By Terri White
At age nine, I received a beginner’s cookbook on my birthday. It became my prized possession. For tea parties, I even baked doll-sized cakes in miniature cake pans. I was all girl. That cookbook set me on a lifelong journey of home-cooked meals and baked-from-scratch desserts.
It was November 1972 in Lynchburg, Virginia. As a single woman 2,000 miles from home, I had no cookbook or family recipes with me – and, of course, no Internet to surf. So I pictured my mom in the kitchen making our family favorites and served a Thanksgiving meal to friends. Cornish hens filled with my grannie’s sausage stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, and candied sweet potatoes adorned my makeshift table. While the recipes may not have been exact, no one complained. Not bad!
By the time I married, I was well on my way to becoming a skilled cook. However, in my zeal, I failed to ask my husband his preferences. Serving broccoli casserole to a man who survived on hamburgers and French fries prior to marrying me tested his palate – and his self-control. Lucky for me, he discovered that several food items he thought were disgusting, pleased him. Maybe not his favorites, but tolerable. Now he even asks for broccoli.
After watching my younger brother choke down vegetables long after everyone else was excused from the table, I determined that my kids would enjoy a wide variety. Enter quiche. What’s not to like? Eggs, cream, bacon, and assorted veggies all nestled in a flakey crust. Not according to my little angels. To hear them regale us with childhood memories, you would think I served it weekly - or even daily. But the joke is on them. They now all enjoy quiche as adults.
My younger brother actually ate seaweed as an adult while living in the wilds of the Alaskan islands. You see? There’s always hope.
Not long after we began our family, I determined to eat healthier. I cut out all refined foods, joined a food co-op, and purchased organic goods. Once our taste buds adjusted, I launched into a full-fledged journey of organic made-from-scratch goodies. Enter the Vitamix, a stainless steel powerhouse that could knead bread dough, whip up soft ice cream, and even serve hot soup. I was in my element.
That began my season of making a daily loaf of bread. Grind the wheat berries, then add the remaining ingredients for a nutty, nutritious loaf of goodness. Great toast, but not so great for sandwiches. Oh well.
My kids will never let me forget the time I forgot to fasten the lid when I turned on the Vitamix to grind the wheat berries. Guess what? Yup! Grain spewed out the top and littered the kitchen with tiny wheat berries. We laughed ‘til our bellies hurt!
From daily bread to cinnamon rolls, our family feasted on these delights. But that one cinnamon roll episode. On that never-forgotten day, I flattened the dough, sprinkled it with brown sugar and cinnamon, and then topped it with butter. Roll it up, slice it, and bake it. Such an inviting aroma.
Time for Sunday breakfast. Warm cinnamon rolls were the featured guests with eggs and bacon. I slathered it with butter, ready to savor my sampling. What? Why does this roll taste spicy? A little nagging answer inched its way into my thoughts. I searched my spice cabinet, and there lay the culprit – chili powder. In a bottle so similar to my cinnamon bottle, I had grabbed it instead of cinnamon. Surprisingly, the rolls were edible. And memorable!
Planting a garden became a family affair. From that experience, my kids welcomed a fresh salad from veggies they had grown and picked with their own hands. When we harvested a wheel barrel full of cucumbers, I tried my hand at canning pickles. Huge fail. I stuck with my mom’s never-fail refrigerator pickle recipe instead.
Every May we picked blackberries on a local farm. Arriving by 6:00 a.m. to escape the heat, we each carried a stick for lifting up the thorny branches and a gallon coffee can. If a berry fell apart in our hands, the farmer encouraged us to pop it into our mouths. With five gallons of berries and berry-stained hands, we zipped home to make fruit leather. My trusty Vitamix blended the berries, bananas and a touch of honey. Another well used purchase, a dehydrator, dried the mixture into sticky goodness. This chewy treat satisfied the sweet tooth every time.
Learning that Grannie Smith apples worked best for baked goods, I refined my French apple pie recipe to fine art. Soon it became a much-loved family favorite. So every year for his birthday, I gave my father-in-law his very own pie.
