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Memories of a Midwestern Farm: Good Food and Inspiration from Around the Kitchen Table

Memories of a Midwestern Farm: Good Food and Inspiration from Around the Kitchen Table

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by Nancy Hutchens, Claire Zion (Editor)

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The author of "A Garden's Grace" offers a celebration of country living sprinkled with more than 100 irresistible recipes and bits of wisdom.


The author of "A Garden's Grace" offers a celebration of country living sprinkled with more than 100 irresistible recipes and bits of wisdom.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Hutchens grew up on a large family farm in southern Indiana during the 1950s, but from her description, it could have been decades earlier-no telephone or television, dresses made from colorful calico feed sacks, before-dawn awakenings to prepare the food for the hay hands. In fact, some of her stories are reminiscent of the work of Jane Watson Hopping, the "Pioneer Lady" (The Many Blessings Cookbook, LJ 9/15/93; The Lazy Days of Summer Cookbook, 4/15/92), or even of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Family was important, and Hutchens includes poems, diary entries, and nostalgic memories as well as recipes-Mamaw's Raspberry Cobbler, Mother's Famous Apple Butter-from grandparents, parents, brothers, and sister. A period piece, for larger collections.

Product Details

Atria Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
7.85(w) x 9.56(h) x 0.79(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Spring Meal to Feed the Hungry Farmer

We went out to the garden and found everything thriving....We picked heads of the most beautiful lettuce you ever saw, and we cut asparagus. Then we came in and washed the asparagus, steamed it, and had a feast of asparagus and lettuce not half an hour out of the garden.

-- Hal Borland,Hal Borland's Book of Days

As soon as the fields began to dry after the spring rains and the first plants popped up through the earth the whole farm became a shimmering green. We savored the special dishes made of delicate spring vegetables -- like leaf lettuce, asparagus, and new peas -- that have long been a part of the farmer's tradition. Buttery-soft leaf lettuce came from the front rows of the garden by the basketfuls. Each leaf had to be looked over carefully to make sure no bugs would make their way into a salad. Big mounds of lettuce mixed with scallions were "wilted" with a hot dressing in a castiron skillet. Wilted lettuce had been a family favorite for generations, probably some version of a dish brought by the original Tribby settlers from Germany in the seventeenth century.

The potato plants were ready to flower, which meant that the earth underneath was bursting with baby reds, and our new sweet peas were bulging in their jackets. Daddy's special pride was growing the most delicate, sweetest Irish potatoes in the county. We cooked them in the skins with new peas in light cream sauce. Unlike vegetables from the garden that grew in full summer -- corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, and green beans -- wilted lettuce and new peas and potatoes were more difficult to cook the way the family liked themts brimming over with fresh-picked peas! We rocked back and forth in the big wooden swing on the back porch as we shelled them. Toward the end of their season, when we were short on peas, we stretched this dish by adding more new baby red potatoes.

Shell enough new peas to make 3 cups. Thoroughly wash about 14 small new red potatoes but don't peel them. (Usually the smaller they are, the more delicate the flavor.) In a saucepan, boil the potatoes and peas in water until barely tender, about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Drain in a colander and set aside.

In a large saucepan, make a cream sauce by melting 4 tablespoons of butter and gradually adding 4 tablespoons of flour, stirring it in, one spoon at a time. Cook over a low heat, stirring until the lumps disappear. Add 3 cups of milk, one cup at a time, and mix with the flour. Let it simmer and thicken, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Add the peas and potatoes and simmer, stirring frequently, until the peas are tender and the sauce reaches the desired thickness. (The exact cooking time for the peas will vary, depending on their size and toughness. Check them frequently.) Our family always liked this dish made fairly thick, with the cream sauce about the consistency of a milk shake. Season with salt and pepper.


• This is best made with fresh-picked leaf lettuce, carefully looked over, washed, dried, and cut into 1-inch strips. If garden lettuce isn't available, you can use store-bought red or green leaf lettuce.

In a 1 1/2-gallon crock or ceramic bowl, mound the lettuce, making sure it doesn't reach all the way to the top of the howl. Chop up 4 or 5 scallions, incl uding the crisp part of the green tops, and scatter them on top of the lettuce. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top.

Find a cast-iron skillet that will seal tightly if you invert it over the bowl containing the lettuce. Make sure the bowl will support the weight of the skillet and won't shatter from heat. If a cast-iron skillet is too heavy for you to work with, use a lighter-weight skillet. However, it is essential that you cover the lettuce with the skillet you cook with to get the lettuce hot enough to wilt.

