Cooking, Curry, Hospitality, Recipes, Sisters

Project S.T.I.R.

Although I’m not a Foodie, I’ve done lots of cooking for my family and occasionally share family recipes here. So when my Arkansas Women Blogger friend, Sarah Shotts, invited me to become an ambassador for Project S.T.I.R., I knew I could find one of Mother’s or Mo’s recipes worthy of sharing. 

Sarah’s on a mission to video cooks of one generation passing on a favorite family recipe to someone in the younger generation. Learn all about it at Project S.T.I.R. You may even want to become a supporter. I did.

My mother was a Foodie of sorts. Her first response to any upcoming occasion was what shall we serve? She loved to cook for people, so there was always room to scooch-in one more chair around our table. 

Mother with my sister-in-law, Martha, and
Terry’s brother, Jerry, way back when

She set a pretty table, using her best china and fresh flowers or berries from the yard. 

If you stopped by our house, Mother offered you something to drink, along with at least a cookie. Maybe that came from growing up on a farm when travelers often arrived hungry and in need of a drink of water.

Mother’s 3 older sisters–Mary, Dorothy & Betty
at Oak Dale Farm where they grew up

One of nine children and the youngest of four sisters, Mama was the one who stayed in Searcy.  Consequently, our home became the gathering place for her siblings and their offspring. 

Dorothy Dale & Betty Spencer

Dorothy and Betty were career women who lived in Washington D.C. Every summer, they came home for two weeks. 

Aunt Mary was a sweetheart.

Aunt Mary lived in Little Rock so it was easy for all four sisters to be together. 

When that happened, there was always food involved. And talk. Oh, my yes, lots of talk, cooking and laughter. They didn’t even seem to mind cleaning up. If sisters-in-law were present, they joined in the fun. I was there, too, basking in all the joyful doings.

Afterwards, someone would suggest a nap. They were big on naps.

Aunt Betty, the most adventurous cook, usually brought a new recipe to share. One year she made crepes, another bread pudding. But the dish that got the most mileage at our house was her Curried Spaghetti.

Mom & co-worker, Bev, enjoyed
a mutual admiration society.

Mother loved to cook up a big batch and invite her office crew in for lunch. She’d extend the dining table as far as it would go and set up card tables in the living room. My friend, Suanne, mentioned those gatherings just the other day.

In the late 1960s, curry was a bit exotic to our Arkansas branch of the family. But Mother completely embraced it and converted us. (I’m not sure it was ever Daddy’s favorite, but he never let on in front of company. He was well-trained like that.) 

 Curried Spaghetti, served with salad and
French bread, makes a great company dinner.

Curried Spaghetti serves 12, so it’s great for a dinner party or pot luck. Or you can opt for what I did and invite neighbors over for dinner one evening and a couple of friends in for lunch another day. 

Mother’s go-to dish was a hit with my guests. Everyone wanted the recipe. I thought I’d share it with you, too.

Curried Spaghetti
3 cans cream of chicken soup
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1-cup milk
1-lb. thin spaghetti
4 tsp. curry powder, dissolved in ¼ cup warm water
½ tsp. thyme
¼ tsp. basil
¼ tsp. oregano
1 Tb. scraped onion
1 6-oz. can whole mushrooms with liquid
2 cans solid-packed tuna (I used Albacore)
Combine first three ingredients and simmer over low heat ten minutes, stirring constantly.
Add curry-water blend to soup mixture, along with mushrooms, onion, basil, oregano and thyme. Simmer 10 more minutes, stirring. 
Add tuna. (If tuna makes you shiver, substitute chicken.) 
Cook the spaghetti. 
Mix sauce and spaghetti together. Turn into a large casserole dish and reheat in the oven it just before serving.  Fix it a day or two ahead. The flavor just gets better.)

Serve with condiments such as pineapple bits, diced tomato, chopped hard-cooked eggs, diced green onions, bacon bits, peanuts, chutney, coconut, or raisins. 

I passed around peanuts, raisins, bacon bits, and coconut. I especially like the flavor of peanuts and raisins on it.

