Life on a small family farm in Kansas might be described by a single word: food.
It might be described by that word, but it would leave out the laughter, tears, naivete and discovery of growing up in rural Kansas.
Carolyn Hall of Shawnee explores the food and memories of her life in her first book, “Prairie Meals and Memories: Living the Golden Rural.” Hall combined her memoirs with family recipes because food weaved so intricately in and out of her early life.
“We were a self-sufficient farm,” Hall says. “We had our own milk and eggs. We made our own butter and bread. We raised all our own meat. It was pretty much around keeping the larder full and feeding the farm family.”
Hall grew up just outside of Olmitz, in German immigrant country near Great Bend, on a small farm that fed a lot of people. As she’s fond of saying both in the book and person, they “fed 11 around the table.”
The book is organized like a traditional cookbook, into separate food sections. Hall matched the stories to the food rather than put them in chronologically, she says.
The stories are pure Americana, ranging from grandma making her gardening bonnets from cornflake boxes to the practical jokes farm kids play on each other. Some have a moral or lesson to learn, but just as often they’re a slice of life from another time.
Too often, families lose these types of stories when they lose older relatives, Hall says.
“It’s a tragedy when you go through heirlooms and you find pictures, and you don’t know who they are,” Hall says. “I try to encourage people to keep track of their history.”
A German flair runs through many of the recipes, but you’ll also find classic American rural recipes along with original creations.
Tracking down all the recipes wasn’t as easy as cracking open a family cookbook. Many of the recipes were always cooked from memory and no written version existed. Hall consulted with friends and family from across the country to fill the book.
An old family friend, Al Schmeidler of Hoisington, taught Hall how to cook Green Bean and Dumpling Soup, something she had never learned to make as a child.
“I liked his dumplings better than my grandma’s,” Hall says. Though she quickly looked up and added with a laugh, “Oh, forgive me, grandma!”
Often, Hall’s stories provide a context for the food to exist in. Most people buy sauerkraut off a shelf in the store. But for her, it was family affair that brought everyone together chopping, pounding and mixing the odorous food. The chore ended with the youngest kids mixing the sauerkraut in pots with their bare feet.
Hall won’t take offense if her readers start building their own context around her food, though, by changing the recipes or experimenting, she says.
“To me, recipes are a living thing,” she says. “They change with each person who makes them, which I think is wonderful.”
Recipes from “Prairie Meals and Memories: Living the Golden Rural”:
You can use your favorite variety of sausage with this recipe: brats, smoked sausage, Kielbasa to name a few. Serve with noodles and steamed cabbage. Serves 4 to 6.
Sausage with Apples and Raisins
2 pounds sausage
1/2 cup seedless raisins
2 apples, sliced but not peeled
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Melt half the butter in a large skillet, add sausage and fry until browned. Remove from pan.
Add raisins, apples and brown sugar and remaining butter. Simmer stirring occasionally until apples are softened. Place sausages on top apple mixture. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.
Nothing takes a bite out of a Kansas winter like a steaming bowl of soup. Add a side of Fancy Apples with slices of warm garlic and cheese beer bread, and you’ll be ready for those chores in the morning. After adding milk mixture to soup, do not bring to a boil; it could curdle the milk. Serves 6 to 8.
Creamy Corn Chowder
2 heaping cups potatoes, diced
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
1 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chicken base, or 3 bouillon cubes
pepper, to taste
1/3 cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup flour
2 cups milk
1cup plus 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 can cream-style corn
Add 3 cups water, potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, chicken base and pepper to large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Simmer covered over medium heat until vegetables are fork-tender, about 10 minutes.
While vegetables are cooking, melt butter or margarine in medium saucepan. Stir in flour until well-blended. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly over medium heat until thickened and bubbles break on the surface. Add 1 cup cheese and cook 1 to 2 more minutes until cheese is blended.
Pour cheese mixture into cooked vegetables. Add creamed corn. Stir occasionally over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Do not let soup come to a boil.
Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese.
This side dish dresses up any meal. Add a dollop of whipped cream and you’ve also got a quick dessert. Tart apples work well, but you can use any kind you have on hand. No need to peel the apples. You can substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons apple pie spice for the spices. Serves 4.
Fancy Baked Apples
2 apples, sliced or chopped
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon craisins
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Add all ingredients to a casserole dish, cover Microwave on high 4 minutes or bake 20 minutes or until fork-tender.