Bar D Chuckwagon

Back in June, my husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. To commemorate this milestone, my hubby planned a great trip for us to visit Durango, CO. Knowing how much I love the history of the west, we visited several museums, rode a steam train to Silverton, and even stayed one night in an 1800’s hotel.

One of the highlights of the trip for me happened at the very beginning of our trip. We spent an evening at the Bar D Ranch for their Chuckwagon Supper and Old West Cowboy Music Show. It was FANTASTIC!

The Bar D is more than just a ranch. It’s a western village complete with chapel, blacksmith shop, mercantile, chocolate shop, art gallery, and even a train depot. We made sure to get there early to have lots of time to explore.

This adorable little chapel is rented out for weddings. It contains lovely stained glass, and on the night we visited, a couple of cowboys were using for a cowboy poetry reading. The well was right outside the chapel, and since I’m currently working on a westernized Snow White tale, I couldn’t resist a photo by the wishing well.

They also had a large smithy where a local blacksmith was busy plying his trade.

We took advantage of photo ops by the covered wagon and cowboy cut out as well.

I bought a few souvenirs, perused the art gallery, and we even dared spoil our dinner with a sweet appetizer from the chocolate shop. So good!

Then it was time for dinner and a show.

This gorgeous mural was on display as we lined up for our grub. In true cowboy fashion, they served us on tin plates and filled our water/tea/lemonade cups with giant galvanized coffee pots. All the shops close down winner starts, and the staff become our servers. Even the cowboy performers we’d soon see on stage. Everyone wore period western costumes to add to the experience. The costumes were more 1950’s TV western than actual 1800’s western, but I didn’t care. It was too much fun!

The food was delicious! You could choose chicken, roast beef, combo plate, or pay extra for a rib eye steak. Several of the people at our table ordered the rib eye, and it looked amazing. I had chicken and loved it. Wes went for the combo plate. We both ate every bite. Meat, baked potato, biscuits, homemade applesauce, and a slice of spice cake.

As we finished eating, the Bar D Wranglers made their way onto the stage. This was the true highlight of the evening. Fiddle, string bass, and two guitars with four-part cowboy harmony. Everything from Tumbling Tumbleweeds to The Devil Went Down to Georgia. We even had an instrumental version of the 1812 Overture highlighting Gary Cook, one of the Wranglers who is a 2-time National Flat Pick Champion on the guitar. So impressive!

There was comedy too. One of the songs they did was Old MacDonald’s Dysfunctional Farm. It included a lisping snake, an asthmatic cow, and a foul-mouthed chicken just to name a few. We were all in stitches.

A fifth wrangler joined the show for about four or five songs. He was a yodeling cowboy who held us all spellbound. Wow! He flipped between registers with the agility of a a concert pianist. So fast and so clear. I loved it!

What a great way to kick off our vacation! We were grinning the entire night.

If you were going to eat a chuckwagon dinner, what is the one cowboy dish that would be a must to include?

Don’t forget about the P&P Birthday Party on Thursday. It’s going to be so much fun with some great prizes!

 

Stories from My Winery Visit

Photo: Kiepersol

My husband and I recently visited Kiepersol Winery and Bed and Breakfast in Tyler. Our room at the Bed and Breakfast was in the building with the restaurant. Not only were the surroundings quiet, calm, and serene, the wine was wonderful, our room beautiful, and the restaurant defied description. They feature great steaks and seafood, with incredible sides. My favorites were the sauteed mushrooms and garlic potatoes. And the desserts…I had cherries jubilee, and I swear I gain a pound thinking about it, but it was worth every calorie.

But the stories of the winery’s history our wine tour guide, Ron shared captured my writer’s sentimental heart. Founder Pierre de Wet’s story would do any hero proud. Born in South Africa, in 1984 after the death of his wife from skin cancer, he and his young daughters, age two and four, moved to America. Pierre worked as a farm laborer until he could buy acres in Tyler, Texas. Though in 1996 there were no wineries from Austin to Florida, Pierre was sure he could make a winery work.

The winery’s name comes from the Kiepersol farm where Pierre grew up. Legend has it soldiers running from a lion toward a lone tree, shouted, “Kiepersol! Kiepersol” as they sought safety in the tree. (Later it was learned the soldiers yelled, “We hope this tree will keep us all!” Pierre named his winery after that Kiepersol tree, hoping everyone who visited the winery would find that same comfort.