Slowly fry 5 or 6 slices of bacon in the skillet until very crisp. Remove the bacon and crumble it over the lettuce.

Combine 1 cup of cider vinegar with 1/2 cup of water. Add gradually and carefully to the hot bacon grease. Add 1/3 cup of sugar and stir until the mixture comes to a rolling boil. Make sure it is very hot all the way through and the sugar has dissolved. Pour the dressing over the lettuce and quickly toss. Immediately invert the skillet over the bowl. Let it set for at least 5 or 6 minutes to give the lettuce time to wilt. Toss again before serving.


• Since I was a little girl, I have always made bread in one of the beautiful, deep-blue crocks that have been made in the little town of Clay City, Indiana, for over a hundred years. My favorite one was one of Mother's wedding presents, and I was always very careful not to chip it. To this day, I'm afraid my bread won't taste the same if I don't use the blue bowl.

Heat 2 cups of milk to scalding (a skin will form, but don't let it boil), add 3 tablespoons of butter, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/3 cup of unfiltered honey. Cool to lukewarm in a big ceramic bowl.

Dissolve 2 tablesp oons of dry yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water. After it sets for 5 minutes or so, add it to the lukewarm milk mixture in the bowl. Add 3/4 cup of wheat germ, 1 teaspoon of salt, and start stirring in flour with a wooden spoon. (I would suggest using about 4 cups of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of unbleached white flour. Bread made with only whole wheat flour is very dense and not as "yeasty." The more white flour you use the more the bread will rise.) Keep adding white flour and stirring as long as you can until the dough is too stiff to stir. Altogether you will need about 6 cups of flour. When the dough starts to pull away from the sides, start kneading it in the bowl with your hands. Continue adding flour until it is no longer sticky. Turn it out onto a floured board and continue kneading until the bread is very elastic and smooth. This will take about 10 minutes, or 300 turns. Don't compromise on the kneading -- it's the secret to great homemade bread. If you have any doubt, keep going.

Put the dough in a greased bowl and turn it over so the greased side is up. Cover it with a clean, damp cloth and let it rise for about an hour, or until it doubles in size. Punch it down, knead it a few times, cover it and let it double again.

Separate the dough into two loaves, place them in greased loaf pans and cover them. Let rise until the dough doubles -- about 45 minutes.

If you like, you can glaze the top with an egg wash (I beaten egg mixed with a little cold water). Bake in a preheated 375° oven for 45 minutes or until the bread is browned. If you tap it and hear a hollow sound, it's done.

Ole Aunt Kate she bake a cake,
she bake it behind the garden gate,
she sift de meal, she gimme de dust,
she bake de bread, she gimme de crust...

-- folk song


• Marjorie Frye was a wonderful friend to Mother and still is one of the best cooks you'll find anywhere. Although she became renowned for her pies when she made them for J&J's, a little diner at the junction of State Roads 45 and 445, we were always partial to her cakes. This cake was the one we usually picked for birthdays.

Cream together 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of soft butter. Sift together 4 level cups of cake flour and 4 teaspoons of baking powder. Beat 4 egg whites until foamy. Mash 2 large ripe bananas. Add the dry ingredients to the butter-and-sugar mixture, alternating with 1 1/3 cups of milk and the beaten egg whites. Mix in the mashed bananas. Beat well. Fold in 1 cup of walnut pieces.

Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans. Bake in a moderate oven (350°) until browned on top, 30 to 40 minutes. Insert a broom straw or toothpick in the middle to check for doneness.

To make the filling, gently heat 1/2 cup of cream in a double boiler until warm, but not boiling. In a small bowl, mix together 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour with 3 tablespoons of sugar; add 3 egg yolks and 1/4 cup of cream and stir until smooth. Slowly add the egg mixture to the heated cream and cook until it thickens enough to not drip down the sides of the cake -- about the consistency of cake batter. When it cools completely, in an hour or so, stir in 2 mashed large ripe bananas.

Spread the filling in between the layers. Ice the cake with sweetened whipped cream or Chocolate Icing. Decorate with fresh whole strawberries around the base of the cake and on the top. This cake will keep better with the chocolate icing. Whipped cream is delicious but needs to stay cold and shouldn't be eaten after two days.

Copyright © 1995 by Nancy Hutchens

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Memories of a Midwestern Farm: Good Food & Inspiration from Around Kitchen Table 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book! Of course, I am a 'country girl' myself, but this book makes me nostalgic for a time when families stayed together and children worked hard on the farm instead of sitting inside playing video games! The recipes were great too - I esp. loved the creamy peas and potatoes.