My Mother's Cookbook
Turkey Croquettes, Cranberry Sherbet and Ames Party Waffles
The recipes that ranked tops on my mother’s list of favorites changed frequently. She would have a “run,” to use her expression, on a particular food or recipe that she thought different and tasty enough to recreate at home.
When she and my father visited New Orleans with his oldest sister and her husband, Mom came home with some chicory coffee and a plan to surprise her friends with a new taste sensation. But the strong flavor soon lost its appeal, and the chicory languished unused in the old Hoosier-style oak cupboard that had been in the house as long as the family.
The Hoosier cabinet held utensils, cookbooks and spices. Built-in canisters for flour and sugar hung behind two narrow doors. It stood in an out-of-the-way corner of the kitchen, which retained its original configuration of long windows and high ceilings with a sustaining wall half-way through the center. The “cooling cupboard,” an enclosed space built into the north-facing wall, dates from a time when outside air was depended upon to keep food from spoiling. My father had added modern appliances and metal cabinets for more storage space. The kitchen was never efficient or stylish, but it had a homey charm.
Her kitchen may have been old-fashioned, but Mom was a progressive cook for her time. As with the chicory, new dishes came and went regularly. Some made just one appearance while others were enjoyed by the family for several years before being replaced by newer tastes and trends, different combinations of ingredients. A recipe often evolved by changes that made it more uniquely her own.
Most cooks improve their skills by experimenting in this way, the reason we have so many good cookbooks and recipes from which to choose. Family approval has great influence on this process, especially when there are children in the house. Moms want their kids to eat well and, while they try to introduce new tastes and focus on nutritious meals, the most important consideration is to produce food that will be eaten.
Mom’s specialties were usually our favorites. These recipes reflected the true tastes of the Midwest that my parents had grown up with, food that pleased our bellies and captured our hearts. Often she would make these specialties upon request from a family member.
One was turkey croquettes. When we would have turkey, usually at Thanksgiving or Christmas, Mom posed the question after the initial meal of what to do with the leftovers.
“What would you like, Beanie,” she’d ask my father.
Dad’s name was George Bennett. George was for his father and Bennett for his great grandfather who lived in the early 19th Century. Dad was called Bennett, and he’d lost all but a fringe of the hair on his head as a young man. So Beanie derived from both his given name and bald head.
“Turkey croquettes would be good,” he’d respond.
She’d expected that answer and, even though the process of making them was laborious, she liked to please him. That night turkey croquettes would be our dinnertime fare. They are rich, delicious and can be made with chicken or turkey. The recipe comes from Connie Bisgard, a good cook and long-time family friend who often shared her recipes with my mother.
Chicken or Turkey Croquettes
2 cups cooked, ground chicken or turkey
1-2 tablespoons ground onion
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
A dash of pepper
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 beaten egg
Finely crushed bread crumbs
To make sauce, melt butter, add flour and slowly add milk. Cook until thickened and smooth. Combine all ingredients except the egg and bread crumbs. Drop tablespoonfuls on a platter and refrigerate for several hours.
When chilled, form into cone shaped portions. Dip them in beaten egg and then bread crumbs. Cook the croquettes in simmering cooking oil until browned, being careful not to crowd the skillet. Put the cooked croquettes in an oven-proof dish and place in 300 degree oven until all are cooked. Serves four.
Another holiday tradition was cranberry sherbet. In her cookbook, Mom does not give attribution for the recipe, so I don’t know its origin. I do know that it was served with our Thanksgiving turkey from my earliest memory. That meal is difficult enough to get on the table, with all components ready at the same time, in the midst of hungry family and friends. The addition of a home-made side dish that starts melting the minute you serve it presents a real challenge.
I made the sherbet only a few times for my own family, but my brother, Alan still prepares this tart and cooling palate cleanser for his. The taste is a delicate contrast to the rich flavors of turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy. Serve it in small bowls or sherbet dishes with the meal.
2 cups cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon gelatin in 2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup cold water
Juice of half a lemon
Juice of one orange
1 egg white, beaten
Cook the cranberries in one cup of water until mushy. Add the sugar and heat until dissolved. Stir in the gelatin and water. Add remaining cup of cold water and juices.
Freeze in an 8 by 11-inch dish until the mixture has crystallized. The sherbet must be frozen enough so that it will fluff up when beaten with an electric beater. After beating, gently fold in egg white with a spoon. Refreeze in covered container until ready to serve. Serves 6 as a side dish.
Note: Alan uses an electric ice cream freezer, eliminating the second freezing cycle and adding the egg white when the sherbet begins to fluff. The sherbet will re-crystallize if held too long but can be revived by beating it again.
Our family wasn’t big on breakfasts during the week. Mom and Dad started their days with coffee, usually not thinking about food until lunch time. Dad would already have indulged in a cigarette or two before his coffee, often one that I’d put in his mouth and lit to help him wake up, at my mother’s suggestion. This practice of enticement we later regretted when he lost part of a lung to cancer at the age of 68.
Occasionally, on Sunday mornings, Mom would prepare a real breakfast of waffles with butter and maple syrup, abundant bacon and freshly squeezed orange juice. My parents weren’t regular church goers, although Mom read the Christian Science lesson each day of her life, and Dad belonged to the Methodist Church where my brothers and I sometimes attended Sunday school. We would have the breakfast later in the morning and often friends would be invited. It was the kind of meal that we now call brunch.
We’d gather at the table, and the winter sun, doubly bright when there was snow on the ground, poured in through the tall dining room windows. This was a leisurely time to talk and sample strips of bacon from the platter while we waited for Mom to cook the waffles. She sat at the head of the table near the kitchen, that hub of creation from which she was never too far at mealtime. The round waffle iron sat on a small table beside her, heated and ready to receive the first ladling of batter. Then we’d hear the sizzle as the batter spread across the iron and that sweet aroma as it transformed into waffle. Our grandmother, Buddy always got the first one, then the guests, if there were any, and so on around the table.
The extra effort of separating the eggs, beating the whites and then carefully folding them into the batter produces a fluffy waffle. You’ll see the results both visually and by how quickly they are devoured by grateful eaters.
Ames “Party Waffles”
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1½ cups milk
4 teaspoons butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs, separated
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Beat egg yolks, add milk and combine with butter. Stir liquid into dry ingredients. Mix until smooth. Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks and carefully fold into the batter with a spoon.
Bake in a preheated waffle iron. Waffle will be done when steam no longer appears around the sides of the iron. Serves three or four.
Not only was the ritual of cooking waffles at the table special, so was the origin of my mother’s recipe. Among the cookbooks in that Hoosier cabinet in the kitchen was a black cloth-covered file box. She called the box the Ames File, and it contained the recipes she collected while studying Home Economics at the state university in Ames, Iowa.
Her education had been financed by her parents when the doom of the Great Depression had already settled over Iowa. The degree she earned represented their struggle to provide an education for their eldest child. But it also showed her determination to learn the fine art of homemaking, an inclination that had been with her since childhood.
Recipes are from the collection of Anna May Cullison.