Archive for Birthdays

January in My Kitchen: It’s All About Maintenance

The U.S. involvement in WWII passed four Januaries.  The first, in 1942 was just short a month from the Pearl Harbor attack and a few months before rationing began. The final January, in 1945, occurred while the Battle of the Bulge waged in Europe, nearing the end without the home front knowing it would thankfully be the last January of the war.

In my kitchen, each January marks the memory of my grandmother’s birthday on January 14th, aged 13-16 during the war. 

January also seems like a good time to maintain the things that need to keep in good working order to use up, wear out, and make do throughout the coming year. Here’s a partial list:

  • Gardening Tools: A spray of WD-40* on the tools I will rely on in a few long, cold months in the Victory Garden helps to protect them from rusting and splintering. It also helps in keeping parts moving smoothly and efficiently when spring arrives.


  • Cords, Cords Everywhere: There is a law in my house that prohibits anyone from throwing away any twist-tie from a bread wrapper or other form of packaging. And here’s why. I take a walk through my house, room by room, cupboard by cupboard looking for any electrical cord that needs to be neatly held with a twist-tie. Or, if in use and not able to be wrapped up, at least has a twist-tie attached to it for future use. You’ll be amazed at how well this little task saves on bent plugs, messy cupboards and rooms, and tangled messes. Any cord that does not have a home gets wrapped neatly, labeled to remind me what it once belonged to, and then stored all together in one spot for electronic cords.


  • House Maintenance: At the same time while I am going room to room looking for cords to wrap up, I also take a notebook and pen with me to make note of anything in each room that will need extra attention throughout the year — such as painting, deep cleaning, repair, or something added/removed to make it more appealing. Obviously, I’m a list maker and I appreciate seeing things getting crossed off, but this is also a way for me to budget time and money for home improvements no matter how big or small.


  • Wood: It is crucially important to maintain any wooden cutting boards and wooden handles of kitchen tools. I maintain at least twice a year, but for sure in January when the humidity in the house may be at its lowest. I use mineral oil or butcher block wax to condition all of the tools, then I give my cupboards a quick swipe with the oily rag to make the most of the used oil.


  • Recipes: As my WWII kitchen project progressed, I began to realize that I can become overwhelmed with too many recipes in front of me. I have one cabinet in my kitchen where I keep all of the recipes and monthly menu plans that work best for our home. As months go by I may add a picture of a recipe snapped from a book or magazine that once looked interesting. So each January, I lay out all the cookbooks, binders, and loose pieces that have accumulated and archive the ones never used. I think of recipes in the same way I think of items in my clothes closet. I tend to wear the same things over and over and by purging what I don’t wear I save time by not giving myself too many useless choices. When it comes to meals and the groceries that go with them, it’s easy to make choices quickly since any recipe at hand is a good one and likely to be one that I am able to keep ingredients on hand. What’s for supper? I simply open the binder to any page and make what I see.


For now, this list will make the most of my January and set me up for another year of war in my kitchen!


*Okay, okay… WD-40 was not invented until after WWII in 1953, but using plain oil as was common in households during WWII is frowned upon in my home for the same reasons that WD-40 is so widely popular.

Time to Make the Birthday Doughnuts

Edith Berndt


My Great Grandmother, Edith was born on October 7th 1902. The photo above was taken in 1944 while my Grandfather was home on Christmas furlough between basic training and his entry into the war – first stop, Battle of the Bulge.

A farm family of seven children, the youngest born twenty years after the oldest when my great grandmother was 42 years old. The baby is only eight months old in the photo.

I remember Great Grandma as a frail, but happy lady. She was always smiling and took incredible joy in visits from all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She passed away when I was four years old and I can remember being at the cemetery for her burial. I remember her so well because my mom often drove me and my brother to their home between supper and chores to check in. They lived only a few miles away on an old farm. Helmuth Sr Home

Autumn especially reminds me of Great Grandma. Their front room smelled liked fresh picked apples in the fall. They would store bushels and bushels of them there all winter since it was unheated and kept them cool enough to last.

I stalled out on Great Grandma’s birthday recipe. She is the origin of the pie crust recipe my mom uses, but I wanted to bake something that was in her handwriting. For the most part, I had assumed she was one of those cooks that baked from memory. I had trouble sourcing recipes from her when I put together the family cookbook. After it was printed though a family reunion turned up her doughnut recipe and some good memories. I was delighted to get the recipe, in her handwriting written on a card to another family member.


