Last night, my wife made her soon-to-be-famous Breakfast Cookies- a hearty cookie which includes whole wheat flour, rolled oats, milled flax seed, pecans, applesauce, and about 47 other ingredients which elude me. She’s scoured the internet and has combined some ingredients from this recipe with some ingredients from that recipe. This is the third or fourth time she’s made them and each time they seem to get better and better. After she finished baking last night, she commented that she thought she had finally gotten the recipe “dialed in” and proceeded to write it down.
While she tends to prefer the consistency of a proven recipe, I prefer to develop my recipes by feel. Lately, I’ve been concentrating on trying to emulate some of the principles that guided my grandparents and other ancestors, namely that expensive ingredients do not necessarily equate to good food and that inexpensive ingredients can often equate to excellent food. I’m starting to feel pretty confident about being able to make really good bread, pasta/ noodles/ dumplings, Swedish Pancakes, soups, pesto, and lately home-made pita bread or naan. All of these are very inexpensive to make. This fall I really want to start making sausage.
There are several dishes that my grandparents on both sides were famous for and many of these recipes, I’m sure, were passed down from generation to generation. On my mom’s side, my Grandma Emma was known for being an exceptional cook. She had the ability, imagination, and patience to be able to turn an inexpensive piece of shoe leather into an incredible roast. Some of her recipes, Sauerbraten and Knoedl for example, were “influenced” by her Bavarian husband, my Grandpa Dodge and his family. Knoedl are dumplings made from the stale bread my grandmother collected during the week. Nothing went to waste.
On my dad’s side of the family, my Granny Pat and Aunt Grace often made Potato Dumplings. While this may not sound exciting, just the mention of Granny Pat making Potato Dumplings would send my cousins and me into a lather. This dish consisted of dumplings made from finely grated potatoes, eggs, and flour which were boiled, drained and then covered with a broth made with sliced onions, bacon, and bacon grease. My arteries are hardening as I type this. My Uncle Bob Rathkamp used to say that the best thing to use to squeeze the water out of the grated potatoes was an old t-shirt. I have no doubt this recipe is Pommeranian, and was most likely a recipe brought over by my Waege, Brockhaus, or Wesenberg ancestors.
Good food, eaten with people you love, has the ability to bring people even closer. My Grandma Emma and Grandpa Dodge did not come from wealthy families, quite the contrary. But her culinary abilities made us feel like we were eating like kings. Always and without fail, my Grandpa Dodge would end a special meal by pushing his plate away, and with a giant grin on his face say, “What do you think the poor people are doing tonight?”