Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In honor of Mother's Day, our readers dished dear Mom's recipes

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

We asked, and oh, how you gave.

  • Laura Lee Johnson and her sister, Becky Johnson show off their Magically Rising Berry Cobbler.

    By Doug Kapustin, for USA TODAY

    Laura Lee Johnson and her sister, Becky Johnson show off their Magically Rising Berry Cobbler.

By Doug Kapustin, for USA TODAY

Laura Lee Johnson and her sister, Becky Johnson show off their Magically Rising Berry Cobbler.

In March, we put out a call for your favorite recipes that tell a story about your mom, grandma or motherly stand-in. You heeded our call and came out of the kitchen woodwork from 23 states, sharing stovetop memories and time-honored recipes, just in time for Mother's Day.

It was an embarrassment of riches, really, and a difficult task to narrow down the submissions. We heard from Nida Messick of Mound City, Mo. She sings the praises of her 97-year-old mother, Lucille Elizabeth Fink Kunkel, who "makes the most delicious sugar cookies ever."

Karen King of Eau Claire, Wis., fondly remembers her mom, Shirley Goetzke, "standing at the red Chambers gas range, singing old songs and cooking up delicious food."

Jim Dufek of Cape Girardeau, Mo., dished up his mother's caramel cinnamon rolls. Lucille, he writes, just turned 93. Oh, to be a fly on these kitchen walls!

Although each entry feels like a winner, we went to the kitchen to re-create two special dishes. (My test notes are in italics.) Meet our Mother's Day recipe raconteurs. From our kitchen to yours, here's to a delicious Mother's Day.

Cookie lovers cry for these babies

Jeanne F. Strode, 77, of Fayetteville, Pa., remembers the homey molasses cookie of her youth, discovering only recently what her mother called them:

Many years ago, when I was a child growing up in New London, Conn., my mom, Mary Vine Finch, made delicious molasses cookies for me, my older brother, James, and my younger sister, Alice. That was the era when moms stayed home and dads went off to work. How well I remember coming home from school, and the smell of these wonderful molasses cookies would meet us at the door. I don't remember her giving a name to these cookies. Imagine my surprise when recently looking through her recipe box, I found that they were called "Delaware Cry Babies." I can only assume the name came from babies who were crying for cookies.

By William Thomas Cain, for USA TODAY

Jeanne Strode, who won a recipe contest with her "Delaware Cry Babies."

Delaware Cry Babies

(Kim O'Donnel's testing notes are in italics)


•1 cup vegetable oil

•1 cup brown sugar

•2 eggs, beaten (I used large eggs.)

•1 cup molasses

•4 cups all-purpose flour

•½ tsp. salt

•1 tsp. cinnamon

•1 tsp. nutmeg (I used tsp.)

•2 tsp. baking soda

•1 cup boiling water


Preheat oven to 375 F.

Using a handheld electric mixer, "cream" oil and brown sugar together. Add eggs and molasses and beat until well combined.

Sift flour, salt and spices in a medium mixing bowl. In another bowl, combine baking soda and boiling water, stirring until baking soda is dissolved. Fold dry ingredients into batter, alternating with baking soda mixture.

Drop batter by spoonfuls onto a lightly greased or parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet. (Greased sheets yielded a crispier cookie edge.)

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until puffy and firm to touch. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.

Makes about 4 dozen.

(Add 1 teaspoon ground ginger and/or 1 teaspoon ground espresso powder for deeper flavor. The end results are somewhat soft, different from a ginger snap. They would make great whoopie pies or ice cream sandwiches!)

by Doug Kapustin

Laura Lee Johnson (R) and her sister, Becky Johnson show off their Magically Rising Berry Cobbler.

Laura Lee Johnson of Olney, Md., with her sister Rebecca Johnson of Arlington, Va., and cousin Candace Havens of Dallas, tells the story behind Grandma's cobbler:

A few mishaps occurred over the years — oven fires (bubbles over from too much fruit), not enough lift (really, she said tablespoons, not teaspoons, of baking powder) — but Grandma's dewberry cobbler recipe survived.

Grandma Helen Irby took fresh dewberries that grew on the farm in Trinity, Texas, and made this cobbler. Later, as a teaching assistant in Seattle, I used blackberries and brought cobblers to class. Now friends and former students make their own cobblers. All summer we take cobblers to parties and share with friends, and remember Grandma, who taught us recipes that make so many happy.

Grandma Helen Irby's Magically Rising Cobbler

(Kim O'Donnel's testing notes are in italics)


•1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces (I used 1/2 stick of butter, and the cobbler was plenty greased.)

