GRANDMA’S BOOK OF RECIPES AND HELPFUL HINTS
by Louise Hart
© 2001 by Louise Hart. All Rights Reserved.
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About the Author
Poet and author Louise Hart has been writing since she was five years of age and has been published since she was thirteen. A former journalist, columnist, teacher and entrepreneur, she was dubbed the new Emily Dickinson by the editor of Mustang Review, a prestigious imagistic poetry journal, for her poem, “Snow”. She has also named Poet Laureate of Greater Lawrence by the Greater Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. She taught gourmet cooking for a number of years and was the author of The Valley Gourmet, a weekly syndicated column that appeared in news magazines throughout the northeast.
Louise’s other books include:
The Book of Trees, vols. I through IV
Mill Girls and their Daughters
Ashley and Cat Bad
Ashley, the Finicky Cat
Ashley and Jimmy
Ashley and Shadow
What Does a Tick Sound Like?
This Volume is Dedicated to: Great-Grandma,
Grandma and Ma, whose creativity and
resourcefulness were the inspiration
for the recipes and stories within
“A woman who can't cook or manage money is no good." I can't remember the first time I heard that phrase, but I do remember that I heard it often. In an Irish American household, it is more than a phrase or a opinion, the words carried with them the weight of a rule of law.
It is possible that the origin of the phrase was rooted in
the early experience of the immigrant Irish.
Those who came in the mid-1800's to escape starvation and pestilence in
My great grandmother was one of the mill girls of
Although only five feet four inches in height and slight of build, she proved more than up to the task, for she was gifted with a keen photographic memory. She was the worker picked by her fellow workers to recite the classics to them while they worked. Great Grandmother Emily Sherlock Riley gladly gave her daily recitations from the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. She had committed both to memory as she would later read and commit to memory the works of Dickens, Wells and Poe, three of the authors on whose books she spent whatever spare pennies, dimes or dollars she was able to save.
As each of her daughters reached the age of twelve, she too followed her mother into the mills. Life as a mill girl was hard. Hard enough that great grandma's oldest daughter would die of consumption (tuberculosis) at the age of twenty-two. Her death scarred the life of her little sister, my grandmother, who had demonstrated an ability to sew and create with her hands equal to that of her mother‘s. She, too, was chosen by her fellow workers to make daily recitations, but unlike her mother, she did not quote from the classics. Instead, as the scrapbooks of clippings that she kept showed, she quoted from the old adages and newspapers of the day. Her mother knew the old adages of the Bible. She knew them and Ben Franklin's as well.
She also knew how to make a meal of almost nothing by today's standards. Just as she took scraps of cloth and old clothing and turned them into the curtains, drapes, rugs, quilts and doilies which decorated her home, she could make a meal to feed her family and company with just a few potatoes and a quarter pound of cold meat. She often had nothing else to serve or eat, but as the Irish who seemed to have a saying for everything noted, " 'It is no shame to come to an Irish table hungry, but shame on the Irish woman from whose table a guest goes in hunger". My mother always swore that her parent’s relatives knew and took advantage of her mother's generosity, usually timing their arrivals for their unannounced visit to the family’s scheduled Sunday dinner, especially during the depression.
At fifty-five years of age, after raising her own children,
my grandmother was to step in when her sister died and take over the
responsibility of raising her four children rather than allow the children to
go to an orphanage. With her savings,
she bought a house opposite the mill on
Her daughter would follow in her footsteps. After raising my mother primarily in an
apartment house across the street from where Bette Davis and her mother lived,
my grandmother moved to an apartment on
For both women, the skills extolled in the old adage were a
matter of survival, and thus, often quoted to the young females who followed
them. Certainly, my mother, a mill girl
as well, knew the value of the adages.
