I understand that Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the harvest; the field harvest and the garden harvest. It is a time to relax a bit. Crops, good or bad, are finished till Spring. Back in the day, butchering was at hand or done also. Gardens were gleaned down to stems and turned under for the winter. Cellars were full of rows of home canned jars of all the abundance. Jars were tiny jelly jars and pints, quarts and half gallons, even crocks too. Freezers, as they became common, were equally full of meat, produce, pies and casseroles. There was no stopping a good farm wife when it came to harvest.
My Grandmother, Arnetta Young, my Dad’s Mom, was a good farm wife and the expert in our family, bar none, whose home was truly laden with everything needed to eat through Winter and most of Spring till the garden began to produce again.
She canned green beans with bacon in the jar, tomatoes [whole and juice] pickles of all kinds including pickled peaches. Her cellar was filled with jars of apples, peaches, berries [red, black, goose, straw], and juices to make more jelly another day. She put up peas, carrots, corn and cabbage frozen or into kraut. Her freezer was an International, 6ft long, the only freezer she ever owned! She never baked one pie, when she could do 6 and put 5 in the freezer, most often finished before she started breakfast. She made noodles and cookies and breads and casseroles. She canned pumpkin, stored potatoes and onions. She froze rhubarb and asparagus, canned pickled beets and relish. Name it and she had it on a shelf or in the freezer.
For many years, she cooked a monthly meal for the local Lions Club and I would get to help set up, serve and of course, clean up too. Those guys ate with gusto and we hardly ever had leftovers for ourselves unless we dished them up ahead of time.
She never missed cooking in the basement kitchen of our Methodist church whenever there was a need. She could pull pies and a casserole from her freezer to deliver when someone in the community lost a loved one. She delivered dry mashed potatoes and chocolate pudding to my bedside when I was ready to eat again after childhood illness.
She made big pumpkin face cookies for Halloween with raisin faces….except for my cookies which had faces made with chocolate chips since I didn’t like raisins.
She made the best noodles in the world, the best ham loaf, the best potato salad, the best chocolate or blackberry pie. She made coconut and banana cream pies. She made scalloped cabbage, German kraut, scalloped potatoes and ham, creamed peas or limas, dinner rolls indescribably delicious. She knew all our favorites and every family dinner there was a favorite food for each of us. Her fried chicken gravy was perfect. Meatloaf? Perfect! Chocolate cake? Perfect! Candy? At Christmas she whipped up homemade caramels, divinity, fudge and peppermint something? We had home hand-churned ice cream in the summer in peach, strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavors.
My grandmother was known to let us eat dessert first, since we knew if we waited till after the meal we would be too full to eat the sweets. My dad piled the food on his plate at every celebration, saying it was all going in the same place. I like my food separate. My favs were always noodles, always dinner rolls, always potato salad, always her green beans, always German kraut and always her chicken casserole.
I think of it as Methodist Church chicken casserole. I can eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
I am not a cook of her caliber. I can cook green beans like hers and the German kraut and come pretty close on the potato salad. I’m good at spaghetti and wild rice. I make great oil n vinegar salad. My corn chowder and chicken and dressing soup are both very good. I make trophy winning Texas chili – I placed 3rd out of 15 in a campground chili cook off and the big trophy was a tad on the overkill side, but fun to earn! Wish I was a good pie baker, but I’m not. It is definitely due to the lack of practice. When I take a notion, I am good at making the real deal ‘sour dough starter’ and baking some righteous biscuits brushed on all sides with bacon grease and raised over boiling water before baking. The trouble with sour dough baking is the ‘baking often’ and the poundage that occurs as a result. I need a good ‘notion’ to mix starter.
Oh, I’m also really good at making fried pork chops and pork chop gravy and egg salad and white potato salad, thanks to my first Mother-in-Law. I’m very good at making chicken fried steak thanks to my second and last Mother-in-Law. I make a great salad of lettuce, sliced onion and sliced boiled eggs in a sweet mayo dressing, courtesy of my Mom. I can make killer cheese spread like my Mom turned out.
My kids say I am fantabulous at chocolate dessert. They never had birthday cakes or graduation cakes or hardly any cakes. We celebrated EVERYTHING with chocolate dessert….and still do when I have a kid around.
Speaking of food…..and love, my Aunt ‘Cile (Dad’s sister) made chocolate frosted, chocolate cookies when i was a kid. It was back when she was a farm wife too. She never made polite rounded two-bite size cookies, she made cookies bigger than my hand, without nuts(you know kids and nuts). She cooked noodles just as good as her Mom’s and she would make me Carolers Fudge at Christmas – it was a blonde, no chocolate candy. I may still have the recipe. My Aunt Shirley (my Mom’s sister) always made us chocolate milkshakes at her house – just like you could get at a soda fountain. She had the real deal machine. I used to make them for get togethers at our house and still make them evenings for us, never without thinking of hers.
One other thing I’m good at is that Methodist Church chicken casserole. You can be too.
Arnetta’s Chicken Casserole Bake at 400 till bubbly.
2 cups diced chicken [or left over turkey]
1 can cream of chicken soup
½ cup slivered almonds
¾ cup of mayo
1 cup of cooked rice [NOT 1 cup of rice cooked??]
½ cup chicken broth
2 Tablespoons of minced onion
3 chopped hard boiled eggs
1 cup chopped celery
Potato chips, about 25 crushed into the casserole and the remainder crushed over the top.
Mix all. Spread into 9 x 13 or divide into smaller pans [either to bake or freeze and bake later], sprinkle the crushed chips and bake.
Happy Thanksgiving.. Hope your tables are laden with memories and the familiar tastes of home.
In our family, my grandparents started each and every meal with:
Our heavenly Father, for thy loving care, for food and health, for all things that make this world so fair, we thank Thee oh Lord. Amen.