Monday, September 26, 2011

Food Memories Growing Up

Taking the dogs out for a walk, I passed under the branches of a walnut tree. As the leaves crunched underfoot, that sweet pungent walnut leaf smell flooded me with nostalgic memories!

As a boy growing up on a farm in north eastern Kansas, fall had its own magic – Collecting black walnuts was an annual function – One of met favorite places to gather them was south of my Uncle Joe’s farm house, down in the pasture, down to a nice stand of walnut trees...

The pasteur below Joe and Cecile's farm - good black walnut trees

A group of family and friends would go down on a warm fall evening to fill bushel baskets with nuts (the stain from the hulls turned my hands brown for days). When the work was done we built a bonfire of fallen branches – when the fire had burned down to hot coals we roasted wieners on sticks and made hot dogs using slices of white bread (they hadn’t invented hot dog buns yet), added yellow mustard and pickle slices and we were set. (Do you remember the smell of slightly burned hot dogs roasted on a stick over an open fire?)

The rolling hills of north eastern Kansas near my childhood home

Black walnuts are wonderfully tasty but oh so much work to get from the shell – the shells must be thoroughly cracked with a hammer – then a special picking tool with a narrow sharp point is needed to work out the sweet nutmeat inside. They have way more flavor than English Walnuts and are wonderful for baking - but this is a tedious job for snowy winter nights.

"Town" Delia Kansas - was walking distance from my childhood farm

Fall was also the season for laying in a good supply of apples and pears each year. Kansas apples area crisp and juicy, tart, and they last until well past Christmas. Sometimes we bought them from George Hejtmanek’s farm a few miles east of Delia. In the early years the Hejtmanek family had been a great help to the Zlatniks when they first arrived from Europe and the families had been good friends ever since. I remember George as quite an old man, but he and his wife were friendly and kind. I especially remember his pears!

Kansas sky at sunset
In the early years it seems like gathering and processing food for winter occupied much of the summer and fall season. By the start of October, my mother had processed enough quart jars of green beans, tomatoes, spinach, beets, rhubarb, strawberries, peas, sweet corn, applesauce, plums, and last the winter. Each one had to be picked and processed as our garden provided it...

My Cousin Laverne's garden - the bean patch

Frequently on summer days I saw her preparing great mounds of vegetables with vats of hot steaming water and large pressure cookers hissing clouds of steam. She would often say “This will taste oh so good when the snow flies!”

The snow flying

By the end of fall, all of these jars were lined up on wooden shelves down in the cellar under the house.

Delia Country Road

We were quite self sufficient for much of our food – we had chickens that provided meat and eggs, we had Bossy the cow (a soft brown Guernsey cow) who gave us more milk, butter, and butter milk than we could use. Once a week my mother made fresh cottage cheese from the extra milk.

There was a small grocery store in Delia - Weiner's - where everyone went to buy basic foods - and we bought some things from them too. I loved going into Weiners - it always smelled good inside the old building with its variety of food stuffs. It was also kind of a general store with a variety of non food items and clothing too.

My Uncle Joe and Aunt Cecile's home

Of course we had a potato patch and grew, dug, and stored the potatoes down in the cellar too. We ate the potatoes as "new" potatoes, and later as boiled, mashed, baked, and fried! Onions were an important crop as well. Our extensive vegetable garden required no irrigation - other than the regular rainfall. We had plentiful strawberries, black berries, and fruit trees. Did you know that on a still summer night when there was no breeze you can hear corn growing? The corn stock continues to elongate even after the sun sets…and this makes a rustling sound of the leaves.

Young Kansas Corn

Once a week our house became fragrant with the richness of fresh baked loves of white bread and for special occasions white rolls ( recipe posted at end of blog ) . My mother was a great baker! This bread was truly a staff of life. No meal was without its bread! In those days there was always unlimited butter available as well...