Pierre’s determination and frugality when he started his winery served him well. To lower startup costs, he purchased used equipment. In tough times he sold residential lots, eventually creating one of two wine estates in the U.S. In 2000, he harvested his first grapes. To sell his wine, he hired teenagers with signs and obtained retired Clydesdales for carriages rides that ended at the winery.

Photo: Kiepersol

I can’t share all the winery’s stories today, but I want to share one behind Flight sparkling wine. Guinea fowl have roamed the area for over 20 years as vineyard stewards. Their chatter safekeeps the grapes from deer and birds. They eat bugs serving as nature’s pesticide. Guinea fowl spotted feathers are believed to be good luck charms. Now to the name. The winery says, “We believe each spotted feather found represents a releasing of the past. Flight is grown in a place where one can feel soulfully grounded while also letting dreams soar. So. Take Flight my friends.” That sentiment makes me shiver.

I love visiting Texas wineries and hearing their stories. The minute I heard Pierre de Wet’s, I thought how I would’ve loved to create such a hero. The courage, strength, and determination he possessed to come to America with two young daughters when the only person he knew was a Texas A&M professor, astounds me. He created a winery, a bed and breakfast with fifteen rooms, an incredible restaurant, a distillery, and an RV park! But most importantly, he raised two strong women who carry on his legacy.

Pierre de Wet and his daughters
Photo: Kiepersol

I may have found a retirement-keep-busy-and-involved career. What could be better than telling a winery’s stories, meeting fabulous people, especially if I could be paid with an occasional bottle of wine and dinner?

Today I’m giving away this horseshoe decoration and a signed copy of To Tame a Texas Cowboy. To be entered in my random drawing, leave a comment to this question. What is the best story you’ve heard or best/most interesting fact you’ve learned on a trip? Or, if you don’t have a story to share, just stop by to say hello or tell me about a real life hero in your life.

 

Samoas, Trefoils, Do-Si-Dos – Oh, my! by Pam Crooks

Okay. I admit Girl Scout cookies don’t evoke an image of a hunky cowboy or anything much western, except, well, cowboys love to eat the cookies, too, don’t they?

As a grandmother and aunt of Brownies and Girl Scouts throughout the years, I’ve done my share of supporting their cookie sales, and I look forward to them every spring.  This year, with two granddaughters selling, my haul was twice as big as a normal year.  And at $5 a box, I don’t eat them as fast as I’d like.  I stored most of the boxes in my freezer to ration out as I wanted them, and when we opened up our cabin at the lake, I brought several boxes to keep out there, too.  In fact, I just had a couple of Thin Mints at lunch yesterday.

Nom, nom, nom.

 

ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO (can you believe it’s been that long?) five years after the Girls Scouts were organized in 1917, one of the directors printed a sugar cookie recipe in the group’s magazine, and councils across the country used the cookies as a fundraiser.  The girls baked them with their mothers, packaged them in wax paper bags sealed with a sticker, and sold them door-to-door.  The idea grew in popularity, until 1934, the first batch of Girl Scout cookies were made by a commercial baker.

Once World War 2 hit, shortages of butter, flour, and sugar forced the girls to sell calendars instead, but by war’s end, the cookie sales resumed big time.  By 1948, 125 licensed bakers were baking up the treats.  In 1951, there were three main varieties – Sandwich, Shortbread, and Chocolate Mints (now known as Thin Mints).

As the decades rolled by, the cookies flourished in scope.  Packaging became more uniform.  More varieties were developed–some tossed aside, some kept. Eventually, those 125 bakers were whittled down to just two today, Little Brownie Baker and ABC Baker.  Though the pair used the same recipes, they named the cookies differently. Even the infamous and most popular Thin Mints began as Cooky-Mints, which changed to Chocolate Mint, then to Thin Mint, then to Cookie Mint to Chocolate Mint to Thin Mints to Thin Mint and finally, back to the plural Thin Mints.  🙂

Depending on where your cookies are sold, here are the differences in names.

 

I had no idea.  Never heard of a Trefoil.  Or a Samoa.  They were always Caramel DeLites and Shortbreads to us.

What’s your favorite Girl Scout Cookie?  Were you ever a Girl Scout?  Do you have good (or bad) memories of selling cookies – or anything – door-to-door?

FOOD IN THE VICTORIAN ERA by CHERYL WRIGHT

I don’t know about you, but I love to bake.

I hate cooking meals with a vengeance. But baking is something I love, and do well, and include  in most of my books.

