Sunday, April 29, 2012

In Memorium

Minnie's girls (l. to r., Margaret, Charlotte, Glenadore, Doris)

The last of Minnie's daughters has passed away. Doris Jane, born August 1, 1925, died on Friday, April 20, 2012, after a brief illness. She was 86 years old. She will be sorely missed. Her nieces and nephew knew her as Aunt Doris, or as "Moonbeam." She was always cheerful and generous, made us cookies and snackies, and took us on trips to Rockport, Massachusetts and Mystic, Connecticut with her elder sister Glenadore.

As far back as I can remember, Glen and Doris also took my sister and me to Fort Plain on weekend trips to visit Grandma Minnie. As a toddler, I would sit on Glen's lap as she drove along the highway past Little Nose and Big Nose, two humpy hills that form a gateway into the Mohawk Valley. Of course, that was in the days before seat belts and car seats!

Doris graduated from Fort Plain High School in 1943, and immediately went to work for General Electric in Schenectady, New York. It was during World War II, and the company needed workers to replace those who had gone off to war. She spent her entire career at GE, commuting home to Fort Plain with Glenadore every weekend.

The photo above was taken sometime in the late 1940s. But Doris chronicled family trips and visits well into her eighties, bringing out her camera every time we visited, so that she could record the occasion. She was following a tradition that has also left us with photo albums from the days of our grandparents and great-grandparents, going back to the early 1900s.

My siblings and I will always remember the stories, games and trips we shared with Doris and her sisters. But now that they are gone, as another aunt said when our last grandparent passed away, "We are the older generation now."  That's a sobering thought.

*   *   *

So that you may pass on a traditional cookie recipe to your own children or nieces and nephews, Doris's recipe for snickerdoodles follows:

Snickerdoodle cookie recipe

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Clip clop!

Driving along a country road near Grandma Minnie's hometown, I heard the clip-clop of horses hooves. Sure enough, ahead of me on the road was a horse and buggy trotting along at a pretty good pace. On the rear of the buggy an orange triangle cautioned drivers to take note of the slow-moving vehicle. Aside from the orange warning sign, the sight was not so different from that of a hundred or more years ago in the Mohawk Valley.

This buggy was driven by an Amish farmer near Palatine Bridge, an area in central New York State where a number of Amish families have settled.

For a story about how Minnie's father drove a similar buggy along country roads to deliver the mail, see the earlier post based on reminiscences recorded by Minnie's younger brother Frederic in 1976.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"Eight Fine Oranges . . .

 . . . peeled and sliced." Thus begins Grandma Nan's recipe for Ambrosia.

As described in an earlier post, my great-grandmother was born in 1868. Although she was christened Kittie Elizabeth Van Slyke, she was Grandma Nan to me (probably short for "Nana"). The family archives include several old photographs of her as a young woman, but this is my favorite:

As a young married woman, Kittie acquired a book of household hints and recipes entitled Queen of the Household, probably sold by a salesman traveling along the Erie Canal. (Learn more about Kittie and Fred's grocery store by the canal here.)

Kittie's cookbook contains a treasure trove of clues about gracious living in the late 1800's. Although its cover is crumbling and its pages are brown with age, turning the pages carefully I found a simple recipe for a refreshing fruit salad called ambrosia. I calls for "eight fine oranges" and a half grated coconut:

"Eight fine oranges"


Eight fine oranges, peeled and sliced, 1/2 grated cocoanut [notice old spelling], 1/2 cup powdered sugar; arrange slices of orange in a glass dish, scatter grated cocoanut thickly over them, sprinkle this lightly with sugar, and cover with another layer of orange. Fill the dish in this order, having a double quantity of cocoanut and sugar at top. Serve soon after it is prepared.

Most modern recipes I have seen for fruit salad with the same name are much more elaborate, containing other fruits, nuts, and marshmallows. I prefer this simple but elegant version.

