Kim O'Donnel great grandmother

Mary Ann Fite, the maternal great grandmother of food writer Kim O'Donnel, with her chickens in an undated photo.

Her name was Mary Ann. She raised chickens and ducks in her backyard in the Burholme neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia before that part of the city was developed. And from 1953 until 1964, she raised her granddaughter, Susan.

Gram is how my mother refers to this feisty dame, my great-grandmother, who died just two years before I showed up on the scene. She was an avid gardener and preserver. My mom remembers “a lot of rhubarb, which Gram liked to stew and put up in jars. And Uncle Clarence (Gram’s brother, who lived with them), would spoon it on top of his cereal every morning.”

There were many chores on this urban farmette, including collecting eggs and slaughtering old hens for the stew pot. In an era when having divorced parents was a rare exception, my mom thought of Gram and her menagerie as shelter from the storm.

These colorful adventures skipped a generation, so I live vicariously through my mom’s looking glass — and now through yours. In celebration of Grandparents Day, you heeded the call of relating your favorite food moments that have shaped the trajectory of your families. We are delighted to share this patchwork quilt of memories and recipes and we salute your efforts to keep the spirit of cooking alive for generations to come.

Note: These stories have been edited for space and clarity.

Debra Doerr grandfather

A seven-year-old Debra Doerr  shucking corn with her Pap, Martin L. Young, in August, 1970.

Debra Doerr, of Manheim Township, recalls the summers she spent with her Pap and Nana.

My grandfather was Martin L. Young, and I called him Pap. We lived on Columbia Avenue just west of Centerville Road. He was a local businessman whose one venture was Young’s Mobile Home Park. We lived two houses apart. When I would run home across our neighbor’s yard after watching a Phillies’ game, he would wait on his back porch until he would see me blink the spot lights from our garage to make sure that I was home, then he would blink his spot light in return.

Around this same time, I helped Pap make chicken pot pie. We used our fresh corn, boiled the chicken and made our own noodles. He gave me a small leftover ball of dough to play. After the pot pie was done, he thought it would be a good idea to make an apple pie out of that ball of dough — remember, I had been playing with it for quite a while. He said cooking would make it safe to eat (or something like that). There was only enough dough for a very small pie. Pap helped me to prep a few apples, add the spices and roll out the dough for a two-crust pie. Crazy idea because the dough was for pot pie noodles not crust! We had a big family dinner (Pap, Nana, Uncle Sonny, Uncle Donny, my Mom, Dad, Brother and me). I proudly carried my pie to the table for dessert. I don’t know how we cut that little pie into eight pieces, but we did and everyone said that it was the best pie ever. I’ve loved cooking ever since.

William “Beel” Hunt, of Lancaster, can still taste his grandmother’s cooking. His Gran, Anne Perry Lillard Grim, died in 1978.

My grandmother was one amazing woman, mother, grandmother and businessperson. She lived alone in Orange, Virginia, and was one of 20 children. She lost her husband when she had two children ages 2 and 6, set up her own floral shop, remarried, became widowed again and eventually became my grandmother. (I had to share her with three other siblings.)

Granny loved to cook, and I loved to eat. As I aged, she would give me a hard time about my weight. One of the last times I visited her by myself, she had prepared my favorite fried chicken and her mouthwatering biscuits. Now it was just Granny and me and a plate of 12 chicken pieces and a dozen buttered biscuits. I took two pieces, and she took one. As I was finishing the second piece, she looked at me and said in her distinctive drawl, “Beel, now I spent a lot of time making this meal and I do not want to see any leftover food.”

To which I replied, “Gran, you have been lecturing me on my weight, so I am trying to follow your guidelines.”

Then she said, “You think about what I said and start tomorrow — TODAY you need to finish my chicken!”

I did and to this day it is the best fried chicken I ever had — and Gran would still be on me for my weight.

Nancy Marshall granddaughter

Nancy Marshall’s granddaughter, Camryn, helping with gazpacho prep in July. 

Nancy Marshall, of Warwick Township, shares a recipe for gazpacho, which she has turned into an annual ritual during the late summer harvest.

As late summer arrives, the Marshalls start thinking Penn State football tailgating fun, and eating good food that includes gazpacho. Many years ago, my son Dan’s godmother introduced us to this delicious cold soup, by way of a recipe that she had received in the 1950s.

My son, a PSU alumnus, and his 4-year-old daughter, Camryn, have started helping me make gazpacho, which is filled with nutritious fresh vegetables easily obtained at this time of year. Since there is so much chopping involved, we found that the three of us have fun doing the job together. There is a task for all ages.

Camryn becomes the masher of the first step in making the paste of garlic, bread and sherry vinegar. As we fill multiple small bowls of crunchy vegetables, Camryn is called into action as she becomes the dumper of those fresh crunchy vegetables, which we have chopped into bite-sized pieces, into a huge bowl. Camryn then becomes the counter of Roma tomatoes, pourer of tomato juice and water, verifier that all vegetables and ingredients have been added and the shaker of salt and pepper. As we stir and smell, we have fun discussing if more water or sherry vinegar should be added, and we always decide that Camryn needs to add more of both.

After the soup is made and placed in the refrigerator for 24 hours, we take a walk with Poppy, the puppy, along the Rail to Trail path in Warwick Township, discussing current events, laughing and anticipating the fruit of our efforts over the next few days.

We enjoy our time together, and now we must make a plan for the upcoming long winter. We decided on a delicious beef stew with lots of vegetables and baking bread will become our next great memory in the making.