Grandma’s Doughnuts

1 C Sugar

2 Eggs. Beat this with spoon.

1/2 C Sweet Cream

1 C Buttermilk, add:

1 tsp. Soda (to Buttermilk).

1 tsp. Baking Powder to 1 cup Flour. Add to first part.

3 cups Flour, but not all at once.

1/2 tsp. Nutmeg (McNess – HeHa!)

1/2 tsp. Salt in Flour

Mix well, but not real stiff.

Put flour on board and fold dough over and over to form a ball. Pat and then roll 1/2 inch thick and cut out. Fry in Spry or Crisco. Melt this in a frying pan so pan half full of melted. Drop piece of bread or a little doughnut ball to test if it is just hot enough to brown. And you can save this and use it over again. Say about 350 degrees and turn as soon as they come to top and then turn again until other side is brown. I think you’ve seen me make these before. It makes three dozen. The little balls make three dozen more.





Her letter goes on to talk about the postage rate going up to 13 cents (making the letter written in 1975). She also talked about the crops – Army worms were in the grain and had to be sprayed. The field was turning golden and the corn was so high they could no longer see the neighbor’s farm.

Happy Birthday Great Grandma! I know your farm in Heaven has an even more beautiful view (without Army worms). Edith and Helmuth

Mabel’s Birthday Pie



Mabel on Rabbit

On this day in 1909, my Great Grandmother Mabel Buelow Crook was born. Everyone called her Grandma Crook. During WWII she was in her mid-thirties and living on a farm in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

Grandma and Grandpa Crook were probably part of the population least affected on the home front because they were farmers and doing an amazing job of living off the land before the war began.

Part of Grandma Crook’s legacy to my and future generations is that she loved to write. She kept a daily journal for years and took careful care to make sure the diaries were preserved in order for her voice and personality to stay with all of us.

On several occasions she wrote about her memories in story format, going back all the way to what she remembered about her grandparents. She chronicled every season of harvest from their gardens, orchards, barn, fields and from the lake itself. Grandpa and Grandma Crook Planting Potatoes

She lived a life in perfect harmony with the seasons on the farm. An entire life history is easy to gather just from the food she prepared. When I remember Grandma Crook I think of her cornstarch pudding with fresh raspberries, strawberry glaze pie, dill pickles, baked beans, steamed cherry pudding, Thanksgiving dressing, and lemon meringue pie.

For Grandma Crook’s birthday party this evening I made lemon meringue pie (my all-time favorite as well). Some people view pie making as a chore, especially true for all the steps of lemon meringue pie, but I’m thankful I was taught at an early age how to make pie from scratch and enjoy the concentration of pie making.

Lemon Meringue Pie is edible patience and proof that good things come with taking the long way. Now that I look back through the list of Grandma Crook foods, it’s slow food and fresh-from-the-garden tastes that bring back memories of her.

So, to Grandma Crook I say, “Thank you for writing it all down and passing it down, Grandma. You’re never far away from us, especially at the table.” IMG_20150405_210119642[1]

Lemon Meringue Pie Recipe from Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook:

Crust: Mix 1 cup sifted Gold Medal flour with 1/2 tsp. salt and lard (or 1/3 cup plus 1 T hydrogenated shortening such as Spry, Crisco, Swift’ning, Snowdrift). Mix with fork until the mixtures forms crumbles. Sprinkle with 2 T water. Mix until the crumbles are moistened, but not much more. (My mother always told me the more you play with pie dough, the less tasty it becomes.) Once moistened, form into a ball and roll out with a rolling pin. Place into a pie plate and prick the bottom of the dough with a fork to prevent it from puffing up while baking. Put in a 475 degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Then, let cool.

Lemon Filling: Mix in saucepan 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/3 cup cornstarch and 1 1/2 cups water. Dissolve all and then turn on the burner to medium. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil one minute  and then stir the mixture into a separate bowl with three egg yolks. Mix well and then pour mixture back into the saucepan to boil for another minute.

Off the burner, blend in 3 T butter, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 1 T grated lemon rind. Pour into the baked and cooled pie shell.

Meringue: Blend 3 egg whites with 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar until frothy. Mix in 6 T sugar and 1/2 tsp. flavoring (I use Penzey’s Lemon Extract).  With an electric mixer (how did Grandma do this without?!?!?!), beat the mixture until stiff peaks form. Pile meringue onto the hot lemon filling in the pie shell. Be sure to run the meringue to the edges of the crust to “seal” them, otherwise your meringue will shrink away from the crust as it bakes and you don’t want that to happen. Have fun with the meringue and swirl up some peaks and points on the pie. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  Watch it close – meringue can go from delicately brown to burnt in seconds!

