Posts Categorized: Recipes

Grandma Henning’s Potato Salad

PotatoSalad_Top

Norma Esther Schmidt Henning’s
Magical Potato Salad

Photos & text by Aryn Henning Nichols • Illustrations by Lauren Bonney
Originally published in the Summer 2016 Inspire(d)

GrandmaHenningGrandma Henning was one of the hardest-working women I’ve ever known. She and her husband, Irvin, raised six kids – 20 years spanning between all of them – on a farm in Ludlow Township outside of Waukon, Iowa.

The big white farmhouse was where grandma grew up – her parents bought the property in the early 1900s. It had five bedrooms, a food cellar, apple orchard, and big garden filled with potatoes, onions, asparagus, and other vegetables. There were cows, hogs, and chickens – my dad and his brothers and sisters grew up eating their own eggs and drinking their own milk.

“We didn’t buy much at the grocery store,” my dad, Ron Henning, says. “Back then, most of the farms were that way – a little bit of everything.”

PotatoSalad_IllustrationsBut it was mainly a dairy farm. There was a great big kitchen – it had a couch on one side next to a rocking chair, and a great, big, well-worn wooden table that would seat at least eight. The chairs were a mis-matched mixture of metal and different shades of wood.

“It was kind of an all purpose room,” my dad says.

“Did grandma like to cook?” I ask. “Ha, well.. I don’t know…” Dad says. “She liked to cook certain things. She really liked making bread – it was sort of therapeutic. Once a week she had one of these big metal bread pans and she would knead up the bread and make eight to 10 loaves and some sort of sweet rolls.”

“Eight to 10 loaves of bread a week?!” I ask.

“Yeah, we’d eat one loaf of bread at breakfast alone. We’d cut it up and put it on the grill – we didn’t toast it – and eat it with eggs and fresh milk. For dinner, everybody’s favorite meal was mashed potatoes, some sort of meat, and some sort of vegetable. We rarely had dessert.”

All of that was before my time, of course. When I knew Grandma Norma, she was living in an apartment above my dad’s auto shop in downtown Waukon. I’d go to work with dad (in lieu of daycare), and when I got too annoying for his crew, I’d be sent up to Grandma’s. I’d ask her about all her plants – she had a ton. She’d tell me the names of each, one-by-one, and then she’d fix me something for lunch. It was always simple, served up on her round, flowered cloth-covered table in her eat-in kitchen.

After, we’d go back on the patio to check on flowers out there, or for a quick walk around town. Walking was Grandma’s only mode of transportation, besides rides from friends and family; she never wanted to learn how to drive. Finally, she’d send me back down to my dad – usually because she needed to get going for a volunteer shift at the Senior Site in Waukon, or with the ladies groups at Zalmona Church.

For church events and at Henning family reunions, Grandma would often bring potato salad. I remember the first time I tasted her recipe. I raved (like I do), “Oh my goodness, Grandma! This is the most amazing potato salad I’ve ever had! What magical ingredients are in this?”

My introduction to this potato salad happened to coincide with my college efforts at becoming a cook, and Betty Crocker had been tutoring me in the potato salad genre that summer.

Grandma scoffed a bit, just like my dad does these days, their German heritage shining through, “Auck. It’s nothing special.”

“No seriously, Grandma! What’s in this? Is it a secret? Is it illegal?!” At this point, she’s either starting to get a little miffed or totally embarrassed at my gushing.

“Well, there’s potatoes, you know. And eggs. And salad dressing. I put a little evaporated milk in there too,” Grandma says.

“Evaporated milk?! That’s it! I must get this recipe,” I exclaim.

I asked grandma about it a few times after that, but we both always forgot to follow through on it. Grandma Henning eventually moved into an assisted living apartment, but still walked and volunteered quite a bit. The reunions became less frequent, though, and by the time she passed away in 2008, I had never gotten the recipe.

So when we decided to write about generational recipes for this Inspire(d), I immediately thought of that magical potato salad. And I pestered my dad, aunts, and uncles to get the details for me. There were calls to family friends made, and some digging through recipe files, but eventually, we found it! You can imagine my excitement! It was one of those “as many potatoes as you can fit in your pan” sort of recipes, so I’ve nailed it down a bit more for you here. I truly can’t wait to bring this to family reunions for years to come! Enjoy!

———————–

Aryn Henning Nichols loves cooking and telling stories. How lovely to do it all at once!

