Beans and Dumplings – A Depression-Era Meal

One of my earliest memories is of sitting at a table with my mother, father and little sister.  We are in a one-room, second-floor flat on Elm Street in downtown Cincinnati in the mid-1930s.  All day, Mother has watched over a simmering pot of beans with a pig hock added for flavor.  My father has come in from his timekeeper job on the WPA and we are having about the cheapest supper possible in the midst of the Great Depression.  I have a plateful of beans and a tiny bit of the small amount of meat that is on a pig hock (my father gets the biggest portion of meat and my mother claims to love chewing around on the bone).  The beans are steaming and the teaspoon or so of meat is flavorful – I love it!  It was said in my family that you weren’t an Applegate if you didn’t love beans, so I guess I qualified as a full-fledged member of my father’s side of the family.

As time went on and my father moved to better jobs with the City of Cincinnati and then Dayton Acme (a World War II defense plant), there was more money in my mother’s food budget and she stopped using the mostly-fat pig hocks and either threw in a pork chop or two to cook with the beans or had crisp bacon or fried ham on the side.  This was the only time my father ate pork … along with his beans topped with chopped onion and a lot of black pepper.

By the time my future husband started coming to the house for meals, Mother had added a big cast iron skillet full of fried potatoes to the menu.  It was his favorite supper.  After we were married, I continued to have this meal one night a week.  Every time I hear the John Denver song, “Back Home Again” and the line about “supper on the stove” and the wife who felt the baby move, I think about my young husband coming home to an expectant wife in our little apartment with the windows all steamed up and a big white and red graniteware pot of beans simmering on the range.

My four children didn’t inherit their parents’ love of a bean supper and I got out of the habit of making it.  But now that I’m alone, I crave the beans of my childhood, especially in the fall and winter.  I make a healthier, easier version with a slow cooker.

GREAT NORTHERN CROCKPOT BEANS

  • 1/2 lb. Great Northern dry beans
  • 6 cups cold water*
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ham flavored soup base (L. B. Jamison’s)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place the dry beans cold water in the slow cooker.  *I use this amount of water to insure that I’ll have enough broth to make dumplings.  Cook on low overnight – approximately 8 hours.  Add the ham flavoring, then taste before adding salt and pepper.

I was the only one in the family who liked dumplings with my beans and I used to make a one-person serving.  This works very well for me now when I want to make a meal just for myself.

DUMPLINGS FOR ONE

  • 1/4 cup of My Biscuit Mix**
  • 1-1/2 Tblsp. (approx.) of cold water

In a small bowl, stir the biscuit mix and water together to make a thick, moist dough.

Heat about 1 cup of bean broth and 1 cup of beans in a small pot to boiling.  Drop the dough into the boiling mixture by the tablespoonful, making three dumplings.

Lower the heat to simmering, cover the pot and continue simmering for 10 minutes without lifting the lid.  Note:  The white and red graniteware lid is from my original 1952 set.

Serve immediately with chopped onion and a grating of black pepper.  A small serving of meat is good, but not necessary (to me, at least).  Today, I happened to be browning hot sausage to freeze for my Thanksgiving stuffing and kept back enough to make myself a small grilled patty.  It tasted wonderful.  This is truly my soul food.

**MY BISCUIT MIX

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tblsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)

Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder.  Cut in the vegetable shortening.  Store in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

This is good for making individual servings of biscuits, pancakes … and dumplings. 


Recipe for Walt’s Polish Stuffing

Grandma’s Chocolate Pie

In the World War II days when gas was rationed, cars were kept running many times by wishful thinking, and the drive from Cincinnati to Dayton, Ohio, was a two-hour journey over country roads, our family made the trip several times a year to visit my paternal grandmother.  My little sister and I called her “Grandma-up-Dayton” and looked forward to leaving our inner city apartment behind and spending some time in rural Vandalia, just outside of Dayton.  I have a feeling our visits were unplanned most of the time with my father coming home from work on a Friday and suggesting we run up and see his mother.  I can still see Grandma standing at the door of her little house, wearing a dark dress and white apron, peering out into the twilight to see who had pulled onto her property on a secluded country road.  As we got out of the car, she would smile broadly and say, “Oh, it’s Johnny!”, acknowleging in that exclamation that it was Johnny, his wife and two little girls.