I used packaged grated and sweetened coconut, which spared me the trouble of opening a coconut and grating it myself, and made it unnecessary to add any sugar. Served in a fancy glass dish, this makes a refreshing but simple spring or summer dessert:

Ambrosia fruit dessert

It is interesting to speculate about how easy (or not) it was in the Victorian era to purchase exotic items such as oranges and coconut in Upstate New York. Perhaps it was more likely in the summer, but maybe not in the winter. Could such items have been transported by train from Florida to New York State in those days? Shipping fresh fruit along the Erie Canal just doesn't seem practical.

In any case, I'm not sure if my great-grandmother actually prepared this particular recipe, but my family certainly enjoyed it earlier today as a dessert after Easter dinner. Peeling all those fine oranges was certainly worth the trouble!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Family Bible

Grandma VandenBergh used to chant the Psalms in Dutch. Her children did not like it, because it sounded so mournful. She had probably learned the Psalms from the family Bible, which she brought from the Netherlands when she and Grandpa emigrated as newlyweds in 1911.

In earlier eras, a family Bible was often the first textbook from which children learned to read. It was also used to record births, marriages, and deaths before copies of legal documents were widely available. My siblings and I now share the family Bible that once belonged to our grandparents. To say it is a "hefty tome" is a gross understatement.  It is a two-volume set, bound in bright red leather, with gold lettering, each massive volume weighing eighteen pounds. It is a Dutch Bible, published in Arnhem, Netherlands in 1870, with a dedication to the Dutch royal family. (King Willem III, who reigned from 1849 to 1890, and his first wife Queen Sophie, who died in 1877)

Old Testament volume

The fact that my grandparents made the effort to bring this voluminous Bible when they left Loosdrecht is evidence of how important their Dutch Reformed faith was to them. One volume in the set, the New Testament, stored too long in leaky attic in my aunt's house, shows evidence of water damage.

Its companion Old Testament has fared better. The red leather binding is still as bright as it was a hundred years ago, and the engravings by French artist Gustave Dore still impress with their detail and artistry. In fact, my mother remembered being frightened as a child by the graphic images of the drowned in the story of the flood in Genesis. In one engraving, writhing bodies are draped all over the landscape, with the ark perched on a mountaintop in the background.

The world destroyed by water

With my rudimentary Dutch and the help of a bilingual dictionary, I can decipher a few phrases here and there, but I am not fluent in Dutch. However, the copious illustrations are detailed enough for me to recall my long ago times in Sunday school.

The finding of Moses

Perhaps upon returning from church, Grandma and Grandpa and their children enjoyed a Sunday dinner with a menu similar to the following dishes from her 1922 cookbook:

Varkenskarbonaden (Pork Chops)

- 4 medium pork chops
- 3 1/2 tablespoons margarine
- 1/2 teaspoon salt; dash black pepper

Heat margarine in frying pan.
Wash the meat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook on both sides until brown and well done (about 20 minutes)

Up to now, this is just what I would have done. But the recipe continues:

Let thick pork chops simmer in meat juices for up to an hour in a closed frying pan or enamel pan. (My chops were thin enough that I didn't have to cook them that long.)

Optional: Garnish with a few thin slices of lemon, without the seeds:

Pork chops

Serve the pork chops with potatoes cooked as below.

Gesmoorde aardappelen (Steamed potatoes; literally "stifled," "strangled")

- 2 pounds potatoes
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine
- 1 teaspoon minced or chopped parsley or grated nutmeg

Use small potatoes, or larger ones cut into quarters.
Put the peeled potatoes, butter and salt in a saucepan with a small amount of boiling water.
Cover and cook until done, shaking the pan from time to time to prevent potatoes from sticking.
Add more water if necessary, so that the butter and water form a sauce when done.
Sprinkle with parsley or nutmeg before serving.

Steamed potatoes with parsley

To make the meal complete, you may wish to serve with cooked carrots.

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal.

Note: Portions of this post were previously published in the Altamont Enterprise on May 22, 2008.