When I was very young, no more than eight, I began to bake. My parents were both into cooking, as well as my grandfather. He had a wood stove, and taught me to bake on it. That was over fifty years ago, and unfortunately, he is long gone. Home cooking was big in the Victorian era since takeaway food did not exist.

I write historical small town romance, and most small towns of that era had stores such as bakeries, diners, cake shops and even candy stores. I have featured all of these in my books, but also have my homebody heroines baking as well.

For me, baking and cooking is part of normal life, and so it is for my heroines. As a young mother, I would spend one day a week making bread, pies, cookies, and other delicacies. All made from scratch, and by hand. (No machines involved.) This has given me the knowledge needed when writing my westerns. In turn, it helps make the stories more realistic and believable.

 

 

I’m extremely lucky that I was gifted recipes passed down through generations of both sides of the family. I have a wedding cake recipe that has served generations, and also doubles as a Christmas cake. I have pastry recipes that put frozen pastries to shame, and are relatively easy to make.

Soups were a mainstay for many of our pioneers, especially those with little money. Vegetables were mostly home-grown, and stock taken from other foods they cooked. Even gravy was made differently from how we make it today; they used the juices of roast meat combined with flour, and cooked on the stove until thick.

Even today, I make recipes that were used over fifty years ago – my daughter uses many of them as well. It is very satisfying to make food from scratch, even if it is sometimes more time consuming than buying packet foods. Our ancestors didn’t have such luxury afforded to them, and I often wonder how they coped without the appliances we use today.

All these years down the track, I can still recall my grandmother whipping cream using only a fork. We had an electric mixer, but she refused to use it, since she’d always made it without one.

My heroines are tough – they had to be, being born into the Victorian era was not an easy task. In A Bride for Noah, (Book One, Brides of Broken Arrow), the heroine has come from a life of poverty. I created that character on a great-aunt from my childhood. Her husband was a goldminer, their home had a dirt floor, and they had very little, but she made the most of what was afforded to her.

Okay… onto the fun stuff!

As a special treat, I am offering readers of this blog, a copy of my personal collection of Christmas recipes at absolutely no charge. Nor will you be asked to join my newsletter.

Download your free copy here: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/dlwj4wgbcq

If you wish to join my newsletter and grab your complimentary copy of Miserable in Montana, you can do that here: https://cheryl-wright.com/newsletter/

Keeping within the theme of cooking in the Victorian era, you may be interested in my current series, Brides of Montana. You can check out the series here:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084BVHXTT?tag=pettpist-20

 

Contest: I am giving a way a kindle copy of Maggie, Book Four, Brides of Montana (released only days ago) to two lucky readers. To be in the draw, please leave a comment mentioning a food that might have been consumed in the Victorian era.

Thank you for having me, and good luck in the competition!

 


Bio:

 

Award-winning and best-selling Australian author, Cheryl Wright, former secretary, debt collector, account manager, writing instructor, and shopping tour hostess, loves reading. She writes historical and contemporary western romance, and has over fifty published books.

She lives in Melbourne, Australia, and is married with two adult children and has six adult grandchildren. When she’s not writing, she can be found in her craft room making greeting cards.

WEBSITE

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Whoopie Pies and An Upcoming Release

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Today I’m excited to report that the release date for the second book in my Amish of Hope’s Haven series, Her Amish Springtime Miracle, is almost here! It will hit the shelves on May 24th. This book features the youngest of the three Eicher sisters, Hannah, who happens to work in a bakery.

One of her specialties is Whoopie Pies. And it turns out they are the hero’s favorite treat. However he’ll only eat the chocolate ones with white filling and the heroine makes it a mission of sorts to try to get the hero to try one of her other flavors.

Since the whoopie pies play a role in this book, I thought it would be fun to share a bit of trivia about these yummy pastries.

But first of all, for the uninitiated, a traditional whoopie pie is a delicious dessert sandwich made by taking a fluffy white marshmallow-y filling and placing it between two domed chocolate bun-sized cakes.

