Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Glory of Wooden Spoons & Zeetburger

As a child, I spent a lot of time around food. I like food for many reasons - its nourishment, its comfort, and lately I've found that I enjoy the making of food. This may be surprising to some people who know me, but if you know my family background you can definitely say I "got it honest".

My mother spent a LOT of time in the kitchen when I was growing up. The family was quite large - with my parents helping to raise my father's 5 siblings, visiting cousins, neighbors, and sometimes near strangers. This was no small feat, feeding a giant family and the others, and thank goodness for gardens that put out enough for all. My mother's record was one Thanksgiving in the 80s, when she had 32 people eating. And this was no grand affair, except in volume. There were people eating in every nook and cranny of my grandparents' small house, from the kitchen table, the living room, and even some sitting on the floor. I can never remember there ever being enough seats for everyone in that house, no matter what time of year.

My mother learned her cooking skills from her grandmother, Grandma 'Bithey. Her real name was Tabitha but I only knew her as that. Visiting her in Springfield, WV (near Romney) was a great treat. She always had homemade bread and pies, and when she knew we were coming she would make cooked carrots for my brother (his favorite) and pumpkin pie for me. I still love pumpkin pie. Her kitchen was mid-century as it could be, with watertank green walls, metal cabinets, and white enamel sink.

On my father's side, he would always wake up on Sundays (about the only day he didn't work) and make coco wheat for he and I. My brother didn't like it much. He can cook, but the kitchen is Mom's area. He does, however, run a mean barbeque in the summer. My sister-in-law can't wait to get his grilled corn-on-the-cob.

My Dad's grandma, known as Granny, could make a meal out of an empty cupboard. I always remember there being gravy on her table, in a little pan in the middle on a trivet. Her house always smelled like Spic-n-Span, and she was probably the nicest person I've ever known in my life.

My Dad's mother, Grandma Henry, was also a mean cook. I was only 5 when she passed away, but her cooking lives on in family memory - her former cooking utensils are now prized family heirlooms.

There are others in my family who are some mean cooks - my Aunt Zeet (she's my Dad's sister Tamela) - makes a dish we call Zeetburger. It's similar to Manwich, but is sweet instead of sour. I'm not sure where the name Zeet ever came from, but that's what my brother and I have called her since we were wee little. I was on the phone with Aunt Zeet and got the recipe for Zeetburger. It's actually quite good.

Zeetburger Recipe:

Medium-sized chopped onion

One pound of hamburger

One cup of ketchup

1/2 cup of water

Squirt of mustard

2 and a half tablespoons of sugar

One tablespoon of chili powder

Salt & Pepper to taste

First, brown the onion in oil, then put in the hamburger to brown it. Once it's browned, drain it off. Add the ketchup, water, mustard, sugar, chili powder, and salt&pepper. Mix well. Cover and let simmer on low for 30 minutes. Serve between hamburger buns, or in the traditional style between two pieces of white bread. (You may need a fork and plate, as it is sometimes difficult to eat Zeetburger in the traditional sandwich manner).

I have learned that my strengths in the kitchen relate to baking. Apparently, I work magic with desserts - pumpkin pie, for example. Also fruit breads - banana, pumpkin, apple & cranberry. Chocolate cake. Cookies (best so far have been my chocolate chip and gingerbread ones). And I make a mean cup of hot coco. Of course, I've been told that my French Toast is to die for –

So, what am I doing to increase my kitchen prowess? I'm going back to basics. Fresh ingredients when I can get them (farm raised eggs, fresh pumpkin, and such). And, I've found that I like to use wooden spoons. Especially old wooden spoons.

They're not expensive, you can find thousands in antique stores, and they feel good in the hand. I've only got four that I use regularly:
All but one of the spoons I use is handcarved. The large one is a gift from my Mom, who bought it off eBay years ago. It's story is that it is from the 1860s and came from North Carolina. The small one with the hole in it is my only machine-made one. I bought it from a supermarket in Budapest when I was there last year. It's a good brownie maker- the hole lets the thick batter stir easier.

The large wooden one and the small wooden one I've picked up from antique malls in West Virginia, and I used the small one last night to make my mother's "Favorite Cookie Recipe". I need to work on that one - they are still edible but came out more like brownies than cookies. Of course, good food takes time. The way I see it, my family's been at it for generations.

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