new Nancy Drew books. I was hooked – not just hooked on Nancy Drew, which I was, but also the idea of having books of my own began to take place in a fertile corner of my mind.

I was already making trips downtown (Cincinnati) by myself – whether to pay off my mother’s coat that was in layaway at Lerner’s, or to turn in the blue Wilson labels from evaporated milk for which you could get a towel or a pot holder.

My mother made batches of formula in glass bottles with evaporated milk for whoever was the baby at the time. I have to wonder, though – she breast fed the baby—was the one who wasn’t the youngest anymore weaned onto bottles? This muddles my mind a bit—Biff was three years younger than me, and Bill was three years younger than Biff.

Bill remained the baby until our brother Scott was born when Bill was about twelve years old. Scott and my sister Susie were almost like a second family. I was seventeen when Scott was born—and the neighbors thought he was my baby, because I was the one waking him up and down the street in his stroller. I was twenty and married when Susie came along.

I need to back track, though, because I was the middle child, and my two younger brothers, Biff (whose name is actually George Calvin after two of our uncles who served during World War II) and Bill were often my responsibility. I looked after them all the time (and even took them with me on dates, when my current BF was taking me to a drive in movie), and began taking them with me downtown on the bus in December, to do our Christmas shopping. I have written about those trips downtown, growing up in Cincinnati, before on my blog so I won’t repeat all of that now. My point, really, is that I began going downtown—often by myself—and during those excursions I discovered books—books for sale in dusty dark thrift shops and (be still my heart!)—a huge used book store housing four stories of books. I bought a lot of those books—one at a time, seldom having any money to call my own—for about twenty-five cents each. I discovered some old editions of Nancy Drew, and a few other series similar to Nancy Drew.

Now I needed a bookcase – I think my mother must have given a bookcase to me one Christmas—and I took it with me when Jim (Smith, not to be confused with my brother Jim Schmidt!) & I got married but I think that bookcase must have been left behind when Jim & I moved to California. Jim had no use for my books OR the collection of 45s that I had accumulated and that he sailed over the back yard of his mother’s house

(How could I have married a man who didn’t like to read AND had no interest in my collection of 45s records? From my viewpoint fifty-something years later, it is almost too difficult to fathom. Was it love? I don’t think so—the night before the wedding, I knew I was making a mistake; I just didn’t know any way to get out of it. I was unhappy with the way my mother was treating me after I finally got a job (Western-Southern Life Insurance in downtown Cincinnati) – I had been taking care of my brothers all along, and babysat my baby brother from the time he was born until I got married—neighbors on Mulberry Street thought Scott was MY baby and that my brother Jim, then in the Air Force—was my husband. Susie set them all straight when she became old enough to play with little girls her age on our street. My mother decreed that I had to start paying room and board. I was so upset about that, I told Jim Smith, who said “well, we could get married”. And so we did. For all the wrong reasons. And, in retrospect, I don’t think he really loved me, either. Months of counseling prior to divorce revealed that he had been cheating on me throughout our marriage. That was the final blow, the realization that he had never been true to me and was unlikely to change.

My little white bookcase went with me to the house on Biegler Street where we lived downstairs from my husband’s mother. We didn’t take it with us to California – neither that or a kitchen cupboard that we bought—and what I wished for years I had somehow managed to keep. As far as I know, Jim’s sister still has those things.

We drove to California in 1961 as a lark—and rented a furnished duplex next door to Jim’s best friend Marvin who had taken his wife and children to California the year before. Michael was a little over a year old and I would take him in his stroller up Hollywood Way to a bookstore on Magnolia where I began buying books as cheap as possible, mostly paperbacks. I would read anything I could lay my hands on.

In 1962 we moved to an apartment on Sarah Street and I would walk Michael in his stroller up to a used bookstore on Lankershim Blvd—paperbacks ten cents each! Then I found a job at Household Finance in Hollywood and my free time was taken up just getting to and from work on buses; I did some exploring along Hollywood Boulevard but I don’t remember finding any thrift stores (or if I did, I’ve forgotten) – much of 1962 going into 1963 has been forgotten. I had a serious miscarriage in 1962 that landed me in the hospital for a few days.

What I remember is being hurried to the hospital by my husband, to a Seventh Day Adventist hospital because I had gone there when I suspected I was pregnant and it was affirmed. This was my second miscarriage – my first was in 1959 when we were still living in Cincinnati. This time I was bleeding heavily as we reached the hospital in Glendale. The next morning the doctor on call performed a D&C—when I miscarried, I’d lose everything except the fetus.

Well, it couldn’t have been too much longer after that we
moved into a wonderful large apartment on Sarah Street in North Hollywood. The “tenants” in the other downstairs apartment were actually the owners whose house was being remodeled; the parents had three adorable little girls who all, in turn, adored Michael and lavished attention on him. We were also invited to swim in their pool.

I can’t remember having many books much less a bookcase during the period of time that we lived there. When I became pregnant again, I flew back to Cincinnati with Michael in March of 1963 (I wanted my own obstetrician). We gave away the various items we had accumulated in a few years.

In Cincinnati, I returned to my old job, thankfully, and worked until two weeks before Steven’s birth. In December, 1963, we drove back to California—Jim couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find a job and we were mostly penniless when, after Steve’s birth, I developed a blood clot in my right leg and was bedridden for six weeks; one week I had $5 for baby food; we went to my mother’s where she gave us some meat out of her freezer; then we went to my sister Becky’s and she gave us half of everything in her pantry.

Shades of Scarlett O’Hara! I cried all the way home and swore we would never go without groceries again. I said I wanted to go back to California – at least there Jim was always able to find a job. (*mind you, there was no such thing as welfare or food stamps in 1963).

I left my collection of books with my mother, who began sending them to me a few at a time. In 1965, when my parents came to visit us, my mother packed a suitcase with the rest of my books.

But it was also in 1965 that I began collecting cookbooks—I have written about that before on my blog so wont repeat all of it here. I had also become acquainted with Connie, who babysat for us for some months while both Jim & I got jobs at Weber Aircraft.