Let it cool for at least three hours. If you’d like to “weep” the meringue (honey-colored droplets on the meringue), put it in a draft while it cools.

Happy Birthday, Auntie! Sunshine Cake for Everyone!

1917 Adelina

Adelina “Auntie” was born on March 31, 1894. Over the generations we lost track of whose true aunt she was. In 1943 she would have been 49 years old. Her sister was my Great Grandmother, whose son was my grandfather and soldier in the Army.

Auntie’s brother had served in WWI and letters between my grandfather and him show that he felt connected through war experience to Percy. Auntie served as the family member he could write to and share things that would have been too upsetting for his parents or his fiance, my grandmother.

Auntie was always cheerful. She did not have any children of her own, so she often relied on my grandfather’s family of 11 for entertainment and get-togethers. She was devoted to all of us – all four generations over the years – as if she were a mother.

She grew beautiful gardens of flowers. Peonies were her favorite. She stayed old-fashioned in many lovely ways. Her home was decorated in Victorian-era styles with bold wallpapers photo 1and crushed velvet chairs and couches. She had candy dishes full of Pepto-Bismol pink chalky mints.

I have trouble wrapping my mind all the food innovations she witnessed in her lifetime. She did not incorporate indoor plumbing until the late 60’s. Her kitchen sink involved an old hand pump. In the same year she was born, Iceberg Lettuce was introduced. She was older than Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, canned tuna and date palms. She loved dessert recipes and held on to hundreds of cake, frosting, pie, and all other sorts of treasures.  Maybe because it was an exciting introduction as a young child, she had every kind of date recipe one can imagine.

She was 18 when the Titanic sank and 34 years old when pre-sliced bread was introduced and 49 when it was banned during WWII as the machinery used to slice it in factories

1941 Adelinewas more needed for war production efforts.

I don’t know for sure, but I imagine she was a homemaker who, like many others, viewed the “progress” and “modern conveniences” of the kitchen post WWII as trouble. The new way was one that would lessen the authenticity of  homemade.

Auntie’s all-time favorite recipes were fudge and Sunshine Cake. The fudge she made in large batches and stored in coffee tins on the stairway. She’d offer the fudge to everyone who stopped by. Sometimes the fudge didn’t keep so well and when she popped off the cover the whole batch would be fuzzy and green.

The Sunshine Cake became a staple at the family birthday parties. There is family debate about the right recipe and ingredients. She was good about writing it down and sharing it with everyone, but some versions leave out the directions. Other versions are slightly different than all the rest. Luckily, the Sunshine Cake recipe was popular in its time and by patching together versions in the family and researching others online, it is possible to replicate Auntie’s favorite cake.

For Auntie’s party tonight I made the filling from a lemon/orange custard and the frosting from a boiled sugar water (7 Minute Frosting) combination. Auntie loved a caramel filling and topping, but I think she would have approved of my revision.

She probably would have asked to take the recipe home!


Happy 14th Birthday, Grandma!

Grandmas BirthdayToday would have been my Grandma Barb’s 85th birthday. In 1944 she turned 14. Her life, along with several other strong women in my family, has inspired my WWII Food Rationing project.

My grandmother enjoyed a night in with her youngest sister and her future husband. A year later, on her 15th birthday, she got word that the same future husband had landed in France as part of the 3d Army 11th Armored Division marching into the Battle of the Bulge.

I can’t say for sure if Grandma Barb had a birthday cake. I like to think that she always had cake for her birthday. The family recipe collection contains more cake recipes than anything else.

For her honorary birthday party tonight I settled on the Service Cake and Victory Icing recipes from Betty Crocker’s “Your Share” pamphlet.

1/3 C shortening creamed together with 3/4 C sugar and then blended with 2 eggs. I sifted in 1 1/2 C flour and 1/2 C milk with 1 tsp. vanilla. The Victory Icing was made by boiling 3/4 C light corn syrup, poured into 2 egg whites (stiffly beaten) and blended with a pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp. of lemon extract and 1/2 tsp. of orange extract.

The cake is not the light and fluffy version of birthday goodness we think of today. I wasn’t sure what to do with the icing. It was more like whipped cream, lacking the sweetness. As far as birthday cakes go, I’m thankful for the progress birthday cakes have made in the years since rationing.

I have lots of memories of Grandma’s birthday parties over the years. I don’t remember the cakes. Instead, the memories are of cousins, aunts and uncles all together. I guess it’s not the sweetness of the cakes that make the memories good, after all.