Now, on to the trivia:

  • The whoopie pie goes by several other names. Among them are a gob, a bob, a black and white, and “BFO,” which stands for Big Fat Oreo or Big Fluffy Oreo.
  • You can actually buy whoopie pie baking pans.
  • The record for the world’s largest whoopie pie is one that weighed in at 1,062 pounds. It was made on March 26, 2011 in South Portland, Maine.  The record setting pastry was cut in pieces which were sold and the proceeds helped send pies to soldiers serving overseas.
  • There are 5 states that lay claim to have been thee birthplace of the whoopie pie:
    • Pennsylvania – they claim the whoopie pie recipe comes from the Pennsylvania German culture and that it has been handed down through many generations
    • Maine – Labadie’s Bakery in Lewiston, Maine has been making them since 1925
    • Massachusetts – Berwick Cake Company of Roxbury, Massachusetts, which is sadly no longer in business, had them on the menu in the 1920s
    • There have also been claims from Virginia and  New Hampshire but I couldn’t find any info on what these claims were based on
  • There are two theories on where the name whoopie pie came from
    • The first, put forth by those who support the Pennsylvania claim, is that Amish housewives would bake these and put them in her family’s lunch pails. And when the lucky farmer or schoolkid would find them they would yell “Whopee!”
    • The second, put forth by those who support other claims, is that it came from the 1928 Gus Kahn song, “Makin’ Whoopie.”
  • Maine has declared the third Saturday in June to be the state’s official Whoopie Pie Day. There is also a Whoopie Pie Festival in September that is held in Piscataquis County
  • There have been two whoopie pie inspired ice creams by national brands. Ben & Jerry created Makin’ Whoopie Pie in 2002 (it has since been discontinued) and Turkey Hill has a limited edition version.

 

Back to my book – some of the flavors Hannah tried tto tempt Mike with were

  • chocolate whoopie pies with a special mixed- berry filling
  • chocolate whoopie pies with strawberry cream filling
  • lemon whoopie pie with cream cheese filling

If you could develop your own flavor for a whoopie pie, what would it be?

Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for an advanced copy of Her Amish Springtime Miracle.

Her Amish Springtime Miracle

 

An orphaned baby brings together an unlikely couple who learn the true meaning of family. 

When Hannah Eicher discovered sweet baby Grace in her barn last spring, the adorable infant seemed like the answer to her prayers. The young Amish baker has always wanted a familye of her own and now that she’s fostered Grace for nearly a year, her adoption application is almost certain to be approved. But an unexpected visitor to Hope’s Haven could change everything . . .

Englischer paramedic Mike Colder is only returning to his childhood hometown to locate and adopt his late sister’s baby. But when the trail leads to Hannah and Grace, Mike’s determination falters. With Hannah, the simple life he left behind suddenly seems appealing. Despite their wildly different worlds, can Mike and Hannah give each other—and Grace—the greatest gift of all: a life together?

 

You can preorder HERE

 

 

Water Glassed Eggs

Now that I’m living close to my mom, who is in her eighties, we have a lot of interesting discussions about the “good old days.” For instance, her grandfather, a Finnish immigrant, never farmed with a tractor. He used mules until he died in the 1940s. I’ve learned about pitching hay into the hay wagon while kids stamped it down, and tying the milk cow to the car bumper and pulling her to the neighbor’s field to put her in with the bull.

I’ve learned about her friends who had no running water and who bathed in the slough, my uncle tipping outhouses at Halloween, my grandmother putting water in the car radiator in the winter (no antifreeze) and then driving across the long lake bridge to go to a Roy Rogers movie, making certain to put a blanket over the hood of the car, to keep the radiator water from freezing. And of course when she got home, she had to empty the radiator. Good times.

My mother was fortunate enough to have a refrigerator while she was growing up, but her cousins had a hole dug in the back yard, covered with boards, where milk was kept.  Talk of food preservation led to stories of preserving eggs in water glass. This fascinated me, so I looked into it.

Water glass is a mixture of water and pickling lime. Pickling lime is a mixture of bones, oyster shells and limestone that has been heated in a kiln, then hydrated with water. There are different kinds of lime, and a person making water glass will want hydrated lime.

The first rule to preserving eggs in water glass is to use fresh farm eggs that have NOT been washed. when a hen lays an egg, she creates a product with a protective coating that seals the pores and keep bacteria out. This is called the bloom. Only eggs that have a bloom, which store eggs do not, can be preserved in water glass. If an egg is dirty, it can’t be wiped clean, because this affects the bloom. Only the cleanest eggs can be used.

Mix the lime with a ratio of one ounce of lime to one quart of water. You’ll need to mix enough to completely cover the eggs in your food storage grade container. A three-gallon pail with a lid works well. Submerge the eggs in the solution, pointy side down. After the eggs are submerged, cover the pail to decrease evaporation and store the water-glassed eggs in a cool dark place.