Connie was a kindred spirit – one time we found an ad for a collection of presidential and white House books, for $100. We split the cost and sight unseen bought all of those books which formed the nucleus of my collection of Presidents/White House books. We went through the books one at a time dividing them up.

I was keenly interested in anything about the assassination of JFK and many books were published on the subject. (After Connie died in 1999, her daughter Dawn gave me large bags full of Connie’s books that her children didn’t want). And I probably bought over a hundred cookbooks forming the nucleus of THAT collection, also in 1965.

When we were preparing to move to Florida in 1979, I donated carloads of children’s books for my sons’ school and when we were preparing to move back to California, I gave boxes full of cookbooks to a new friend whose daughter wanted to start a collection of cookbooks of her own. I packed up and mailed 50 boxes of cookbooks back to California—to Connie’s house, in fact—so I had a pretty good guess how many pounds of cookbooks and other favorite books I had in 1982 when we returned to California.

So, upon reflection—I think the bulk of my cookbook collection was acquired after I moved to a little house in Van Nuys, following my breakup with Jim living there for a few years before moving back into the Arleta house (where we had lived from 1974-79, before moving to Florida). The Arleta house was large and was accompanied by a guest house that Bob (who came into my life in 1986) converted into a guest room/office for him.

And for nineteen years we were off and running – collecting books—not just cookbooks—and when we ran out of shelf space, we’d go out and buy more bookcases.

When I bought a house in 2008, we went from roughly 3000 square feet of space—to roughly 1500 square feet. I gave away SUV-loads full of books to the Burbank library for their Friends of the Library Sales; I gave a lot of other books away—and even so, filled over 600 boxes with books that Kelly carted to the Antelope Valley one weekend at a time, and stored in a rental storage unit. My books were in storage for a few months, then my son and daughter in law moved all the boxes to my garage. I was without garage space for a year.

Then in 2010, Bob converted half of the garage into a ….Library, of course! My collection of fiction and presidents/white house/first ladies books were all still in boxes…as quickly as Bob put up some shelves, I was unpacking boxes. The beauty of being able to open exactly what I wanted opened is that I had numbered all of the boxes. I had also written on the boxes what was inside each box. Everything was also written down in a little steno notebook that was my moving bible.

Even so, I found myself donating a lot of books to the Lancaster Library for their Friends of the Lancaster Library sales…there was this dim realization that I was never going to read a lot of those books again—and after Bob passed away in 2011, I began giving away some of his favorite authors’ novels. I also gave away his collection of books by or about Mark Twain to a friend who I knew would appreciate them.

It saddens me to have come to this realization—I have too many books. Bob’s room has bookcases on either side of the bed—just enough space to get in and out—one side contains all my foreign cookbooks in one bookcase and all of my canning/preserving cookbooks in another bookcase, while the other side has all of my regional cookbooks – one half contains books east of the Mississippi and the other side is west of the Mississippi; my favorite books of Americana cookbooks are in one extra bookcase along that wall.

(One winter, when we were still living in Arleta, I spent six weeks separating east from west. These are cookbooks published by various church or club groups as fundraisers). We had also gone to a place in Van Nuys where you could buy unfinished bookcases and do the finishing yourselves—we’d buy a couple of those ceiling to floor bookcases at a time.

What was pretty great about my relationship with Bob is that he loved books as much as I – the difference between us is that he would start a book and not do another thing until he finished it—while I always had my priorities—in addition to working full time, there were always other chores to do.

My bedroom contains all of my California cookbooks, the bulk of my Americana cookbooks and my Presidential/White House cookbooks. A third bedroom contains books by favorite cookbook authors while in the living room I have all of my Christmas cookbooks, a Gooseberry Patch cookbook collection, a collection of celebrity cookbooks as well as dessert cookbooks. A collection of NON cookbooks –mostly books about the history of food—fill five smallish bookcases in the family room where my computer is located. These are most of my reference books.

So, by the end of 2010, I had a garage library – A to L along one wall and M to Z along another; I also have a smallish collection of children’s books that I keep in a bookcase near the door; included are any books I know will be required reading for my grandchildren or my sister Susie’s kids.

But now I find…I need to do more donating of books I know I will not read (any of Bob’s authors—except Teddy Roosevelt; I will keep those in my Presidential collection. I’ve run out of bookshelf space.

All of which begs the question – can you have too many books? Sadly, the answer to this is yes – if you don’t have enough bookshelves to house all of your books. Books are meant to be read and displayed on bookshelves.

How many cookbooks do I have now? I have no idea. I don’t know of anyone with enough patience to count all of them.

–Sandra Lee Smith

NEW YEAR’S EVE & DAY MEMORIES REVISITED

My earliest memories of New Year’s Eve are of the parties my parents hosted. On a few occasions, my cousin, Irene (called Renee by the family) and her brothers, along with me and my brothers, had our own little party down in my parents’ basement on Sutter Street. Renee and I were almost the same age – she is six months older than I am – my two brothers (Scott wasn’t born until I was 17) and her three younger brothers, along with our cousin, Chuck, apparently had a good time together, judging from the few photos I have found from these occasions.

I think by the following year, I was babysitting for my sister and the family who lived downstairs from her. I remember babysitting there when my brother Jim brought me a plate of pork and sauerkraut, the traditional German dish we ate at midnight! Midnight! It’s a wonder no one in the family suffered from any stomach problems. I cried when I sat alone eating the sauerkraut. I missed being with my family. I think my parents hosted a lot of New Year’s Eve parties but these are the few that remain outstanding in my memory. I babysat on New Year’s Eve until I got married in 1958.

After Jim & I moved to California IN 1961, he contacted an old friend of his who was living somewhere near Shell Beach in the central coast. We spent our first California new year’s eve with these friends who took us to a party. I thought I was spectacular in my black dress with white gloves! (What did I know about fashion?). New Year’s Day, 1962, found us down by Shell Beach, where we took some photographs. My favorite is myself sitting on a rail fence; my Canadian girlfriend, Doreen, dubbed this photograph “California Girl”. I was twenty-one and the mother of a one year old son. I really didn’t know anything about California at the time but I would certainly learn.