——————————
PRINT RECIPE HERE
——————————

Norma Henning’s Potato Salad

(Says Aunt Kim: “This was probably her take on the Schmidt family recipe. She made it from memory and didn’t have it written down.”)

Boil 6-7 medium red potatoes in well-salted water, drain and allow to cool
Boil 3-4 eggs and cool

Cut up potatoes and boiled eggs (smaller pieces are my preference)

Mix 1/2 cup mayo (or salad dressing) with 1/4 cup evaporated milk
Add 1 tbls plain yellow mustard
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp white vinegar
Finely chop 1 medium onion and 2 stalks celery

Mix all together and enjoy.

Tip: Really salt the boiling water well – you can add salt to the finished potato salad, but I find adding extra salt makes the potato salad runnier the next day.

Read more Roots of Food: Family Recipes and Stories here!

Rhubarb Torte Recipe

RhubarbTorte

It’s a baking kind of day here in the Driftless Region. I don’t know about you, but there are about six ripe bananas in my freezer that need to get used, and my rhubarb is on its very last stalks. Since we’re officially into summer now, let’s say goodbye to spring. Go ahead and pull that last rhubarb up, warm the kitchen (I’m seriously wearing a fleece right now), and make this yummy treat!

This has been my go-to rhubarb recipe since it was introduced to me in 2009. It’s called a torte, but it’s unlike any torte I’ve ever made before. My grandma has a similar recipe, but this one is from my good friend Kristin Torresdal’s grandma, Grace Torresdal . If you do it right, it creates a magical top crust all by itself! Try it out, and please let me know if you have any questions.

Rhubarb Torte by Grace Torresdal (transcribed by Kristin Torresdal)
*For a 9×9 pan

Preheat oven to 350

• Wash and cut rhubarb (recipe calls for 2 cups but Grandma says she usually uses close to 3)
• 1 c. cake flour (or improvise and use 1 c. minus 3 tbsp regular flour); and then add 3 tbsp corn starch…this approximates consistency of cake flour
• 5 tbsp powdered sugar
• 1/2 c. butter

MIX AND BAKE CRUST 15 mins @ 350 degrees (Ed. note: It seems pretty crumbly when you put it in the pan, but once you pat it down and bake it, it does indeed form a solid crust. Sometimes I bake it a few minutes longer because I like my crust to be nice and firm…)

WHILE BAKING CRUST, MIX THE FOLLOWING IN THE ORDER GIVEN

(Ed. note: that “order given” part is really important. Mix each ingredient after you’ve added it – this seems to be the secret to the crust “magically” appearing in the oven.)

• 2 eggs
• 1 3/4 c. sugar
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 1/4 c flour (regular, not cake) – Grandma says ‘I throw in an extra, heaping tsp because otherwise it can get runny…especially if we’ve had rain lately and the rhubarb is moist)
• 3/4 tsp baking powder
• Rhubarb (2-3 cups, as you prefer, cut up)

Spread the filling over the crust and bake @ 350 for 30-35 minutes – Grandma says it generally takes hers 35-40 minutes because she doesn’t like it too runny…and top gets crispier…in that case, I recommend letting it sit a bit so the rhubarb juices from below rise to the top…yum!
Serve with ice cream or cream (if you can possibly handle any more sweetness!)

rhubarb

 *9×13 INCH PAN RECIPE (follow steps above using the measurements below)

• 1 1/2 cake flour (it’s still adequate to take out 3 tbsp regular flour and replace with 3 tbsp corn starch)
• 7 1/2 tbsp powdered sugar
• 3/4 c butter
• 3 eggs
• 2 5/8 c sugar
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 3/8 c flour (heaping tsp extra)
• 1 1/8 tsp baking powder
• 3-4 c rhubarb, cut up

I know Kristin, her grandma, and of course the team at Inspire(d) hope you enjoy this recipe, and this lovely, cool day!

XO,
Aryn

Mother’s Day + Rhubarb Upside Down Cake


By Jim McCaffrey
Originally published in the Spring 2011 Inspire(d)

Happily, winter is just a sleeting memory. With the advent of spring comes an ever-changing cornucopia of newly-sprouting varieties of vegetation. Lilies of the Valley, Fiddlehead Ferns, Dutchman’s Breeches, Bluebells, and Jack in the Pulpit abound in the woods around the Driftless Region. One finds the spark of new life in the cultivated gardens of the area as well. Asparagus loves to nudge its pointy little head out of the earth at the first advent of frost packing it in for another season. Freshly planted onion sets strive mightily to reach out and touch the sun. Lettuces frolic with wild abandon, seemingly screaming out “Pick me! Pick me! And slather me with homemade Green Goddess dressing!” But the most formidable spring garden plant just has to be rhubarb. Once it takes hold, it is just like the Energizer bunny. It keeps growing and growing and growing.