I had forgotten how tasty this dish is. If you make a batch and invite friends over, they may just want the recipe, too. Let me know how they liked it.

And don’t forget to visit Sarah at Project S.T.I.R. 
She gets up while it is still night; 
she provides food for her family…
Proverbs 31:15a

Copyright © Reflections from Dorothy’s Ridge 2015. All rights reserved

Cooking, Family Memories

Making Cornbread Mama’s Way

This recipe card is nearly 50 years old.

 The first time I got hungry for cornbread after leaving home, I called my mother to get her recipe. She’d learned to make it by watching her mother, and I doubt if Grandma Dale’s recipe was ever  written down. As Mama dictated the directions over the phone, I knew I was in trouble. Just exactly how much is a little of this and a pinch of that? I needed precise measurements.

Could You Be More Precise? 

After she worked out the amounts of salt, soda and baking powder in terms of teaspoons, I could cope with adding enough corn meal to about a cup of buttermilk to make a fairly thin batter. One egg was a no-brainer, and the amount of bacon grease was easy because I remembered how that rounded spoonful looked as it melted and sizzled in the hot iron skillet.
Yes, we eat bacon occasionally because we espouse all things in moderation where food is concerned. (Wright brand Hickory Smoked is our favorite.)  And although I use olive most of the timeand sometimes canola or vegetable oilcornbread and purple hull peas just taste better with bacon drippings, so I keep some on hand. 
Close, but it could have been a little browner

Mama’s Signature

 Mama’s cornbread had a crispy brown bottom crust that was to die for. It took me a while, but I finally got the timing and temperature basics down, which I think are the keys to the crunch.
1.      Be sure the oven is hot—preheated to 400 degrees—before mixing ingredients or heating the bacon grease.
2.      While the bacon grease (or oil) is heating in an iron skillet on medium high on top of the stove, mix the rest of the ingredients together.
3.      When the bacon grease starts to sizzle, pour it into the batter and stir quickly.
4.      Immediately pour the mixture back into the hot skillet and place it back on the burner (still turned to medium high).
5.      Leave it until the mixture bubbles around the edges and a few bubbles plop in the center. (It doesn’t take long, so watch it carefully. Don’t multitask.)
6.      Move the skillet to a hot oven and bake until the cornbread is golden brown (about 20-25 minutes).
That stove top part can be tricky—leave it on the heat too long and the bottom gets scorched. Take it off too soon, and you don’t get that nice crusty layer. It had been a long time since I had made cornbread, and my latest batch wasn’t quite as brown and crunchy as I like. (I think I had turned the heat down too low.) But that’s better than scorched.

Modern Substitutions

Mama’s recipe for this basic po’ farm folks’ staple didn’t call for flour, which meant her cornbread was a little coarser in texture. Having grown up on it, I like it that way. But Terry prefers a more tender version, so now I use a cornbread mix. (Mama never put sugar in hers either, so I don’t, but I wouldn’t turn down a sweet cornbread muffin.) 
The mix works just fine for me.

Both my parents liked buttermilk, so using it up was never a problem. In fact, Daddy often ate the leftover cornbread with buttermilk the next day. But as we say in the Johnson house, it didn’t look delicious to me, so I never acquired the taste. After throwing out way too much buttermilk over the years, I started buying SACO cultured Buttermilk Blend.  The powder mixes with water and works well in baking, plus it keeps a long time in the refrigerator. The mix works just fine for me.

Practice Makes Perfect (Some of the time)

At first, every pan of cornbread I made was an adventure, but eventually I was able to produce a fair version of Mama’s. We don’t eat it often, but fresh vegetables, a pot of ham and beans or soup call for cornbread. When I stir it up, I always feel close to my mother—and a bit proud when it turns out just right. Flipping it over so the brown crust is on top and cutting it into triangles is a little like being home again.

I have to stop now and butter my cornbread while it’s hot. Yeah, we slather ours with butter, too.
Do you have a cooking-lesson story or a favorite recipe passed down from your mother?
Give her the fruit of her hands; and let her works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31:31

Copyright © Reflections from Dorothy’s Ridge 2014. All rights reserved