Jim (my then-husband, now ex-) & I spent some New Year’s Eves with friends; the one most memorable was with a group of friends at a Hungarian restaurant where everyone ate traditional Hungarian food that night. We acquired these Hungarian friends in a circuitous way—a man named Alex and his wife Peggy rented an apartment behind our first home in California, a duplex we rented in late 1961. Peggy and Alex arrived from New York at closely the same time. Alex introduced us to some of his Hungarian friends, who in turn became our friends—most notably Neva and Les. Les and his friends were freedom fighters in the short-lived Hungarian revolution in 1956; when they lost their bid for freedom, most of them immigrated to the United States as political refugees. It was through Les and Neva that I began returning to my culinary roots of Hungarian food foods such as goulash and Palascinta, Palascinta layered with poppy seed filling and cut into wedges. Palascinta can be made many different ways—it is a thin crepe-like pancake—it can have sweet fillings or savory. My grandmother made Palascinta with jelly fillings. (We called them German pancakes—what did we know about Palascinta?) I can remember walking back to school after eating lunch at Grandma’s house, eating a rolled up palascinta filled with jelly along the way.

Another year, we hosted a New Year’s Eve party at our house—it had to be 1974 or later, because the house in photographs was the one in Arleta. I imagine if I go through all of my photo albums—over sixty of them dating back to my teenage years—I will find other photographs taken on other New Year’s Eve celebrations.

One of the best adventures I ever had on a New Year’s Eve was celebrated after I was divorced in 1986. A new boyfriend took me to Pasadena on New Year’s Eve – this is a happening event throughout the streets of Pasadena—the streets on which the famous Rose Bowl parade will travel the next morning. People are camped out along those streets, in small tents or sleeping bags, with folding chairs and blankets (it can get quite cold on those streets late at night!). My friend George had a large sleeping bag and a small hibachi that he kept fed with bits of wood; he was a carpenter and had his truck bed (parked near by on a side street) filled with small pieces of wood; it drew people to us throughout the night – and people come to this almost-event from all over the United States. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life as I was just returning to dating.

The next day, all of us had ring-side views of the floats as they came by on Colorado Boulevard. I have many photos of the floats but none of George and I as we sat along the curb drinking wine out of a coffee cup and talking to people who came up to our fire to get warm. I have never again been to Pasadena on a New Year’s Eve (or even a New Year’s Day for that matter) and my relationship with George was brief – I knew he was too young for me, in his mid thirties to my mid-forties – but it was great fun while it lasted. And I think it was that night that I began to feel like there might be life after divorce. There was.

In more recent years, Bob & I did not really celebrate New Year’s Eve. And New Year’s Day became my day to start dismantling the Christmas decorations, while watching the Rose Bowl Parade – over and over again throughout the day as KTLA, Channel 5 in Los Angeles, televised the parade with my favorite TV personalities, Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards—and repeated the program throughout the day. What I might have missed one time, I could catch the next time around. What great memories!
Happy New Year 2015 to all my Sandychatter friends!

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

 

 

 

Easter Greetings 2014

Easter Greetings

So often we lose sight of the original (or perhaps not so original) reasons for celebrating holidays such as Christmas, Easter and other events that were originally pagan holidays. When Christianity was in its fledgling years, the church elders wanted to steer people away from celebrating pagan holidays and instead, celebrate Christian ones, so many Christian holidays were built on a foundation of a pagan one. Sounds confusing? It is.
From Wikipedia we learn that Easter (also called the Pasch or Pascha) is a Christian festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion at Calvary as described in the New Testament. Easter is the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. The last week of Lent is called Holy Week, and it contains the days of the Easter Triduum, including Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday), commemorating the Last Supper and its preceding foot washing, as well as Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Easter is followed by a fifty-day period called Eastertide or the Easter Season, ending with Pentecost Sunday.

What adds to the confusion is that Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox. (I can write it down much easier than I can explain it to anyone).

Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on 21 March (even though the equinox occurs, astronomically speaking, on 20 March in most years), and the “Full Moon” is not necessarily the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies between 22 March and 25 April. Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian calendar whose 21 March corresponds, during the 21st century, to 3 April in the Gregorian calendar, in which the celebration of Easter therefore varies between 4 April and 8 May.

But, like so many Christian holidays, Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In many languages, the words for “Easter” and “Passover” are etymologically related or homonymous. Easter customs vary across the Christian world, but attending sunrise services, exclaiming the Paschal greeting, clipping the church and decorating Easter eggs, a symbol of the empty tomb, are common motifs. Additional customs include egg hunting, the Easter Bunny, and Easter parades, which are observed by both Christians and some non-Christians. Try explaining to any non-Christian how it is that Christians celebrate Easter and credit the Easter Bunny (which does not lay eggs!) with putting colorful eggs in a basket or hiding them in the back yard.

EASTER MEMORIES

The onset of Easter is on Ash Wednesday. Having gone to Catholic grade school, we went to mass every day before classes began, so on Ash Wednesday everyone walked around school with a black smudge of ash on their foreheads. Then we always made a big deal about what we were giving up for lent. The usual things were candy, soda pop, movies (not that we had very much of any of those things to begin with). In my family we always had some kind of fish on Fridays and there wasn’t that much meat to go around anyway.

I do remember my mother placing orders for new clothing from Sears or Montgomery Ward but the highlight of pre-Easter celebrations was going downtown to Schiff Shoes to get a new pair of shoes. These would become our new Sunday shoes and the old Sunday shoes would become everyday shoes. I think most of our shoes were functional, seldom dressy (until I got old enough to buy my own). I leaned heavily towards penny loafers and rarely wore saddle oxfords.

The Stations of the Cross would be said – I think – on Wednesday and Friday evenings. The statues inside church would be covered with purple cloths during Lent. In retrospect, I see that much of our lives revolved around the Church. Our church was St Leo’s, just down the street from my grandmother’s home. My father, uncle and aunt all went to St Leo’s too. My grandparents bought this three storied brick house when my father was about seven years old. Aunt Annie was a toddler who only spoke German and she got lost in the shuffle of the move. My father was sent to find her. I imagine most of the neighbors spoke German too. That part of Cincinnati was heavily populated with German and Italian immigrants.