She was the only one of my grandmother's children to survive
infancy. Out of family necessity, she
started to work in the mills at the age of fourteen, but her mother who had
risen to the status of a consultant, teaching others how to make braided rugs,
encouraged her daughter to return to school. My mother took advantage of her mother’s
offer. She applied and was accepted for
nurse’s training. After completing her
training as a licensed practical nurse, she continued on to earn her degree as
a registered nurse. She was always proud
to have been a graduate of
Following her graduation from
According to my mother, I was four when I first started making my own dinner in a little electric stove an oven that my parents gave me. I also baked potatoes and biscuits for my bothers. I have been cooking ever since.
While my career as a teacher, writer and businesswoman was quite different from that of my mother's, so long as she, my grandmother and my great grandmother lived, we were bonded together by our skills at money management and our love of cooking. Like them, I have known the need and appreciated the advantages of being able to manage money, but it is in the kitchen that I feel the most in tune with my heritage. I remember each of them as I once again prepare a recipe as they taught me to do. I see their hand and their delight in the faded yellow recipe cards on which they penned their favorite recipes for me to follow. I hear their admonishment and their advice when I prepare one of the home remedies by which they swore. In fact, after my first child was born by caesarian section when I was but seven months along, it was in desperation that I sought my mother's help. My son was having difficulty. He appeared to be allergic to all the new formulas that the doctors just kept juggling hoping that one would work. I knew that my mother had used a special formula when she had delivered twins at seven months and that they had flourished under her care. My mother sent her recipe for the formula to me by overnight delivery. I prepared the formula as my mother instructed and gave it to my son. The change was immediate and for the better. He no longer cried from hunger. He did not react to the formula. He was satiated after feeding and began to flourish even as my brothers' had. My mother's old recipe worked wonders. A child who was not expected to survive is today an engineer.
Recently, to save many of the treasured recipes and helpful household hints which came to me from my mother, grandmother, great grandmother and their mothers before them, I began to enter them on a computer, a machine they would not have dreamed of as they worked in the mill, but one which, if they were here today, I am sure they would have all learned how to use. They may have sworn by the old values, but they were all women who very much kept up with the technical advances of their day.
My original motive in entering the recipes into the computer was to save them for another generation. However, as I typed them, I realized that there may be many other women such as myself who would appreciate the recipes and wisdom which I have been fortunate enough to receive. What started out as a family project has thus grown into a book. It probably should have been called Mill Girl Recipes, but in honor of those from whom the recipes have come I have named it, My Grandmother's Book of Recipes and Helpful Hints. As you read it, I hope you will share their memory with me.
TABLE OF RECIPES
GRANDMA’S MEAT LOAF 27
THE WORLD’S BEST BOILED HAM 29
OLD-FASHIONED CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE 33
TRADITIONAL CORNED BEEF HASH 34
HASHED CORNED BEEF PIE 35
CORNED BEEF CUPS 36
EASY CORNED BEEF PATTIES 37
AN IRISH PIZZA 38
GRANDMA’S OVEN FRIED CHICKEN 40
MOM’S LAMB 43
“IRISH” SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS 44
SCRUMPTIOUS BEEF PIE 48
QUICK CHICKEN SCONES 49
NEXT DAY SCALLOPED HAM AND EGG CASSEROLE 50
NEVER SAY LEFTOVER 51
MOM’S BAKED CUCUMBERS AND HAM 52
GRANDMA’S CREAM SAUCE 53
MOM’S FAVORITE CREAM SAUCE II 53
SERVE CHEESE SAUCE PLEASE 54
MACARONI AND HAM 54
