My Mother’s Cookbook
Tekie’s Favorites – Welsh Rarebit, Hollandaise Sauce, Porcupine Meatballs and Pork Chops and Rice
My youngest brother, Alan gave me a nickname that stuck. He was only fifteen months old when I was born and couldn’t say sister, so he called me Tekie instead. Because we were so near the same age, Alan and I played happily together throughout our childhood. Often we were allies against our big brother Ben, who had four more years of life experience on us.
After I grew up, my parents and brothers still called me Tekie, even though I thought I’d outgrown it. To this day school friends, family members and even some of my sons and grandchildren use that nickname. I have learned to love the name given to me so innocently by my best buddy, the only other person still alive to reminisce with me about our shared childhood.
My brothers and I didn’t have a lot of rules to conform to about food. I don’t remember ever being forced to eat something I didn’t like or being denied a treat because I hadn’t eaten everything on my plate.
Mother used to tell me that she gave me a spoonful of watermelon juice to quiet my fussiness when I was just a month or so old. That sweet cool taste calmed me, and I’ve liked watermelon ever since. Thus the link between food and comfort is born in a baby’s awareness. Other foods were introduced to our young palettes in similar ways and, for the most part, we liked what we were given.
But certain foods didn’t appeal to me. Dad used to relish pickled pigs feet. I don’t know how he got started with this odd food that, in pioneer days, was prepared on farms by thrifty Germans striving to utilize every part of the hogs they butchered. He kept a commercially-made jar in the refrigerator and forked out a snack when the mood struck him. “Hard to beat that,” he’d say as he ate the little pink morsels.
Because Mom and Dad both liked variety in the family menu, we learned about other, more palpable foods that were not available in small town grocery stores. We made frequent trips to Omaha to visit my grandmother or to shop in a city where we could find more choices. Mom and Dad often went to the old Central Market, a well-stocked grocery store that offered many unusual foods. The store, located in old town Omaha, had long wooden display cases, wide aisles and high ceilings, no longer exists.
There Mom would buy artichokes and avocados to bring home, exclaiming about the delicacy of flavors of these two vegetables as we enjoyed them with her. She liked to combine sliced avocado with grapefruit segments for a winter salad. She showed us how to pull off the artichoke leaves and dip the tips in melted butter and to scrape away the fuzzy thistles around the heart. We learned that the effort to free the heart paid off with those last tender bites soaked in the remaining butter.
I was only seven or eight when I declared Welsh Rarebit my favorite dish.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
A few grains of cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1 cup milk
½ pound grated sharp cheddar cheese
Melt butter, blend in flour and add milk slowly, stirring until the sauce begins to boil. Add mustard, cayenne, paprika and cheese. Blend quickly but do not boil as cheese will become stringy.
Mom’s Note: This is not a true Welsh Rabbit, which does not call for flour, but is fine served on saltine crackers or toast.
Traditional Welsh Rabbit recipes also call for beer, ale or wine, which my mother would not have considered because she didn’t drink alcohol. Her version had been Americanized to appeal to family cooks. This basic cheese sauce could also be served with broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus or baked potato.
Mom’s recipe for Hollandaise Sauce comes from her “Ames File”, recipes she collected while studying home economics at Iowa State University at Ames, Iowa. She considered these recipes to be her best and would announce proudly when serving one of them, “This is from the Ames File.”
The process for this version is different from the usual Hollandaise sauce, which calls for uncooked raw egg yolks. Here the egg yolks are cooked, more desirable to today’s cooks who are concerned about possible salmonella contamination in raw eggs. It’s also lighter on butter than true Hollandaise. The recipe can be tricky to make, but the light and frothy sauce will be savored by those who succeed.
Mom made her Hollandaise for Eggs Benedict. I don’t remember the dish being served on Sunday morning, the usual time for it, but rather for supper on cold dark evenings in winter. Both Eggs Benedict and Welsh Rarebit remind me of the family gathered around the dining room table with someone declaring, “This is one of Tekie’s favorites.”