The day before Easter we boiled eggs and colored them. Easter morning there would be a basket hidden somewhere for each of us. Imagine never refrigerating the boiled eggs—I told my granddaughter this recently. She was astonished. I said we never heard of salmonella poisoning. And nothing in our baskets lasted very long anyway. Easter dinner may have been one of the holidays where the Schmidt family got together – often at grandma’s – and when everyone had eaten, an adult would take the carload of kids to a movie theatre and drop us off there with just enough money for admission and either candy or popcorn. I think Uncle Al usually gave us each a quarter. We thought he was rich.

By the time we got back to grandma’s, the adults would be playing cards and all the dishes had been washed up…by then everything would be brought out again for a snack before going home.
I don’t seem to remember very much about our Easter celebrations.
I remember buying a new outfit for myself, for Michael who was three at the time, and Steve, who was a baby. We were living in an apartment near the Warner Brothers Studio. I never gave much thought to whoever might be going through the nearby studio gates.

Well, I’m not here to explain Christian holidays—what I would like to do is share with you a couple of my favorite Easter holiday recipes! My #1 favorite is my Cool Rise Cinnamon Rolls. Even as we speak, I have a pan of the cinnamon rolls rising in the refrigerator, to bake tomorrow morning.

Cool Rise Sweet Dough for Cinnamon Rolls

Stir together in a bowl:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp dry yeast (or 2 little packets)

½ cup (1 stick of butter), softened to room temperature
Pour in 1 1/2 c. very hot water. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Add:
2 eggs (at room temperature) and
1 c. flour
Mix on high speed for 1 minute.

Gradually add in 2-3 more cups of flour until the dough is thick and elastic, pulling away from the side of the bowl.

Turn dough out onto counter or a cutting board. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into two balls. Roll out one ball at a time. Roll out into a rectangle that is roughly 10×14 inches. Spread melted butter over the top of rectangle to within 3/4″ of edges. Sprinkle sugar on top of the butter. Sprinkle cinnamon on top of that. Distribute raisins over the butter/sugar/cinnamon. Starting with one side, roll up the dough into a long, thick roll. Slice into individual rolls and place in a 9×13″ pan on their sides. I try to get 12 rolls out of each ball of dough and put 12 to a pan.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-24 hours. The flavor really improves if you refrigerate this recipe overnight. Before baking, remove from fridge and let sit on the counter for at least an hour.

Bake at 350° until golden brown. Remove from oven. While they’re still hot, drizzle some glaze over them. Serve warm. Glaze: a cup of powdered sugar, a drizzle of melted butter, and just enough milk or lemon juice to make a runny glaze. Recently, I saw a bunch of glaze recipes and so I tried one. I was very disappointed with the results. Note to self: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This is a versatile sweet dough recipe and you can make a lot of coffee cakes with it.

My next favorite holiday recipe (for any holiday!) is my friend and former co-worker Nina’s recipe for making deviled eggs. I have no idea how many different recipes I have tried for deviled eggs—but always come back to Nina’s recipe! At work, when we had pot lucks, Nina had to set out one batch for immediate consumption as people arrived at work. She’d have a second batch when the dishes were put out for the department at lunch time.

To make Nina’s Deviled Eggs

6 hard cooked eggs
1/4 C mayo or salad dressing (less if eggs are very small)
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp mustard
1/2 tsp horseradish
salt to taste
dash of pepper

Nina writes, “I very rarely add salt or pepper, but it depends on what you like. My recipe book also has alternatives: Add 2 TBSP crumbled crisp bacon, or 1 TBSP finely chopped olives, or 1 TBSP finely chopped green-onions or chives. Enjoy!”

I generally associate cookie making with Christmas but Easter is also one of the occasions when I make up lots of large egg-shaped cookies; two of the cut-out egg shaped cookie dough fit on a cookie sheet so you will go through a good amount of cookie dough and I prefer to bake one sheet of cookies at a time* so it takes a while to get the cookies baked.

*The reason I bake one sheet of cookies at a time is because my stove is almost as old as I am and I can bake two sheets at a time, by checking them after five minutes and switching the trays around – but if I am in a hurry or working on frosting, I do one tray at a time and set the timer. I made a lot of cookies this year—who doesn’t like cookies?

I made a batch of Hot Wings for an appetizer but those are so easy—does it even constitute a recipe? I like the McCormick’s brand of Buffalo Hot Wings spice mixture and bought a 4 pound bag of wings with the tips already cut off. All you have to do is mix the raw chicken wings with the seasoning mix and bake them on a cookie sheet in the oven. The directions don’t say so, but trial and error has taught me not to put the wings directly on the foil-covered cookie sheet—I use a rack. You won’t believe how much oil collects on the sheet underneath the wings. A lot!
My sons like the wings best if they are “dry” (not greasy) so I baked them at 450 degrees for 25 minutes according to the package directions—but they weren’t “dry” so I turned the heat down to 250 and kept them in the oven for well over an hour checking every 15 minutes to see if they felt and looked “done” enough. These wings are not mouth-burning hot like many hot wings ARE but we have young children who like hot wings and so the recipe has to be toned down for them.

I’m not hosting Easter dinner this year—I haven’t for a few years. I am going to my son & daughter in law’s for lunch. There will be an egg hunt at my son’s. Our holidays are a far cry from those of my childhood.

But I wish you all a Happy and Joyous Easter holiday.
Sandy

MY COUSIN CONNIE

Some of you may have heard this story. True story.
It starts with a 5th grader at St. Leo’s (me) and my discomfort hanging around the fifth grade girls who sat outside on the steps during recess and lunchtime talking about boys, makeup and getting their periods. It could have been Greek where I was concerned–so I did what I was comfortable doing; I herded together the first and second grade girls to play circle games (like Farmer in the Dell). There was a little chubby-cheeked first grader who stole my heart; she was like a little sister. She went home for lunch but when she got back, she would take my hand away from whoever was holding one of them – and it was ok, because all the little girls knew I loved Connie. She was my favorite.

