Ruth Larson, Clara Carpenter, Ruth Swan, Salem Lutheran Ladies Aid, Owossso, Michigan

Owosso Argus Press, October 7, 1988

It’s been said if you gather the women, you can save the world.

I smile at these words.

When I was growing up, it was my grandmother Ruth and all her lady friends that greased the wheels and kept things running. They had time, they had (wo)manpower and they had organizational skills yet to be matched by the opposite gender.

Ruth was a very civic-minded and social woman. As I researched archives from her local newspaper, the Owosso Argus Press, I found story after story of her involvement in church and community activities.

She and George hosted Henderson business meetings at their home.

She served in the Women’s Society of Christian Service of Henderson’s United Methodist Church.

She participated in Salvation Army charitable events.

She was a member of the Ladies Aid of Salem Lutheran Church in nearby Owosso.

Okay. Salem…Ladies Aid…My grandmother.

In my childhood bank of memories, these three are synonymous. I cannot think of one without thinking of the others.

When George and Ruth moved to Henderson in 1946, they joined Salem Church and Ruth immediately joined its Ladies Aid. She was an active member well into her 90s, often serving as president. When she was physically no longer able to attend meetings, she remained an honorary member.

Now, if you’ve spent any time at Salem (or maybe even Owosso, for that matter), there’s something you automatically associate with its Ladies Aid—sauerkraut suppers!

According to this Argus Press article, dated October 7, 1988, Salem’s Ladies Aid has been serving sauerkraut suppers since the early 1920s. The menu at that time included pork and sauerkraut, homemade applesauce, home-pickled beets, mashed potatoes (no instant), breads, relishes, beverages and desserts.

“Preparation of the main attraction begins with volunteers washing the kraut,” the article quotes Ruth, who was the Ladies Aid president. “It’s then boiled at low heat for an hour or so before being transferred to steam tables in the school kitchen, where it steams for an entire day. A little sugar adds seasoning.”

No wonder when I was a kid, the whole school smelled of sauerkraut during those two days of sauerkraut supper!

I was curious how Salem’s Ladies Aid and sauerkraut suppers are doing today, so I called a longtime friend of my mother and step-mother, Carol Hanchett. Carol remembers Salem’s sauerkraut suppers as a child, when her mother Clara Carpenter was involved.

“When I was a girl, sauerkraut suppers were in the church basement. They made sauerkraut from their own cabbage,” says Carol. “Later, they moved it to the school.”

Sadly, Carol says Salem’s ladies haven’t served a sauerkraut supper for the past two years.

“Mainly, because we couldn’t get anyone to put that much time into it,” she says. “The ladies that always did, no longer can and nobody wanted to take it over. We served it for a lot of years, but I guess it’s run its course.”


Pancakes in Summer

August 27, 2010

August is a busy time in our household. Our kitchen goes into full production mode as we harvest, freeze and can the tons of garden produce that seem to ripen all at once.

Until last week, August was also presenting me with an empty week in my blog schedule. For some reason, I was simply at a loss for a story idea—that is, until my Aunt Judy called.

Judy is my grandmother Ruth’s daughter and she’s the preserver of an important family tradition. Judy is key to the potato pancake recipe.

Perfect timing! She gave me a yummy story topic and coincided it with our great harvest of potatoes.

“I learned this recipe from my mother,” says Judy. “And she probably learned it from her mother. We always had them on Good Friday and we never had meat with them. I loved them. I carried it on with my family.”

Perhaps my mother didn’t love these pancakes as much because, as a kid, I don’t remember her cooking them. So, naturally I’m coveting my aunt’s recipe. Except, guess what, like many family recipes, there’s no real recipe.

“We never had any specific measurements, nothing that was written down,” says Judy. “I just go by the potatoes and how they mix together.”

So, together over the phone—Judy calculating and estimating, and me writing things down—we came up with the following recipe. You can start practicing it now and by next Good Friday, you’ll be good to go.

Ruth Larson’s Potato Pancakes
6 medium potatoes
4 eggs
2-3 Tbsp. flour
1-2 teas. baking powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable or olive oil

Grate potatoes. If grating with water in a blender, drain water. If grating in a food processor, allow natural potato juices to remain. Beat eggs and mix with potatoes. Sprinkle flour and baking powder over potato mixture, mix well to create a thick paste.

Heat griddle and oil until hot. Drop the batter into pan in 3-inch diameter pancakes, making sure dough is thin. When browned on one side, flip and flatten pancake with spatula. Brown the second side. Cook until brown and crispy.

grated potatoes

I called Judy to verify my potato volume and texture. I ended up with about six cups of potatoes grated to the size of rice kernels. She said that was good. (And just so you know, food photography is very stressful. The potatoes discolored as fast as I set them up for shooting!)

