A few weeks ago, we asked for stories about your dads, and you heeded the call with eloquence, humor and grace.
As you strolled down memory lane, you opened your hearts about the starring men in your formative years, from avid hunters to egg-roll-making enthusiasts. In sharing these stories and recipes of the departed, you have done far more than keep their legacies alive; you have given the community a gift. When we relate a personal story or pass on a recipe, we build bridges that pay it forward for generations. In storytelling, we teach one another that we are more alike than different, especially at the table.
In the short time I knew my dad (he died when I was 16), food was a thread in our fledgling relationship. John cooked infrequently, but when he did, it was with dramatic effect: Hand-cut potatoes twice fried for homemade French fries, garlic-perfumed shrimp scampi dancing in a skillet or the whir of chocolate milkshakes spun in our vintage triple-spindle Hamilton Beach machine.
I’ll never know if he was truly a good cook, but he certainly loved an edible adventure. I frequently tagged along in his Ford Grenada sedan for these jaunts, from Koch’s Deli in West Philly, where we’d happily wait in line to order sandwiches, to Federal Pretzel Baking Company in the heart of the Italian Market, where we’d pick up soft pretzels just out of the oven. Wherever we went, it seemed to this little girl that he knew how to shoot the breeze with anyone, especially if food was involved, and I am confident that his love for being at the table rubbed off.
My warmest wishes to all the dads and fatherly figures out there, both in living color and in our mind’s eye.
Julianne Chester, Lancaster City, reflects on her childhood in Providence Township with her hunter-gatherer dad, Clair Charles, also known as C.J. Her father passed away in 2018.
“Although Dad was not frequently found cooking in the kitchen, his friends and family knew him as a hunter, and fisherman, providing the protein in our meals.
“At a time when small game was plentiful in Lancaster County, squirrel, rabbit and pheasant could be found on our dining table in the fall. Late fall provided the opportunity to fill the freezer with deer venison. Mallard ducks and Canada geese would be plucked and roasted. Summer was the time to go fishing, often a family outing. Dad liked to fish for shad in the Susquehanna River below the Conowingo Dam in Maryland. If he was lucky, the fish held roe, a treat. His favorite fishing holes were the abandoned ore mines where he caught bass, ‘sunnies’ (sunfish) and bluegills. Occasionally, he would catch a bullfrog and fry up some frog legs.
“Less known to his friends, he was also a forager, especially in the spring. Favorites of the family were the morel mushrooms, the locations of which were a closely guarded secret. Something he did not have to share with the rest of the family, was the poke. When he located the young shoots, he would cover them with sawdust so the stems would be pale as they grew until he harvested them. (I only just discovered that most of the parts of this plant are toxic.)
“Dad’s farmer neighbors knew that if they had a snapping turtle eating the ducks and fish in their ponds, they could bring the turtle, carefully, to CJ who would butcher the turtle which Mom would then turn into soup, a real treat. His love of hunting and fishing might find him in Alaska, Canada, New England, Colorado, and of course the Chesapeake Bay, sometimes accompanied by one or more family member.
“Part of our education was learning how to skin the furbearers, pluck the feathers, dig the fishing worms, and scale the fish. It was truly a family endeavor to put the food on the table and enjoy!”
Karen King, of West Lampeter Township, reminisces about her dad, Bob Rittenhouse, who died in 2015.
“My dad was a very picky eater and mom could only cook foods that he liked; of course, my sisters and I became picky eaters. (But we have improved through the years.) A few years prior to dad’s death, he called me and asked what I was doing. I responded that I had just put scalloped potatoes in the oven. He then asked, ‘What the hell happened to you? You used to eat normal foods.’ I burst out laughing. I thought it was so funny. He just couldn’t believe that I would eat scalloped potatoes.
“Being picky as he was, I used to make pork and sauerkraut for New Year’s Day and have my parents over. Dad always said that the meal was good. But, if he knew that I put an apple in it, he would not have eaten it. I don’t think I ever told him. I miss my dad.”
Originally from East Petersburg, Matt Weaver now lives in Tampa, Florida. He shared a story about his dad, Terry Weaver, of Lititz, who died in May.
“My father wasn’t a fantastic cook; that was the purview of my stepmom, Judy.