Many times as we came into the house she would say that she had just made a few chocolate pies.  She worked as a cook in a high school cafeteria during the day and came home at night to bake a few treats.

Cooking at all wasn’t easy in her small kitchen.  There was a large table, some chairs, some cabinets against the wall and a coal/wood burning kitchen stove.  Grandma must have had an ice box of some kind, but I don’t remember seeing it.  There was an outside door that led to a slope and the water pump.  On a stool by the door was an enamel washpan and towel so we could wash up in stone-cold water after making the long trek down the slope and on down the path to the outhouse.   There was a 3-foot tall metal lard can in the kitchen which I used as my chair when I was there.  There was a small window near the stove and tin cans were tossed out and onto a dump in back of the house.  No actual garbage was thrown away – scraps were given to the chickens – so the dump wasn’t really dirty.  Sometimes my little sister and I would wander around through the dump looking for different can labels and seeing brands that we didn’t get in Cincinnati.  We had to be careful – the real danger was in picking up a can with the rough sawtooth edge that the old can openers used to make.

There was various framed artwork on the kitchen wall, but the one I always loved was one in sepia tone of chubby pigs leaning on a fence with a frame that had tiny metal pigs running along the bottom.  At some point Grandma gave me the picture and I had it hanging in my dining room for a good while.  Finally, the frame came apart and the picture was damaged, but I still have it and enjoy seeing those cheerful little pig faces.

Grandma always had cream on hand to whip and add to the big slices of pie which already had a 2″ layer of meringue.  She was an excellent cook and to taste a freshly-made chocolate pie in that little country kitchen is a lasting memory.

I don’t have the recipe for Grandma’s pie but my version won a ribbon at the Ohio State Fair in 1987.

RICH CHOCOLATE PIE

  • 9″ baked pie shell (see here for recipe)
  • Two one-oz squares of unsweetened chocolate
  • 1-1/2 cups milk, divided
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 2 Tblsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar (for meringue)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla (for meringue)
  • 6 Tblsp. sugar (for meringue)

FILLING:

Combine chocolate and ONE CUP OF MILK in 2 qt. heavy saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until chocolate is melted.  Stir in brown sugar.

Combine REMAINING MILK with flour in a small cup, mixing until smooth.  Gradually stir the milk/flour mixture into the chocolate mixture.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.

Beat 3 egg yolks slightly, stir a little of the hot mixture into the yolks, blending well.  Stir yolk mixture into hot mixture.  Cook over LOW heat, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes.  Turn into baked shell.  Cover with meringue and brown in 325 degree F oven for approximately 10 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.

MERINGUE:

Beat 3 egg whites with cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Add sugar, a small amount at a time, and continue beating until mixture forms stiff peaks but is not dry.  Spread on top of pie, sealing to edge of pastry. 

We usually just stayed overnight and headed back home the next day.  My father was always irritated that Grandma loaded up our car with food but Mother was so grateful for the canned blackberry jam, produce and boxes of candy bars bought at the school kitchen.  I remember one time Grandma sneaked in a full chocolate meringue pie for our trip back home.  Along the way, one of our tires went flat and since my father was never prepared with a spare, my mother, sister and I waited for an hour or so in the car along the side of the road for him to come back with the patched tire.  We were getting hungry and here was this beautiful pie, but we didn’t have a knife to cut it.  Then, my mother thought of the car key, wiped it off carefully and used it to slice up the pie to eat out of hand.  Nothing ever tasted better.  My oldest daughter was always intrigued by this story and wrote her own blog version of it.

I inherited my grandma’s love of cooking and baking pies is one of my favorite pasttimes.