At some point in time, my Grandma Beckman came to visit and one day when I was about to leave for school she asked me if I knew a little girl named Connie C. “Why yes!” I exclaimed “Connie is one of my little girls!”

“She’s your cousin” my grandmother said.

I didn’t know the story at that time – There had been 5 Beckman children born to my Uncle Tony, one of my mother’s brothers. Their mother died in an accident and their father, suffering from battle fatigue (from serving in World War II) that led to alcoholism, couldn’t care for them. They were being raised in an orphanage in Cincinnati; my mother would go get them for some holidays or during summer vacation. the youngest child, Connie, was put up for adoption. I never knew her.

I told Connie she was my cousin (adoption notwithstanding) and, innocently, told her she should tell her mother–I thought it was wonderful that she was my cousin. We walked around the school building telling the nuns she was my cousin. Connie’s mother told her I was lying and I began to wonder if I had done something wrong. I guess in time I stopped taking charge of the little girls and after graduating from St Leo’s, I lost contact with Connie even though her family lived right up the street from my sister Becky, on Trevor.

Once when my mother brought the Beckman cousins home for a holiday, I told Peggy – who was my age — that I knew where her sister lived and we walked over to Trevor Street so I could show the house to her.

Time passed and I lost contact with my cousin Peggy, who was living a really rough life for a teenager. She was living on her own by the time she was 15 and letters to and from each other stopped. Throughout my life, I never forgot Connie and was burdened with the guilt of having been the person who told her about a life her adoptive parents wanted her to forget. It always weighed heavily on my mind.

More years went by. My cousin (our cousin) Renee began getting into geneology and began tracking the Beckman family. Her mother and mine had been sisters–two sisters who married two best friends. There came a time- maybe 10 or 12 years ago–when someone emailed Renee asking about the Beckman family. She had a friend, she wrote, who was a Beckman. That friend was Peggy (now being called Margie). Renee responded but didn’t hear from the woman again. Then my curiosity was piqued–and I wrote to this woman, sending photographs and telling her I believed that her friend was my cousin Peggy. And so a broken thread was repaired.

But unbeknownst to me, when Connie turned 18, Peggy contacted her and the two sisters were reunited. They sometimes wondered how they managed to become reunited. Their other siblings, three of them, passed away at early ages. Now there were just the two sisters.

In September, 2011, just after Bob passed away, I flew to Cincinnati to meet with three of my cousins – Renee, Peggy, – and Connie. The two sisters had reunited and sometimes visited Cincinnati to see their mother’s sisters. We shared photographs and talked a mile a minute and took pictures of ourselves – they both said they couldn’t ever remember what the connection was, how they knew how to find each other. “YOU!” Peggy said, “YOU were the connection!”. I don’t think I was the connection. I think God was. He wanted those sisters to find each other.

Out of all the pictures we took that day, there is one special one, of me and Connie holding hands. That is what she remembers most about our meeting at St. Leo’s – she always wanted to hold my hand. And I always wanted to hold hers.

Well, Connie married and has a loving husband and children but as I write this, she is in a hospital in Virginia suffering from a heart condition. I can’t imagine Peggy not having Connie in her life. I can’t imagine me not having Connie in my life, either–not after so many years of not knowing.
I want to hold her hand again.

love, Sandy

UPDATE: June 1, 2013 THIS JUST RECEIVED FROM MY COUSIN, PEGGY, CONNIE’S SISTER. JACK IS CONNIE’S HUSAND:
Today the doctors informed Jack that Connie had several strokes, and one massive one. There is no brain activity. As soon as all the children are assembled in Norfolk, they will take her off life support. There is no further information at this time regarding services, etc. Connie is an organ donor. I will send you and e mail when I know more. I will be leaving for Virginia as soon as I get the news from my niece Jenny about arrangements. Thank you for your prayers and please continue them for the family.

MY HOMETOWN – CINCINNATI THE QUEEN CITY

cincinnati skyline from kentucky shore

FORTUNE magazine called Cincinnati the best run big city in the United States. LIFE magazine said “Cincinnati has one of the best police forces in the country”. TIME Magazine, on the other hand, once labeled Cincinnati “dowdy”!! Dowdy? Cincinnati? I knew there was a good reason why I don’t subscribe to TIME.

To Indians, Cincinnati was a calamity; to slaves, it was a promised land and to the REDS Baseball Team, it’s a place to play ball. To children on skates, it’s a seven-hilled impossibility, while to Proctor Gamble it was a place to make soap. To beer-makers it represented memories of “over the Rhine”. Which Cincinnati you know depends on your point of view…” from “Vas You Ever in Zinzinnati” by Dick Perry, published by Doubleday in 1966.

You may have heard of my hometown, Cincinnati—which I have written about several times on this blog. I was born and raised in Cincinnati; as were both of my parents. My paternal grandparents were German and Hungarian and came through Ellis Island by way of Rumania. From there they went to Cincinnati. Quite possibly, they had friends or other connections which led them to Cincinnati, which already had a huge German population by the time they got there.

My mother’s parents were definitely German as well but we know so little about their roots. My father’s parents immigrated to the United States when they were in their early twenties and we all grew up strongly influenced by our surroundings. North Fairmount was heavily populated by German Americans and Italians. South Fairmount was more heavily populated with Italians. My grandparents bought a house on Baltimore Street when their daughter, my Aunt Annie, was a toddler. (The story was that they bought this house “in the country” because my Uncle Hans was asthmatic. I guess North Fairmount was country to them, back then.)  The three storied big brick house was large enough to raise their children in, and when those children got married, they lived in separate apartments in the same house—until they could afford to buy a house on their own. My parents lived in the house on Baltimore until I was five years old. That meant they lived in my grandmother’s house for nine years. Some of those years were a part of the great depression and some were a part of World War II.

I have no real memories of living in the house on Baltimore Street although when I reflect on scattered early memories, I think some of those must have occurred when we were still living in my grandmother’s house.