Kim Klugh family

Terry Klugh pickling cucumbers with grandson Theo, in Ann Arbor, Michigan this summer.

Kim Klugh, of Lancaster, and her husband Terry, are keeping her Nannie’s dill pickle recipe alive with the next generations.

My siblings and I called our paternal grandmother Nannie. We grew up eating a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that Nannie “put up” every summer at home in Bausman. On canning days, steam clouds ballooned from her kitchen and the Mason jars clinked in the old agate canner. Cutting boards were strewn with peelings of whatever fruit and vegetables were in season. When my husband, Terry, joined our family, he became a fast fan of Nannie’s dill pickles. He learned her process and uses her recipe and her canner to this day, growing his own cucumbers, dill and grape leaves, in order to keep the tradition going.This summer, when we had a road trip planned to visit our daughter Megan and her family in Michigan, the second batch of cucumbers was ripe for pickling. Not wanting to forgo his crop, we decided to pick the cukes, pack them on ice in the canner and take everything we needed to complete the process in Michigan. My daughter and her family, including our grandson, Theo, are also dill pickle enthusiasts, so they were all for the idea. On pickling day, Theo handed cucumber spears to his grandpa and became the youngest member of the dill pickle canning tradition.

Charlene Siewert of Honey Brook and her husband, Jim, have passed down their bratwurst recipe — as well as a grill — to carry on a family tradition.

Bratwurst has been the glue that kept our family celebrating together through the years. My husband would soak the “brats” in beer and onions, light up the Weber charcoal grill, and cook the German sausage to perfection for almost every holiday. He handed down the process to our three sons over the years and now has passed it on to our grown granddaughters.

The middle girl, Christina, recently inherited the Weber grill when my husband and I moved to Tel Hai Retirement Community in Honey Brook. She now follows the same bratwurst recipe on the newly received grill at her apartment in Kutztown. The tradition lives on.

Fourteen-year-old Vita Failla, a student in the Penn Manor School District, credits her grandmother for her love of cooking.

Most of my cooking knowledge is from my Maw Maw, Joan Witmer. She has taught me many things when it comes to manning the kitchen. My Maw Maw is an amazing cook, and I love her country cooking style. Over the years she has taught me how to can peaches, make tomato sauce and can stewed tomatoes. She has also taught me how to make corn fritters, peach cake, whoopie pie cake, baked corn, stuffing, porcupine balls and pumpkin cookies. My Maw Maw and Paw Paw live on a farm, so a lot of the meat and vegetables come from the farm and her garden, which I help with. This summer she taught me how to make homemade vanilla ice cream, which we then served to the men that help harvest tobacco for my grandparents. I’m looking forward to many more years in the kitchen with my Maw Maw.

Tammy Miller family

In this 2017 photo, three generations of the Miller family at work on chocolate peanut butter eggs: Tammy Miller’s daughter Michelle (left), grandsons Silas and Judah (center) and husband Greg (right). 

Tammy Miller of Strasburg, and her husband, Greg, have been making chocolate peanut butter eggs for 38 years, and they have no plans to stop. She shares the story behind the tradition along with the recipe.

My husband, Greg, and I were married on Aug. 28, 1982, and have been making chocolate peanut butter eggs on Good Friday every spring since 1983. Our kids grew up making these with us without missing a year. As the years rolled on, we continued to share a plate with neighbors. We eventually added lots of other goodies into the mix for using the excess chocolate: animal crackers, pretzels, nuts, raisins, coffee beans, etc. Since 2013, we have been making them with the next generation. It can get pretty messy with all grandsons helping, but it is so much fun.

Note: The following recipes have not been tested, but have been edited for clarity.

NANCY’S GAZPACHO

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 slices bread with crust removed
  • 1 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 bunch scallions, include the tops,
  • 1 or 2 green bell peppers
  • 1 bunch of celery with leaves
  • 3 cucumbers, peeled
  • 8 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 gallon Campbell’s tomato juice
  • 2 to 4 cups cold water

Directions:

In a huge bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, bread and vinegar and mash until the mixture becomes a paste.

Finely chop the scallions, peppers, celery, cucumbers and tomatoes and add to the bowl. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato juice and 2 cups of the water. Stir and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours (and up to 24). Taste again and add salt, pepper, water or vinegar as needed. Serve cold with croutons.

CHARLENE’S BRATWURST


Ingredients:

  • 8 bratwurst
  • 2 bottles beer
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 1 package hot dog buns
  • Mustard and ketchup, for serving


Directions:

Soak the bratwurst in the beer and sliced onions overnight in the refrigerator. Grill the bratwurst on a hot charcoal grill, reserving the beer to put out grease flames and cooking the sliced onions in a small skillet. Serve the browned bratwurst in the hot dog buns with mustard or ketchup.

TAMMY’S CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER EGGS

Adapted from the Strasburg Heritage Society Cookbook. Tammy notes it was a gift at her bridal shower.

Makes about 75 eggs.


Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups peanut butter
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 pounds chocolate (Tammy likes Wilbur buds)

Directions:

Place the milk and butter in a saucepan over low heat until the butter is melted, about 5 minutes.

Cook gently, stirring often. Stir in the sugar, continuing to stir until the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool for a few hours.

Return the pan to the stove and reheat until warmed through. Stir in the peanut butter until well combined. Remove from the heat and let cool again. With a spoon, shape into eggs and arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with wax paper.

Place the pan in the freezer until the eggs are cold enough to dip in chocolate, about 10 minutes.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Dip the eggs a few at a time into the melted chocolate and return to the sheet pan to set up and cool. Reheat the chocolate as needed. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


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