•1 cup granulated sugar

•1 cup all-purpose flour

•1 cup milk (any kind, even cream if you want really full-fat farm style)

•2 Tbs. baking powder

•½ tsp. salt

•3 cups fruit (Blackberries or dewberries, but peaches or any fruit will work. If it is sour fruit, you might want to add sugar to macerate a bit first.)


Preheat oven to 350 F.

Put the butter in the bottom of a 9-by-9 glass or ceramic baking dish and stick dish in the hot oven to melt the butter.

While the butter melts, combine all the other non-fruit ingredients in a mixing bowl. Remove dish from the oven, and pour batter on top of the hot melted butter.

Top batter with the fruit.

Return the dish to the oven, preferably on a cookie sheet covered with foil in case of crust run-off. Bake for 20-30 minutes. Crust rises up! (Total cooking time was closer to 50 minutes.)

Remove from the oven once the crust is golden brown. Let cool enough (roughly an hour) to eat and serve with ice cream or whipped cream if you like.

Hey Dad, we want to fete your recipes, too!

Father’s Day is June 19, and we’d like to celebrate with a recipe contest, just like we did for Mom. Send us your favorite recipe inspired or taught by your dad, grand-dad or father figure in your life, and include the story behind the dish. Family Kitchen columnist Kim O’Donnel will choose a few of her favorites to be featured in Your Life June 8.

E-mail recipes and stories to by May 20. Please include: Your name, age, city and state and recipe, plus a brief paragraph explaining the story and/or significance of the dish. No attachments, please. All selected recipes will be tested before publication.

Jan A. Adamczyk, of Pepperell, Mass., regaled us with her tale of her football-loving mother, who always made chili for the game:

To say my mother, Neola Younker, loved football would be an understatement. From August through January, football was my mother's passion. We would awaken to shouts of "Nail him!" from the kitchen below our bedroom, at 7 on Sunday morning.

We lived in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, and in the 1970s football was live, from wherever they were playing, which meant it started really early in the morning in Hawaii. New Year's Day was the best football day of all. Games all day. My dad would get all the TVs in the family room and have all the games on. My mom would make chili and everyone could stop by and eat, just don't bother mom.

The chili was on the stove, the rice in the rice cooker, and that was what we ate all day. Nothing fancy, but it was good chili and my sister and I always put it over rice, because in Hawaii, there was always rice and it went with everything. Mom passed away in 2001, but I honor her and the tradition and make chili and rice every New Year's Day.

Bonus recipe:

Hawaiian New Year's Chili

(Kim O'Donnel's testing notes appear in italics)


•1 pound ground beef (KOD note: Ground turkey or pork make nice alternatives)

•1 pound Italian sausage, hot or mild, casings removed

•2 Tbs. olive oil

•1 medium onion, chopped

•1 medium shallot, chopped

•2 tablespoons minced garlic (KOD note: About 3 cloves' worth)

•2 bell peppers, whatever color you have, chopped

•1 package sliced mushrooms, leave out if you don't like them or dice them up to hide them (KOD: due to an allergy, I omitted)

•2 Tbs. chili powder (KOD note: I am a big fan of the salt-free Chili Powder blend from The Spice Hunter)

•1/2 tsp. sage (KOD note: None on hand, so I omitted)

•1 tsp. cumin

•1 tsp. dried thyme (KOD note: I was out of thyme and substituted oregano)

•1 tsp. kosher salt

•1 tsp. black pepper

•1/2 tsp. paprika (KOD note: I substituted smoked paprika)

•1 cup red wine

•2 cans diced tomatoes, juice and all (KOD note: I used 1 28-ounce can of tomato puree)

•1 can white beans (cannellini or great northern), drained and rinsed (KOD note: I used 1 cup dried cannellini beans, cooked separately and added)

•1 can tomato paste (KOD note: I omitted)

•2 tsp. chopped parsley (fresh or dried)

•1 Tbs. sugar, or more if needed (KOD note: I omitted)

•Cooked short grain rice for serving


Brown ground meat and sausage in a large pot until thoroughly cooked. Remove from pan and drain off fat (if using crock pot, drain and put in there).

Add olive oil to pan. add onion and shallot. Cook 3-5 minutes until translucent. Add garlic, peppers and mushrooms. Cook an additional 3-5 minutes until mushrooms begin to shrink and soften. Stir in spices until the vegetables are coated. Deglaze pan with wine and allow to reduce for a few minutes.

(If using crock pot, transfer mixture now, plus remaining ingredients.)

Add tomatoes, beans and tomato paste and meat to pot. Add water if needed, just enough to stir mixture if too thick.

Simmer 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally, or 8-12 hours on low in crock pot.

Check seasoning, and adjust to taste. Add parsley just before serving. Stir, taste and add sugar as you see fit to counteract acid.

Even better when made the day before.

Serve over steamed rice.

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