Down the street from my grandmother’s house was St. Leo’s church and school. My father, his younger brother and their younger sister all went to St. Leo’s—not only that, but all three had Sister Tarcisius in the first grade—as did my older sister, older brother and me—along with two of our cousins. Sister Tarcisius taught first grade at St Leo’s for over fifty years before celebrating her Golden Jubilee as a nun and retiring to the convent in Oldenburg, Indiana.  There was a continuity to our lives back then—often when I became girlfriends with someone in my class and went to her home, a parent was sure to say “Oh, yes! Schmidts! I went to school with your father”. (Many years later, my youngest brother Scott would buy and remodel the house that had belonged to his first wife’s grandmother. When I first saw the house, I realized it had once belonged to my classmate Joan—whose younger sister, Val, became the grandmother from whom Scott bought the house.

Our neighborhood was all of North Fairmount and extended into South Fairmount in one direction and English Woods in another. Now, if you drive through these neighborhoods they are almost all downtrodden and ramshackle—a far cry from the neat and tidy brick houses that lined all the streets with geraniums in the front windows that were a part of our lives. I think we could have approached any house in an emergency for blocks around—not that anything serious ever happened. It wasn’t anything any of us ever thought about—we rode bicycles and skates and/or walked from one place to another without ever stopping to consider our safety or security.

There was a state of stability and absence of disruption throughout our lives, throughout the lives of our parents (despite the great depression and WW2) that can’t be found in Southern California where I have spent most of my adult life but I think still exists in most of Cincinnati, where girlfriends of mine who grew up in North College Hill married and bought houses near their parents’ homes, to raise their children in close proximity to their parents.

We took good cooking for granted, I’m ashamed to admit. I don’t think any of us ever stopped to think twice about my grandma’s exquisite Palascinta (Hungarian pancakes—like crepes); grandma’s strudels with dough made from scratch—we each had a favorite filling – mine was spicy pumpkin—but any of them, apple, cherry, or cheese, were to die for—or homemade noodles drying on the backs of kitchen chairs—or the German wurst sausages, delicious with a chunk of fresh-baked salt bread.

My grandmother made Dobos tortes with up to fourteen layers of sponge cake, spread with bittersweet chocolate frosting; she made dozens and dozens of cookies at Christmas-time—I only remember the diamond shaped cookies dipped in egg white and spread with finely chopped walnuts and sugar although my older sister swore there were many other kinds of cookies.

We went to grandma’s house for lunch most days of the week during the school year—her house was just a short walk up the street from St. Leo’s—and feasted on Hungarian goulash and salt bread, or a bowl of chicken broth which contained something WE called “rivillies” but which, I discovered in one of William Woys Weaver’s books—was a tiny Pennsylvania Dutch dumpling called Rivels or Riwweles which is probably much the same as my grandmother’s Rivellies. We also grew up on Spatzle and homemade noodles, dumplings, sauerkraut, scrapple, and hasenpfeffer. Scrapple is traditionally a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and wheat flour, which is baked in a loaf pan and then kept refrigerated. You sliced some of it and fried it in a skillet for a breakfast side dish. (I could live without the hasenpfeffer but loved everything else).

Or grandma might make a huge chicken sandwich for you (if you were the only child who happened to be around) with leaves of lettuce fresh from her garden, and mayonnaise spread thick on homemade bread. We often had Palascinta for lunch, with jelly spread over it and then rolled up; we called the crepes “German pancakes” not knowing their true origin was Hungarian. If nothing else, we might have a snack of a slice of rye bread spread with sour cream.

My grandmother taught her cooking skills to her daughter and daughters-in-law. Many years would pass before I realized that my two aunts, Aunt Annie and Aunt Dolly, knew how to make many of Grandma’s desserts and savory dishes. My mother learned how to make bread; my mother made two huge loaves of bread twice a week most of my adolescent years. Aside from the recipes my aunts remembered, most of grandma’s recipes—all learned from watching, none written down—are now lost. A few were written down but most are gone, along with my mother and aunts and grandmother.

For one thing, my grandmother never wrote much in English except for her name; some times she would instruct me to write something down for her. But German was her native language and she and my grandfather had many Immigrant friends in Cincinnati who spoke their language. My grandfather was a tailor of men’s suits and spoke seven languages fluently. The shopkeepers with whom grandma did business all spoke German, too.

My grandparents belonged to a lodge that was downtown near Findlay Market; it was a place where the men played cards and smoked pipes in one room while the women cooked or talked in another room. (Only recently I discovered there were many such lodges).  Sometimes there was a wedding in a nearby Catholic church and the reception might be held at this lodge; I remember the dancing and the music. We went to and from the lodge on the streetcars—later buses took over. When we transferred buses at Colerain and Hopple Street, my grandfather would hurry into Camp Washington Chili Parlor to get Coney Islands for us to eat when we got home. (I remember there being a coupon in the Sunday Paper – five or six Coney islands for 25 cents).

Findlay Market was an open market with stalls of fruit-and-vegetables—around the perimeter of the open stalls there were grocery stores—I particularly remember a meat market where grandma sometimes bought a chicken.  Grandma was ahead of her time carrying tote bags made out of oil cloth and often taking a grandchild along to help carry the bags. In recent years I visited Findlay Market with one of my nephews; it is over a hundred years old and has been vastly renovated—almost all the stores and shops are now indoors and the meat market always had us drooling over the many kinds of sausages.

I grew up in Cincinnati, learning my way around the city at a very tender age—by the time I was ten years old I was making trips downtown by myself—first to make payments on a coat my mother had in layaway at Lerner’s for which she paid $1.00 a week and I’d have two nickels for bus fare each way. Later, I took my two younger brothers with me downtown to do our Christmas shopping. There were no malls at this time—all the shops and stores were located downtown, near Fountain Square and ladies would go downtown to shop wearing dresses and high heels. Can you imagine?

At an early age—maybe ten or eleven—I began to discover the used book stores (as well as small out-of-the-way dusty antique stores that often had a tray of books outside the door; The kind of books I bought then, for 25 cents each, were often light romance, I think—cookbooks were far from my radar!

