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Cold weather rekindles craving for family recipes

The two things I like best and least about November center around food. Why am I not surprised?

First the bad news: While some people mourn the loss of warm weather and enough daylight hours, I trip on my lower lip because I must bid a seasonal adieu to my farmer, rancher and crafter pals — and their delicious, delightful wares.

Yes, folks. It's sad but true. The Rogue Valley's growers and crafters markets come to a close this month. Spring has never seemed farther away.

Goodbye to catching up with the girls as I nibble one of Pennington Farms' sinfully delicious molasses cookies while picking a peck of Runnymede Farm's peppers. So long to balancing a carton of farm fresh eggs under one arm as I enjoy the scent of piping hot spinach and cheese tamales and warm corn tortillas, the sight of fancifully designed beeswax candles and hand-blown glass earrings, and the taste of three different types of olive oil, from peppery to grassy.

Hello to supermarkets, or at least grocery stores.

Oh, I know I'm lucky to be able to get many of my favorite vendors' wares at various indoor locations year-round — Ken's spicy fougasse bread, Dave's spelt pasta and Paul's Oaxaca coffee, just to name a few. But making those purchases sure isn't the same without their bewhiskered smiles and "Hey! How's it goin'?" chats to sweeten the deal. Bye boys. I'll miss ya — for awhile.

But life is all about balance. And for every yin, there is a yang.

The sorrow in saying goodbye to summertime friends is eased by my relief that I can finally crank up the oven.As temperatures fall, I start breaking out the family's cold-weather recipes. November begins in earnest the season for cooking up my family's culinary history. There are pans of my grandmother's coffee cake to bake, slabs of my mom's slow-cooked beef to roast, kettles of my sister's spicy sweet mix to brew, and a few hybrids of my own creation to continue tweaking.

Sis' aromatic love-in-a-mug fills the home with the smell of citrus and spices. I like it better than hot apple cider or hot chocolate. The curious mixture combines an astronaut's favorite with tea, sugar and cinnamon. More than that I'm not gonna say. We Dorn girls know how to keep a secret, sorta.

Last week I tried — but failed again — to come up with a reasonable facsimile of my mom's fork-tender pot roast. I seared the slab of salted and peppered local moo in Mom's old cast-iron pan. I added the onions, carrots and celery, too. Then came the homemade broth. I deviated from her recipe by adding a generous cup of pinot noir and a slug or three of hot pepper sauce because while Mom was a teetotaler and considered black pepper highly exotic, I crave deep, rich flavors that tingle on the tongue. I covered the whole and popped the concoction in what I thought was a really slow oven. Went to sleep and woke up to some very tasty beef jerky. Note to self: Get a new oven thermometer.

One of my most cherished possessions is a little wooden recipe box. It belonged to my mom, and it's filled with handwritten cards from generations of women. There are the old favorites, such as my Grandma Mousie's lemon meringue pie. Mom perfectly mastered that recipe. So has my Sis. I haven't tried it — yet.

There is also Great Aunt Mildred's Lemon Pie. I'll never try that one. The horrid old crone once booted my kitten across our hardwood floors with her witchy-looking shoe. I was about 9 at the time. Mom whisked me out of the room before I could scratch the old biddy's eyes out. She said her aunt was actually scared of cats.

"Why'd she call him over to her then?" I remember hollering. Chat was fine. But I held a life-long grudge for both of our sakes.

There are a few recipes I'll never try because I simply can't decipher the ancient hieroglyphics on the too-tattered cards. But for my sweet tooth, the best treat in that old box is my Grandmother Ditty's coffee cake. The recipe is handwritten in pencil on an index card that sits inside the lid. Its edges are crumbling, and the surface is covered with crumbs of coffee cakes past. But I know the ingredients by heart.

Dit's beloved cinnamon cake has graced every holiday table at our family gatherings and others. But the recipe was always a closely-guarded secret. So secret, in fact, that when my grandmother's better angels prompted her to fork it over for a charity cookbook made many decades ago, the little devil on her shoulder might have suggested she omit one of the main ingredients. The neighbors' cakes were a disaster. But the omission was purely an accident. Or so said my mom with a wink and a nod.

I've been bringing this family favorite into the newsroom for several years now. But always with my own spin on the original recipe. I hope my grandmother won't mind. I've added several more spices and loads of dried fruit — golden raisins, apricots, dates and cranberries. Also swapped out pecans for the original walnuts because I'm allergic to the latter. Like my niece, I also double the crumble topping on Ditty's cake.

It goes over pretty well with my fellow ink-stained wretches. Several have asked for the recipe. But I'm not telling. Grandma might not approve.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.