MADE AT HOME CHICKEN PIE 56
SURE TO PLEASE MACARONI AND CHEESE 61
GOLDEN CHEESE CROQUETTES 62
ENTERTAINING RAREBIT 63
RICH CHEESE SOUP 64
GRANDMA’S CLEAR SOUP STOCK 65
QUICK FISH CROQUETTES 68
CROQUETTE SAUCE 69
FUN(D)RAISING CRAB MEAT SALAD 73
CHANGE OF PACE SCALLOPED POTATOES 82
THREE FOR ONE DISH 83
STUFFED ONIONS 85
QUEEN CAKE 87
FROSTED STARS 90
MOLASSES SUGAR COOKIES 91
MOTHER’S SUGAR COOKIES 94
BRAN DROP COOKIES 95
OATMEAL COOKIES 96
LACY OATMEAL COOKIES 98
CHOCOLATE OATMEAL COOKIES 99
OLD-FASHIONED COOKIES 100
MOLASSES DROP COOKIES 101
GRANDMA’S GINGER SNAPS 102
COOKIE JAR COOKIES 103
FRUITED CRUMB COOKIES 104
IRRESISTIBLE ANISE COOKIES 106
TRADITIONAL BUTTER COOKIES 107
CHILDREN’S COOKIES 108
COCONUT SQUARES 109
MOM’S MOLASSES COOKIES 112
STOVE TOP HERMITS 120
SIMPLE SUGAR COOKIES 122
TOO GOOD TO WAIT DONUTS 125
SUNDAY SPICE CAKE 128
CRAZY COCONUT CAKE 129
CUP CAKES 130
TENDER ONE-EGG CAKE 131
ST. PAT’S DAY IRISH BREAD 133
MY BEST BANANA BREAD 139
QUICK OATMEAL FRUIT BREAD 141
ONE-BOWL MIRACLE CHOCOLATE CAKE 144
TRADITIONAL CHOCOLATE CAKE 145
MOTHER’S MAIDETTE CAKE 148
BASIC FROSTING 151
CHOCOLATE CHIP CAKE 152
TRULY FUDGE BROWNIES 154
CREAMY BLACK MOONS 155
MOON FILLING 156
TRADITIONAL HOMEMADE FUDGE 157
MOM’S RICE PUDDING 158
HELPFUL HINTS 160
MEAT AND POTATOES
Although the Irish are known as the meat and potato people,
in truth, for many, meat was often a scarce commodity with what little was
available to be shared by too many mouths.
The whole family would work together on small family farms in
A pound or two of beef or a ham bone could feed a hungry horde when cooked in soup or stew and since the old adages warned, waste not, want not, a soup or stew which could be served again and again was a perfect way to avoid waste. My mother was known for her pea soup and beef stew which were often served with hot fresh bread. I can still see my father scraping even the last morsel from his plate and telling my mother that what remained in the pot would be even better tomorrow. In fact, he was right. A good stew and pea soup ripen overnight. My mother often made the soup or stew one day and refrigerated it overnight. She would then skim off the fat from the top of the soup or stew before reheating it and serving it for the next night's supper. Since my mother worked right by my father's side in building the family's business, she always appreciated the convenience of a soup or stew as well, for once it was started, she could leave it to we children to stir and check periodically. It would need no other tending until she returned from work in time to serve supper.
For a good beef stew, my mother always stressed quality. She insisted on buying all of the family's vegetables from a farmer and the meat from a butcher whose wife was also one of her friends. My mother would only make beef stew when they would call her and tell her that they had received some beef that she would find appropriate for stew meat. She liked her stew meat lean and tender. I often use cubed sirloin strips just to try to duplicate the tender quality of the meat I remember in her stews. Because she believed that food had medicinal as well as nutritive qualities and preferred natural cures to artificial medicines, she also regularly included them in her beef stew (for my father). None of us children would eat them. However, my mother insisted that parsnips were an excellent vegetable for the purifying and building of blood so she would not consider making a stew without them. The choice of vegetables is, of course, up to the cook, for a stew can be as elaborate or simple as the maker wishes. I still like to make stew for that reason. No two need ever be the same.
1 c. flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Roll in the flour until covered on all sides
2 to 3 lbs. stew beef, sirloin or round beef cut in
In a large stew pot, melt
2 tbsp. Butter or margarine
Place meat in pot and brown on all sides. For added flavor, before you brown the meat, add chopped onions and peppers, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, garlic and oregano to taste.