“But my father, like his father before him, was a hunter and had a love of the outdoors. And so, he would take my sister, Michele, and me to the Rattlesnake Hunting Lodge in Clinton County (somewhat) near Hyner Mountain for a week or so to hike the forest, stare at the black bears and deer that would roam nearby, and swim in the Susquehanna River.
“On one of these trips, while my sister and I were out wandering the forest, and unbeknownst to us, my dad shot a groundhog. He then proceeded to clean it and prepare it for dinner.
“Bear in mind that, at the dinner table, this large piece of meat was presented to my sister and I with little fanfare. We were confused because we didn’t recall Dad bringing a large piece of meat with him — it was the standard hamburgers, hot dogs, lunch meat, eggs and copious amounts of Spam.
“But there it was — a large chunk of meat and a heaping bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy. My sister and I asked what that meat was, and my father — proudly, mind you — stated that it was a groundhog that he had shot.
“Now, many of your readers who are hunters would look at it this way: ‘I have provided sustenance for my family.’ It is a proud moment.
“My sister and I, as children of suburbia in the 1980s, recoiled at this. The only thing we knew about groundhogs was that they appeared on Feb. 2 in Punxsutawney, and so we refused to eat it. Dad, of course, incensed by this, gave us the Standard Parental Lecture of ‘You’ll eat it, or go hungry,’ and he proceeded to eat his portion with gusto.
“Honor was saved when I begrudgingly placed a small piece of meat on my plate followed by a mound of mashed potatoes reminiscent of the ‘Devil’s Tower’ scene in ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ and ate it.
“My dad looked at me and asked, ‘Well?’
“I said, ‘It’s OK, I guess,’ which from a teenager, is high praise, and I ate a second serving.
“As we spoke about this story a week after my dad’s passing, my stepmom, Judy, confessed that she wasn’t going to eat it either, which got a good chuckle out of us as we remembered Dad and his life.
“If anyone wants to know, groundhog tastes like pot roast.”
Elise Eckenrode, of Elizabethtown, fondly remembers the egg-roll-making sessions with her dad, Jake, when the family lived in Haslett, Michigan in the 1980s. Jake passed away last August.
“My father valued hard work, teamwork and being hospitable. We would make egg rolls together as a family and then invite neighbors and friends to enjoy them. The recipe came from some Chinese friends my dad met during his college years at Michigan State University. The memories that I have of making egg rolls as a family are among those that I value most, and I learned much about working together, sharing and having fun together. He did like to cook other things, especially sausage, Chinese dumplings, and spaghetti and meatballs.”
JAKE’S TAIWAN EGG ROLLS
This recipe has not been tested but has been edited for clarity. Food writer Kim O’Donnel added directions for rolling egg rolls, adapted from cookbook author Jaden Hair (steamykitchen.com). Feel free to make pork- or shrimp-only fillings.
- 6 to 8 large dried Chinese mushrooms (also known as black mushrooms, golden oak mushrooms or shiitake), soaked in hot water for 1 hour, then drained
- 1 1/2 pounds ground pork
- 3/4 cup soy sauce
- 7 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or vermouth
- Pinch granulated sugar
- Two 14-ounce cans bean sprouts, rinsed
- Two 14-ounce cans water chestnuts, cut into cubes
- 1 14-ounce can bamboo shoots, drained and cut into long, thin strips
- 2 bunches green onions, washed, roots removed and finely chopped
- 1/4 head cabbage, finely shredded
- 6 to 8 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
- 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled and cut into 2 or 3 pieces, depending on size
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 packages Egg roll wrappers (also known as spring roll wrappers)
- Beaten egg white, for sealing the egg rolls
- 1 quart oil for deep frying
- Dipping sauce ideas: Soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil; store-bought sweet and sour sauce; a few tablespoons of hoisin sauce mixed with 1/4 teaspoon soy sauce, to taste; Chinese hot mustard
Place the pork in a large bowl and add 4 tablespoons of the soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of the rice wine and the sugar. Stir until the meat is coated. Cover and let marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Meanwhile, finely chop the reconstituted mushrooms and set aside.
Place the marinated ground pork in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook until browned through, about 8 minutes. Drain off any residual liquid and set aside.