Be sure the griddle and oil are hot enough. Drop the batter in 3-inch diameter, thin cakes. I think I should have made these thinner, as some of them didn’t cook completely before browning.

Potato pancakes are commonly topped with syrup or applesauce, however Judy puts granulated sugar on hers. “That’s how we ate them as kids,” she says. “That’s how we liked them.”

And while Judy never ate meat with her pancakes as a child, she now serves ring bologna or kielbasa when cooking for her family. She also sometimes adds chopped onions or uses zucchini instead of potatoes.

Judy didn’t say anything about beer. But I’m remembering our German heritage. I’m remembering those beer-drinking, ball-swinging, picnicking Hornburg cousins and as my husband and I sit down to dinner, we raise a glass to Ruth.


Doris Lee painting, Barbara Kingsolver book and BHG cookbooks

I’m a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver. She writes both fiction and non-fiction, and she always finds an entertaining way to inform readers of social and environmental issues. I’m currently reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, her nonfiction piece on homegrown food.

While Barbara motivates me to the days of food prepared outside a chemist’s lab, she also makes me think of my grandmother, Ruth. It’s not like Ruth was some health-foodie-before-her time. In fact, the recipes we’ve posted from her collection include some highly-processed ingredients.

But Barbara’s words are poetic and certain quotes put me back in my grandmother’s dining room above the store where we ate Sunday dinners. Or my mother’s kitchen, where I listened to the gathering of grandmothers as they helped prepare the meal.

Quotes like this one:

“I’m discussing dinnertime, the cornerstone of our family’s mental health…A survey of National Merit Scholars—exceptionally successful eighteen-year-olds crossing all lines of ethnicity, gender, geography and class—turned up a common thread in their lives: the habit of sitting down to a family dinner table.”

—Barbara Kingsolver,
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Or this quote, which goes well with the Doris Lee print shown above:

“Kitchen-based family gatherings are process-oriented, cooperative, and in the best of worlds, nourishing and soulful. A lot of calories get used up before anyone sits down to consume. But more importantly, a lot of talk happens first, news exchanged, secrets revealed across generations, paths cleared with a touch on the arm.”

—Barbara Kingsolver,
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

And lastly, a quote that’s so very true in each of our lives:

“It’s surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.”

—Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Jell-O Cup Memories

July 8, 2010

red jello

One of my earliest childhood memories of my grandmother, Ruth, is the red Jell-O treats she served whenever we visited.

Sometimes she’d pull them from the fridge in the backroom behind their grocery store (more on that in the months ahead), other times from the fridge in their upstairs apartment. She always made them in leftover Dixie ice cream cups, a concept gelatin manufacturers have now stolen and market as their own unique selling point. Copycats.

Anyway, in my memory, the Jell-O was always red.

Now, Jell-O made in one big bowl is okay. But there’s just something fun about Jell-O in individual cups. It’s one of the many endearing things grandmothers do that make a kid feel just the most special in all the world.

I eventually grew up, and my associations of food to my grandmother matured as well. I don’t recall her having an epicurean interest in cooking (I think she was too busy for that), but she was a good cook nonetheless.

I’m posting one of her recipes below. I know there must be others floating around—do you have any? Please share in the comments. Or email me, and I’ll post them.

Ruth Larson’s Crescent Rolls

2 pkg. dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
2 teas. salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup shortening
7 to 7-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 warm milk

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Stir in rest of ingredients. Knead five minutes. Cover with damp cloth and let rise 1-1/2 hours, or until light. Shape into crescents. Let rise 40 minutes. Bake 350 degrees, 15-20 minutes.

Rebecca came through with some cool scans—good examples of what Ruth may have been cooking for Ladies Aid. Thanks!

Ruth Larson's crescent roll recipe

Kool-Aid punch recipe

fruit cocktail cake recipe

Pineapple Salad recipe

sloppy joe recipe

chef boyardee spaghetti recipe

Okay, I’ve gotta say, Chef Boyardee spaghetti does not sound good! I think this recipe and the sugary ones above are indicative of cooking styles in the 1960-70s. And that’s something I think Ruth was pretty good at—keeping up with trends. I remember she had a microwave before I did!

Also interesting about this recipe: The thank you for David’s birthday gift. What do you think that was about? Dave did you ever have Chef Boyardee spaghetti on your birthday? Yummmm….:-)