After the meat is browned on all sides, add
2 c. water
Sliced whole carrots
Quartered peeled whole potatoes
Brussels sprouts, peas, baby whole onions, if desired
2 Bay leaves
A Pinch of Cumin Seed
Bring stew to a low rolling boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender enough to be cut with a fork. Serve with biscuits, rolls or bread. Cool leftovers and refrigerate overnight. Before reheating, skim fat off top of stew.
Use seasoned flour and bullion cubes, if needed, to thicken stew gravy before serving.
Do not try to cut down on the recipe if you are cooking for only one or two people. Cooking less than a full stew can unbalance the ingredients and diminish the flavor. After we children were grown, my mother overcame the problem of too much stew by dividing leftovers into appropriate sized servings for my father and her. Beef stew freezes well. She then placed each portion in appropriately sized containers, dated the containers and stored them in the freezer. When my mother did not have time to prepare a full meal, she would use one of the containers. For her, the best-frozen dinners were the ones that she made at home.
With so many mouths to feed, my mother had to buy most of her food in bulk. Our fruits came in crates or bushel baskets. Our flour and sugar were bought in fifty- pound bags. My parents dared not buy a quart or gallon of milk, for on a warm summer's day, it took 24 quarts to satiate my brothers' thirst and sometimes more when my mother would make her ice coffee for them. As for desserts, my mother had an eight-foot freezer in our cellar. The freezer was lined with four or five of the same ice cream containers normally found at the ice cream parlors.
Needless to say, her cooking had to be in equal bulk. Before even the first frost, my mother added homemade soups to the family's fall and winter menus. My mother enjoyed serving homemade soups, not just because they did not require the constant attention that other main dishes demand, but also, because they are so much richer and tastier than the canned variety.
My mother loved making enough homemade soup so that she had enough to serve all week. She also made it ahead and then froze or refrigerated the leftovers. She and my father agreed that the leftover soup tasted as good or even better than the fresh soup did.
My mother especially liked homemade soup because each soup could be individualized or varied according to the taste of those to whom it would be served. This individualization applied to the seasonings, meat or fish, and the vegetables or fruits used. I can remember her telling me when she taught me how to make her soup that the recipe that she was demonstrating was only the basics. A good cook, she noted, used the basics to build her own recipes her way.
Just as the family had meatless meals at least once a week, my mother also believed in serving stew or soup once a week during the winter. In fact, it was with her soups and stews in mind that my mother allowed herself one of the few indulgences of her life. She had a large soup pot made for her. With it and her imagination, she was able to create many an unforgettable meal.
The basic rules for making soup that my mother preached were to not pierce the meat and to maintain the heat at a slow simmer (with a hint of bubbles in the soup stock).
The first rule is necessary to insure that the meat retains its juices. It can be easily adhered to using a large wooden spoon to move the meat around the pot without piercing it or picking it up with a knife or fork.
The second of my mother's rules is essential since time is an important ingredient in any good soup stock. It takes time for the liquid to tenderize the meat and to acquire the right balance of flavor from the meat and spices. High heat evaporates the liquid and risks burning the meat and vegetables.
The first recipe below is for my grandmother’s chicken soup. When my mother made chicken soup for one of us when he or she was ill, she served the soup with her "witches brew", a gargle of hot water, vinegar, salt and pepper. Just the thought of that brew, she knew, was enough to cure most complaints of a sore throat.
The second recipe is for one of my mother's staples, split pea soup. The best of a Sunday dinner ham, my mother believed, was the bone that served as the heart of this thick, rich soup.
Brown in butter in a large cooking pot or crockery pot:
5 - 6 lbs. stewing chicken, cut in pieces
1 Bay leaf
1 Carrot cut in slices
1 Onion, quartered
1 clove of Garlic
1 stalk of Celery with leaves cut in diagonal pieces
1 tsp. Salt
Bring to a full boil for about five minutes. Remove from the heat and skim any scum off the top of the liquid. Return to the heat and bring to a very slow simmer. Cook, covered, for 6 hours, adding hot water as needed. Remove the vegetables if you wish and add one of the variations given below before serving.
