Cooks' Exchange: Mothers' recipes make life delicious

Cooks' Exchange: Mothers' recipes make life delicious


With Mother's Day approaching, fond memories carry me back to the “old” days when I was growing up because my mother just loved being a mother. For starters, she never spanked me. We talked, instead, about situations for me to better understand why certain things weren't always acceptable. If I continued doing whatever it was that she didn't approve of, she'd look at me, hoping I'd give it more thought.

With a twinkle in her eye, she did her best to understand the mind of a little girl who happened to love life and most everything it offered someone my age. I loved all animals, birds, insects, snakes, frogs, turtles, sports, climbing trees, exploring the woods alone, plus burying small creatures found dead in streets and gutters near a backyard bush.

When she surprised me with a two-story doll house, we enjoyed great adventures together by taking a bus to Milwaukee to purchase furnishings from a big store on Wisconsin Avenue.

In return, life blossomed with treasures for me and my older sister, Elaine, with piano and dance lessons, beautiful clothes she made for us, welcoming friends in our home to “play house” in the basement, attending church, praying, and appreciating what four seasons offered.

With my mother, the cookie jar always full and banana bread warm from the oven waiting for us when returning home from school. When she made spaghetti and meatballs, she allowed me to eat my spaghetti plain, tossed with a little butter and sprinkled with grated Italian cheese because...that's' the way I liked it. Her potato salad didn't intrigue me, but later in life, I loved it.

She never made me wash dishes or make my bed because those were the things mothers did so kids like me could go out and have fun with my friends. And knowing how much I loved animals, she loved my dog, Suzy, too.

It was back in the days when kids in the neighborhood gathered each night under the street light, sitting along the curbs to laugh and have fun before returning home at 9 o'clock. The next morning when I'd wake up, Mother was in the kitchen waiting with a smile and warm hug to greet me with what would become in later years another gift to remember for a lifetime.

The potato salad she made for picnics became another favorite during the years that followed and here it is, copied from her own beautiful handwriting.

Mother's picnic potato salad

  • 6-8 medium unpeeled red-skin potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Water
  • 2/3 cup salad dressing (mayonnaise)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 cup celery sliced celery
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onions
  • 1 hard boiled egg, chopped or sliced

Scrub unpeeled potatoes and cook with skin on in water to cover with salt added. Cover and heat to boiling before turning heat to low. Begin testing potatoes after 15 minutes. When barely tender, remove from heat and drain potatoes. Peel while hot. Salad should be mixed while potatoes are still warm to absorb seasoning. Cut potatoes in 3/4-1-inch cubes. Combine salad dressing with salt, sugar and vinegar and mix thoroughly. Add sliced celery and chopped onions to potatoes. Add dressing and carefully toss to coat. Cover and let stand at room temperature at least 10 minutes. Chill in refrigerator for several hours.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Note: Sliced or chopped hard-boiled eggs can be added to the salad leaving some to garnish the top.

Growing up in a Hungarian-German atmosphere, this was her favorite sauerkraut recipe and one we all liked.

Mother's sauerkraut and wieners

  • 2 slices of bacon, cubed
  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 16-ounce can of sauerkraut, drained
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • ½ cup water or apple juice
  • Wieners or brats

Fry bacon slowly. Add garlic and onion and saute slowly. Add drained sauerkraut, bay leaf, sugar, ketchup and water. Cover and cook slowly for 45-60 minutes. Add meat and cook until hot. When done, if liquid is thin, add a mixture of cornstarch and cold water or apple juice, stirring until thickened.

She always served this with potatoes, fresh bread or rolls.

Fond memories continue to have special ways of making life complete, especially when it involves food. Mother's rhubarb kuchen recipe has been featured before, and here it is again, just as she wrote because it is my all time favorite rhubarb kuchen and besides, the season is upon us.

Mother's rhubarb kuchen

  • 1 ¼ cups sifted flour
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 3 cups rhubarb cut in 1/2-inch pieces
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend flour, butter, sugar, salt and baking powder with fingers or fork until crumbly. Mix egg and milk and add to flour mixture with a fork. Butter fingers and press lightly into a 7x11-inch pan, or square or round coffee cake pan. Spread rhubarb on top of dough. Make streusel with sugar, flour and butter with fork or fingers. Sprinkle over rhubarb and bake for 1 hour. Serve warm, plain or with whipped cream.

Another great pleasure was recently hearing from an old friend, Paul Johnson, a former Wisconsin State Journal staff member and valued tennis partner many years ago at Cherokee. We'd analyze great shots made during matches, then share how fortunate we've both been to have had such special mothers and the food they prepared.

Paul's mom, Joan Johnson was a farm wife in Columbus. He describes her as being a gardener, canner, freezer, baker, town clerk for 15 years, school cook for nearly two decades at St. Jerome School in Columbus, and mother of six who cared deeply for people, remembering birthdays and anniversaries and praying for family and friends until she passed away in July 2017.

One of Paul's favorite sweet treats were her chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies while adding that they'll never taste as good as when she made them. He also reminded me about the cookie recipe appearing here back in 2005 and how people still remind him about it thus creating somewhat of a testament to the popularity of this column.

So here it is, once again, his mom's favorite cookie recipe that he continues to make for every family gathering. Thanks Paul!

Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies

  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
  • 1 teaspoon chocolate chips
  • 1 cup peanuts, optional

Cream butter and shortening; add sugar and beat thoroughly. Stir in eggs, water and vanilla; add remaining ingredients. Stir, then drop on greased baking sheet; flatten slightly with bottom of a glass dipped in white sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until done. Watch closely; the cookies can burn easily. Yield: about 4 dozen

Last week the column featured a recipe for chicken with olives from "Southern Living's Cookbook for Two." Unfortunately, a couple of errors were made. The recipe should call for 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 cup of white wine. There should not be any buttermilk in the recipe.

Happy Mother's Day!

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at

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