Before using the eggs, wash thoroughly, because pickling lime isn’t good for the digestive system.

How long can eggs be kept this way? From 18 months to 2 years.  You can keep adding eggs to the preserving pail daily, but the bottom eggs should be used first.

These eggs are not pickled. They are used just like fresh eggs. The only caveat is to watch for cracks and never use a cracked egg.

Are you familiar with water glassed eggs? Did your family use any old-timey food storage methods? Looking forward to hearing!

A Recipe From My Childhood

How they wrapped my finger up at the ER.

I don’t think I’ve shared this fact before, but I’m super clumsy. My father used to tease me and say they should’ve named me Grace. I always joke that even if there was only one piece of furniture in a room, I’d manage to bump into it and end up with a bruise.

Well, I’ve done it again. I got tangled up with my dogs, fell, and broke my left ring finger. As it is hard to type, I’m doing a simple recipe post today. My family has made this Strawberry Dessert as we call it, for years. It’s light and refreshing, a perfect dessert for a big easter dinner. As it’s best made the day before to be completely set, it leaves you time on Easter for church, preparing the meal, and having fun with family. If you’re like me, unless I make dessert ahead of time whenever, we go without because by the time we’re done cooking, eating, and cleaning up, I’m too tired to make dessert!

 

Strawberry Dessert

Ingredients:

1 angel food cake

2 packages of # ounce strawberry Jell-O

2 Cups boiling water

2 10 oz (approximately) frozen strawberries in syrup, not the unsweetened kind

1 pint whipped cream

Directions:

  1. Tear angel food cake into bite size pieces and place in a 9×13 pan.
  2. In a bowl, stir boiling water and Jell-O until dissolved. Add frozen strawberries. Stir until strawberries are separated and mixture has started to thicken. Place in refrigerator for fifteen or so minutes until much thicker but not set.
  3. Whip cream to a thick but not stiff stage. Remove strawberry and Jell-O mixture from refrigerator. Fold in whipped cream until mixture is well combined and smooth.
  4. Pour over angel food cake. Refrigerate until firm.

Growing up Lutheran in the Midwest, Jell-O was a staple at family events and church potlucks. I can’t even count how many salad and dessert recipes I have that require this ingredient. This one is one of my spring and summer favorites. I hope you enjoy this blast from my past.

To be entered in my random giveaway for the Hanging With My Peeps T-shirt and a signed copy of Family Ties leave a comment about your favorite Jell-O recipe or the oddest one someone you know has made.

The Traditional Christmas Fruitcake – Western-Style

I don’t know about you, but when I think of fruitcake, I think of the currant version, with almost sickly-sweet candies instead of real fruit, soaked in enough sugar to make a person vibrate out of existence if they eat a slice.

So, when I was writing a scene for an upcoming book, A Sugar Plum Christmas, and I needed a good, honest-to-goodness pioneer sweet…fruitcake really didn’t top my list. Does it top anyone’s? I was skeptical until I started watching videos on how these things were made.

traditional fruitcake

Enter the Way-Back machine…

Firstly, historians aren’t wholly certain how far back fruitcakes go (is that really a surprise?). They know cakes like these were used as rations for the Roman Army, right around 27 BC. For all we know, those are still in existence. I kid…sort of.

Even then, the Romans knew that soaking the fruit, and the cake when it was complete, in alcohol, would make it safe for eating much longer than other breads. Plus, it’s calorie dense. I’ll skip the joke where I say it’s pretty dense in other ways…that’s just too easy.

From the Roman Empire to a Rancher’s Table

Well, like the Roman Empire, the Old West didn’t have many options for keeping food, especially sweets that weren’t hard candy, from spoiling. Age-old methods are tried and true and fruitcakes became the dessert of choice for Victorian homes during Christmas.

The cake was often made three months ahead of time, using the berries and fruits collected from the year before to make room for ones just collected. They would be soaked in whatever alcohol was readily available. Despite the feeling about alcohol now, feelings were different then, even children occasionally drank and women often used alcohol for homemade tinctures, so the ingredients were often right on hand.

fruitcake ingredients

Wherefore Art Thou, Orange

With the advent of the Transcontinental Railway in the 1880s, the one ingredient that might have been hard to come by, suddenly wasn’t. Oranges. The recipe calls for the peel of one orange and I can imagine that, prior to the availability caused by the railroad, that made the fruitcake taste much differently. Perhaps they found a way to dry and save the peels when they were more readily available during the summer months. I couldn’t find any site to confirm or deny that.