Add cream or 2 tbs. uncooked rice or tapioca to the soup and cook an additional 15 minutes.
Add 1 tbs. blanched almonds, 1/4 c. sautéed chopped mushrooms (with broth), or egg noodles and cook until tender.
Add peas or other vegetables to the soup according to taste.
Clean and wash in cold water:
1 lb. dried Split Peas
Place peas in a large soup pot or crockery pot with:
3 qt. Water
1 tsp. Salt
1 small rib of Celery
1 ham bone with meat still on it
Cook slowly for 3 hours. Remove the celery, onion, and ham. Pour the peas and the liquid in a blender and blend until smooth.
2 c. Milk*
Pureed peas and ham stripped from the bone. Season to taste with a dash of pepper. Serve.
*For an extra rich soup, substitute cream for part of the milk.
Potatoes that were not cooked in their skins in soup or stews or served as boiled potatoes were served in a variety of other ways. Mother and grandma preferred to serve potatoes with their skins on because they believed that the skins contained extra nutrients. They were correct. Potatoes are, of course, considered one of the most nutritionally complete vegetables. That was why until the blight ruined their crops, the lowly potato could support the Irish in their homeland.
In our household, potatoes were used as the primary vegetable. I do not remember mother ever accompanying a roast or other meat dish with anything but potatoes. Potatoes were served boiled, mashed, fried, baked or in salad. We used so many potatoes that mother bought them in 50 and 100-pound bags.
On Sunday, mashed potatoes would accompany the roast. On Monday, any leftover mashed potatoes would be used in a puff or as a topping for a meat pie or pan-fried to accompany the main dish. Tuesday was salad night and mother prided herself on her potato salad. On Wednesday and Thursday, baked, fried or mashed potatoes would again be on the menu. Friday, French fries invariably accompanied our fried haddock. When she did not serve beans for supper on Saturday night, mother served potato puff. Leftover mashed potatoes could even find their way into mother’s donut recipes. Waste not, want not was more than an adage in our house. It was a way of life just as much as he who hesitated (at the table) risked not eating what he or she wanted (even mounds of mashed potatoes quickly disappeared with so many growing boys to be fed).
Mother, of course, had automatic potato peelers when we were young. The peelers even had names. Ours. I can remember rising an hour or two early each Sunday in order to peel potatoes (with a hand peeler since mother was quite definite that no more skin be removed than necessary). When the potatoes and other vegetables were all prepared for cooking, I would go to church. My mother would then take over on preparing Sunday dinner at which normally we had 15 in attendance (we always had guests).
In preparing mashed potatoes, if the peeling of the potatoes was left to the younger children, the mashing or putting the potatoes through a ricer was man’s work. My brothers took turns at the chore and those who were best at it won the title and task most often. Mother never used skim milk or clear chicken brother in her mashed potatoes as I do. She was more traditional, preferring to use cream or milk. She would have used sour cream as I have – if she thought she could get away with it. Mother loved sour cream and buttermilk. The men of the house, however, did not. Therefore, it was not included. Because of a familial history of hypertension, mother cut the salt (or left it out all together) in most of her recipes. She made up for it with pepper, a spice she loved.
To vary her mashed potatoes, in addition to the butter (not margarine) that she regarded as a necessity, mother would also flavor them with chopped onion, nutmeg or mace, although not all at once. She always topped the large mound of mashed potatoes she prepared with butter although after we were grown, she sometimes indulged herself with a sprinkling of paprika, a snip of parsley or chives.
Her potato puff recipe follows:
Heat the oven to 425-degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl or pan, beat well
2 or more cups cold Mashed Potatoes
Beat again until well blended. Spoon the mixture into a lightly greased baking dish or drop by spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. (If you are preparing a leftover meat and gravy dish, you can also pipe the potato mixture onto the meat either as a border or as a topping or “crust”.)
Brush the potatoes with melted butter or margarine. Place in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the top of the potatoes are lightly browned.
For variety, you can flavor the potato mixture with chopped onion, chive or parsley or shredded cheese.