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An Airport and a Good Lenten Meal

Lunken Airport in eastern Cincinnati has been a popular destination for our family for generations.  When it was dedicated in 1930, it was the largest commercial airport in the U.S.  This photo was taken on a visit to the new terminal in the 1930s, showing my little sister, cousin and me.

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I still enjoy visiting the airport, having lunch and watching planes with my youngest daughter and her two children.  They’re just as fascinated as I was on my childhood visits.

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In the 1980-90s, my office was across the road from the airport and we enjoyed special lunches at the Sky Galley restaurant.  The first meals served on a commercial airliner (American Airlines) were prepared here.  The Sky Galley is in the original Art Deco terminal building and the ambience is wonderful – lots of airplane memorabilia and a view of the runways where some company jets and many small planes are constantly landing and taking off.  The food is good, plain home-style cooking.  It was a tradition for my oldest daughter to meet me for lunch on Good Friday and to enjoy their special Lenten meal of salmon patties, macaroni and cheese, and scalloped tomatoes.  Now that I’ve been retired for 14 years, I make it a point to cook the same meal several times during Lent and certainly on Good Friday for my two daughters.   I’ve posted the recipes for my version of salmon patties, macaroni and cheese, and scalloped tomatoes.

In addition to being just plain good food, the dinner brings back memories of grand old Lunken Airport.

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The Fragrance of a Horse Barn

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One of my favorite bloggers, hensteeth, had a post recently about the smells of different kinds of food and the memories they invoke.  (Be sure to read through the other posts on her blog – she writes so well and comes up with unusual topics.)

This made me think of one of my favorite smells, which is not related to food.  I love the smell of a horse barn – the combination of straw, horses, dust, even a little manure.

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My father spent his childhood in various horse barns since his father was a blacksmith and made part of his living traveling to county fairs to shoe the harness horses that were there for the races.  This is a ca. 1914 picture of my grandfather and my father in the doorway of their horse shoeing shop.

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My father had been one of the youngest harness horse drivers in the area but gave up working with horses when he married and had two daughters to support.  Of course, we always went to the county fairs and spent most of our day hanging around the horse barns, talking to the owners, trainers and drivers.  One of my earliest memories is sitting on a big trunk in a barn, collecting pennies from the horsemen for singing, “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”.  I loved listening to the conversation as I took in the ambience of the dusty barn with the plaid blankets hanging on the wall, the sharp smell of the Absorbine used on the sore muscles of the animals, and the horses snorting, neighing and kicking their stall doors.

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When I was very young, people would ask me what I was going to do when I grew up.  I always said I was going to get a job and help Daddy buy a horse.  Within months after graduation and getting my first job @ $30.00/week, my father told me he had a horse in mind and was ready for my contribution.  This is one of our early horses winning a race in 1955.  I made the jacket and cap my father is wearing.

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I owned shares of my father’s horses off and on for many years until he was better established and my own expenses with four children didn’t leave enough to support a horse.  My father continued to be a top driver/trainer in the southwestern Ohio area.  In 1978, at age 66, he was driving a horse called Peter Horn at a track in northern Kentucky.  After finishing second in a photo finish, he died of a heart attack.  Our family said they knew if he died on a track, he died happy except that he would have wanted to be the winner.  This is a winning photo of my father and Peter Horn in 1975.

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A few days after his death, I was at work when I suddenly got a whiff of a familiar smell – straw, horse, barn, tobacco – the unforgettable essence of my father in his plaid shirt and twill pants.  I turned around quickly, wondering who had come into the office directly from a horse barn and, of course, no one was there.  Or maybe someone had been there and walked briskly off, as he always did – always in a hurry to get to some horse or some fairgrounds or some barn.

Primitive Santa Quilted Wall Hanging

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In the early 1980s, we had just moved to a home in the country, on the Ohio/Indiana border.  It was a complete lifestyle change for me and as I was preparing for Christmas, I decided I’d like to have china that had a holiday theme.  I told my husband that’s what I wanted for an early Christmas gift and asked him to pick it out for me since I wasn’t familiar with the stores in the area yet. 