We shopped primarily at the five and ten cent stores – there were three or four of these—one was a Newberry’s and another was a Kresge’s, but the chief attraction was    the Woolworth store that had a lunch counter where we—my two younger brothers and I—could buy a grilled cheese and coke to share—and sometimes have enough for a bag of caramel corn which I have been addicted to all my life. We somehow managed to buy Christmas presents for our parents, grandparents and siblings—which amazes to me this very day. It must have been like the loaves and fishes—because somehow, doling out pennies for purchases, we always managed to get something for everybody.  I was equally addicted to “downtown” – to me, downtown has been and always will be “downtown Cincinnati” During the holidays my brothers and I visited all the major department stores to stand in line to see Santa Claus but primarily to get a free candy cane. The store window displays alone were worth a trip downtown.

One of my favorite stores – not a 5&10 cent store – was Shillito’s—Cincinnati’s first department store which opened in 1832. One of the exits, close to my bus stop,was in the book section, where Nancy Drew books were on display.  One year my brother Jim gave me five new Nancy Drew books for Christmas. I was hooked on Nancy Drew. I think the books were about a dollar each—and just GETTING a dollar and hanging onto it long enough to go downtown to buy the next book was a task unto itself. Eventually I discovered that the Nancy Drew books at used book stores were generally a lot cheaper—and I fell in love with the old illustrations in these books.

Another beloved place when I was a child – not only to me but to my siblings as well – was the Windmill Restaurant. It was a cafeteria style restaurant, unfamiliar to all of us—where you could pick and choose whatever you wanted to eat. It was a special treat to do downtown to the Windmill Restaurant with Grandma and be able to eat anything you wanted.  (a foreign concept to children of the 1940s, I assure you.)

Restaurant food with my parents sometimes had strings attached. I remember once being in a restaurant with my parents; we all ordered hamburgers – but I stipulated no mustard on mine. The hamburger arrived with – guess what? Mustard. I refused to eat it and my parents refused to send it back. That hamburger traveled home with us in the glove compartment and I don’t remember eating anything else on the way home.(many, many years later I began eating mustard—it’s almost a “must” on a corned beef sandwich but I remember, nevertheless, a battle of wits between me and my parents.

The Windmill Restaurant and Grandma are irrevocably tied together. I never went there without her.

There were other downtown attractions; during the holidays, Lytle Park had a “live” nativity scene that was a “must” if you were downtown. Lytle Park, as I remember it, no longer exists*. When the Freeway, Interstate I-71, was built in the mid 1960s. significant changes were made to the area. A tunnel was built under the park; the original Lytle Park had to be dismantled/demolished. After I-71 construction, the park was reconstructed, and “One Lytle Place” (a luxury nigh-rise apartment building) was constructed.

Another favorite event during my childhood was the circus. The only circus I know anything about was one that came to town, to the downtown area. This was the Shrine  Circus and our Uncle George gave us free tickets to go. I went there with my two younger brothers. We didn’t have any money for caramel corn or soft drinks, but it was enough just being there.

We went to the Policemen’s Picnic once a year and it was not uncommon for families to pack up a supper and go to one of the parks located in Cincinnati’s many forest areas—there was Winton Woods and Mt. Airy Forest, just to name two.

Cincinnati has a fine zoo and sometimes you might go with Grandma to the zoo, just to walk around. There are many other fine places to visit in Cincinnati, such as the museums.  What I have described to you, however, are the places I was familiar with as a child

Cincinnati  has, for many decades, been a city of great activity and prosperity. By 1830 it was the 6th largest city in the United States. In a book titled “CINCINNATI, A PICTORIAL HISTORY” by Marilyn Green and Michael Bennett, the authors tell us that “increasing numbers of steamboats were built here, and the huge pork-packing industry gave the city the name of “Porkupolis”, one result of this highly successful business being the common sight of herds of pigs being driven through the streets a long time ago. Many of today’s great businesses were founded, such as Procter & Gamble; showboats docked at public landings and theatres opened their doors to increasingly elegant crowds who were entertained by everything from Shakespeare to grand opera…”

It was during this period (1820-1865) that many illustrious visitors and residents arrived  at the Queen City. Harriet Beecher Stowe came with her amazing father, the head of Lane Seminary; Lafayette came and was nearly killed with hospitality; Charles Dickens praised Cincinnati warmly, and Horace Greeley compared it favorably with California. Jenny Lind produced the hysterical enthusiasm that marked her American tour and Stephen Foster worked and composed in the city. A runaway boy who would become famous as Mark Twain boarded a steamboat for New Orleans from the Cincinnati public landing. Thomas Edison was here, and it was he who received the telegraphed news of Lincoln’s assassination. I was bemused to think that Mark Twain boarding a steamboat at the public landing. I remember the public landing and boarding a steamboat to ride up the river to Coney Island (Cincinnati’s version of the famed amusement park).

But mostly, when I think about Cincinnati, I think about good food and recipes and cookbooks.  I think good cooking must be pretty much taken for granted in my hometown and I was nonplussed when I began removing Cincinnati and greater Cincinnati cookbooks from my shelves, to discover just how many cookbooks I have that are devoted to just this one city.

You may recall (I’ve mentioned it a time or two) that the very first community cookbook in my collection was purchased by my father from a co-worker at Formica, in 1961. Its full title is “50th Anniversary Cookbook Women’s Guild Matthew’s United Church of Christ”  I think my father paid a dollar each for several copies – one for me, one for my sister Becky and one for my mother. It’s always been one of my favorite cookbooks—if nothing else it amuses me to think that daddy had NO IDEA what he was starting when he bought that book for me. Until then, I had never seen any community (or church or club) cookbooks; I had no idea they even existed. A few years later I began to make a serious effort to find other Cincinnati cookbooks. When I began making trips back home with my children in the summertime, my young brother and I began making trips to Acre of Books, in downtown Cincinnati. I rarely made it beyond the cookbook section.  One of the oldest  cookbooks in my collection is a ring-bound book, sans covers, titled “TESTED RECIPES – CALVARY CHURCH, CLIFTON, OHIO.” (Clifton is a suburb of Cincinnati) It’s missing a publishing date, also, and clippings fal out of it whenever I pick the book up—oh, but I love this old cookbook with or without the covers. The former owner inserted pages of her own handwritten recipes or recipes clipped from newspapers and pasted inside.