3 egg yolks
½ cup cold water
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons butter
2-4 tablespoons lemon juice, according to taste
Put all ingredients except the lemon juice in top of double boiler over simmering water. Beat continuously with a portable rotary beater until the sauce adheres to the beater blades. The sauce should be the consistency of boiled custard.
Remove pan from the hot water and immediately place it in cold water to prevent the sauce from overcooking and curdling. Then stir in lemon juice.
Mom’s Note: I use 4 tablespoons of lemon juice because I like it tart! Excellent; it takes less butter than most recipes.
Turning out nutritious meals for a family every day challenges home chefs, no matter how much they like to cook. Most collect reliable stand-by recipes so that the process of shopping, preparing the food and serving it can be accomplished with the ease of any other routine task. For children these familiar foods are the ones they remember with nostalgia years later. Naturally, many of the every day meals our mother served us ended up, at our request, in her cookbook.
I especially liked Porcupine Meatballs, a dish popular in many households in the first half of the 20th Century. The name refers to the rice that pops out of the meatballs as they cook, supposedly resembling porcupine quills.
After I’d grown up and began cooking for my own growing family, I simplified the recipe by omitting the egg and not forming the ground beef, onion and rice mixture into meatballs. When I told this to my mother, her response reflected a dedication to cooking far stronger than my own. “How can you resist those little meatballs with the rice sticking out?”
I remain unredeemed about taking the time to make meatballs for the proper porcupine effect, but the combination of flavors is still tops on my list of old standbys.
1 pound ground beef
1/3 cup chopped onion
½ cup uncooked rice
¾ teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 ½ cups tomato juice
Mix beef, onion, rice, egg, salt and pepper and form into balls; brown meatballs on all sides in cooking oil. Add tomato juice; simmer 45 minutes until rice pops out like a porcupine! Serves 4 people.
Iowa produces more pork than any other state. The Iowa Pork Producers Association reports that there are three hogs for every person living in Iowa. I like that statistic because it reflects the rural economy. Some Iowans may be prouder of other accomplishments of their state, such as the consistently high literacy rate and superb public school system. Being outnumbered by pigs might seem a less significant fact in comparison.
But no one can refute that pork is a delicious and much enjoyed Iowa product. People rave about the breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches served in restaurants throughout the Midwest. The huge tenderloin overlaps the meager hamburger bun, in which it is placed, by at least two inches on all sides. Only those with big appetites can hope to finish this monster sandwich in one sitting.
We ate pork often while I was growing up. One of my preferences was pork loin roast browned in the oven with potatoes and carrots and served with the rich brown gravy only my mother could achieve. But I also liked her way of preparing pork chops with onion, rice and tomatoes. This recipe makes an easy one-dish meal.
Pork Chops and Rice
4 pork chops
4 thick slices of onion
1 14-ounce can of tomatoes or 4 peeled and sliced fresh tomatoes
½ cup of rice
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 4 slices of green pepper
Brown the chops on both sides in 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil. Salt and pepper the chops and lay them flat in an oven-proof dish that has a cover. On each chop place slices of onion, green pepper, if using, and tomato. Put equal portions of rice on top of each chop. Add juice from canned tomatoes, if using them, and ½ to ¾ cups water. Cover dish and put in oven preheated to 350 degrees. Add more water as needed, making sure there’s enough to create steam to cook the rice. Continue cooking for an hour or until rice is done. Serves four people.
My note: When I first tried to make this recipe, the rice didn’t get done. My solution was to precook it. Leaner pork is produced these days, and the meat gets tough with prolonged cooking. I continue to precook the rice and bake the dish for only half an hour.
When I encounter hard spots in my life, I find myself yearning for the absolute security I felt as a child, the sense of protection born of childhood innocence and parental love. Although I can’t go back to the old days of just being Tekie, preparing and eating these favorites still comforts me.
Recipes are from the collection of Anna May Cullison.