My father, Anton, with a swarm of bees (about to be placed in hive)

Then there was the making of marmalade and jam, canned grape juice, and apple butter… The smells alone were intoxicating! The jam always resulted in a little foam that had to be carefully removed before covering with hot paraffin wax to preserve them. For days after jam making we had “froth” with our butter and bread …

The Kansa tall grassland near our home

The large crocks of sauerkraut required shredding the cabbage - pounding it into the crocks, adding salt, and then sealing they up to ferment. If you know the smell of making sauerkraut you will never forget it! Ultimately the sauerkraut too would be canned and preserved.

We did not do it often - but I remember the slaughter of a pig and the huge amounts of meat to process, liver sausage, lard, cooked organs… It was a time of feasting!

My mother, later in life, with my sister Helen

Winter salads were usually cabbage or carrots ( book of which could be stored for long time ) ...or pickled beets or other canned items.

Most every meal included a sweet desert – usually a pudding, canned fruit, fruit jello, sweet bread with spices and nuts, or perhaps fresh cooked sauce made from apples or rhubarb.

Also most every Saturday my Mother made a special cake to have on hand just in case visitors came to call. (it was common to go visiting on Sunday afternoon).

February in Kansas

All this cooking my mother did over a cast iron stove that burned large corn cobs for fuel. We had a grain elevator down the road from us and they had an unlimited supply of the cobs available – they burned hot and clean … and one of my chores as a small boy was to bring in bushel baskets of cobs from the cob shed so that they were available for cooking and heating…Water had to be hauled by the bucket full from the pump that stood some distance out from the house.

And to think that walking the dogs under a walnut tree triggered all these memories and associations…


Have you been introduced to Jim Hightower?

He is a populist news commentator from Texas that posts a short daily commentary on the world and events in Washington... Here is a sample:

The privileged v. the poor

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 | Posted by Jim Hightower

At last, Republicans in Washington have recognized that class war is ravaging poor and middle-class families all across our land.

Oh, wait – my mistake. GOP Congress critters are not expressing outrage at the plight of those folks, but at the plight of corporate chieftains and Wall Street barons. Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other top Repubs have gotten up on their hind legs to screech "class war" at Barack Obama. That dastardly Democrat offended the fragile sensibilities of privileged plutocrats at the uppermost tip of our economy by suggesting they should pay a bit more in taxes. So Republican leaders grabbed pitchforks and torches to save the billionaires from Obama's reckless tax talk.

Does being a top Republican official require you to be both stupid and ridiculous?

In the same week that McConnell, Boehner & Company rallied 'round the rich elite, sobering reality about America's true class war was published by the Census Bureau. The 2007 economic crash, caused by Wall Street greed and exacerbated ever since by corporate-induced joblessness, has knocked down the typical household's income, tossed nine million more of our people into poverty, and rapidly made the poor much poorer. More than 46 million Americans now live in poverty – 20 million of them in deep poverty – with some of the sharpest increases coming in suburbs. Young families with children have been especially hard hit – 37 percent of them dwell in poverty, the highest rate on record.

Meanwhile, to protect the super-wealthy from any tax hike at all or any cut in the subsidies they get for things like vacation homes and yachts, Republican leaders are demanding cuts in food stamps, head start, job training, and other essential tools for getting out of poverty. This is not merely stupid and ridiculous – it's shameful.

"Poor Are Still Getting Poorer, but Downturn's Punch Varies, Census Data Show," The New York Times, September 15, 2011.

"Poor Young Families Soared in '10, Data Show," The New York Times, September 20, 2011.

"The Impoverished States of America," The New York Times, September 18, 2011.

"Income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the United States: 2007,", August 2008.



2 and 1/2 cups milk

8 T butter

4 T sugar

1 t salt

2 T dry yeast

2 Eggs

7 Cups flour

Combine: Butter, sugar, salt, milk, dry yeast

add beaten eggs

Stir to mix

Add to flour

Mix well

Knead until smooth and elastic

Let rise double

Oil baking pans

Form into 48 rolls, ( rolls should be about 4 times longer than wide )

Allow to double in bulk

Bake at 380 degrees for about 20-30 min.

until golden brown on top and bottom

Best to serve soon after baking...