What’s interesting to me is that orange peel is one of the few items in a fruitcake recipe that doesn’t change. The spices seem to vary, the amount of flour fluxuates, what type of alcohol doesn’t matter, the types of fruits and nuts are loosey-goosey. But the orange peel is a staple.

Recipe Time

My mother-in-law has a recipe for fruitcake from her mother and she and her sisters have not shared it yet, but they do get together annually (barring weather or the illness that shall not be named) to make one or three. I do not have that recipe, but I hear it’s pretty good. The cake is usually gone by the time I hear about it. However, here is a fabulous recipe, that I might even try:
Cite: The Old Farmer’s Almanac

INGREDIENTS

  • 4-5 pounds fruit and nuts:
  • 1 pound dark raisins
  • 1 pound white raisins
  • 1/2 pound currants
  • 1/2 pound candied cherries
  • 1/2 pound candied pineapple
  • 1/4 pound candied citron
  • 2 ounces candied orange peel
  • 2 ounces candied lemon peel
  • 1/4 pound blanched whole almonds
  • 1/4 pound whole pecans
  • 1/2 cup Madeira
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: cinnamon, cloves, mace, and allspice
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Put the raisins and currants in a large bowl, add the Madeira and the rum and let stand, covered, overnight. Then add the candied fruits and mix well. Sift the spices and soda with 1-½ cups of the flour, combine the remaining flour with the nuts. Add all to the fruits, mixing lightly.

In another large bowl, beat the butter until light and cream in the sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and almond extract. Add the fruit and nut mixture to the batter and stir well. Turn the batter into a well greased tube or spring mold pan. A 10-inch pan will do for this 5-½ pound cake, or two smaller cakes may be made. Bake the large cake in an oven preheated to 275 degrees F for 3-½ to 4 hours, or until a cake tester inserted near the center of the cake comes out dry. The smaller cakes will take half the time.

Let the cake stand in the pan on a wire rack for half an hour, run a knife around the pan, if a spring mold, loosen it and remove the cake gently to a piece of heavy aluminum foil large enough to enclose it completely. Fold the closing double to seal the cake completely. Once or twice before Christmas, open the foil and pour a little additional rum or wine on the cake.

When ready to use, decorate the top of the cake with a wreath of pecans and maraschino cherries and thin slices of candied fruit.

Meal-In-A-Loaf

Hello, Winnie Griggs here. The other day I was going through my old recipe files as I’m gradually digitizing them. Some of these were handed down from my mom, slipped to me by friends or relatives, or developed by me over time. Just reading through the creased and food-stained notes had me reminiscing over my childhood an early married life – I’d never realized how foods could be so deeply associated with comforting memories.

Today I thought I share one of those with you – a hearty, perfect-for-Fall recipe called Meal-In-A-Loaf.

First of all, since most of these rcipes are more than twenty years old, they come from a time when I was a working mother with four youngsters and a 45 minute commute to and from the office. In those days time was always at a premium (but isn’t it always!). So when it came to meals I took advantage of the weekends and my great big freezer. I’d cook up meals like soups, gumbos, and one-dish casseroles in double or triple sized batches so I could freeze part of it to prepare for a future meal. I would also cook large batches of what I called my meat base.

Ground beef dishes – whether cooked up in a casserole, tacos, chili or spaghetti – were big hits around my house – not only with the diners but with this cook.  However, I’ve always found having to deal with browning and draining the meat itself to be time consuming and something of a hassle.  So I got in the habit of getting that prep work out of the way ahead of time, during one of my not-too-frequent down times.

This is how I do that .

  • Place 5 lbs of lean ground beef and 1 lb of ground pork in a large pot and cook until browned
  • Drain then return to pot with a little water or stock
  • Add seasonings such as chopped onions, green onions, peppers and celery – this varies based on what I have on hand and what mood I’m in. Sometimes I just use Sloppy Joe mix.
  • Continue cooking, adding liquid as needed, until seasonings are tender and flavors are well blended.
  • If I haven’t used Sloppy Joe mix, I’ll add some tomato sauce and cook a little longer
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool
  • Then I separate the batch into six individual one pound portions and freeze them until I’m ready to use one or more in a favorite recipe

