The cupboard holds several cookbooks that are useful when we’re looking for something different for supper. The collection includes “Butter ‘n Love’’ from the Plainview Milk Products Association and a trove of cookbooks compiled by church groups.
“Heritage From the Hearts of St. Henry,’’ includes recipes for salads, hot dishes, main courses and desserts from the (mostly) ladies of the rural church that I was raised in.
The church, which was established by immigrants in 1859, is not unlike so many others in rural America built by communities of like-minded believers. In the second half of the 19th century and at the start of the 20th, immigrants sacrificed financially and physically to build wood and brick-and-mortar churches in farm country.
A main dish recipe that we haven’t tried yet is Dolly Beer’s “Persuckles,’’ which calls for 5 potatoes, 1 pound of bacon, 2 cups of flour for dumplings, 1 lb. of Velveeta cheese, 2 onions, 1 egg and ½ cup of water. The potatoes are boiled and sliced, dumplings made, and the bacon and onion fried before being layered in a casserole dish and baked. “Porcupine Meat Balls,’’ “Sauerkraut Hot Dish’’ and “Swedish Meat Balls’’ were hits during potlucks. Other recipes, like “Junk’’ and “Shipwreck’’ may very well taste much better than their titles imply.
Few women — in an era when health care was less expensive and farm families large — worked outside the home before the late 1960s. Many put in overtime hours washing clothes with washboards and Maytag wringer washers, baking bread and canning.
My sister, who married a neighboring farmer, took the unusual step of taking a secretarial job in town. The move, which surprised my mother, was devastating for those of us who worked on the threshing crew.
We had come to expect the great dinner feasts that she provided — fried chicken or roast beef, mounds of mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob and pie. It was difficult to go back to pitching bundles with overfull bellies and without naps, but we did with minimal complaint.
Our mouths later fell to the floor when our brother-in-law said that the threshing crew should expect cold sandwiches, store-bought potato salad and cookies.
Another farmer’s wife — an innovator quick to adopt new technology — was among the first in the neighborhood who purchased a microwave. The countertop Touchmatic Radarange ovens were mass marketed starting in 1967 by Amana Corporation. Amana also produced a cookbook instructing how to make bread, main dishes and desserts the new way.
Her husband was less than impressed.
“Have you ever had a steak made in a microwave?’’ he asked. “Well, it doesn’t taste or look anything like steak.’’
He would, he said, have thrown the device out, but it cost more than $500 and his wife depended on it. He warned us not to breath a word of his complaints to his wife, who pointed out with pride that the steak (which was whiteish drab) we weren’t enjoying had taken less than five minutes to cook in the Radarange and the potatoes even less time. Fortunately, the apple pie was made the old-fashioned way.
My mother never owned one, which was good because the best chicken was fried in pork lard in a cast iron pan and steak in the broiler. Even the broiler didn’t work well when it involved steak from the eight-year-old cow that broke her leg. Mother pounded the steak until her arm tired and used meat tenderizer to make it more palatable.
We had no idea that the microwave would eventually become essential in almost all kitchens. We also didn’t comprehend how fleeting time is. Quite a few of the people on the threshing crew are at rest in the St. Henry cemetery, where they remain close to friends and neighbors.
The church’s doors remain open. A salad lunch is planned for spring and our contribution may be non-microwaved Persuckles.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.