In a large bowl, add the bean sprouts, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, both kinds of mushrooms, green onions, cabbage, garlic, ginger, ground pork and shrimp, stirring together until well mixed. Add the remaining ½ cup of soy sauce, remaining ½ cup of rice wine and the sesame oil, stirring until everything is well coated. Place in the refrigerate for one hour to cool and marinate.
Place the filling in a colander or strainer and thoroughly drain of accumulating liquid. Transfer the filling to a bowl for egg roll assembly.
When ready to assemble, remove the packaging from the egg roll wrappers and cover with a damp towel to keep from drying out. Working with one at a time (or as an assembly line), position the wrapper so that one corner is facing you. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of filled onto the bottom half, being careful not to overstuff. Brush a small amount of egg white at the top corner edge.
Lift the bottom corner and begin rolling as tightly as you can until the midpoint of the wrapper. Fold and tuck both the left and right sides toward the center (it will look like an envelope). Alternate rolling and tucking until you reach the top corner. Seal and place seam down on a plate or tray, keeping covered with a towel or plastic wrap until ready to fry.
Heat the oil in a wok or Dutch oven until the temperature reaches 350 F.
Fry the egg rolls in batches, adjusting the heat as needed, until medium brown on all sides. Serve with dipping sauces of your choosing.
Harold “H.A.” Penner, of Akron, shared a family recipe for semmels, which he describes as “Russian Mennonite bagels from Beatrice, Nebraska.” As he described in an email, it’s the semmel that tells the story of his family’s Russian heritage and pursuit of religious freedom that dates to the 1800s and a recipe that he’s taught the next generation, including his 13-year-old granddaughter Anna Bontrager.
“In 2008, when I visited Uzbekistan where my ancestors on my mother’s side of the family went for three years in the 1880s to escape military conscription, almost every meal included ‘non/naan’ which tastes and looks like semmels.
“My father’s ancestors immigrated to Beatrice, Nebraska, directly from Danzig, Germany (actually Prussia, but now is known as Gdansk, Poland). As for my mother’s ancestors, my great grandfather and his family left the Danzig area in the 1850s and lived in Am Trakt, Russia — about 500 miles southeast of Moscow — for some 30 years. The whole ‘Great Trek’ that took my maternal ancestors to Uzbekistan in search of religious freedom, back through Russia and eventually to Beatrice, Nebraska, is remarkable and the subject of several books.
“My conjecture is that the semmels I knew in Beatrice emerged from my maternal ancestors’ exposure to ‘non/naan’ when they sojourned in Uzbekistan. The semmels’ simple ingredients of yeast, flour, water, sugar and salt were readily available to mix into a dough that raised overnight and was baked over a hot kindling fire the next morning to eat at breakfast before my ancestors trekked onward.”
PENNER FAMILY SEMMELS
This recipe has not been tested but has been edited for clarity.
Makes approximately 20 pieces (recipe can be halved or doubled).
- 1 package dry active yeast
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 1/2 cups warm water
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- Optional: Poppy seeds or sesame seeds for topping
In a large bowl (Tupperware is good since the dough needs to be covered, not necessarily tightly, while rising), dissolve the dry yeast and sugar in the water.
Vociferously stir in (I use a wooden spoon) the salt and flour. (I adjust the flour amounts, as to make a soft ball of dough.)
Cover and set aside to rise approximately three hours or overnight. In a warm environment, you may want to stir down the dough so it doesn’t overflow the bowl. (Unused dough can be refrigerated and baked a day or two later.)
Preheat the oven to 500 F.
Using a large metal spoon dipped in water so the dough doesn’t stick to it, spoon the dough (in globs approximately the size of a quart jar lid) on to a lightly greased tin (I use Pam cooking spray; parchment paper is better). If you like, you can sprinkle poppy or sesame seeds on top of each semmel before baking.
Bake on a high rack in this very hot oven for approximately 15 minutes. (It takes a bit longer to bake semmels at our house because our oven is slow.)
Assuming the semmels would be served for breakfast as per the tradition in my hometown of Beatrice, Nebraska, where, it is said that semmels originated, my mother’s recipe includes the following: “Special instructions for you: Maybe you could stir it toward evening and after the dough has risen once, you can stir it down and set it in the refrigerator for night and they will be easier to put on tin in the morning.”