So let me share a story from the McCaffrey Family Chronicles. A tale of rhubarb deception or at the very least, a mother’s indiscretion. I grew up the son of a father who went through the Great Depression and a mother who escaped with her sister from East Germany during World War Two. Together my parents some how came up with the down payment on an 80-acre farm just west of Decorah. I’m sure making the ends meet while raising five children and sending them to the Catholic school as well was no picnic in the park. After all, my dad was a rural mail carrier and like most families at that time, he was the sole wage earner. In order to make do, we had a couple of large gardens and raised various species of livestock that graced the table throughout the year. One year we raised 400 chickens in the garage. We spent an entire weekend butchering and pulling feathers. We then proceeded to have chicken for supper six days a week. On the seventh day we rested and had hamburger. I still do like chicken in spite of that experience. Needless to say, a lot of effort was necessary to keep the farm above the waterline.

We pretty much lived out of the gardens year-round. What wasn’t eaten fresh was preserved in one fashion or another. Potatoes and onions were piled on pallets in a dark abyss of a corner in the basement. To this day I can remember distinctly the raw spud aroma that permeated the basement air. Hey, my father was Irish, so 400 pounds of potatoes hanging out in the basement was not uncommon. We also amassed a trove of canned vegetables and pickles that were stored in a large floor-to-ceiling cupboard in the cellar. Mom was the “preserve principal” in our family. She had a small wooden-handled paring knife that she used for her culinary cutups. As a chef I marvel at the amount of food she processed with that knife. Bushels of sweet corn were voided of their kernels by several swift strokes. She spent hours at the kitchen table being the human vegematic. I can just see her slicing strawberries, chopping up rhubarb, and cutting green beans French style.

RhubarbUpsidedownCake

Rhubarb was usually the first of the yearly harvest. Mom would slice the stalks into small pieces and freeze most of them for when the strawberries were ripe and delicious. She then made some delicious strawberry and rhubarb jam and pies. My favorite of her desserts, however, was her so-called Rhubarb Upside Down Cake with a sweet butter sauce. Mom passed away a couple years ago and no one can find that recipe. I decided to use some Irish ingenuity and see if I could come up with something close. So I Googled Best Rhubarb Upside Down Cake. “What is wrong with this picture?” In fact, “PICTURES.” Every recipe with a picture of the cake had the rhubarb on top. Even Martha Stewart’s. (One can’t argue with America’s culinary maven). Mom’s rhubarb was on the bottom. My childhood conception of upside down cake has been completely shattered. Mom, how could you have led me so astray? OK. Take a deep breath and breathe easy, breathe easy. Time to come up with a plan. In the future, I will call it Rhubarb Upside Upside down cake and the heck with Martha. I plan on making this for my family in honor of my mom on Mother’s Day this year. It isn’t the original recipe but it is close. Oh, and Mom, I still love you.

————–

Jim McCaffrey is a chef, author, and co-owner with his family of McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita restaurant and Twin Springs Bakery just outside Decorah. He is author of a humorous cookbook titled “Midwest Cornfusion”. He has been in the food industry in one way or another for 40 years.

——————————
RECIPE (PRINT HERE)
——————————-


Rhubarb Upside Upside Down Cake

8 Tbl butter
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
8 cups cut up rhubarb
3/4 cup butter
2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
2 Tbl baking powder
2 cups milk
3 eggs
1 Tbl vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 8 Tbl butter in large skillet or pot.
Add brown sugar and stir until blended. Add rhubarb and mix until well coated.
Grease an 11 X 18 baking dish. Cover the bottom evenly with rhubarb mixture.
Cream butter with sugar in an electric mixer. Add the rest of the ingredients.
Mix until smooth. Gently pour over the rhubarb mixture and smooth with a rubber spatula. Bake 40-50 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Sweet Butter Sauce
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup cream or 1/2 and 1/2
2 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan on medium low.
Cook and stir for about 10 minutes or until sugar is dissolved.
Pour warm over cake slices and enjoy!

Ed. note: Benji made this delicious – seriously delicious – cake for these photos and halved the recipe, baking it in a 9” round cake pan and two eggs. It worked beautifully. (Sorry, Jim, it’s not upside upside down, but we served that way, and MAN was it good.)