Now, on to the recipe I promised you

Meal-In-A-Loaf

Ingredients

  • 1 large unsliced French or Italian bread loaf
  • 1 pound meat mixture, thawed
  • 1 can condensed tomato soup, undiluted (Note: I will sometimes take a can of Rotel tomatoes and chili peppers, drained and substitute it in for half of the soup)
  • A large dollop of sour cream (I don’t measure, I just plop it in)
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite cheese, shredded

Directions

  • Heat meat and soup together in a saucepan. Just before you remove it from the stove, stir in the sour cream, mixing well
  • Slice the bread loaf lengthwise, making sure the bottom portion is slightly larger than the one on top
  • Scoop out both halves of the sliced loaf, leaving a roughly 1/2 – 3/4 inch shell
  • Break about 1/2 of scooped-out bread into bite-sized portions and stir into warm meat mixture.
  • Spoon meat and bread mixture into the bottom portion of the hollowed loaf, allowing it to ‘mound’ above the top of the bowl
  • Sprinkle the shredded cheese evenly over the top
  • Cover with the top portion of the bread shell
  • Wrap loosely in foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes

To serve, unwrap the loaf and cut it into serving-sized slices.  This will make 8-10 servings, depending on the size of loaf and thickness of slices.

NOTE: I sometimes stir in taco seasoning to change it up a bit

That’s it – Enjoy!

Do you have any meal prep or planning shortcuts of your own to offer?  And if you have any quick and easy recipes of your own, especially one that would utilize this pre-cooked meat mix, share!

Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for winner’s choice of any book from my backlist.

 

 

Pumpkin Palooza

This year the release of the PSL (pumpkin spice latte—a new acronym I learned this week—) was August 24. As I sat writing in Starbucks, I wondered how we went from my childhood of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread around the holidays to the pumpkin/pumpkin spice frenzy of today. That made me curious about the history of pumpkins, and to the internet I went.

To my surprise, pumpkins are fruit. (Sidebar, so are all squash, eggplants, avocados, and cucumbers. And, so you can answer the why question, it’s because those plant have seeds and the items we eat develop from the flower-producing part of the plant. Botanically that makes them fruit.) Archaeologists believe pumpkins originated in Central America 7,500 years ago, but unlike todays, those were small and had a bitter taste. (Which again makes me wonder how they caught on for food!)

Despite that beginning, a recipe for a side dish with diced pumpkin was published in New-England’s Rarities Discovered, in America in the 1670s. After that, women developed more pumpkin recipes. Serving sweet pumpkin dishes during the holidays didn’t start until the 1800s. However, the first pies were scooped out pumpkins filled with a ginger-spiced milk, then roasted by the fire. Hmmm, an early PSL?

Fun pumpkin facts:

  • Antarctica is the only content where pumpkins aren’t grown.
  • Pumpkin seeds (each pumpkin has around 500) can be roasted, then salted and eaten. The flowers are also edible.
  • Pumpkin, which are 90% water, contains carotenoids which are good for eyes and neutralizes free radicals that can attack cells.
  • Pumpkins are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin which could reduce cataract formation and risk of macular degeneration. They also contain potassium, vitamin A, iron, zinc, and fiber.
  • Irish immigrant brought the tradition of Jack-O’-Lanterns to the U.S., but instead of using turnips or potatoes, they used the American pumpkins.
  • In the United States, the heaviest pumpkin was grown in New Hampshire (2018) and weighed 2,528 pounds.
  • In 2010 a pumpkin pie was baked in Ohio weighing 3,699 pounds and over 20 feet in diameter.
  • Early American settlers cut pumpkin shells into strips, dried them, and wove them into mats.
  • Morton, Illinois is called the ‘Pumpkin Capital of the World’ and the home to Libby’s pumpkin industry. Illinois also grows the most pumpkins.
  • Pumpkins were once a remedy for freckles and snakebites.
Large pumpkins are usually used for feed for livestock.

Yesterday my Pinterest feed was filled with pumpkin recipes. My research didn’t really explain how we went from the first pumpkins to the craze we see today. But maybe the answer has something to do with the following Pilgrim verse, circa 1633.

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.”

I may not have satisfied my original curiosity, but at least now you can astound and stun your friend and family with your amazing pumpkin knowledge this Thanksgiving!

To be entered in today’s random drawing for Howdy Fall T-shirt, tell me what’s your favorite pumpkin recipe or what fun fact surprised you the most. Happy (almost) Fall, Y’all!