This issue of Ozarks Farm & Neighbor includes our annual cookbook and this year, as in years past, there are lots of yummy recipes from our readers.
As we were putting recipes together, I recalled a box of cookbooks I got at an auction this fall. I didn’t really need them, but my mother-in-law wanted something else in the box, so I bid on it.
When I got home, I combed through the box of old books, mostly cookbooks printed by churches as fundraisers, and found many of the things my mother and grandmothers made when I was a kid.
Nestled in almost each book were also handwritten recipes, and recipes cut from newspapers and magazines. I don’t know how old the clippings are, but judging from the condition of the paper and typeface, I’d venture to guess they are much older than I am. Many of the cards and clippings have a rough texture and are stained by years of flour-covered hands and spills.
Like many families in the Ozarks, our family gatherings are filled with food. Each family member has his or her own specialty. Mine is deviled eggs and my young nieces love them. If there are any left over, family is quick to offer to take what remains home.
As I’ve written before, I’m not a great cook, but I try my best and can come up with some winners. I actually won a chili cook off one time, but it’s hard to mess up meat, beans and chili seasoning. Several years ago, our Farm Bureau’s annual meeting began doing a dessert contest. The winners of first, second and third place get a few dollars and bragging rights. The first year we did the contest, I made an apple pie. I’m not the best crust maker, but I managed to put together a pretty decent looking pie and I was pretty proud of it. When the winner was announced, I was shocked and humbled to hear my name called.
Since that time, I’ve been shut out. No matter how hard I try, I can’t break the top three, but my sister-in-law and nieces have placed well. They are great cooks, so I don’t feel too bad.
For this year’s meeting, I planned to make my pumpkin cheesecake. It’s pretty rich, but oh so good. The night before the meeting, I got my pumpkin puree, five packages of cheesecake, five room temperature eggs and the other ingredients ready to go. As I mixed it, I was sure to follow each step, adding a little extra brown sugar and nutmeg. It all blended smoothly, not a single lump. I put it in the oven and set the timer. The secret to a cheesecake that doesn’t crack on the top is to not open the oven while it bakes and allowing it to cool inside the oven for a time. It takes about four or five hours of cooking and cooling for this particular cheesecake.
It had been in the oven for about 30 minutes and I thought I smelt something burning, but assumed it was something on the bottom of the oven burning off, and because I didn’t want the cheesecake to crack, I left the oven closed. Soon after that, smoke was bellowing from the oven, I ran and turned the light on inside the oven; my poor cheesecake was black on top – black as coal.
As I pulled the cheesecake from the oven, I noticed the top element of the oven was on. I know for a fact I did not turn that element on, but somehow it was. My heart sank a little as I looked at the charred cheesecake. I was out of the running for yet another year because I didn’t have time, or the ingredients on hand, to make another dessert. Oh well, there’s always next year, and the story of the Great Cheesecake Incident of 2017 has brought many laughs from friends and family, so not all was lost.
To all of our friends, family and neighbors, all of us here are OFN want to wish you a very Merry Christmas! May it be filled with good food, fellowship and joy. Remember to be kind to others, including your enemies, and to check to top element of the oven before baking.