Perhaps preceding this is a book in my collection titled “KEY TO THE CUPBOARD”  compiled by the Daughters of Veterans (as in the Civil War, 1861-1865) Like so many other old cookbooks, this one is undated; judging by the ads, I would guess it to be published in the early teens—sometime before World War I There is a full page ad titled Mrs. Abraham Lincoln Tent No. 14, and below that DAUGHTERS OF VETERANS 1861-1865, followed underneath by MEETINGS HELD AT MEMORIAL HALL. At the bottom of the page is written “Our Object To Aid and Assist the needy Veterans; to care  for their Widows, and their Orphans, and to perpetuate the memory of the heroic dead, and at the bottom CINCINNATI, OHIO. Amongst the ads is one for Rookwood Pottery. I found a recipe inside for Amber Soup, which was an interesting surprise—only recently I found a reference to Amber Soup while working on What’s Cooking in the White House Kitchen. I also found some recipes for “peach mangoes” and “Sweet Cucumber Mangoes”.  You may recall that I have written about “mangoes” before—it was a Cincinnati term for green bell peppers for many years—the transition from a pickled fruit to being called “mangoes” seems to have stayed strictly in the greater Cincinnati region.  (See “Stuff Mangoes or a Rose by Any Other Name”)

I began collecting cookbooks in 1965; it wasn’t until the early 1970s that I was able to travel home to Cincinnati with my children, to spend from a few weeks to a few months of the summer with my parents, during which time I began to seriously search for Cincinnati cookbooks. One summer we had so much “stuff” to take home that I packed it all in boxes and we took the Greyhound Bus back to California – there was no weight restriction on our boxes, mostly filled with books; it gave a Redcap pause at the downtown Los Angeles Bus Depot when my husband met us there and we enlisted the Redcap to haul all the boxes to our station wagon.

“What you got in here?” he queried. “Feels like FORT KNOX!”
“Not quite, “ I replied, “Just BOOKS!”

Over the years (and many trips to Cincinnati) other old Cincinnati community cookbooks gradually found their way onto my bookshelves. There is DEACCONESS HOSPITAL COOKBOOK published sometime in the 1930s,

THE GARDEN CLUB OF CINCINNATI COOK BOOK published a revised edition in 1937 (I never found an earlier edition),

While in 1950 THE WIEDEMANN BOOK OF UNUSUAL RECIPES was compiled by famous chefs of the day,

THE CINCINNATI COOK BOOK RECIPES COLLECTED BY THE CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY OF THE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL was published in 1967 and features drawings of famous Cincinnati landmarks, penned by artist Caroline Williams,

In 1970 the Altrusa Club of Cincinnati published ALTRUSA’S CINCINNATI CELEBRITY COOKBOOKI featuring cartoons of “The Girls” for which cartoon artist Franklin Folger became known,

CINCINNATI CELEBRATES presented by the Junior League of Cincinnati was published 1974,

Also in 1974, Cheviot PTA compiled HAPPINESS IS…CHEVIOT PTA COOKBOOK (one of my favorites—my sister Becky did the illustrations and submitted many of her favorite recipes to this cookbook

ONE POTATO TWO TOMATO, A Cookbook, was published in 1979 by the Catholic Women of Cincinnati,

CINCINNATI RECIPE TREASURY/The Queen City’s Culinary Heritage, by Mary Anna DuSablon, published in 1983 is, without question, my favorite all-time Cincinnati cookbook—it was, and still is, my favorite reference book when it comes to a Cincinnati Recipe.

There is a hardcover book called TREASURED RECIPES FROM CAMARGO TO INDIAN HILL which was compiled in 1987 by the members of the Indian Hill Historical Society,

RIVERFEAST/Still Celebrating Cincinnati by the Junior League of Cincinnati was published in 1990,

While in 1998 the Junior League of Cincinnati returned with “I’ll COOK WHEN PIGS FLY AND THEY DO IN CINCINNATI, another one of my favorite cookbooks.

When asked what my favorite cookbook is, I have to confess, it’s whatever I am reading at the moment. But one of the most outstanding collections of recipes were compiled by Fern Storer, who—for decades—was a food editor for the Cincinnati Post. Whenever my mother was putting together a box of things to send to me, she’d ask if there was anything in particular that I wanted; “Yes,” I always replied, “send me some of Fern Storer’s columns—and maybe a loaf of Rubel’s Rye Bread!” Later on the family would send me packets of Skyline Chili powder mix.

I wish I could have met Fern Storer. Well, during one of my visits to Cincinnati, my nephew took me to the Ohio Book store downtown in Cincinnati (Acres of Books went out of business some years ago). I bought about $100 worth of books including a copy of RECIPES REMEMBERED by Fern Storer.  We packed the box of books up and my nephew mailed them to my home—to save me the trouble of packing them in a suitcase.  Well, the box never made it to California. A single book I had read on the flight TO Cincinnati and had a return address label inside surfaced and was sent to me by the Post Office in Bell, California. I agonized over losing that box for months afterwards.

A year or two later I was back in Cincinnati and returned to the  Ohio Book Store; I told my tale of woe to the owner of the book store who remarked “You know, we ship orders all the time—we can mail your books to you for the cost of postage. So, when I had found a couple of armloads of cookbooks that day, I gave them to the owner to send to me. They weighed my books to determine the cost of shipping at book rate. My books were waiting for me when I got back home.

I didn’t find another copy of RECIPES REMEMBERED—but one day began searching for it online – and not only did I find a copy – I found one that is autographed!

Thank you, Fern Storer, wherever you are.

I like junior league cookbooks from different states –they are almost always better than most cookbooks—but when it comes to finding a recipe that is “local” the two books I turn to first are Fern Storer’s RECIPES REMEMBERED and Mary Anna DuSablon’s Cincinnati Recipe Treasury. Granted, my home town has a great deal more to offer than cookbooks—but the ones listed are those in my own collection.

Special Thanks to Howard Brinkdoepke for clarifying the names and locations of some of my Cincinnati memories. Howard became a penpal when I wrote Dinner in the Diner including the Twin Trolley Restaurant that used to be in South Fairmount.

–Sandra Lee Smith