He stopped at one of his favorite stores, a small version of a discount store called Van Leunen’s.  He came home with a box containing four place settings of International China (Japan) in the Country Christmas pattern.  It was love at first sight for me.  The next day, I stopped by the store and picked up 8 more place settings to be sure I had enough for my growing family and to insure against breakage.  I never saw the pattern again anywhere until I chanced to look it up on eBay where I found it was selling for more per plate than we had paid for four place settings.  It was just perfect for our home in the country and has been used for every meal from St. Nicholas through New Year’s Day for over 25 years. 

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Last year, I had the idea to make a kitchen wall hanging incorporating some of the design elements in the china and made this piece with a cow leading Santa’s sleigh. 

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My oldest daughter liked it and asked me to make one for her.  Since she likes sheep so much, in this version a wooly sheep is pulling the sleigh.

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To get the pattern, I took digital photos of the china, re-sized them and printed them out in black and white.  Then, I traced over the various pieces onto fusible material, ironed that onto the back of the individual fabrics and cut out the pieces.  An applique mat is really helpful in putting together the small pieces before fusing them to the background.  In each case, I used a vintage buckle as a hanger.  I enjoyed using a lot of scraps from fabric that had been purchased on our trip to Holmes County Amish country earlier this year.

Celebrating St. Nick

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In 1943, when I was 11 years old, we moved to a neighborhood on the banks of the Ohio River called the East End.  Our area which included the gas works, the water works, St. Rose Church and School, First Federated Church and Highlands Elementary School, was made up of various ethnic backgrounds – German, Hungarian, Irish, African-American, and “Americans” who were a mix of a lot of nationalities.  Many of the grandparents were immigrants, many of the parents were first-generation Americans.  Everyone generally got along very well, although some families fought amongst themselves or were disdainful of other nationalities.  An immigrant German grandmother who lived next door to us spoke disparagingly of the Hungarians in the neighborhood, one of whom was her daughter-in-law.  Many of the Irish families had their own battles between the Collins, Breen, McCarthy, Hathorn and other assorted families.  My sister and I were accustomed to being with children of diverse backgrounds when we attended Raschig School in downtown Cincinnati.  My sister had her picture taken in Kindergarten with children who were Greek, Chinese, Hungarian, and African-American.  She stood at the front of the line and under her picture was a caption, Shirley Applegate, American.  Of course, they were all Americans, but they were proud of their heritage, too.  The picture appeared in the evening newspaper and that clipping was framed and hung in our home until after World War II.  A copy of the picture with all of the children is on display in the World War II exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center in the old Union Terminal.

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The despised Hungarian daughter-in-law lived three doors up the street from us and she was a lovely woman with a houseful of kids.   This is a picture of my sister and me behind one of the German/Hungarian daughters in our front yard.

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Despite our exposure to lots of nationalities, we had never heard of anyone celebrating St. Nick (Nicholas) on December 6.  The first year we were in the neighborhood, we were surprised to receive a gift from our Hungarian neighbor.  It was a small square tin with calla lilies on the lid and inside was a hand crocheted, old-world-looking ear warmer.

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I was so impressed and the lady told us how they always celebrated St. Nick with small gifts, candy and nuts for the children.  I vowed then that if I ever had children, I would have them hang up their stockings and St. Nick would come during the night and fill them to the brim.

Since my first daughter’s birth in 1954, we’ve gone through the routine each year and I still give St. Nick gifts to all four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  My two daughters also loved the tradition and there is a very generous exchange between us of gifts and sweets for St. Nick.

We’ve used various stockings through the years, usually handmade, and these are the stockings that are hanging on my mantel right now, awaiting a visit from St. Nick.  My oldest daughter  requested a country-style quilted stocking when I first began quilting 5 years ago.

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When my youngest daughter was a teenager, she made this crocheted stocking for me.

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She also embroidered this stocking for me a few years ago.  It’s a Mary Engelbreit pattern which sums up my feelings for this season perfectly:

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I love Christmas! (and St. Nick)