In October when the weather cooled, we opened the windows to air out the house, inviting in the holiday baking spree. Once our annual case of Grannie Smith apples arrived, the kids and I peeled, chopped, and bagged them to freeze for future baked delights. Ever competitive, my boys launched into the who-can-peel-the-apple-without-breaking-the-peel game. All in good fun, they munched on those peelings during the whole process. Soon my prize-winning banana bread, carrot cake and apple cake competed with my French apple pie. No matter. No one lacked for wholesome goodies in our home.
Peanut butter! Spread it on apple slices, pancakes, bread, or savor a spoonful of protein-rich goodness. But wait! Store brands add sugar. What to do? Easy! I bought organic peanuts, dumped them into my Vitamix wonder, added salt and - voila! Homemade peanut butter hit the spot. What’s not to like? Unless you are my husband who dislikes peanuts.
My kids, always up for pranking their dad, decided to bake peanut butter cookies one day. While the cookies baked, they couldn’t wait until Dad arrived home to a plate of goodies. Who could resist? Enter Dad. Eyes feasting on cookies. After choosing one, he promptly popped it into his mouth. Kids guffawing. Dad, well, I can’t repeat it here.
Let’s not forget the peanut soup caper. During my friend Nancy’s peanut spree, she invited our family for supper. The savory soup’s aroma wafted from the kitchen. Lovely. However, my husband’s nose alerted him of foul play. One sip and he was done. Alas, no more peanut pranks have ever been posted in the White family annals.
My husband, never to be mistaken for an adventurer, decided to raise honey bees. Complete with official bee-garb, he would march out for his bee keeping chores – whatever they were. During harvest, that chore was to smoke out the bees so that he could remove the honeycomb trays without bees attacking him. Normally, they flew off without a hitch, but sometimes one ornery devil would chase him back to the house. That was enough adventure for him!
Harvesting honey is sticky business. First you slice the tops off the combs with a heated knife. Then you place the trays in a honey-slinger that’s shaped like a large drum. Just crank it and the honey drops to the bottom. Lastly, you open the spigot and drain the honey into jars. As I said, it’s sticky business: the counters, the floors, the table, and the people. What’s for supper? Chips and salsa!
“Terri, what’s the name of your dish?” Kathy asked me at a covered dish event.
“Mexican hotdish,” I innocently replied.
“I just wanted to hear you say hotdish!” she hooted. Ah, yes. The meal-in-a-dish, fondly called hotdish up north is equally fondly called casserole in the south.
Over time, we loosened up on our organic eating habits to feed three hungry teenagers. A monthly trip to Fort Worth’s Town Talk for bulk groceries helped to stretch our dollars. Those were the days of making handy meals ahead and freezing them. Want a breakfast burrito? Grab a couple from the chest freezer. No one went hungry at our house.
Of course, Christmas brings its own treasures and traditions. The children have always helped with the baking. Our favorite Christmas treat is the gingerbread cookie: mixing, chilling, rolling out, cutting out in holiday shapes, and baking them. For our annual gingerbread cookie decorating day, our family still gathers. Over the years, we’ve created some impressively decorated cookies. With a few artists in our family, that’s an easy win.
“Mimi is famous for her mac ‘n cheese, corndogs, and pancakes,” two of our grandsons announced to their mother.
“That’s a lot of carbs,” she cringed, knowing full well that Mimi herself rarely eats carbs. But I’m Mimi, not the buck-stopping Mom. With four grandsons, ages eleven and under, going full speed ahead on weekend visits, I make sure they like what I serve. Carbs or no carbs! I’m just trying to keep up with the bundles of energy that whiz to and fro from dawn ‘til dusk!
Not to be dissuaded, the six-year old will only eat mac ‘n cheese at my house. It must be stamped on my forehead. Go figure. Maybe one day he’ll eat seaweed like my brother.
No more monthly trips to Town Talk. No more baking desserts each week. No more daily bread making. Our kids are parents. The grandkids are growing like weeds. Hubby’s retired while I still teach and oversee T.E.A.C.H. Cooking? Not as much. Nonetheless, I still occasionally roll up my sleeves to whip up savory, homemade Alfredo or bake my mouth watering banana bread - or any other of our favorites.
Parting words of my husband when the grandkids visit, “I love it when the grandkids visit. I get to eat mac ‘n cheese, pancakes, and other forbidden goodies.” Lucky him.